Bible Text: Matthew 21:1-9 | Preacher: Pastor Andrew Richard
“Behold, your King is coming to you, humble.” It is good that Jesus deals with us in lowliness and gentleness. It is good for us that He comes to us humbly. There is great power is His humility, as we will see, and great joy.
To set the stage for examining Jesus’ humble power further, we’ll look at an event in Israel’s history very much like the one in our reading. The people were longing for a king. There was great tumult as others contended for power. And then the true king was revealed, riding on a donkey, the people following him, rejoicing in the son of David, the earth shaking at their cry.
David had said Solomon would be king, and yet another of his sons, Adonijah, allied with Joab, the former commander of David’s army, and Abiathar the priest, started a coup, and declared himself king. He had a large following, military might, and religious influence. He threw a great feast and celebrated his kingship. For a moment it looked as though Adonijah would succeed in displacing Solomon from the throne. But Nathan the prophet and Solomon’s mother, Bathsheba, made the plot known to David. David ordered that Solomon be seated on his own donkey and led forth in procession, anointed, and publicly declared to be king. And so Solomon rode forth on the donkey, accompanied by the crowds, and there was no doubt who was the true king. When Adonijah got word that Solomon was king, the men with him were greatly afraid and his following dissolved. Adonijah himself fled to the temple, laid hold of the horns of the altar, and begged for his life. The mighty, loud Adonijah was overthrown by a man quietly riding on a donkey. When the true king is known, then the pretenders become nothing. Indeed the slightest breeze of true power is enough to topple the towers of usurped power.
Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, that what was spoken by the prophet might be fulfilled, “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden’” (Mt. 21:5; Zech. 9:9). Yet even as this prophecy is fulfilled, we should see an echo, and indeed a fulfillment, of Solomon’s triumphal procession. As Jesus rode into Jerusalem, all the pretenders were shaken and would be brought to nothing as the true King was revealed.
The Pharisees and Sadducees were pretending to have power over the people of God. They sat in Moses’ seat as teachers, and yet they used their office to teach lies in the Lord’s name. The people held them in awe. They had power and fame and looked unconquerable. Yet they are afraid of the man on the donkey. The Pharisees say among themselves in their distress, “You see that you are accomplishing nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him!” (Jn. 12:19). They felt no greater threat than the threat of Jesus meekly sitting in the temple and teaching. With mere words Jesus exposed their hypocrisy and turned the hearts of the people to Himself.
But the greater usurper was the devil himself. He tried to claim authority over God’s people, even as far back as the Garden of Eden. To this day he tries to make himself seem big and strong. He shouts loudly in the streets and makes his voice heard in the marketplace. Like Adonijah he rallies to himself men of power and means, who can exercise sway in civil government and even within the realm of religion. How many abuses of law have we witnessed in this past year alone? How many church bodies are under the guidance of the devil and, like the Pharisees of old, teach lies in the name of Jesus? How many mobs of loud perverts have we seen and heard with their abominable creeds and demands? How many has the devil taught to trust in their works or their feelings or their reason? How many has the devil persuaded to try to justify themselves? The devil would drive the Son of David from the throne and establish himself over mankind.
But He who sits in the heavens and He who sits on the donkey laugh, and Satan trembles at their laughter. The Father says, “Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion” (Ps. 2:6). “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.” And at the sight of the Man Jesus in His humility, at the sound of the little children crying, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” the devil, like the usurper Adonijah before him, fears for his life, and says, “What have I to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God? Have You come here to torment me before the time?” (cf. Mt. 8:29). And Satan cowers in the shadows as his Lord rides by.
Meanwhile our Lord’s Christians rejoice. They have the greatest joy and freedom from the troubles of this world, because their Lord is there with them. Can you imagine someone sitting on the roadside sulking and wallowing in his own cares as Jesus rides by? “Sure, there’s the Lord of heaven and earth, but what of that? He looks rather weak and ordinary. The tax collectors want their payment, and the Roman government is contemplating new legislation, and my mother is ill, and my boss is mean, and my wagon broke, and my work is hard, so what joy is there for me?” Are you kidding? Satan cowers before this Jesus and a whole city is shaken with shouts of Hosanna and there sits God in your flesh, who has completely identified Himself with you, made your troubles His own, counted your sins as His own, and has come to do battle on your behalf against death itself. And you suppose that this joy can’t touch you because of a handful of little troubles that consume your mind, in spite of the fact that you won’t even remember them a year from now? What were your sorrows at the beginning of the past Church Year? “Lift up your heads, O gates,” the psalmist sings, “And be lifted up, you everlasting doors! And the King of glory shall come in” (Ps. 24:7). If the gates lift up their heads to admit their Lord, who merely passes them by, how much more shall you lift up your heads to receive your Lord, who comes not merely passing by, but comes to you, as the prophecy says, “Behold, your King is coming to you”! If the everlasting doors are lifted up to receive the Lord, how much more uplifted are you at His coming, you whom He came to redeem!
