In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
One of the main themes of the end of the church year and of the beginning of the church year is the Second Coming, the Second Advent, of our Lord Jesus Christ in glory. While time moves forward, this continuity lends a cyclical sense to the church year. From the view of last Sunday’s Gospel, the crucifixion of Jesus on Good Friday, today’s Gospel, His triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, feels like a flashback. Last Sunday of the Church Year, Good Friday, the sixth day of Holy Week. First Sunday of the new Church Year, Palm Sunday, day one of Holy Week.
At Jesus’ Second Coming on the Last Day, the New Creation will be fully realized in the new heavens and the new earth, we shall see and experience it in all its fullness, and our being new creations in Christ will be fully realized. On the sixth day of the First Creation, God said,
“Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. (Gen 1:24–25)
Among those creatures brought forth from the earth by God’s commanding Word were livestock: bovids, which include cattle and sheep; and equines, which include horses and donkeys. Already in the Creation, God was preparing for the events of Holy Week, Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem on the colt of a donkey and the sacrifice of the Passover lambs. The sixth day of the First Creation culminated, of course, in the creation of man:
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the flyers of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in His own image,
in the image of God He created him;
male and female He created them. (Gen 1:26–27)
Giving us further detail about that work on the sixth day, the Holy Spirit through Moses also says, “Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Gen 2:7). What was the Creator’s declaration about His creation? “And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:21). Neither sin nor death marred this Creation: no separation, disagreement, or fear of punishment between God and man or among men, between man and woman, or between man and beast.
Clearly, that is not the condition of the world in which we now live. Disease and decay, wear and tear, injury and illness, plague the whole human race, culminating in physical death. Believers in Jesus Christ, who have the promise of eternal life, are certainly not immune to these troubles in this fallen, rebellious world. What happened? Scripture clearly teaches, and so you have come to know, that this is all the consequence of the Fall into sin, our Rebellion against God. I know that “the Fall” is the traditional name of this event; but that may make our first parents’ disobedience sound like an accident—oops, we tripped and fell—rather than what it was, rebellion against our good Creator, listening to the voice of the Tempter, the first rebel, the Accuser against God and man, choosing to violate the one “you shall not” God had given, willfully bringing corruption and death upon us and the whole creation. We have known, or at least sensed, that something has gone horribly wrong. Yet none of us is innocent before God. We accepted the Rebellion as “normal” and went along with it, making “provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom 13:14b). That is still our “default setting,” against which the Holy Spirit ever must work, and continually does work, through His Means of Grace.
Last Sunday, we focused on Jesus as our King who has ascended to His earthly throne, His cross on Calvary outside Jerusalem. This day, we flash back to Jesus as our King who has entered Jerusalem in triumph and victory, as Matthew records in his Gospel, telling us that Jesus’ coming on a donkey’s colt was foretold and foreordained:
This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,
“Say to the daughter of Zion,
‘Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden’” (Mt 21:4–5).
By which prophet was this spoken? Matthew doesn’t identify which one, because he’s actually combining the Word spoken by two of the LORD’s holy Prophets, Zechariah: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zec 9:9); and Isaiah: “Behold, the LORD has proclaimed to the end of the earth: Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your Salvation comes; behold, His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him” (Is 62:11). Both Prophets call Jerusalem “daughter of Zion.” O Jerusalem, O chosen city, O chosen people among whom He dwells, chosen place of God’s presence, recognize your true King, coming on His humble mount, and recognize Him as your Salvation, your Yeshua, your Jesus.
Does Jerusalem recognize and accept her true King, and with Him accept the LORD’s protection over her, which He also spoke through Zechariah, “Then I will encamp at My house as a guard, so that none shall march to and fro; no oppressor shall again march over them, for now I see with My own eyes” (Zec 9:8)? With great sadness we must say that many in the city did not recognize Jesus for who He truly is, some rejecting Him outright and violently, others saying only, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee” (Mt 21:11). He is a prophet, The Prophet promised of the LORD; He is that, and far more. He is The King, showing Himself as such, and He is The Priest, who goes to offer Himself as The Sacrifice for sin. Though many did not recognize Him that day in Jerusalem, and many still do not, there were those in the city who did, who hailed Jesus in true faith as King and Salvation, and there are still some in Jerusalem who to this day worship Him rightly as the LORD their God. Wherever Jesus reigns as King, through His Word and through His Sacrament, wherever He is present for His people, and with Him God the Father and the Holy Spirit, there is Mount Zion. Here He comes to you, for you, today, in triumph, borne in humble elements of bread and wine, His body and blood.
