Scripture: Luke 19:28-40
The week before last, the Duke of Sussex, otherwise known as Prince Harry, and his wife Meghan made headlines again. You may remember that they resigned a couple of years ago from being full-time members of the British Royal Family and have been living in sunny southern California—instead of England—ever since… So… Go U.S.A.! I bet Harry doesn’t even blame us anymore for fighting our war for independence! But meanwhile, back in dark and dreary London, the rest of the Royal Family was attending a memorial service for Prince Philip, Harry’s grandfather. And Harry wasn’t there… He and his wife remained in California… as Royal watchers around the world fretfully observed.
And the reason Harry gave for not attending? Since he no longer lives with the rest of the Royal Family, he’s worried about his safety: he no longer has the same security team protecting him—the equivalent of our Secret Service. When Prince Harry goes to England, he no longer has the same level of protection that he used to have.1
And let’s face it: if you are royalty, you must, above all else, remain safe when you’re out in public! Because there are people who wish to do you harm.
By contrast, by the end of today’s sermon I hope you’ll see that the royal family member portrayed in today’s scripture—our King Jesus Christ—isn’t concerned about his personal safety… at all!
So in today’s sermon I want to make three points about Jesus’ “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday: I want to talk first about who’s in control; second, about the confusion that Jesus’ words and actions can sometimes cause us disciples and how we deal with it; and, third,about the meaning of the colt.
This sermon is about control, confusion, and a colt.
Look at verses 30 and 31. Jesus tells his disciples,
Go into the village in front of you, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, “Why are you untying it?” you shall say this: “The Lord has need of it.”
Whenever I read these words, I can’t help but think of the famous “cantina” scene in Star Wars. Remember?Just before Obi Wan Kenobi, Luke Skywalker, C3PO, and R2D2 go to the cantina, they drive their landspeeder through an imperial checkpoint, with the evil stormtroopers. The stormtroopers are looking for the two droids, who happen to be in this landspeeder. The stormtroopers stop our heroes and ask for identification. And it seems like the good guys are about to get caught: And Obi Wan says, “You don’t need to see identification.” And the stormtroopers repeat back to him, “We don’t need to see your identification.” And Obi Wan says, “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.” And the stormtroopers repeat back, “These aren’t the droids we’re looking for.” Obi Wan: “We can go about our business.” The stormtroopers: “You can go about your business.”
It’s some kind of Jedi mind trick… Obi Wan can, with the power of his mind, make these people do what he wants them to do!
And it seems like—whether George Lucas knew it or not—it seems like that scene was mimicking real life—what we find in today’s scripture.
Because… do you see how Jesus seems a little like a Jedi here? When he wants to, he has the power merely to give the word and complete strangers—even complete strangers that are miles away—seemingly have no choice but to obey.
It’s pretty cool—you’ve gotta admit!
The gospel writers want to show that Jesus is exercising his sovereign control over the world: And why not? Jesus is the world’s true Lord and King; he has all the power necessary to accomplish whatever he wants to accomplish!
Or doesn’t he? Because if you read a very famous New Testament scholar from a previous generation, the Scotsman William Barclay, for instance, you’ll see that Barclay has a different interpretation of this event. He says that Jesus had made arrangements with the owners of this donkey some time earlier, and that when he told his disciples to tell them, “The Lord has need of it,” that’s like a prearranged password that Jesus and these owners had worked out.
Some modern interpreters, in other words, want to take the supernatural element out of it.
But I’m sorry… I don’t buy it.
First of all, how long ago did Jesus make these arrangements? And why the secretiveness? Why not tell his disciples about it? Did Jesus imagine that complete strangers could keep a secret about his triumphal entry but Jesus’ own disciples couldn’t? And why weren’t the disciples themselves there with Jesus when he made these arrangements with the donkey’s owners? Also… Is it the case that so many people ask to borrow this particular donkey from its owners that they’d have to work out some kind of prearranged password with Jesus? And why wouldn’t Jesus just tell the disciples, “I made arrangements with the owners of this donkey”… Or “Remember when we made those arrangements? How about you go get that donkey now?”
