In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The text for our meditation is the Palm Sunday Processional Gospel, according to St. Luke, the 19th chapter, focusing on these words:
If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say this: ‘The Lord of it has need.’” So those who were sent went away and found it just as He [Jesus] had told them. And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” And they said, “The Lord of it has need.”
Thus far the holy Word of the Lord our God. It is certainly something we should hear and behold with wonder and awe, that Jesus gives instructions to His disciples, in this case to go ahead into the opposite village and bring to Him a donkey’s colt that they would find tied there, and they “found it just as He had told them.” Jesus shows them and us, once again, that He is indeed Lord of all. For He knows what His disciples will find, and He tells them, for so He had arranged it. Had Jesus made these arrangements in advance with the owners of the colt, as some suggest, and that’s why the disciples “found it just as He had told them”? Perhaps the owners were disciples. Or were no such arrangements made, but Jesus knew these things would be so simply by His divine foreknowledge? Whichever was the case, the Lord Jesus does have knowledge, and foreknowledge, of all things because He is true God, “and He knows everything” (1 Jn 3:20), as Scripture declares, and He Himself says, “I am He who knows, and I am witness, declares the LORD” (Jer 29:23). Through the Prophet Isaiah He says,
“Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all My purpose,’ … I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it” (Isa 46:8–10, 11b).
Jesus is Lord, and He is in control. It is He who made the preparations for His entrance into Jerusalem. His preparations here parallel His preparations for the last Passover that He will eat with His disciples. The way Jesus sends His two disciples, with instructions for what they will find and what they are to say to certain people, shows His omniscience, that He is all-knowing, and shows His omnipotence, that He is all-powerful, by the control He will exert over the events that are about to take place. This is important to remember in the coming days—in these coming days of Holy Week, as He goes to His suffering and death, and in the coming days beyond, our life as His Church, His congregation, and His individual believers, as we live under His Cross. Like the disciples in the days after Jesus’ death, we can feel despondent, despairing, abandoned, forsaken, our faith shaken as we daily take up our crosses, as we face trials and difficulties, as we face temptations to deny Him, to deny even knowing Him.
Do you think it impossible that you could ever deny Him? Consider the Twelve, and especially Peter, who told Jesus, “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!” “And all the disciples said the same,” Matthew tells us (26:35). He also tells us, after Jesus’ arrest, “Then all the disciples left Him and fled” (v. 56). Such truthful reporting, from one of those disciples! Dare we admit to such denials on our part? Many Christians have faced imprisonment, torture, loss of home, family, and their own deaths because of their faith in Christ. Could we? Johann Heermann, who is commemorated this day, wrote the magnificent Lenten confession, Herzliebster Jesu, “O Dearest Jesus” (LSB 439). Richard Bridges’ translation, “Ah, Holy Jesus,” confesses:
Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon Thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone Thee.
’Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied Thee:
I crucified Thee.
This must be our confession, too—my confession of my guilt, my treason, my denial; your confession of your guilt, your treason, your denial.
And that is why Jesus rides the colt of a donkey into Jerusalem. This is the beginning of His triumphal procession to Golgotha, to His death on Cross, to the grave, and down to hell, where He will declare His victory over the enemy, His enemy and our enemy, in the place that the enemy had thought was his domain. On Good Friday Jesus will make His declaration on earth of His victory, in His triumphant cry, “It is finished!” What is finished? What is the victory? Again in the words of Johann Heermann, “The Master pays the debt His servants owe Him, Who would not know Him.” He pays in full the debt you and I and all mankind owe God for our sin, our disobedience, our rebellion against His holy Word and holy will, our denial of Him.
On the donkey’s colt He shows forth both His royalty and His humility at the same time. On the colt He is borne as God and King: God the mighty Maker who goes to die for man the creature’s sin; the King on the strangest and most awful of thrones. You have joined in the hosannas, the glory, laud, and honor. We rightly owe Him that, and more, yet that is not why He entered Jerusalem on a colt never before ridden. With the disciples of old we rejoice, “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”—a reflection, an echo, of the Gloria in excelsis, the song the angels sang on the night when He was born from a womb that had never before given birth. We rightly owe Him all those Christmas praises, yet that is not why He was born. He was born to die for you, and He rides on to His death on Cross for you, then to be laid in a tomb in which no one had yet been laid. Jesus was born to die, and He rode into Jerusalem to suffer and die to fulfill our deepest, direst need, our greatest dread, to be saved from sin, especially our own, from death and its claim upon us, and from the devil’s power and claim upon us. We have the need, the lack, in ourselves, and whether we recognize it or not, Jesus alone can and does meet that need—and more than meet it! For He wants for nothing; He has no need, no lack.