A humble mount, a donkey, and a colt, a young donkey at that, not even a full-grown animal—is that really a fitting mount to bear a king, especially to bear the King of kings, the Christ, the Anointed and beloved Son of the Most High God? Let us recall the humble circumstances of His birth—not in the capital city, Jerusalem, in a king’s palace, born to a monarch with a vast kingdom or empire, clothed in royal garb, His arrival announced by royal heralds sent running throughout the realm—but in Bethlehem, the city of David the shepherd boy, wrapped in cloths, laid in a manger, born to a construction worker and his virgin bride, His arrival announced by an angel to lowly shepherds, who then run to see Him. These were not mere circumstances, as though it all just happened to be this way. Rather, God chose to come to us in these humble ways. He chose to be born of a virgin mother, and He chose to be borne upon a virgin colt “on which no one has ever sat” (Mk 11:2), a young donkey which went obediently with his mother. Jesus rode on the donkey to signify that He had come to establish peace, and the only way to establish peace between God and man was through the Cross. [Our Introit points to this, as we say, “Bind the festal Sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar! You are my God, and I will give thanks to You; You are my God, and I will extol You” (Ps 118:27b–28). We are addressing the Sacrifice as God.]
The picture that Matthew paints for us may seem ridiculous on at least one point. “The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and He sat on them” (Mt 21:6–7). Is the Apostle and Evangelist really saying that Jesus sat on the donkey and the colt at the same time? Mark, Luke, and John mention only the one animal, the young donkey. Why would Matthew mention two? This isn’t the only time in the Gospels that such details seem to differ. How many angels appeared at Jesus’ empty tomb? Some mention one, while others mention two. Matthew was there on that first Palm Sunday as a disciple and an eyewitness. He mentions both the donkey colt and its mother because that is what happened. And “He sat on them” presents no problem if we take Matthew to mean that Jesus sat on the cloaks that the disciples put on the animals.
What is the character trait for which donkeys are known? Stubbornness. It’s a trait that could easily have made life difficult for the disciples if they tried to separate a donkey colt from his mother. This donkey was called to bear Jesus before the world, to carry Him into Jerusalem. You and I are called to bear Jesus before the world, to be His witnesses in the world through our actions and our words. Donkeys have nothing on us humans in the stubbornness department. Next to us, donkeys are downright docile and cooperative. One of our seminary professors summarizes the scene quite well:
“[T]he colt was to function as Jesus’ mount because its mother came along and was close beside as the Son of David rode humbly into the city where he would die. The event itself does not have to be understood as a large-scale event that lasted for hours. Many pilgrims are streaming into the city, and in that large flow of humanity, there is a moving, shouting crowd, jostling around as they make their way up to Zion. In the middle of that crowd, bumping along slowly on a young donkey that is willing to bear him because [its] mother is close at hand, is the true King of Israel. Hailed unthinkingly by some and ignored by many, he goes up in love to the city whose hatred will hand him over to crucifixion. No one in that scene understands, but Jesus does. He goes up to give his life as the ransom payment in exchange for the many (20:28). … For those who will think of him as only a prophet, the Son of God will be a prophet of judgment” (Gibbs, Matthew 21:1—28:20, CPH).
Whenever or however we may refuse to submit to Him, He is The Prophet who proclaims judgment against sin, rebellion, and disobedience—judgment that we deserved, judgment that He bore in our place as He was borne upon the cross. We should consider it a high honor were we called to be one of those cloaks on which Jesus sat. Oh, to be a cloak for Jesus our King! Can a cloak be stubborn or rebellious? Yet in your baptism, He bestows a higher honor upon you, as the Apostle Paul describes in our Epistle, “The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light … [and] put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 13:12, 14a). In love He clothes you with His royal protective garb, “the armor of light,” that is, He clothes you with Himself, who is the Light of the world. So bear Him, your Cloak and Armor, humble in your own self but boasting in Him.
And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds by His Spirit in ✠ Christ Jesus. Amen.