Scripture Reading: Matthew 21:1-11 & John 12:12-19
A few weeks ago I was searching for a phone number of a friend of mine who lives in Nova Scotia; I was searching the white pages via the internet. As is often the case with this technology, you are taken to sights which seem to have nothing to do with your pursuit. On that particular day I ended up in some tourism sight- and upon my arrival, all these words began to flash in multiple colours- announcing that I was the one millionth visitor to the sight, and that warranted my receiving a twenty five hundred dollar Toshiba laptop computer; all that was required was my email address.
My first thought was the wisdom of the old adage: ‘If it seems too good to be true, it likely is.’ But wisdom doesn’t always win out over basic curiosity- not to mention some kind of core passion to just one time in your life win something; thus creating this flyspeck moment in which you actually feel like a winner. I know how crazy it all is- but I must confess I sent my email address.
Instantly it was responded to- and instantly my free computer sunk beneath a whole ocean of details and requirements, involving the purchase of a specified number of gold and silver products- as well as bringing three other people into the membership.
Then I recalled the wisdom of another old adage; ‘The devil is in the details.’ This refers to contracts and policies which on the surface appear to be wonderful but in the fine print the details and requirements leave you worse off than before.
You may be wondering what any of this can possibly have to do with the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem- which event the church has established as Palm Sunday. Well, stay with me, and hopefully we will see the light. I am not certain that the announcement of my theme will bring that light, but here it is anyway: The theme of this Palm Sunday message for the year 2007 is ‘Donkey Details’.
This event in the life of Christ was recorded by all four of the gospel writers- and to get the full details of the event it needs to be read from all those records. I have presented it from the records of Matthew and John, because each writer includes a particular detail excluded by the others.
In this Palm Sunday message you are going to hear a word many times; that word is ‘detail’ or ‘details.’ And the question in relation to that word is this: ‘Who is in the details?’
What I hope to point out is that Christ is in the details far more than the devil is- and even when the devil is in the details, Jesus Christ is still both Sovereign and Lord in those same details.
In reading through this wonderful and familiar story of Christ’s triumphal entry into this city He so loved- and in absorbing the atmosphere as set out in the details of the story, I suddenly became focused upon one particular detail. On the surface it seems to be without any meaning at all. It is one of those things you read, then wonder why it is given space in the Biblical record.
The detail is this- Jn 12:14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it.
Matt.21:1- 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, tell him that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”
If you total the number of verses in these four records dealing with this ‘donkey detail’ you are looking at twenty four verses; the bulk of the story is this business of the donkey. And yet, again, it all seems so unimportant.
And then we discover a detail in John’s record not found in the other three: Jn 12:16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him.
We must keep in mind that John wrote his record of the life of Christ when he was a very old man. He has digested the life of the Christ ( he himself was a part of ) for many years, and is now able to write the interpretation of things he lived through, witnessed and was part of- but which at the time he absolutely did not understand. In other words, on the day of that triumphal entry into Jerusalem, John saw no significance to this ‘donkey detail’ either.
And that is the point of this Palm Sunday message: Life is filled with ‘donkey details’- which at the time of their occurrence make no sense at all, or they appear to be so insignificant we hardly note them- or perhaps they are so confusing we say of them- ‘The devil is in the details.’
But somewhere down the road, having passed through and beyond those details there comes this incredible realization that those details were not nearly so much about the devil as they were about the Christ. And suddenly, details which had no particular significance at the time are seen for their true significance- and that significance is about one single reality- God was fulfilling His prophetic purpose, plan and design in and through those details- even those ‘donkey details.’
I will close this out this morning by looking at this truth within the context of this particular ‘donkey detail’ in the life of Christ.
Notice carefully what John wrote: At first his disciples did not understand all this. And the question is: ‘What does “this” refer to?’ The context indicates that it includes more than this- but most certainly it does include this ‘donkey detail.’ So if we isolate this detail the text would read like this: At first his disciples did not at all understand this ‘donkey detail.’
And what they did not understand about this ‘donkey detail’ is found in these words: …that these things had been written about him and that they had done these things to him.
With this incredible statement the two most important and fundamental realities of life are brought together- and we understand the relationship between the two. Working backward through the statement the first fact is the actual details of His life expressed in the words- ‘they had done these things to him.’ The second fact is the prophetic reality of Devine purpose in relation to those details- expressed in the words- these things had been written about him.