Also, Jesus seems strangely certain that a couple of miles away, in a couple hours’ time, these disciples were going to find this specific donkey in this specific location… How could he possibly know that? How could he know that events would unfold exactly as he predicted? How likely is that?
Finally, if Jesus made prior arrangements with the owners, why don’t any of the four gospel writers report that?
And the answer is, “Because he didn’t make the arrangements in advance. Jesus has perfect foreknowledge of what will happen. And he’s using his sovereign control of our world to make things work out exactly as he tells the disciples that they will. Jesus is God, remember, God in the flesh. This is not a difficult miracle for God to do!
So that’s Point Number One: Jesus is in complete control… He was back then, and he is today.
But this brings us to Point Number Two: If Jesus is in control, why does it often seem like events are spinning out of control? What are are we so often confused by what Jesus says and does? Why do we often have a hard figuring out what Jesus is up to in our lives? Why is he so confusing sometimes. And what do we do when our Lord confuses us?
So I want to talk about three reasons we’re often confused by Jesus and what to do about it.
First… let’s hand it to those modern interpreters who don’t believe there’s anything supernatural going on here: Their confusion about what Jesus was up to was likely shared by the two disciples who go to retrieve this donkey. Like these modern interpreters, the disciples themselves may not have known that Jesus was doing anything miraculous or supernatural. It wasn’t clear. They probably thought: “Hmm… When did Jesus make arrangements with these owners? Does he know them? Where were we when this happened? Also, when we show up and start untying this donkey, without even notifying the owners or asking permission, are they going to think we’re stealing it? What if the owner don’t believe us? Will we get in trouble? Will we get arrested?”
These two disciples literally walked a couple of miles deeply uncertain of what Jesus was asking them to do, all the time wondering if they were going to succeed. It didn’t make sense to them!
Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.”
But you know what I find in my life? I really enjoy leaning on my own understanding. I really like trusting in myself rather than God. I find it hard, most of the time, to actually put my faith into practice.
The Lord convicted me a few years ago when I read a book by pastor Charles Stanley called The Source of My Strength. Stanley talked about how, in his own life and ministry, he had learned always to seek God’s will first—before making any major life or ministry decisions. He was bold about it, too: sometimes he would ask God to give him a sign before making an important decision. For instance, one time he prayed about an important decision, asked for a sign, and a moment later saw a shooting star. He took that as a sign. He would often take his Bible and go somewhere by himself—for days sometimes—praying to discern God’s will for a particular situation or circumstance or opportunity or challenge he was facing in his life… and he had enough faith to believe that God would reveal to him to him what he was supposed to do.
On those rare occasions when Charles Stanley failed to seek God’s will, well… he said that’s when he got into trouble.
I’ll be honest: there was a time in my Christian life when I would have thought that Stanley’s method of seeking God’s will was way too extreme. I would have said, “God has given you a brain; just use it.” And I confess with shame that this is the way I often make important decisions. I often do what I think is best—I lean on my own understanding—without asking what the Lord wants me to do—without asking Christ my King to show me what’s best—and then I pray after the fact that God will make sure it doesn’t end in disaster!
But here’s the thing: If these two disciples who went to retrieve the donkey had followed my usual method of making decisions, if they merely “used their brains,” if they merely relied on common sense and experience to help them get a donkey for Jesus, they wouldn’t have acquired this particular donkey. And they would have failed to do God’s will.
My point is, Jesus will be confusing to us when we trust in ourselves and lean on our own understanding, and trust in our own common sense or experience… rather than holding fast to his Word and seeking his will, and trusting that he will show us the right path.
That’s my first point about confusion.
Remember when I said earlier that the disciples, like some modern interpreters, must have wondered whether something “supernatural” was going on?
Listen… In the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ, there’s always something “supernatural” going on—even when we can’t see it; even when there’s no visible evidence that God is doing anything.
We see this truth, for instance, in 2 Kings chapter 6. There, the king of Syria plans one sneak attack against Israel after another. But every time he plans to attack Israel, God reveals to Elisha the king’s plans in advance. Elisha then passes this intelligence to the king of Israel, who sends his army to meet the Syrian army and repel the attack. Before long, the Syrian king finds out that the prophet Elisha is responsible for his army’s many failures. So finally, he sends his army to capture the prophet.
