Tuesday, March 15, 2016

He Rides a Donkey

I want tell you a story.  Specifically, I want to tell you the story of when Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey.  I want you to turn on your imagination.  What would it be like that day?  What would you be doing?  Where would you be standing?  What would you be shouting?  What would the road feel like on your feet?  What would the crowd smell like?  What would the shouts of hosanna and crucify him sound like to you?  How would they sound as the came from your mouth? 

So let us put on our sanctified imagination as we hear the story of Jesus today, from an unlikely source.  The foundation for this story comes from the gospel of Matthew 21:1-22.  Keep your finger in that page because we will progressively read that passage as we listen to the story being told.

It begins at the tree
Now, imagine yourself in Jerusalem. It is not long after a man from Nazareth made a great wake in the city by coming and declaring his kingship, in the most remarkable way.  And instead of accepting this man, as king, the city sent him to be murdered on the cross.  That was yesterday.  Today you cannot help but walk a few hundred meters from where you are staying, in Jerusalem, to the most remarkable place.  You walk to an old shriveled fig tree.  And as you approach the tree you see a man standing looking up into the barren branches.   You both marvel silently.

“You know,” says the man to you, “You know, the tree, just this week, was full of vibrant green leaves.  Now it looks like a punk piece of wood, not even fit to heat a home.”

“I know,” you say, “what happened?”

He tells you his name is Jacob; you tell him your name and he begins the most wonderful story, “I own a donkey and a colt.”

“Jacob,” you interrupt, “what does a donkey and a colt have to do with a fig tree?”

Ignoring your question he plunges on with his story “He came for the donkey, well his follower’s did any way?”

“You must understand that everyone was preparing for the Passover.  On this day everyone is trying to get one of the lambs sacrificed at the temple.” Jacob pauses and sizes you up, “I can see that you are not from around here.  Let me explain.  A lamb was sacrificed so that Israel could be freed from slavery in Egypt.  Every year we celebrate that liberation.  And on this day we were preparing our offerings. 

“I was about to load my donkey with supplies but they stopped me.  They began to untie my donkey and her colt.  Here I am with my load of supplies and they are taking my transportation. ‘Whoa,’ I said to them, ‘what are you doing?’  With strength and conviction and a growing crowd around them all they said to me was, ‘the Lord has need of them.’

“In that moment I was stuck.  As if any objection I had before me melted away. I nodded and loosed the donkeys to them.  As they began to walk away I did not know what to do.  I needed to know who this ‘Lord’ was, who this king was.  Was it Pilate? Was it Herod?  Was it some great general?  These men, certainly, did not look like the type of people who stay in a palace all day.  And the sense of authority in their request I could only say yes. 

“So I followed behind, I had to see this Lord and king.  And as they approached the Man they called Lord I began to hear the murmuring, ‘This is him, this is Jesus of Nazareth. He is coming to be our messiah, our king!’  And with an ever growing throng we entered into Jerusalem and were greeted with tremendous fain fare!”

1. Jesus declares kingship by riding on donkey
Jacob scratches his head, turns and invites you to follow him down the road.  The same road that Jesus of Nazareth walked in on, as the crowds heralded his entrance into the city.  Looking around you can still see the remnants of palm branches trampled in the mud.  They were laid down so the footsteps of even the donkey would not touch the mud.  “Jacob,” you ask, “do you think that this man, Jesus, meant for the crowed to mistake him as a coming King?”

“Make no mistake my friend,” Jacob begins, “this man Jesus was an incredible teacher of the law, the writings and the prophets.  The scribes, lawyers, Pharisees, and Sadducee, all took their crack at him.  They interrogated him on his knowledge of the law and prophets.  Every time they came away from Jesus, they left in humiliation, because of His humble and profound knowledge of the scriptures. 

“Jesus knew the words of Lord written by the prophet Zechariah, ‘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.[1]’ God said that when he came to save Israel from his enemies, that he would come a king riding on a donkey.  Who would have thought it would be my donkey, eh!”  He said thumping your shoulder with his fist.  “And the trumpets and fanfare are common. They are always used to announce the coming of a king.  Look at the King Jehu[2], so many years ago.  They took off their cloaks back then, as he entered the city.  Make no mistake Jesus knew the significant of their proclamation. 

