Palm Sunday| Matthew 21:1-9| Pastor James Preus| Trinity Lutheran Church| April 10, 2022
I am Jesus’ little donkey… It doesn’t have quite the same ring as I am Jesus’ Little Lamb. Yet, I would like each of you to consider yourself not only as Jesus’ little lamb, but as Jesus’ little donkey. Next to the lamb, the donkey is the most honored animal in all of Scripture. In the Torah, where God commands that every firstborn beast be offered to the Lord as a sacrifice, he excludes the donkey, commanding that every firstborn donkey be redeemed with a lamb (Exodus 13:13). God granted no animal on earth the gift of rational speech except Balaam’s donkey, which protested being beaten when it had rescued Balaam from the Angel of the LORD (Numbers 22). In Judges 15, the Holy Spirit records how Samson killed one thousand Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey. Afterward, Samson dying of thirst, cries out to the Lord, who then causes water to gush out of the jawbone, quenching Samson’s strength and reviving him. Samson’s donkey bone both killed and refreshed. This illustrated that all preachers of God’s Word are mere donkeys from whose mouths come out death and life.
Although Scripture does not explicitly tell us, it is quite probable that the mother of our Lord rode into Bethlehem on a donkey while baby Jesus was in her womb. Likewise, a donkey probably carried Mary and the Christ-child on their flight to Egypt. Finally, we reach our Gospel lesson for today. On Palm Sunday, as foretold by the prophet Zechariah, our Lord Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a little donkey, a colt of its mother, upon which no one had yet ridden. This lowly donkey carried our Lord and King into Jerusalem, where he would be beaten, crucified, die and be buried, before rising from the dead, all for our salvation.
So significantly does Scripture honor donkeys, that we should take a moment to consider how each of us can be Christ’s donkey. We’re used to mimicking the crowds and the children on Palm Sunday by waving the palm branches and singing, “Hosanna!” Yet, let us strive to mimic that humble, yet honorable donkey who carried our Lord to his destination. How do we do this? What does it mean to be Jesus’ donkey?
First, it means to be humble. The prophet told the daughters of Jerusalem to rejoice that their King was coming to them humble and riding on a donkey. There is hardly another way to ride upon a donkey than in humility. A donkey is a lowly animal. And so, we Christians are called to be lowly. The manner in which Christ entered Jerusalem, in humility, is often compared to how Christ comes into our midst today. Water is a simple thing we let run down the drain. Bread and wine are such a plain meal, many say, “No, thank you.”, without a second thought. Yet, our Lord comes to us by such lowly means. The Sacrament we prize is despised by the world much as the religious and political elites sneered at Jesus entering the city on a donkey. Yet, we Christians know that beneath those forms of bread and wine are the true body and blood of Jesus, which suffered and was shed for our sins, but is now exalted at the right hand of God the Father.
So, we Christians live in the humble manner in which Christ comes to us, meekly eating this meal, trusting that it provides what our dear Lord promises: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. This humility leads us to treat our neighbors with kindness and love, to be quick to forgive, slow to anger, ready to help, considering others more significant than ourselves. That is what it means to be Jesus’ donkey.
Second, to be Jesus’ donkey means to be faithful. When Balaam’s donkey rebuked him, she said, “Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?” Although it is surprising that a donkey would speak, it is not surprising that a donkey would say that. Donkeys are faithful. They do their work. They follow him who leads them. So did this donkey, which carried our Lord on its back. He followed the direction of the disciples and did not begrudge the load. And so, to be Jesus’ donkey means to follow him, much as a little lamb follows its shepherd. Yet more, to carry the load he gives without complaint.
And this leads us to the third meaning of being Jesus’ donkey, to be willing to bear a burden. “If it is the Lord’s will that I bear this, I will gladly bear it.” That is the attitude of Jesus’ donkeys. They’re beasts of burden, who do not complain about the load. They also do not try to choose their load. What donkey chooses what his master will put on his back? Rather, he carries what the master places there, without complaint. And so too, you do not choose which cross your Savior lays on you for your good, but you bear it with patience.
Of course, the most precious load each of Jesus’ donkeys must carry is Christ Jesus himself. This is where the name Christopher comes from. It literally means to be a bearer of Christ. You’ve no doubt heard the line, “You shouldn’t wear your religion on your sleeve.” Even Christians say such things. It’s total nonsense. What does Jesus say? “Everyone who confesses me before men, I too will confess before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I too will deny before my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32-33) To carry Christ means to confess Jesus at every opportunity, as St. Peter says, “Always be prepared to give a defense to anyone for the reason for the hope that is within you.” (1 Peter 3:15) Jesus’ donkeys confess Christ to family, friends, and acquaintances. They aren’t embarrassed to be known as Christians. They teach their children about Jesus at home and they take them to church.
Carrying Christ in this way does cause one of Jesus’ donkeys to receive honor. As the crowds strew their coats and palm branches on the road before Jesus and waved their branches in the air, so Jesus’ little donkey enjoyed the honor of walking over these coats and branches, feeling the gentle breeze of the palms fanning him, and hearing the sweet singing of the children. So, Christians will honor each other in their pursuit to honor Christ. They will speak well of one another and look out of their needs. They will be quick to offer a cup of cold water to one of Jesus’ little ones. Jesus’ little donkeys are not without honor in the Church of Christ.
Yet, as the world hated Christ, it will most certainly hate his disciples. If the world spits and hurls dirt clods at Jesus, they will certainly hit the back and face of the donkey on which he rides. So, it is important for Jesus’ little donkeys to know that if they are to bear Christ on their back, they will receive abuse from the world, which hates him.
And this can be the hardest load to bear. When people go after Christ, they go after his donkey. Much like how warriors will attack the horse of a cavalryman, so to knock the rider to the ground, so the world attacks Jesus’ Christians. And as a cowardly horse may be tempted to buck its rider and escape the battlefield, so Christians will be tempted to get Christ off their back to escape the abuse of the world.
When you stick out like a sore thumb among your co-workers and fellow students, because of your confession of Christ, it is tempting to remove Christ from your back. When you become an outsider in your own family, because you practice the Christian religion, but they refuse, it becomes tempting to remove Christ. When being a professed Christian earns you insults, it becomes tempting to remove Christ. Jesus becomes a heavy burden when you decide that it is easier to remain silent than to confess Christ and what his word teaches even to those whom you love.
Yet, when these temptations arise and the weight seems a bother, do not put Christ down. Do not silence your confession of faith. Remember the words of Jesus. “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke and learn from me, for I’m gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-29)
How can Jesus say that his yoke is easy and his burden is light, if it seems that Jesus’ little donkeys must bear the weight of the whole world on account of him? Because Jesus is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. It is impossible for you to carry a greater burden than what Jesus bore for you. To be Jesus’ donkey does not mean to bear the weight of your own sin, but rather, to confess him who takes your sins away. This is why Jesus’ donkeys gladly bear their load. They are not trying to earn their salvation. They are carrying him who has won their salvation for them.
Finally, Jesus exalts the humble. This is his persistent promise. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted. Jesus’ donkeys bear him in humility, because Christ came to us in humility to bear our sins for us. Yet, Jesus does not remain in his humility. He rises from the dead on the third day. He ascends to the right hand of God the Father, leading a host of captives out of the grave’s dark prison. He who carries Christ in his humility, will certainly be raised with Christ in his exaltation.
That lowly colt of a donkey carried Jesus to Jerusalem, where he was falsely accused, beaten, spit upon, mocked, crucified, and buried. He did this to save us from our sins. And so, being Jesus’ donkey today, you continue to carry Christ to Jerusalem, not so that he may be crucified again, but so that you may confess his crucifixion again and again. You carry Christ wherever you go, but you always carry him to the cross, where he paid for all your sins. You confess that He has made full atonement. That you are not ashamed of him, who was not ashamed to bear your shame. And with such a confession, you know that Christ is not ashamed of you. That little donkey did not carry Jesus to his destruction, but to his victory over sin, death, and hell. And so, as Jesus little donkey, you confess Jesus’ victory for you. Amen.
Let us pray:
On my heart imprint Your image,
Blessed Jesus, king of grace.
That life’s riches cares and pleasures
Never may your work erase.
Let the clear inscription be:
Jesus crucified for me
Is my life my hope’s foundation
And my glory and salvation. Amen.