14 Then Jesus, when He had found a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written:
“Fear not, daughter of Zion;
Behold, your King is coming,
Sitting on a donkey’s colt.”
16 His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him.
On January 9, 1973, a chartered helicopter landed at Hilton’s Hawaiian Village at Waikiki Beach on the island of Oahu. When the door opened, a legend emerged: Elvis Presley, the “King of Rock and Roll”, had arrived and he was about to make history. This would be the first concert ever to be broadcast via satellite around the world.
Fans of Elvis in 40 countries were about to get “all shook up.”
To prepare for this event, hundreds of people had worked around the clock to prepare for Elvis’s arrival. The entire top floor of the Hilton had been rented for a week to allow for the King’s family and large entourage–the “Memphis Mafia”–to live in luxury while the sequined songster and his band rehearsed for days in preparation.
Finally, after a dramatic playing of Also Sprach Zarathustra, Elvis emerged from backstage. He was dressed in his trademark wide-collared, bell-bottomed jumpsuit spun from acres of polyester and he immediately began to croon- to the thrilled screams of over 6,000 adoring fans and millions of watchers around the world.
If days, weeks and even months of preparation were needed for a concert by the "King of Rock and Roll,” what can be said about the arrival to the holy city of Jerusalem of the King of Kings?
Here, in John Chapter 12, the apostle records a seismic event: the Triumphal Entry of Jesus. The arrival of the Son of Man was no less momentous than that of an earthly king–but His reception was far different.
After the raising of Lazarus from the dead and the banquet in His honor, Jesus knows that the time has come for Him to enter Jerusalem and face the cross.
It is the season of Passover, that penultimate celebration on the Jewish calendar remembering the deliverance of God’s people from slavery in Egypt so long ago. Throngs of pilgrims swarm into Jerusalem, turning the hilltop city’s population from 50,000 residents to over 250,000 celebrants. Inns are filled, markets are bustling, and the temple shines like a crown above it all.
This is the third Passover mentioned by John–who seemed to make special note of feast days when recording the ministry and life of Jesus. Passover and its importance had become more and more vital in the life of Israel as a focus of spiritual devotion and from a growing sense of nationalism under Roman rule. Surely the God who delivered the people under Moses from the bonds of Egypt will come soon to deliver them from under the iron heel of Rome.
Josephus, the first century Jewish historian whose history of “The Jewish War” and this tumultuous time, would record that in the final year before the temple was finally destroyed by the armies of Rome, the Passover had drawn over two million people from all over the known world. Jews, Jewish-Greek converts, and many more flocked to the epicenter of the faith.
Into this melee Jesus begins His slow walk from Bethany.
The people who have been with Him, gathering about Jesus since the healing of the man born blind (John 9:1-12) and now Lazarus’s miracle resurrection, become a joyous entourage as He covers the two dusty miles from Bethany to the gates of the city. Along the way He is met by another group coming out of Jerusalem to meet him. These are the faithful from the city and those followers who had traveled ahead.
The people, in their excitement…
13 …took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out:
‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’
The King of Israel!”–John 12:13
The palm branches are a nice touch and are a reminder of why we now celebrate Palm Sunday on the sabbath before Easter. I am quickly filled with happy images of my two young sons singing with a group of other children in the front of the sanctuary while waving little palm fronds.
The joy of this happy image is multiplied for the faithful on that day who have gathered to see the young rabbi, the Man of Miracles, as He enters into the city. The palm branches, many from nearby Jericho, have become a symbol of Israel at this point. Palms signal nationalist pride–so much so at this point that Roman coins of the era were minted with the palm branch on them to symbolize Palestine.
This adoring crowd, cheering Hosannah! in greeting as they quote from Psalm 118, feel that the King has finally come–that God’s deliverer is here and now is the time to begin the fight for freedom from tyranny.
If Passover is akin to the Fourth of July celebration in America, then the palm branch is the Star-Spangled Banner, and the fireworks must certainly follow!