“What confuses me, though, is that when Jesus came into Jerusalem we thought he was going to rid us of Roman rule.  Instead he goes into the temple and starts driving off the money changers and merchants trying, in this economy, to make a buck off of the travelers coming for the Passover feast.” 

2. Jesus declares his kingship by clearing the temple
As the two of you walked the path into Jerusalem you could see the colonnade of the temple rising in the path in front of you.  A beautiful sight to be sure.  Jacob continued, “Like any good king the first order of business is setting your house in order.  Jesus came in with the boldness of a king.  But, he did not go to the palace, he went to the temple.  And with fierce, violent, action drove everyone from the temple grounds, with a whip none the less.  You should have heard the noise, birds flying everywhere, men shouting indignations, cows lowing loudly, children laughing and gasping at the sight.  Chaos. It was utter chaos.” 

Jacob leaned in to emphasis his point with a whisper in your ear, “Do you know what Jesus said when he drove the merchants from the temple mound? He shouted, ‘MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER[3]!’  Do you understand that Jesus was calling the temple ‘His house’?  I suspect that he was not thinking himself as just a king of Israel.  He was speaking in terms that were much bigger than just our nation.  What he said from the prophet declared that the temple of God the House of God was a house for all people.  You see with the money changers and cows and market in the temple area, gentiles couldn’t worship, even if they wanted.  So here comes Jesus clearing the place out so Jews and gentiles could worship God.” 

Jacob scratched his chin.  “I suspect that is why they wanted to crucify him. He was making a bold claim as king.  Not just king of us, but every nation.  What if the Romans heard that one?  But you know what scared them the most was the authority that he brought with his teaching.  He was not just making simple claims but he backed it up with action.”

3. Jesus declared his kingship by healing people
“The authority,” Jacob said as he waved his hands in a big and inclusive circle, “the sick came to him from every corner of the city, like pigeons in the park.  This still confounds me, he healed them.” You both stopped walking toward the temple as Jacob silently mulled the question in his head, “can your king do that?  Can your king heal like that?  I don’t know where you are from but I know Pilot can’t do that.  I know Hared can’t do that.  I doubt, despite his claims, Emperor Tiberius could even heal like this man.  With a touch with a word even sickness obeyed.  What kind of king can command even sickness?” Jacob turned and looked back at the withered fig tree.

“I think Jesus was claiming to be even more than a king.  I think he was calling himself God.  He was certainly behaving like God’s things are his things.  And the authority to make that claim was his, with little effort.  And the Pharisees knew it, I suspect.  In the temple the kids were continuing to run around shouting the triumphant words of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’ they shouted.  And the Pharisees were none too pleased, they tried to get Jesus to stop them, ‘do you hear what they are saying?’ The Pharisees said.  Man Jesus did not even flinch, he paraphrases one of the psalms and says to the Pharisees, ‘out of the mouths of babes I have prepared praise.’  Ok, now I don’t know many psalms but I know that when the psalms talk about praise there is one who is always receiving glory for that praise and Jesus just said that praise was for him. 

“Listen to me stranger,” Jacob said turning to you, poking your shoulder with his finger, “this was no ordinary man; he claimed to be a king and more.  And if it weren’t for his authority over, just about everything, I would say the Pharisees were right in what they did. But this man had authority.  Do you see that tree there,” Jacob said as he pointed down the path, the one you just came from, to the broken fig tree in the distance.  “Do you see that Tree, last week that tree was filled with vibrant leaves.  Quite a beautiful tree it was.” 

“What happened?” You ask Jacob. 

“What happened,” Jacob repeating your question, “Jesus happened.  He came to the tree the next morning.  After all the falderal at the temple Jesus came back into town. I stayed the night and was leaving as he came in.  I saw him do it.  He wanted a fig, and when none were to be found he said to the tree, ‘I’m done with you’ and that was that.  By the next day not even a branch was left.  It was almost like all his frustration over this city of peace, the city of God, Jerusalem, was poured out onto this cursed tree.  I wonder if he didn’t want to curse the whole city, like he did this tree.  And once again this man had authority that was unprecedented.  The king of the city, king of the world, king over sickness, is king over nature as well.”