The Bible says, “When the servant of the man of God”—that is, Elisha’s servant—“rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots were all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master, what shall we do?”2
Get the picture? Elisha’s servant is terrified. But not Elisha. He’s calm, cool, and collected. Elisha tells his servant, “Don’t be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And I wouldn’t blame Elisha’s servant for looking around and saying, “What are you talking about? We’re by ourselves! There’s no one else here! We’re going to get slaughtered!” But Elisha prayed, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” And the Lord “opened the eyes of the young man,” and he saw, and “behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”3
Isn’t that awesome?
Remember I talked earlier about Prince Harry and his fear about not having enough security and protection around him? Good heavens, consider what Elisha and his servant had around them. And they’re not “more special” than we are; if we are in Christ we likewise have the most powerful army in the world surrounding us!
There’s a popular praise and worship song by Chris Tomlin, which includes these words: “I know who goes before me/ I know who stands behind/ The God of angel armies/ Is always by my side.”
That song is an everyday reality for all of us who are in Christ! Did you know that?
If God would only lift the veil separating heaven and earth we would see right now that we are surrounded by a spiritual reality that is so much greater, so much deeper, so much more intense than what we can normally see with their eyes or touch with their hands or perceive with our minds. God’s angels are all around us—fighting for us, working on our behalf, working to accomplish God’s purposes and plans for our lives and our world. We are not alone!
So what do we have to be afraid of?
When we’re heading into the operating room, facing some scary surgery, God’s angels are surrounding us, fighting for us. When we’re taking that final exam or SAT or ACT, God’s angels are surrounding us, fighting for us. When we’re facing a difficult challenge in our families, God’s angels are surrounding us, fighting for us. When we’re struggling in jobs, God’s angels are surrounding us, fighting for us. When we’re struggling in our marriages, God’s angels are surrounding us, fighting for us.
Don’t be afraid! Our Lord has got this under control—even when we can’t understand exactly how!
So that’s the second point about confusion: Our Lord is always at work, supernaturally.
Third point about confusion…
It’s been said many times before that some people in this crowd, who are praising Jesus as the Messiah on Palm Sunday, will soon—just five days later—be the ones shouting for him to be crucified. And I’m sure that’s true for at least some in the crowd. But even if they weren’t all calling for his crucifixion five days later, they at least abandoned Jesus or lost faith in him—just like Jesus’ twelve closest disciples did.
Why? What accounts for the crowd’s dramatic change of heart?
Well, consider this: In verse 38, the crowds shout, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” They are quoting a messianic prophecy from Psalm 118, verse 26. But we know from the other three gospels that they were also quoting the verse before verse 26… Because they were also saying, “Hosanna.” This word comes from Psalm 118, verse 25… In Hebrew it’s a literal prayer meaning, “Save us, O Lord.”
In other words, the crowd gathered round Jesus as rode into Jerusalem were praying that their Messiah would save them… They expected Jesus to save them…
And Jesus didn’t—at least not in the way they expected.
The crowd expected him to go to Jerusalem, assemble an army, defeat the Romans, drive them out of Jerusalem, reestablish the kingdom of Israel… bring peace and prosperity and independence back to Israel.
And when he didn’t do that, he didn’t save them in that way… Instead he died on a cross… which was deeply confusing, to say the least
But what they failed to see… what they couldn’t see at the time… is that by choosing to die on a cross Jesus was going to save them… he was going to make salvation possible for them in a way that was infinitely better than any kind of worldly or political salvation that they had in mind when they shouted “Hosanna.”
And there’s a lesson here for us when we’re confused by the Lord when he doesn’t answer our prayers: It’s not because he doesn’t hear us; it’s not because he doesn’t care about us; it’s not because he isn’t looking out for our best interests. Indeed, I think of Isaiah 59:1: “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened that it cannot save or his ear dull that it cannot hear.” If our Lord doesn’t give us what we pray for, it’s because, like the disciples who prayed in today’s scripture, we don’t often know what we need. We don’t often know what’s best for us. We don’t often know what’s in our best interest… But our Lord always does! And he hears our specific prayer but even better… he hears our prayer underneath the prayer—he hears what our heart most deeply craves… and he often gives us that thing instead.