What then does Jesus mean when He says, “The Lord of it has need”? He is Lord and God, Creator and Owner of all things, King of heaven and earth. How can He have need of anything? Yet that is exactly what He says, what He tells His disciples to say, should anyone ask them why they are untying the colt. And here’s another little mystery. Those who ask the disciples why they’re untying the colt are its owners, or literally, “the lords of it”! To their ears, the disciples’ response sounded like, “Its owner needs it.” Wait, what?! Hold on there. We’re its owners! That’s the response we might well give, and we’d naturally expect them to give. Yet these ‘lords’ of the colt submit to The Lord of the colt, to Him who is the Lord of them, the Lord of all. St. Paul declares, “For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth … all things were created through Him and for Him” (Col 1:16). All things were created for Jesus. The donkey was created for Him, and all donkeys going back to the first. The palms and other trees from which branches were cut were created for Him. The grapes for wine and the wheat for bread, in the Supper of His body and blood, were created for Him. The flax plants, from which His linen burial cloths were made, were created for Him. The trees from which came the wood of His cross, the bush from which came His thorny crown, the iron of the nails and the spear, the stone over the tomb—all were created for Jesus, for His use, to fulfill their ‘offices’ for Him, to minister to Him, to serve Him as He required of them, as He serves us, working our redemption and salvation, our forgiveness and eternal good. That is what Jesus means by need when He says, “The Lord of it has need.”
The colt faithfully fulfilled its calling, its vocation, carrying our God and Savior in the beginning of His procession to His death on Cross. You have a calling from your God and Savior. At the Word of Jesus, the colt was loosed by His apostles, the emissaries of His sending. They also acted in their calling. At the Word of Jesus, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” you are loosed from the bonds of sin and death, as His called and sent ministers act in His name and stead. In loosing you, He calls you, saying, as it were, “The Lord of you has need.” How will you carry Him before the world? There are those who, like the Greeks who came to Philip, say, “We would see Jesus.” Will you hide Him, keep His presence a secret, or will you carry Him so that others may see Him in you? Will you keep silent about Jesus before others, or will you speak of Him to those who don’t know Him? For the LORD even made a donkey able to speak, to warn Balaam the wicked prophet (Num 22:28). How much more has He given you lips and tongue, voice and speech, mind and heart filled with His Word and Spirit! If we keep silent, then we would be doing exactly as the Pharisees had demanded of Jesus, that He rebuke and silence His disciples. Whose will is to be done in you, the Pharisees’, or yours, or the Lord’s? Whom will you please, Jesus’ enemies with your silence, or Jesus with your songs of prayer and praise and your speech confessing His holy name?
“I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Lk 19:40). That was Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees’ rebuke. I was a geology major, and I have had some familiarity with stones and rocks. I’ve studied them, identified them, classified them, cracked them open with a rock hammer. Even then, I’ve never heard stones literally cry out. They may “cry out” in the sense of echoing. We cry out, and the stones echo our words back to us. In a piece for Palm Sunday, “The King Does Come,” theologian and storyteller Frederick Buechner wrote:
The day will come when [our church buildings] will lie in ruins, every last one of them. … But when that day comes, I believe that the tumbled stones will cry aloud of the great, deep hope that down through the centuries has been the one reason for having churches at all and is the one reason we have for coming to this one now: the hope that into the world the King does come. And in the name of the Lord. And is always coming, blessed be he. And will come afire with glory, at the end of time.
In the meantime, King Jesus, we offer all churches to you as you offer them to us. Make [Your]self known in them. Make [Your] will done in them. Make our stone hearts cry out [Your] kingship. Make us holy and human at last that we may do the work of [Your] love. [Emphases added.]
As much as Jesus has done His works of love for you, you can do works of love for your neighbor, for Him, that He has given you. You can outdo a donkey’s colt. As much as Jesus has spoken before His Father for you, you can speak before men of Him, for Him. You can certainly outcry a stone, can’t you?
And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in ✠ Christ Jesus. Amen.