Why would joy be distant merely because Jesus appears weak? Look! The weakness of God is stronger than men (1 Cor. 1:25), stronger than sin, stronger than the devil, stronger than death! This humble God-Man with His simple-looking Word and His ordinary-seeming water and bread and wine rules the world by means that appear quite contrary to our perception of power. He comes more lowly even than Solomon, and yet His very lowliness is our salvation. If Jesus had come with a full display of His irresistible authority, and no one could touch Him, and all His enemies were forced down into the dust, and He with His almighty power obliterated all His opposition, what would have become of us? No one could have bound Him in the Garden of Gethsemane. No one could have crowned Him with thorns, or led Him as a lamb to the slaughter. No one could have driven nails through His hands or raised Him up on a cross. If Jesus had adopted Adonijah’s or Satan’s conception of power, we would be lost. But Jesus came with a different sort of power, as He says to the Apostle Paul, “My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). We rejoice in this power. We rejoice in our Lord, humble, and mounted on a donkey.
If you want to see the power of our Lord’s humility, consider that the devil and the world are like that donkey. By nature the donkey is stiff-necked and stubborn and wants to resist and kick. But Jesus calmly rides it and subdues it beneath Himself, and it must go where He directs. So it goes to this day. We do not see Jesus riding the world like a king whipping horses and driving them before his chariot down the city streets, but like a peasant ambling down a country road on his donkey. Jesus didn’t appear great then and He doesn’t appear great now. But He is great. That donkey the devil knows it. Jesus can stand outside Jerusalem and speak a word and subdue that donkey to Himself, such that even His disciples can lead it along by a rope. The Word of Jesus is true power, and at His Word all pretended power must give it up and collapse. The devil might rage and stir up the world, but this is nothing more than Adonijah throwing a party for himself and celebrating a kingship that will never be his. The lowly Solomon has come, and the mighty Adonijah’s plans have perished.
It is good for us that Jesus continues to deal with us in lowliness and gentleness. Consider, if David had fought Goliath with Saul’s armor and weapons and had looked the part of the warrior and overcome, it wouldn’t have been nearly as impressive and heartening as seeing a shepherd boy run onto the battlefield with a staff and a sling and bring down the mighty. Likewise, if Jesus had come as a general and marshaled His heavenly army and drew up great forces, it might have looked like Jesus really had to try to defeat the devil. How much more comforting is it that our Lord overcame the devil as a man, as a weak man, as a dead man! So also today, if the Sacraments that Christ instituted involved precious metals and rare elements and complicated rites, we might suppose that it was difficult for Jesus to deal with our sins. But His Sacraments involve ordinary, everyday elements, and He gave us a few simple words to say when we use those elements for Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. It makes us say of sin, “Ho hum. See how easy it for Jesus to deal with you.” When Jesus acts in humility and simplicity, it strengthens our faith, because we see Him overcome with apparent weakness what we couldn’t overcome with the collected strength of every man who has ever lived. We indeed have a mighty and a gracious God.
But there’s another reason it’s good for us that Jesus continues to deal with us in humility and gentleness. As much as it’s right to see the devil as the stubborn donkey whom Jesus subdues under Him, if we’re honest, we’ll admit that our own sinful flesh has the same stiff-necked nature as the father of lies who corrupted it. Our Lutheran Confessions speak this way: “The old Adam, like an unruly stubborn ass, is still a part of [believers]. It must be forced to obey Christ. It not only requires the teaching, admonition, force, and threatening of the Law, but it also often needs the club of punishments and troubles. This goes on until the body of sin is entirely put off and a person is perfectly renewed in the resurrection” (SD VI.24).
So it is good that Jesus continues to deal with us and with all the world in humility and gentleness, because if He dealt with us according to an outward show of might and right, we would perish. But He comes gently, and by His Word makes new donkeys of us, who are glad to carry Him about with us, and don’t want to kick and resist. And as Christians we go along willingly, like the donkey in the reading, and travel the same path that our Lord travels and journey home to the heavenly Jerusalem.
Bear all this in mind, for it makes great sense of life. When the devil and the world rage, and you’d like to see Jesus put an end to their nonsense, but you don’t see it happening, then remember: “Ah, yes, but Jesus’ power isn’t like the earthly conception of power. He reigns mightily by His Word and directs even evil to serve His good and gracious will. Besides, if Jesus did not want to deal with the world in forbearance and humility, I never would have been saved.”
And when tribulation and hardship come, and you’re inclined to wallow and feel sorry for yourself, or suppose that Jesus has forsaken you, then remember: “Ah, yes, but my sinful flesh needs it. The old donkey will only respond to threats and blows, and he must be put to death. Certainly I will feel the hurt, but as a new creation I need not despair. My Jesus has drawn near to me in humility and meekness, and He has borne far greater sufferings, and done great things with those sufferings. Surely He does not mean to take away my joy by giving me affliction. Rather, His great mercy far outweighs any pricks and stings I feel in this life. Come hardship or persecution or death itself, my Jesus has come, and He is mine, and I am His.” And with such thoughts you will leap up from the side of the road and wave your palm branch and sing, “Hosanna to the Son of David!”
And when you sin, and your conscience is troubled, and Satan accuses you, and you fear the wrath of God, then remember: “Ah, yes, but God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved (Jn. 3:17). Behold, my King has come to me, not in a display of kingly might which would have destroyed me, but humble, mounted on a donkey, riding to die for me. In Him I will take heart that my sins are forgiven. In Him I will take refuge from the wrath to come. In Him I will take my stand against all accusation and condemnation. ‘Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us’ (Rom. 8:33-34).”
Thus secured against all turmoil, trouble, and sin, we prepare to spend another Church Year journeying down the road toward home, with Jesus to direct us all the way. Amen.