March 25, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
Zechariah prophesied during the exile of the Israelites when there were no kings in Israel. Even when Israel had kings, less than a half of a half of them were any good—most chased after the false gods of other nations. But Zechariah looks to the future. Be very happy, people of Zion! Shout aloud, people of Jerusalem. You see, your King will come to you, He is righteous and victorious, poor, and riding on a donkey, on a young burro, the colt of a donkey (Zech 9:9). Zechariah’s vision is fulfilled when Jesus goes into Jerusalem. Jesus found a donkey and sat on it, as it is written: “Don’t be afraid, daughter of Zion! Look! Your King is coming, riding on a donkey’s colt!”
But Zechariah doesn’t see the first Palm Sunday only. He sees every Palm Sunday that follows—indeed every Sunday that follows. Because your King still comes to you, though no longer on the donkey. He comes to you in the ministry of the Church. And He comes for a very specific reason. At the end of His Palm Sunday journey lies His throne—the cross.
Look, Your King Is Coming
It was a sight to behold, to be sure. People energized with the thought of a king, and with the king the return of the kingdom. Just like the days of old, when David ruled in power, and Solomon in wisdom, and, well, after those two it gets a little sketchier. Some of the kings were good, but most turned away from God. A couple of them repented, but overall, the age of the kings in Israel was not one of its shining moments. But memories are short, and selective. Look, your king is coming—He’s riding on a donkey.
This was maybe unexpected, although it shouldn’t have been for any student of the Old Testament. It was maybe a striking counter-point to the crowds waving their palm branches and laying their coats on the street and singing a Psalm of ascent, which just so happened to coincide with the cries that one would give for a king—Hosanna! Salve! Hail! Save us! But the King that comes comes on a donkey.
The, donkey is an entire book about this King. But let’s highlight just two things revealed by the King’s choice of vehicle. First, the donkey is low and humble. It’s not a majestic destrier that the King rides, armor flashing in the sunlight, chariots and army in His train. The donkey isn’t known for running down the enemy. They’re known more for their difficulty and refusal to obey. But it’s with this humble mount that the King comes with power greater than those who ride war horses and chariots, who wield the most advanced armor and weaponry.
The second thing the donkey teaches about this King is that He bears a burden. The donkey most often is utilized not in war but in work. He carries things that are too heavy or too inconvenient for his master to carry. This donkey carries a Man who Himself bears a burden—the donkey bears the One who bears the sins of the world.
The donkey tells us that the reign of this King will be far different from any other king on earth, far different even from the kings of Israel. His reign is not power, but weakness; not strength, but humility. His reign is to bear the burden to His own throne, to wear it upon His own head, draped over His own shoulders. Look, your King is coming—He’s riding on a donkey.
I’m sure somewhere, someone has brought a live donkey into their church for Palm Sunday. I’m not one to tempt fate like that, especially given the reputation donkey’s have. Although, perhaps it would take away our romanticized view of the triumphal entry that we see depicted in paintings. Rather, we might realize what a comedy it would have been, what a halting, meandering path the donkey probably took. But whatever it looked like in person, that’s not what it means for us. The donkey is gone. But that doesn’t mean that the King doesn’t still come to you. He just chooses different vehicles (though for the same reasons). Look, your King is coming—He’s riding on the word and the water, the bread and the wine.
Perhaps it’s even more unexpected than a donkey. How should our Lord and King come to His people? In great power and majesty and might, in a mode suited to a king? He certainly could—all of His enemies are now under His feet. But to come in great power and majesty and might, as the conquering King, would mean that He comes as a judge. That’s bad news for us.
Let us examine ourselves according to the donkey. How’s your humility? I think Muhammad Ali sums it up for us: “It’s hard to be humble when you’re as great as I am.” No, a donkey wouldn’t do for us. That part of God’s kingdom is a bit distasteful. What about bearing your burden? No, we pile offense upon offense, and then we try to pass the guilt off on anyone but ourselves. That’s the Adam and Eve blame game.
It is a blessing to us that our King still comes mounted on humble vehicles, though not on the donkey. The vehicles our King chooses now are the Word, water, bread and wine. That we may obtain this faith, the Ministry of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith; where and when it pleases God, in them that hear the Gospel, to wit, that God, not for our own merits, but for Christ’s sake, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake (AC V). The instruments of the Holy Spirit are also the vehicles of our King, because the Spirit’s job is simply to bring us Christ. That’s what Jesus promises.
These vehicles are humble—nothing flashy, and nothing threatening about words, or water, or bread and wine. These are fundamental to human existence. But the more gracious nature of these vehicles is that Christ comes in them to bear the burden of your sins. Today, Jesus came to Graham in the water to make Himself Graham’s King, and He did so by taking the burden that Graham cannot bear on his own. That’s the Word that’s added to the water—the promise of forgiveness.
Your King also comes to you today, mounted on bread and wine, to give you His body and blood. Why? Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This is why we sing again, Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! during the communion liturgy. Look, your King is coming—He’s riding the word and the water, the bread and the wine.
But we mustn’t yet turn our attention away from the first Palm Sunday, because there was a purpose to the King’s entry into Jerusalem. There was a definite end to the journey on the donkey. Because a King needs a coronation and to sit on His throne. But just as the donkey is an unexpected vehicle for a king, so is this King’s coronation and throne unexpected. Look, your King is coming—and He’s going to the cross.
Just as His mount was a donkey and not a destrier, the King’s crown is not gold and jewels, but thorns. His robe is a blood-soaked piece of purple. His throne is a couple of pieces of lumber, fixed with nails. Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews, read the sign above His head. And while it looked like anything but a king, the sign couldn’t have been more right. Jesus is the Crucified King.
And that means something for you. Jesus still comes to you as the Crucified King. Graham’s baptism (and yours) crucifies you with Christ. The Supper you eat proclaims the King’s death. The purpose of His coming to you is to bring you the cross, rather, the benefits of His cross. But in one week, that death will give way to resurrection. Look, your King is coming—and He’s bringing the cross.
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard