Go to the village there ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied up with her colt beside her. Untie them and bring them to me. And if anyone says anything, tell him, ‘The Master needs them’; and then he will let them go at once.
Jesus is approaching Jerusalem and he asks a couple of his disciples to go ahead and prepare for his arrival. He has a plan. Jesus knows the importance of making a grand entrance if you want to get people’s attention. He knew that he was going to be killed in Jerusalem, so this was his last chance to get his message across. He needed a little publicity. He needed to create a buzz.
When I think about grand entrances the first thing that comes to mind is Elizabeth Taylor’s famous entrance into Rome in the 1963 movie Cleopatra. It was one of the most expensive films ever made.
First, there about a hundred horsemen blowing trumpets, then a bunch of chariots. Next come some very, very scantily clad female dancers, followed by some male African dancers who are doing a lot of twerking. After the dancers there is a procession of people carrying some big sparkly sculptural things, then a bunch of dancers flapping giant wings accompanying a huge float that also has flapping wings. Suddenly the float stops and there is a big release of birds. More horsemen, more trumpets, an expectant hush, and then she makes her entrance. Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile, enters the gates of the city, seated atop a great Sphinx-like thing pulled by hundreds of men while thousands cheer her arrival. A grand entrance indeed. You really should check it out on YouTube. It’s worth seeing.
Nowadays people generally arrive by plane when they want to make a grand entrance. Take the Pope, for instance. When he visited the United States in 2008 he arrived on his own private airliner, Shepherd One. Having made his landing, the Pope then traveled around New York either in his own limousine (if he wanted privacy) or the Popemobile (for parades and other public events).
People like Cleopatra and the Pope like to make big splashy expensive entrances. Jesus, on the other hand, chose to make an entrance on a silly little donkey. When I was growing up my neighbors had a couple of donkeys named Pedro and Jennifer. They were small, noisy, stubborn, and very hard to ride. Their gait is very bouncy and it jars you to the bones. Another problem is that they run with their head down so if they suddenly stop you go flying forward onto the ground. They are not the most elegant form of transportation. Not at all like a private airliner or a giant sphinx.
Why did Jesus choose a donkey, and why did the people get excited when they heard about it? Just to be humble? Well, yes, but more than that. The answer is that he was acting out a prophecy by the prophet Zechariah about a leader who will enter Jerusalem on a donkey and usher in a time of peace:
Rejoice, rejoice, people of Zion! Shout for joy, you people of Jerusalem! Look, your king is coming to you! He comes triumphant and victorious, but humble and riding on a donkey—on a colt, the foal of a donkey. The Lord says, “I will remove the war chariots from Israel and take the horses from Jerusalem; the bows used in battle will be destroyed. Your king will make peace among the nations; he will rule from sea to sea, from the Euphrates River to the ends of the earth. (Zechariah 9:9-10)
By entering Jerusalem on a donkey Jesus affirmed this Old Testament prophecy about God’s desire for peace in Jerusalem and the rest of the world. He demonstrated that God wants the kings and leaders of the world to be humble servants, not powerful conquerors. With a simple donkey he made a powerful statement about his willingness to lead the people into a new age. He offers himself up as a humble, peace-seeking king to all who will follow him. He offers himself up as the fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy.
So despite Jesus’ humble conveyance, it was indeed a grand entrance and it caused a huge commotion. For one thing, his timing was calculated for maximum effect. He went to Jerusalem during the Passover season when, according to Wikipedia, there were perhaps 300,000 to 400,000 tourists in Jerusalem on pilgrimage from all over the Holy Land. All these visitors were in Jerusalem to get closer to God and receive a special blessing, so they would have been particularly receptive to a symbolic act that might perhaps be the fulfilment of Old Testimony prophecy. When Jesus entered the city a large crowd quickly gathered and they spread their cloaks and tree branches on the road before him, praising God and bestowing their blessings on him. (Note: in Matthew it doesn’t say they waved palm branches. Oh well. Details, details.) Anyway, by entering on a simple donkey, the Bible says, “the whole city was thrown into an uproar.” When people asked who he was, the crowds answered, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee.” By recognizing Jesus as a prophet, they are affirming his spiritual authority, his ability to speak the living word of God (not just somebody who can predict the future).
Nowadays we know that this warm reception wont’ last for long. Very soon the crowds will turn against him and even his disciples will deny him. I’m reminded of the movie Patton where the WWII general describes the ephemeral nature of public adoration:
“For over a thousand years, Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of a triumph – a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeters and musicians and strange animals from the conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. The conqueror rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children, robed in white, stood with him in the chariot, or rode the trace horses. A slave stood behind the conqueror, holding a golden crown, and whispering in his ear a warning: That all glory is fleeting.”
Yes, all glory is indeed fleeting. Especially in this case. Very fleeing indeed. All that adoration for Jesus doesn’t even last a week. But he didn’t come to be adored. He didn’t come to be popular. He came to be heard; he came to be followed.
What does this scripture say to you?