Gospel Transportation: Which Ride Will You Choose?
How a different kind of king creates a different kind of people
Today we begin a journey with eight devotional posts over the coming week that follow Jesus Sunday to Sunday—from the Temple to the Last Supper, from the cross to the grave.
All the way to the empty tomb.
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What We Expect
What images come to mind when you think of a king? Maybe a ruler wrapped in a thick robe perched atop a large throne wearing a golden crown embedded with costly jewels?
And where would he live? Probably in a palace staffed with numerous servants, ready to fulfill his every wish. In fact, he may have several residences, all extravagant in their accommodations and furnishings.
When a king travels, what kind of transportation does he utilize? In the old days, it might be a Royal Carriage surrounded by an entourage of Knights. Or in more modern times, an expensive limousine surrounded by a grand motorcade. Traveling by air would be luxurious. A personal leer jet no doubt, equipped with every comfort and convenience.
This is what we expect of kings.
A Different Kind of King
But the Bible introduces us to another king—a different kind of king who describes himself as “gentle and lowly in heart.” Rather than ascend his throne with the strong-arm tactics of traditional kings, he humbled himself in the likeness of a servant.
He wasn’t born in a palace to nobility but in a stable to peasant parents. And he didn’t travel first class but walked everywhere he went—except for the time he road the foal of a donkey into the city of Jerusalem on the Sunday before Passover. We call it Palm Sunday.
It is that Sunday we celebrate today.
Matthew 21:1-11 describes the scene. Jews from all over the eastern Mediterranean world were gathering in Jerusalem to celebrate the annual Passover feast commemorating Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt through Moses.
Someone far greater than Moses was about to enter the city.
21:1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”
4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: 5 “Say to the Daughter of Zion, ‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ ”
6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt, placed their cloaks on them, and Jesus sat on them. 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!”
10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Hosanna in the Highest!
On one hand, Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem to fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9. But this wasn’t the only reason.
How do you think kings in the ancient world typically rode into town? Maybe on a mighty stallion arrayed with armor. But never would his majesty enter a city upon the back of a donkey!
As Jesus approached the city, he could have asked for a Tesla or a new Jeep with every accessory. The crowd of Jewish celebrants was primed and ready to receive him as its king with uncompromising devotion. Throwing cloaks and palm branches upon the road, they created a red carpet of sorts for their Messianic hero.
Quoting from the Old Testament Psalms, they ascribe to him the title, Son of David, a well-recognized designation for the Anointed One whom they believed would rise up to rescue the Jews from Roman oppression, liberating the people by re-establishing the throne of Israel.
As Jesus entered the city gates, the people welcomed him, shouting, “Hosanna in the highest!”
Do you know what Hosanna means? It is a Hebrew word that when translated means, “Please save us!”
Indeed, that is why Jesus was entering Jerusalem. To save. But he would not save the way they expected or wanted to be saved.
A friend recently told me, “Faithful ministry is not giving people what they want. It is giving people what they need.” The reason faithful ministry is so rare may be that when leaders give people what they need instead of what they want, the crowds eventually cry, “Crucify him!”
That is exactly what happened to Jesus.
Blinded by Might
Pastor Ed Dobson and columnist Cal Thomas were both insiders with the Moral Majority movement in the 1980s and 90s. Reflecting on their involvement and the movement as a whole, they published a book about Christianity and politics in 1999 entitled Blinded by Might. That title encapsulates their thesis: “Whenever the church cozies up to political power, it loses sight of its all-important mission to change the world from the inside out.”
The front flap of the hardback version reinforces the point, “In blurring the lines between politics and Christianity, (believers) have traded the only power that can truly change America (the gospel) for the methods of a kingdom that is of this world.”1
What was true then is just as true now. The lines tragically have been blurred. The church today is at risk of exchanging the ways of Jesus’ kingdom for the ways of worldly nations.
This does not mean that Christians should avoid participating in the political process. Not at all. Followers of Jesus should be involved in every realm of life, from education to medicine, business to art, economics, engineering, literature, and everything in between— including politics.
However, for those of us who are particularly political-minded, I don’t want us to miss the lesson about riding donkeys rather than stallions into the city.
What was Jesus’ choice of transportation saying?
A Different Kind of King = a Different Kind of Kingdom
The kingdom of God is altogether different than worldly kingdoms. In worldly kingdoms, leaders use their strength to defeat their enemies. But in the kingdom of God, leaders use their strength to save their enemies.
This is the purpose of the foal. What looks like weakness to the world is subversive, undercover, stealth power.
Just like the cross.
But the cross was the very opposite of weakness. Jesus allowing himself to be stripped and crucified looked like weakness, but as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:18, “(While) the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
The cross is the power of God to save and sanctify sinners!
Authority. Dominion. Sovereignty. Preeminence. Strength. Might. Whichever word we choose, it applies to Christ, the Creator whose hands formed upwards of 300 billion galaxies.
I hope you know that the nails did not keep Jesus on the cross. Love kept him there. The joy set before him empowered him to endure the nails.
Jesus could have destroyed every Roman soldier with a word. He could have wiped out the Jewish Sanhedrin and annihilated his enemies with a glance. But he was not sent by the Father to follow the pattern of a worldly king but to be a different kind of king.
The kind of king who uses his strength not to defeat his enemies but to save them. Jesus is the king who takes off his crown, steps down from his throne, and removes his robe so that he not only can wash soiled feet but clean sin-smeared souls. Unlike traditional kings, he doesn’t demand his subjects shed blood for him. Rather, he sheds his own blood for them.
Not by Might but by Mercy
If you are a disciple of this king, what does this mean? Specifically, how should Jesus’ choice of transportation impact your life as a disciple?
The answer is simple. We are to be a donkey riding people. Not literally, of course. But practically, as we choose the lowly donkey instead of a mighty stallion. The believer is called to make a conscious decision to manifest a functional humility demonstrated by a mental disposition not to see your enemies defeated but blessed. Ultimately, we should desire to see our enemies saved by the same grace that saved you.
This is how the Kingdom of God wins, spreads, and influences individuals, families, and entire communities. Not my exercising might but by showing mercy.
If you have received the saving grace of Jesus as your Savior-King, you have a choice to make. Whether riding into the office or on social media to debate politics, or into a conversation with an adult child, or into the kitchen to make a hard decision with your spouse, you get to choose whether to ride the stallion or the foal.
Those are the options.
Let’s be thankful Jesus chose the foal.
Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson, Blinded by Might (Grand Rapids: Zondervan), 1999.