Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
He is vindicated and victorious,
Humble, and mounted on a donkey,
Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem was anything but what the world expected from a king. By that time, the land of Israel had been occupied by Roman rulers for generations. Many must have been familiar with illustrious Roman generals parading through the streets of conquered cities, perhaps even Jerusalem, on a high-stepping war horse, arrayed in all his glory, and followed by prisoners of war and the spoils of fallen nations. Now here is a man who may be their hope to be on top again. They wave patriotic palm branches, the symbol of Israel as a free nation, and cry out, “Hosanna! Free us from the Romans!” They grew so used to trusting in the things of the world, that they forgot what the Lord had promised about His coming Son. Even as they cried out, “Hosanna to the son of David!” they did not remember what had made David a man after God’s own heart.
Interestingly, the people of Israel may have recognized that Jesus was following the example of David when He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. When the Lord was instructing the Israelites in one day having a king, He told them that the king was not to have many horses (Deuteronomy 17:16). Not only did God want His people to keep from being led astray by the influence of Egypt again, but He also knew that a king who sought to make the office of earthly kingship too lofty and glorious by means of the beauty and strength of horses would soon forget his duty as a servant to God’s people. They would also come to trust in their own strength more than in the presence of the Lord to guide them. During his reign, David and his sons rode donkeys and mules, and David himself, though he kept a few chariots as spoils of war, knew that the battle belonged to the Lord.
Some boast in chariots and some in horses, But we will boast in the name of the Lord, our God.
God meant for all of the kings of Israel to follow the example that would be set by His Son, the humble Chief Shepherd and the Lamb of God. The fact that the religious leaders abused their position of authority to take advantage of the poor and leave the sinners without restoration grieved and angered Him.
It might not have surprised the people of Israel to see a king of the Jews riding on a donkey, but the particular donkey may have surprised them. While the other gospels mention only a colt, Matthew 21 speaks as though the colt and the mother were both brought along. Some scholars suggest that Jesus may then have ridden a nursing mother donkey with her foal trailing along with her. Others suggest that the colt, having never been ridden, would not have been especially well-groomed or yet well-tempered enough to make a very good mount. I don’t know which it was, but both would mean two things: the ride would be slow, and tongues would surely wag. Both are also things we have seen Jesus do, and things we can learn to do ourselves. Imagine following a King who gently nudges a mother donkey down the street, never going so quickly that her foal gets left behind. We start to see what kind of approach we must take when we exercise pure religion.
Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
Or imagine following a King who is not ashamed to be seen mounted on a scruffy colt, one which is nervous of crowds, and still uncertain about having a rider. Yet He is patient when it shies away from the shouting and from His touch. Can we keep ourselves unstained from the world to the point that we can exercise such patience before everyone we know?
It can be so easy for me to get caught up in a mission, or a program schedule, or even my alone time with the Lord. Yet the march of the army of the kingdom of Heaven is set at the pace of the most lowly; the most novice. Jesus stopped for the woman with the issue of blood, stopped for the children to be blessed, stopped for the paralytic lowered through the roof, went miles out of His way to free the man possessed of a legion of demons, and stopped for the broken girl with the perfect church life and nothing to live for.
That is where He finds us all: off the beaten path. Even so, He takes us with Him and offers us a place of honor as He enters Jerusalem. Look at the rest of the triumphal parade. Prisoners of war free at last from the enemy! Look what rich spoils. A blind beggar who received his sight, a woman from whom were cast seven demons, lepers, fishermen, tax-collectors, Gentiles! Children as His heralds, singing in the streets! It is the way of our Lord to be gentle and patient as He leads His children to know His ways. His most glorious earthly moment was in the company of the most humble and lowly. As He leads you, remember to stop and take the hands of overlooked and the unkempt, the bruised reeds and the smoldering wicks. See what precious hearts Jesus has yet to add to His joyful family parade.