“Donkey Sunday”

Today is Palm Sunday, the day Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem. It’s referred to Jesus’ triumphal entry into the city, the culmination of His three-year ministry on earth. But one could argue that it’s more appropriate to call today “Donkey Sunday.” Why? Because to focus on the Palm branches is to focus on the grave misunderstanding Jews had of Jesus. To focus on the donkey is to focus on who Jesus is and the true reason He came. Let’s look at Matthew 21:

6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted: “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest heaven!” Matthew 21:1-9 (NIV)

The welcome from the crowd seems to demonstrate the misperception many Jews had of Jesus. They saw Him as a conquering military leader who would liberate Israel from the occupying Roman Empire. Such a figure would be expected to enter the city on a proud, white steed, not a humble donkey. Palm branches were a sign of Jewish nationalism, not unlike Americans waving the red, white, and blue as an act of patriotism. The donkey beautifully symbolizes Jesus as the humble servant leader He came to be. Palm branches represent a misunderstanding of who Jesus is and what He came to accomplish. The donkey symbolizes accurately who Jesus is and what He came to accomplish. He is the Son of God who came to rescue all the world from the clutches of sin, not a military leader who came to rescue Israel from the Romans.

In the cruelest irony the world has ever seen, Jesus was crucified, in part, not because Jews expected too much of Him, but that they didn’t expect enough of Him. What lessons are there for us on Palm/Donkey Sunday?

1. Jesus is always in control, even when it doesn’t look that way. Jesus knew the misunderstandings that would exist on Palm Sunday and He knew they would lead to Good Friday. After His crucifixion, His disciples would believe the plan had gone horribly wrong. Even on the cross Jesus was in complete control, executing His Father’s plan to perfection.

2. Jesus was misunderstood then and is now. How often do we, too, forget who Jesus is and misunderstand His purpose in our lives? Like First Century Jews, we can focus on Jesus fixing the here and now, rather than spending eternity with Him.

3. The presence of Jesus will always draw a crowd—and some in the crowd will always turn   on Him. Many believers are filled with a joy unprecedented in their lives when first accepting Jesus. Then they discover life will be difficult. Like those on Palm Sunday, we can then blame Jesus and momentarily reject Him.

The thrilling news is that if we stumble on any of these, all we need to do is confess and we are forgiven! The excitement of Palm Sunday, the agony of Good Friday and the exhilaration of Resurrection Sunday all remind us of who Jesus is, why He came and what it means for us. May the mediation of that reality be on your heart this Holy Week.

Pastor Jerry Bader

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