Understand the relationship between the two; the prophetic precedes the details- but the details are determined and governed by the prophetic reality of God’s declared purpose. If this is how I view my life then there is no such thing as an insignificant or meaningless detail- not even a ‘donkey detail.’ And without this view the details of our life will drive us to all kinds of negative positions emotionally, relationally, and in terms of the fruit of our influence.
When Matthew and John looked back upon this ‘donkey detail’ in the life of Christ- and when they viewed it in the broader reality of the prophetic purpose of the Sovereign God, they took particular care to incorporate that prophetic reality in their writing.
John would write simply- Jn 12:14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat upon it, as it is written, “Do not be afraid, O Daughter of Zion; see, your king is coming, seated on a donkey’s colt.”
Matthew would write- Mt 21:4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: “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.’ ”
This pretty much transforms a ‘donkey detail’ into a “Sovereign, Almighty God- important, vital and all significant detail.”
And just to finish this out with added emphasis let me point out what was so vital about this ‘donkey detail.’ Why in the world did the King of all kings, the Lord of all lords make His grand entry on the back of a donkey, with a baby donkey at the side?
In quoting the Old Testament prophecy, Matthew wrote, ‘your king comes to you, (and what is the next word?)- “gentle”.’
In quoting that same prophecy, John wrote- “Do not be afraid.”
Here is the actual prophecy: Zec 9:9 Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!
Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and
having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a
donkey. I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war-horses from
Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the
nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends
of the earth.
Put it together and it suddenly becomes clear that in this ‘donkey detail’ we
have one of the most profound pictures in all literature- including Biblical
literature- of the nature of God’s King, the nature of God’s Kingdom, the
nature of God’s rule or government.
He does not come as a tyrannical dictator, wielding sword, and mounted on a
noble steed. He is not driven by arrogance, nor does He rule by intimidation
and fear. This King will win- not by insisting upon and defending his
legitimate rights- but by the sacrifice of His own life, motivated by pure
love; and His rule of peace will be so effective that the chariots, war-horses and battle bow will become extinct.
Insert: Napoleon slide
Our childhood reading left us with an image of heroism that is best
expressed in the Napoleonic portrait that appears on the overhead; to absorb
its reality is to see the equality of arrogance of both horse and rider- an
arrogance you can almost taste.
In the Books of Oz, by ‘L. Frank Baum’ however, we do find a hero-king who was always more to my liking. First of all his name was less than heroic- “Rinkitink.” His stature was less than kingly- for instead of stately form and hansom countenance, he was more Humpty-Dumpty in shape- with a definite moon face; and his full cheeks were always flushed and rosy red. Instead of long leather boots brandishing sparkling spurs- Rinkitink wore oversize slippers. And instead of Royal Robes, his apparel was more akin to a suit of long underwear. And get this- instead of a noble steed, king Rinkitink rode on the back of a goat with the unimpressive name of ‘Bilbil.’ And finally, most unkingly-like of all, was his emotional vulnerability demonstrated in his sudden and ease of movement from outbursts of tears to outbursts of laughter and then back to tears and then to laughter, and so on.
So what was the creator of Rinkitink communicating in this? Surely he was showing children that in true heroism there is this quality of vulnerability which makes power approachable even by a child; a vulnerability that removes the intimidation from strength; a vulnerability that makes government appealing and welcome- rather than imposing, intimidating and fearful.
But in a world order of Napoleonic definition and reality- how can a Rinkitink hope to win? That’s the rest of the story. You see, Rinkitink had a secret. In the presence of his unashamed vulnerability, he and his friends carried three special pearls. One was pink, one blue and one white. The pink pearl provided superhuman protection, the blue one provided superhuman strength and the white one had the ability to speak superhuman wisdom which only its holder could hear. By these he was able to overcome all things- and yet, never lose his vulnerability.
Jesus Christ, the King of all kings, the Lord of all lords bumping along on the back of a mother donkey with its little baby donkey at its side; a marvelous picture of Kingly authority and vulnerability, of Kingly power and approachableness, of Kingly rule without intimidation, of Kingly strength which welcomes instead of rejecting.
It is the picture found in the last book of the Bible- the picture of the Lion and the Lamb.