This Sunday is Palm Sunday. I’m not sure how much you know about Palm Sunday, but it is the day that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a young donkey right before His crucifixion. The people all shouted Hosanna, laid their coats on the ground for Him to ride over, waved palm branches, and celebrated His coming just like a parade. They thought that Jesus was going to be crowned king and free them from the Romans’ rule. (We know now that He wasn’t to be that kind of king though.)
The events of Palm Sunday, often referred to as Jesus’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem, are recorded in all four of the Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. That’s a sure sign that this day was very important! It marked what we think of as the beginning of Jesus’s journey to the cross. But really, that journey began long before Palm Sunday! That journey began before He started His public ministry. It began even before He arrived here on Earth in that Bethlehem manger. Jesus’s purpose was part of a much bigger plan by God to save the entire world. It went far above and beyond what the people there that original Palm Sunday knew.
Now, you might think that Jesus would pick something better to ride into town on that day than a donkey, wouldn’t you? But that is what He told the Disciples to get for Him to ride, so they did.
What do you think of when you see a donkey? Stubborn, right? That’s what they are known for, and when we think of Jesus making a triumphant entry into the Jewish holy city, it’s a logical question to ask: “Why a donkey?” It’s probably not what you or I would have chosen,
so at first glance, it might seem that Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey was just a practical matter. He was tired of walking, and there was a donkey available nearby. Not a horse. Not a camel. Just a donkey. But no, the meaning of Jesus riding on a young donkey went above and beyond the immediate or the practical. Even this detail—and this lowly animal—was part of God’s bigger plan for us.
Way back in Zechariah 9:9, in the Old Testament, there was a prophecy that the Messiah would come riding on a young donkey. Matthew quoted Zechariah when he wrote about Palm Sunday in Matthew 21:1–7: “As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two Disciples, 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. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: ‘Say to Daughter Zion, See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ The Disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on.”
Jesus specifically wanted a donkey. What might seem to us like a “Plan B” practical solution to an immediate situation was actually a specific fulfillment of thousands of years of promise.
You’ll have to admit though, a young donkey is kind of cute, but I wouldn’t go so far as calling it majestic or royal. The top Roman soldiers of Jesus’s day rode on fancy, majestic horses; now those were a show of power and position. Those said power, strength, and authority. The donkey? Well, not so much.
But while the donkey can represent the humility of Jesus, the ironic twist of the story is that by riding on this donkey, Jesus was also proclaiming that He was the Messiah, the real King! The dedicated Jews gathering in Jerusalem at this time for the celebration of the Passover feast would have known this Old Testament prophecy, so this simple act demonstrated a connection to the past by fulfilling the prophecy. It also pointed to the future of Jesus as king—not an earthly king as some imagined, but as the true King who would reign forever in God’s story of love, forgiveness, grace, and redemption: the Messiah, whom the Jews had been waiting for throughout the centuries. Here He came, riding on a simple donkey that day.
This Sunday, just like those many years ago, wave your palm branches, shout Hosanna, and celebrate Jesus as the true king of our lives forever. Remember the lowly donkey and the important role he played in God’s plan that day by letting the Savior ride on his back.
Let’s say our prayer. Father God, thank You for having a plan to save us from ourselves. Help us to remember that You always have our best interests at heart and can use anybody or anything to make that happen – even a lowly young donkey. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
Ann Moody is a retired pastor, formerly of the Wilkesville First Presbyterian Church and the Middleport First Presbyterian Church. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author.