On a Donkey, Not a Horse
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
John 12:9-11 (Holman) Then a large crowd of the Jews learned He was there. They came not only because of Jesus, but also to see Lazarus the one He had raised from the dead. Therefore the chief priests decided to also kill Lazarus, because he was the reason many of the Jews were deserting them and believing in Jesus.
After the raising of Lazarus, crowds flocked to Jesus when they learned He was in Bethany again. They were looking not only for Jesus, but also for Lazarus.
In the leaders= eyes, the recently resurrected one was attracting too much attention. Therefore, these enemies of Jesus decided to kill Lazarus also.
Caiaphas had said it would be expedient for one man to die for the people (11:50). Now one was not enough. There had to be two. A willingness to offer one person opened the door to killing another. Evil always multiplies itself.
The leaders seemed to have made an agreement with Death to help it reclaim all deserters. Their desire to kill Lazarus was bizarre. Death couldn=t hold him the first time. To put Lazarus to death again was an absurd thought, as if Christ who raised him once couldn=t raise him twice. They seemed to be daring God.
The leaders were brazenly willing to contend with the King of Kings. God gave Lazarus life by divine miracle; they wanted him dead by human malice.
John 12:12-13 The next day, when the large crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, they took palm branches and went out to meet Him. They kept shouting AHosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.@
This Jerusalem entry probably occurred on Sunday before the crucifixion. On Palm Sunday, people treated Jesus like the King of Israel; the next Sunday, God verified their sentiment, and proved Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
These were the common folk. They could not give Jesus the keys to the city or offer Him a gold-embossed scroll. No official army marched before Him. None of the city=s music was offered to Him. But what they had, they gave Him.
They met him with palm branches, the symbol of victory and rejoicing. Palms were displayed on Jewish coins of this period, bearing the inscription, Athe redemption of Zion.@
It was appropriate Jesus had victor=s palms borne before Him. He would, by His death and resurrection, soon conquer principalities and powers.
Many in this Jerusalem crowd had undoubtedly felt for some time Jesus was the Messiah. He had previously eluded their efforts to make Him a king, but now Jesus seemed to be doing what they had always wanted Him to do.
Their enthusiasm was boundless. The people were sincere, but misunderstood our Lord=s intent. Their excitement quickly melted into disappointment, turning their AHosanna@ into ACrucify Him.@
John 12:14a Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it.
Jesus displayed courage by entering Jerusalem publicly. A price was on His head. Caution advised a quiet entrance followed by hiddenness, but Jesus came in a way that focused every eye on Him.
To this point Jesus had resisted the swelling enthusiasm of the crowds (John 6:15), and had subdued their zeal. He had often escaped to solitude, seeking to avoid publicity and the rousing of popular excitement.
Why did He not flee to a place of privacy on this occasion also? Because AHis hour@ had come. Though Jesus did not squelch their reception, He did find a way to renounce the people=s political intentions.
Knowing it would be impossible to speak above the roar of the crowd, Jesus decided to preach a Avisual@ sermon. He came into town riding on a donkey.
A conquering king, what the people wanted, would have made his triumphal entry in a chariot or on a war-horse. A king riding on a donkey meant he came in peace. Jesus was not the warrior Israel dreamed of. He came not as a fighter, but as the Prince of Peace.
The Universe=s highest Majesty entered Jerusalem humbly. Since Jesus= Kingdom was not of this world, He did not come with the trappings of this world. Conventional pageantry does not make a king. Hearts of oak require neither veneer nor varnish. He came without outward pomp because His Kingdom was inward.
On this day, Jesus humbled Himself, and rode a donkey. John later saw Him on a white horse, coming as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
John 12:14b-16 . . . just as it is written: AFear no more, Daughter of Zion; Look! Your King is coming sitting on a donkey=s colt.@ His disciples did not understand these things at first. However, when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about Him and that they had done these things to Him.
This entrance, which demonstrated the essential nature of Christ=s Kingdom, fulfilled a prediction made by Zechariah (9:9) centuries earlier. In Christ it was precisely fulfilled.
Even the disciples struggled with understanding Jesus= role. They understood the true nature of Jesus= entry only after the Ascension showed them the spiritual nature of Jesus= sovereignty.
John 12:17-18 Meanwhile the crowd, which had been with Him when He called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead, continued to testify. This is also why the crowd met Him, because they heard He had done this sign.
Passover was a flammable time. National feelings were always ready to blaze. It looked like the resurrection of Lazarus would be the match this time.
But behind the scenes, forces were working to squelch any possible uprising. The common people were rejoicing, but prejudiced leaders were plotting against the popular Hero they refused to believe in.
John 12:19a Then the Pharisees said to one another, AYou see? You=ve accomplished nothing.@
The revelry frustrated the Pharisees. Some of them became so desperate they appealed to Jesus and requested He rebuke the crowd (Luke 19:39-40). Jesus responded by saying if the people held their peace, the stones would cry out.
Considering how influential the Pharisees were, and what abundant respect the people showed them, one might think they wouldn=t grudge Christ this brief moment of glory. But proud, wicked people want to monopolize honor. Hamans always hate to share the stage with Mordecais.
The opponents of Christ were momentarily paralyzed by the exuberant throng, but did not give up. The setback filled them with indignation, urged them to recrimination, and made them more determined than ever to stop Christ and squelch the madness of the rabble. Since their own efforts had failed, the Pharisees now joined in with the idea promoted by the Chief Priest.
If Christ=s enemies become more resolute and active when baffled, shall we His friends be disheartened with every disappointment? We should never despair, for our cause is righteous and will at last be victorious.
God will achieve His own purposes in spite of His enemies and the little efforts of their impotent malice. The Pharisees eventually had to admit failure.
Every enemy of Christ will have to make the same confession sooner or later. All who oppose Christ and fight against Him will inevitably say, AWe=ve accomplished nothing.@
Unbelief is doomed to fail because it dashes itself against the Rock of Ages, and offers no viable substitute. A person=s only reasonable recourse is Jesus.