As pastor Tim Keller says, “When we pray, God either gives us what we ask for, or what we would have asked for if we knew everything that he knows.”
When the crowd shouted “Hosanna, save us,” Jesus was answering the crowd’s prayer for salvation, only in an infinitely better way than they imagined.
In fact, nothing symbolized the kind of salvation that Jesus was making available to them better than the colt he was riding…
And this brings us to Point Number Three: What’s the point of this colt?
The crowd knew from their own history that conquering military heroes rode into Jerusalem on a war horse—on a great stallion. They expected their King Jesus to do the same. Only Jesus doesn’t ride in on a great stallion. Instead he’s rides in on a donkey. But not only a donkey… the colt of a donkey—a baby donkey, in other words.
Do you know what kind of king rides in on a baby donkey?
The kind of king who’s about to be slaughtered by his enemies. The kind of king who is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.4 The kind of king who, according to Zechariah 9:9, is “humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”5
Remember what happens on the cross: An exchange takes place: Jesus takes our sins upon himself. He agrees to suffer the death penalty for them. He agrees to suffer God’s wrath for them. He agrees to suffer hell for them. In our place. In return he gives us his righteousness. It’s a cliché that I say often, but it’s true: Christ lived the life we were unable to live and he died the death that we deserved to die—in order that God’s enemies—that is, you and me before we believed in him—will now become his friends. And not only his friends, but his beloved children.
If you’re a parent, think of how you love your own child or children. Think of that unbreakable bond of love that you have for your children. Would you take a bullet for them to save them? Of course you would! Would you jump in front of a bus to save them? Of course you would! Would you jump on top of a live grenade to save them? Of course you would!
Okay, but would you sacrifice your life to save Osama bin Laden, for example? Or what about the terrorists took down the World Trade Center on 9/11? Or what about Vladimir Putin? Would you die for people like them?
Of course you wouldn’t! No one is that merciful, that compassionate, that forgiving.
No one except God… God in the flesh… Jesus Christ. Scripture says that Christ died for us, the righteous for the unrighteous, while we were still his enemies.6 As we say every time we receive Communion, this “proves God’s love for us.”
Indeed it does.
I began this sermon talking about a member of a Royal Family who failed to do the right thing out of fear for his life. Well, in Jesus we have a King who will do the right thing even though it costs him his life.
That’s the kind of king who comes riding in on a donkey’s colt.
But, friends, I need you to heed the warning from God’s Word: Christ our King will only ride in on a baby donkey the first time. When Christ our King comes the second time, he will not be riding a donkey’s colt. The Bible says he will be riding a white horse—a war horse.
The apostle John writes about the Second Coming of our King Jesus, and he tells us the following, in Revelation 19:
Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse!… He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.7
One pastor put it very well when he said, “We don’t want to meet our king riding on a white horse if we’ve rejected this same king when he rode on a donkey.”8
Have you rejected this king? Are you rejecting this king? Repent now. Turn to him now and be saved!
Because now is the season of mercy and grace and forgiveness. But it won’t last forever.
Maybe you’ve said to Christ our King, repeatedly, through your actions if not your words, “I don’t want you to be king over my life. I don’t accept your terms of peace. I’m not willing to submit to youi. I’m not willing to change my life, to repent of my sins, to make you Lord of my life. I’m not willing for you to reign over my life.” Well, guess what? At some point God is going to respect your wishes. He’s going to finally give you what you want—what your life has demonstrated that you want.
In the end, God is going to leave you alone. In hell.
As C.S. Lewis puts it in a book about hell called The Great Divorce: “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’”9
Which will you be?
- Danyall Hussain, “Prince Harry Should Have Been Here to Honour His Grandfather,” dailymail.co.uk, 29 March 2022. Accessed 1 April 2022.
- 2 Kings 6:15
- 2 Kings 6:17
- John 1:29
- Zechariah 9:9 ESV
- See 1 Peter 3:18 and Romans 5:10.
- Revelation 19:11-16
- John Piper, from his sermon entitled “Jesus Declares His Kingship,” preached March 24, 2002. http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/jesus-declares-his-kingship
- C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (New York: HarperOne, 1946), 75.