You stop Jacob to ask him, “So if this man Jesus displayed this authority, claimed to be God, and King coming home to his people and city, where is he now? Can we go see him?”

“Kid, you truly are an out of Towner!  They killed him!” 

“Wait,” you interrupt again, “what do you mean, I thought he was king with authority, God over sickness and nature.  What do you mean he died, what do you mean they killed him!”

There is a long moment of silence between the two of you before Jacob said, “That is the most confounding part of this. Here is a man who demonstrated his power over wind and water, flesh and blood, heart and soul, and he walked quietly, brokenly, obediently to Golgotha, and they crucified him.”  Jacob tried to work out the lump forming in his throat. “The worst part is that the very same crowd, the one saying hosanna, a few days later were screaming, ‘crucify him!’  I wonder if people are only willing to follow someone if they can get something out of the deal. And at the first sign of weakness they are out of there.

“They took him before the Sanhedrin, Pilate, and with a great crowd of rabble they beat him, and took this man to the cross.  He died shortly after. That was yesterday. Today has been mournfully silent.”

Jacob went quite.  You both stare for a while at the cursed fig tree.  As one of its branches breaks and falls.  You turn to Jacob and quietly say, “The more you told me about this person the more I wanted to see him speak.  I guess that won’t happen now.”

A small smile and a gleam begins to grow in Jacobs eye, “I lent that man my donkey not knowing his authority.  But the more I learn about him the more I realize this man was a king of a much different kingdom.” Looking over his shoulder, as if he is going to say something scandalous, and tremendously crazy, Jacob leans in, “You know what? If this man was king over Israel, nature, and sickness I am beginning to wonder if he won’t be king over death.”

You give Jacob the universal look that coveys, “Seriously, that is crazy talk.”

“Why is it so crazy?” Jacob replies to your look, “I am told that this man, Jesus, was saying to his disciples for many months that he is going to die and come back to life.  I hear that even the Pharisees got romans to guard the tomb where he lays, to prevent anyone from stealing the body.  You know this may just be the end of another zealot religious leader.  Truthfully, I’d like to think that there will be more. I have hope that he will bring something more.  I want to believe that his promises to his disciples are true.  I want a king who is king over the land, king over nature, king over sickness, and king over life and death.”  Jacob gives you a big hug and says, “But if you’ll excuse me I must be going, today is the Sabbath and I need to get busy resting.”  With that he turned and headed back into town. 

Who was this Jesus guy you wonder?  Did he really have to die?  It seems like such a waste.  Was Jacob right? Was this man king over all things?  Can anyone be king over death? What would that mean for us?

At this point I don’t wish to spoil the ending for you, but the next day, the first day of the week, that Sunday, a group of women went to the tomb to dress the body with burial spices.  When they got there the guards at the tomb were laying out, trembling.  When they saw the women I suspect that they ran. Guess what the woman saw?  An angel was standing at the tomb. And he said to the woman, “Jesus is not here he has risen.”  Or so I have been told. 
Here is the thing about Jesus.  As the owner of the donkey began to realize, either Jesus is king over all things, King of kings, Lord of lords, God of gods.  Or else he is just another dead crazy zealot.  What do you believe?  I believe the triumphal entry was just the movie teaser trailer for his final entry.  I believe that he is not in the tomb.  I believe that you will never find his bones.  I believe that He wields His great authority as king, priest, prophet, God. 

So what really happened that day?  Take time to judge for yourself.  It is all written down by his disciples Matthew, Mark and John, and the physician, Luke.  Look and see that he is good. 

[1]  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.
(Zechariah 9:9 ESV)

[2]  Then in haste every man of them took his garment and put it under him on the bare steps, and they blew the trumpet and proclaimed, “Jehu is king.”
(2 Kings 9:13 ESV)

[3]  These I will bring to my holy mountain, / and make them joyful in my house of prayer; / their burnt offerings and their sacrifices / will be accepted on my altar; / for my house shall be called a house of prayer / for all peoples.”
(Isaiah 56:7 ESV)

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