On March 7, 1965 on a Sunday about 600 people marched a distance of 50 miles from Selma Alabama to Montgomery Alabama demanding their voting rights. The event became the scene of “America’s Bloody Sunday” Since that time on the anniversary of that significant March thousands walk on the same path remembering, reflecting and even reenacting some of the gruesome events of that day. It was all for the sake of “freedom to vote.” On March 7, 2015 President Obama was among the thousands of Americans commemorating the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march on Selma, Alabama. This march and others like them go down the memory lane of the American public.
On this Sunday worldwide millions of Christians are remembering, reflecting and even re-enacting a different kind of March that took place around AD 33 on the road to the ancient Jerusalem. For some it was a victory march for others it was a threat. This is called “the Palm Sunday” Palm Sunday is one of the most important days in the Christian calendar after Christmas and Easter. Palm Sunday is the Sunday before Easter, and marks the beginning of Holy Week, the week of events leading up to Jesus' death. In the simplest of terms, it is an occasion for reflecting on the final week of Jesus' life. It is a time for Christians to prepare their hearts for the agony of His Passion and the joy of His Resurrection.
Let’s journey back in time and join the disciples, the Pharisees and the crowd, to understand what it was like, and what the expectations of the crowd were like. As we press in to the crowd we may get a glimpse of the chief architect of that March and its historical significance. Matthew 21:1-11
The march was so significant, it was recorded in all the four gospels. Unlike the three other Gospel writers Matthew saw something of the prophetic significance in that March. Let me unpack that day’s events. Jesus had been travelling back and forth to Jerusalem for quite some time teaching, healing and driving out evil spirits. On one of those trips to Jerusalem, he called two of his disciples and gave them instructions to bring a donkey along with its colt. Accordingly they went and brought the donkey along with its colt and spread their coats on them.
A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Jesus started his march riding on a donkey. The crowds followed him shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is He who comes in the Name of the LORD; Hosanna in the highest.”
There are over 300 prophecies pertaining to the birth, work, death and the resurrection of Jesus in the OT and all of them have been fulfilled. One of them was found in Zechariah 9:9, “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” This was written around 500 BC. When Matthew saw all this was unfolding right in front of his eyes, he notes in Vs 4, “This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet.”
The way Zachariah predicted saying “See your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey on a colt, the foal of a donkey sounds rather odd isn’t it? Wasn’t it normal for kings of those days to ride on a horse? Then why would Zachariah say your king will ride on a donkey instead of a horse? There could be two reasons why God chose a donkey, instead of a horse for his future king to ride on. Firstly, A donkey was seen as a symbol of peace.
I DONKEY: A SYMBOL OF PEACE:
In the ancient Middle Eastern world kings and war lords normally rode horses when they went for war, but when they came in peace they rode donkeys. While the horse was seen as a symbol of war the donkey was seen a symbol of peace. Here are a few situations donkeys were used to negotiate and promote peace. David was running away from Saul with his men. There was a wealthy man named Nabal in that land. David sends a few of his men to Nabal with a request for food and other supplies. But Nabal acted foolishly, and sent them back empty handed.
When David heard of that humiliation he wanted to kill Nabal and all of his men. But Nabal’s wife Abigail acted shrewdly. She took two hundred loaves of bread, two skins of wine, five dressed sheep, …loaded them on donkeys to David and appeals mercy from David to spare her husband’s life. David said to Abigail, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you to day to meet me. May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands.” I Samuel 25:32.
Not only to negotiate peace but on other occasions some leaders and the judges of Israel rode on donkeys while giving a judgment or solving a problem (Judges 5:10; 10:4; 12:14). By choosing a donkey as a carrier for Jesus; God was communicating to the world that he was going to be the Prince of peace rather than a captain of an army. Zechariah goes on to say how this king will bring about peace on earth. I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.” Zechariah 9:10
This part of the scripture will be fulfilled when Christ returns to the earth and establishes his everlasting kingdom where there will be no wars but only peace and righteousness will reign. Coming back to our story, the crowd was over joyed hoping that finally the king has come to deliver them from the tyranny of the Roman Empire and they were soon going to enjoy freedom. Yes Jesus was going to deliver them but not the way they were expecting; He was going to set them free but not necessarily from the Romans but from another enemy who is far more sinister than the Romans and any other tyrant on the earth. This brings us to the second reason why Jesus rode on a donkey. In the ancient times donkeys were used to carry burdens.
II. DONKEY: A BURDEN CARRIER
In the ancient times, donkeys were known as the “beast of the burden.” We see them used to carry wood, grain and other household items. Gen 22:3, “Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey.” Gen 42:26, “then they loaded their donkeys with their grain.” Sometimes donkeys were used to carry people. Exodus 4:20 “And Moses took his wife and his sons and set them on donkeys, and he returned to the land of Egypt; and Moses took the rod of God in his hand.”
Not only in ancient times even now especially in the Middle East we see donkeys used to carry heavy loads. By using a donkey as his carrier which is known as the beast of the burden Jesus was conveying to the crowds that were harassed by the oppression of the Romans and the religious leaders, from now own I am going to carry all your burdens. You cast all of them onto me because I care for you. He was communicating a message that he was a different king unlike the other kings who levied huge taxes on common people. He was going to be a different leader unlike the religious leaders who loaded people with guilt through their legalism. Above all Jesus was saying that he came to carry the heavy burden of sin. Isaiah 53:6, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
When Jesus, rode on a donkey on the ancient streets of Jerusalem many did not recognize Jesus’ true intentions and symbolism of a donkey. But those who had the eyes to see like Matthew and others rejoiced over this fulfillment of the scripture. Jesus’ ride on a donkey brought hope and comfort to the believing, but for those who were only concerned about their power and control it made them uncomfortable to such an extent they began to plot and wait for a chance to kill him. We will learn all about their plot, and how Christ was crucified, buried and resurrected in the events that will be unfolded in the Holy Week.
Palm Sunday is not all about the donkey but it is about the One who rode on a donkey. What can we take away from this Palm Sunday? Two things; Jesus is the prince of peace. He is the only one who can truly bring peace to the problems of this world. If you let Him he can walk right into your troubling situation, whatever it may be and bring peace. Secondly, he has come to carry the burden of the sin of the whole world. If you let him, he can lift your burden of sin too, so that you can be free to worship him and enjoy the abundance not only in this life but also in the life to come. Amen