Picture an inauguration or coronation ceremony. What images come to mind? Grand balls. Flashy banners and decor. Lavish parties with bountiful plates of food and dignitaries dressed to impress. The goal is a display of power, wealth, and victory. Today I want to give you a totally different picture of a coronation that would ultimately have far greater influence and meaning, one that features, believe it or not, a donkey.
Travel with me 2000 years backwards in time, and nearly halfway around the world to a dusty corner of the Roman Empire. The time is right around 30 AD in the nation of Israel.
For about three years, Jesus has been ministering all over the nation of Israel. His public ministry is marked by miracles and authoritative teaching, with a special focus on parables. Huge crowds gather around him, both because of his miracles and his teaching. He regularly confronts the religious leaders who suspiciously watch his every move, pointing out their hypocrisy and fraud, and how they took advantage of the general populace. Finally, he spends plenty of time with a smaller group of followers, comprised of men and women, but it is his 12 disciples that are his closest companions. He mentors and trains them to live like he lived, so that one day they be ready to take over for him.
Toward the end of the three years, the tension between Jesus and the religious elite is like static in winter, sparking every time you make contact with metal. These priest and bible teachers regularly attempt to undermine his teaching, seeking to trap him theologically. But Jesus’ wisdom is unparalleled, his responses revealing errors in their thinking. Often he reveals the flaws in their arguments, trapping them! Anger and jealousy grow inside them, and they secretly plot to eliminate him.
Also at end of his third year in ministry, Jesus starts traveling toward Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover. Passing through town after town along the way, burgeoning crowds join him, as Jesus continues healing and teaching. The days pass, his entourage gradually winds their way closer and closer to Jerusalem, and the week of Passover arrives.
Passover is a major Jewish celebration, marking the events of the nation of Israel’s freedom from slavery in Egypt. Jewish families gather to tell the story of how God protected them from the plague of death, and how God launched them, under the leadership of Moses, into the desert, through the Red Sea, and on a journey back to the Promised Land of Canaan, the land of their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Every year many Jews would travel to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, just as Jesus as his followers were doing.
That brings us to Matthew 21.
Verses 1-3 simply set up the story. Jesus, the disciples and crowds walk toward Jerusalem, arriving just outside the city on the Mount of Olives, where Jesus instructs the disciples to go into the nearby village of Bethpage and bring a donkey and her colt to him.
Matthew tells us in verses 4-5 that what is about to happen next fulfills Zechariah 9:9, a Messianic prophecy about the entrance of the Messianic King riding into the city on a donkey. This is the first reference in this account to Jesus as King. But the kind of king revealed that day in Jerusalem is quite unexpected. Everything about this king is humble, which is symbolized through his choice of a donkey. He’s not riding a warhorse, decked out in armor and weapons, like a victorious king. Instead he is riding a humble donkey. Scholars tell us that in the Triumphal Entry Jesus finally reveals to all that he is the Messianic King long ago promised in their people’s prophetic writings. Prior to this he had often told people to keep quiet about him. But now, notice how he reveals himself: with humility. He is the humble king.
In fact, it hard to see what is triumphal about this king. It seems UNtriumphal. And that is on purpose. Jesus wasn’t a warlord king, he was a king who had come to serve, to give his life. In contrast to the narcissistic, power-hungry rulers so prevalent in their day and ours, the one true king shows us that godly leadership is humble.
The untriumphal entry into the city transpires just as Jesus directs, and as the prophecy foretells. We read in verses 6-11 that a very large crowd gathers, shouting of “Hosanna,” which means “save!” and was a shout of praise, and quoting Psalm 118:26 which mentions the coming of a future messianic king in the line of David, thus making a connection between Jesus as the son of David. This is the second reference to Jesus as King.
The untriumphal entry of the humble king. In our world that lauds brash, arrogant leadership, Jesus shows us a very different way. How does Jesus challenge your view of leaders and leadership?