But Jesus will have none of this. He is aware of their feelings and their mood and has already planned accordingly. Likely somewhere mid-journey He is met by some of His disciples. They are leading the “war horse” for this conquering king:
14 Then Jesus, when He had found a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written:
15 “Fear not, daughter of Zion;
Behold, your King is coming,
Sitting on a donkey’s colt.”–John 12:14-15
Picture, for a moment, the almost comical scene. Jesus–by all means a normal-sized man–sits astride a sturdy but tiny donkey colt. His sandaled feet splay outward, sometimes touching the ground, and the little hopping gait of the colt makes Him bounce slightly as He makes His way along the road.
Is this the image of a conquering king? Is this a joke? Throughout history, a conquering king or general would enter his capital or a captured city on the most magnificent of horses, surrounded by the spoils of war. After the capture of Messina, in Sicily, during WWII, Major General George S. Patton entered the city in a convoy of military vehicles and to the accompaniment of a brass band and full military review. As the general’s convoy tore through American lines–in a scene later depicted in the 1970 movie Patton–a US soldier is reported to have commented using Patton’s unofficial nickname, “There goes 'Ol’ Blood n’ Guts.'” “Yeah,” said another soldier, “our blood, his guts.”
Jesus, of course, is playing off of another Old Testament image, that of Zechariah 9:9 - that if the people are not ready when the King of Kings arrives, He will not be on a mighty horse of war–but will come meek and lowly on a donkey’s foal. Instead of a conquering Caesar or even “Ol’ Blood n’ Guts,” the Lamb of God would shed His own blood by week’s end.
The image reminds me of the beautiful song “Ride on to Die” by contemporary Christian artist, Michael Card:
Midst the shouting so loud and the joy of the crowd
There is One who is riding in silence
For He knows the ones here will be fleeing in fear
When their shepherd is taken away
Soon the thorn cursed ground will bring forth a crown
And this Jesus will seem to be beaten
But He'll conquer alone both the shroud and the stone
And the prophesies will be completed
Oh, daughter of Zion your time's drawing near
Don't forsake Him, oh don't pass it by
On the foal of a donkey as the prophets had said
Passing by you He rides on to die
–Michael Card, “Ride on to Die”
Here is the rest of this hauntingly beautiful song that you may wish to check out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BV8yYYEaU0s
Jesus as the Gentle King comes not to make war but to end hostilities. He proclaims peace, not just to Israel but to all nations. Jesus, the Gentle King, comes to shed His own blood to satisfy God’s covenant and to release all of those who are enslaved by sin.
As the donkey foal tripped along, the noise of the crowds must have faded in Jesus’s ears as He remembered the promise of the Father and the sacrifice that was to come. John and the other disciples, their minds awhirl with the celebration and the moment, had doubtless wondered at their strange errand to fetch the donkey–as recorded in all three other gospels. If Jesus was a conquering king, He was going about it all wrong. He was conquering through humility.
How does the humility of Christ work in your life? How do you conquer through humility? Your natural inclination is far different:
You tell yourself, “The world is a hard place and requires me to be hard.” True - and there are times for this, but how often are you hard on others needlessly?
You may say, “I must look out for myself because no one else will.” Yes, but when do you cross the line of self-reliance, where you no longer seek help from your heavenly father in prayer, or ask the Spirit to fill you with His power?
How often do you struggle in marriage feeling, that you always are the one to give in and so every decision is a battle over who is in control?
How often do we fight in our churches over non-essential issues–simply because deep down we want our own way over others?
Jesus on the donkey rides on to die–the Gentle King focuses on the cross. You must also now take up your cross daily, for in Jesus you see a habit of humility.
As John is writing his gospel, the memory of those days come back to him. He remembers the donkey, the palm branches, the misplaced hopes of many people–and the tears of Jesus as He rode in their midst along the path of destiny.
16 His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him.–John 12:16
It is only later, in the shadow of the cross, the glory of the empty tomb, and Jesus’s ascent into heaven, that John and the disciples see it all. God was at work in ways they could not fathom.
Here is your key to the habit of humility: you understand that God is always at work, even though you do not know all of His plans. What you see now and the impressions you have of any suffering, frustration, or fear you are experiencing when your plans are not realized is often far from reality in light of His plan. Look to the Gentle King, whose war horse is a young donkey and whose victory is the cross, and humbly rest in His plan.
The Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay and this Saturday Deep is written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:
The weekly study guides, which include the Monday–Friday devotionals plus related questions for discussion or meditation, are available for download here:
Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.