Week of April 10

A Symbolic Ride Toward Peace

Read the Bible Through: 1 Samuel 8-10; 2 Corinthians 10
Sunday of Holy Week Reading: Matthew 21:1-11

"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.'"
Matthew 21:5, ESV


Easter demands that we must complete the progression from David, warrior king, to Jesus, Savior King, or we will be ineffective as Christ’s peacemakers in our homes, churches, and communities (Matthew 5:9, 13-48). Our songs of praise often glorify the Savior of peace, but our words and actions belie that worship. I have an humble claim to make: We have become increasingly militaristic and nationalistic in our Christian practice. Something must change if we desire to be Christ’s agents of change. OK! I’ve said it, but let’s test this thesis while we consider similar circumstances in Jesus’ day.

Understanding the Bible Context

Key facts of interest
Apart from the social setting, there are some geographical and topological details that we need to consider. It is possible that Jesus commuted between Bethany and Jerusalem throughout the week (see Matthew 21:17; EBC). Bethphage, meaning “House of Figs,” was situated on the southeast slope of the Mount of Olives. The Mount stands about 300 feet taller than the Temple hill and one hundred feet higher than the hill of Zion (EBC). Mountaintops were key spiritual locations throughout the Scriptures. It is fitting that the Lord over all would be recognized in such places.
The fickleness of humanity
Most of our Bible translations label this passage, “The Triumphal Entry,” but we need to recognize that the crowd, while exuberant, does not show acute awareness of Jesus’ upcoming suffering and death (see parallel passages in Mark 11:1 ff; Luke 19:29 ff; NAC). In fact, in only five days, some of this crowd will be clamoring for His crucifixion and death. How fickle is humanity! Matthew drops into the middle of this context a passage from Zechariah (9:9). Jesus entered the city on the back of a young colt, a symbol of holiness and purity. The fact that He was “unarmed” and “plainly clad” certainly did not suggest that He was coming to His people as a warrior messiah (cf. NAC). The Messiah came in “humility, gentleness, and peace” (Matthew 5:5; 11:29).

If we miss the fact that Jesus entered the city riding on a young donkey, then we are likely to behave like one at some point! They did and soon showed their stubborn refusal to see what God was doing in the Savior. They had lived and breathed for centuries David’s plan (2 Samuel 8:1-3, 10, & 13; kill the enemy), but God had another plan in His mind (2 Samuel 7:12; conquer their hearts).
Allowing Christ to bring about radical change in our lives
So how do we move across the bridge from warrior king to suffering, servant Savior (John 13)? First, Jesus had a choice of animals that day and the message that His choice would convey. He sent His disciples for a specific beast, an un-ridden colt of a donkey. We need to recognize that something new was afoot here (cf. wineskins). Jesus was making a statement, once again, about the nature of His reign.

Secondly, the disciples placed their cloaks on the back of the donkey, and the crowds did the same on the road. John records that they waved palm branches which was appropriate for a trip from Jericho, “the City of Palms” (John 12:1, 12). John’s Gospel enables us to time this event on the Sunday prior to the Friday Passover, hence the liturgical tradition of naming this day “Palm Sunday.” The entire setting is celebratory, which was reminiscent of the Old Testament victory parades that triumphant kings and generals received (NAC). It makes me wish that I had been in attendance. How about you?

The signs all pointed to a different type of king and rule, but the people would not see it. The city was packed with pilgrims who were there to celebrate the Passover feast, which meant that a second exodus surely had to be at the forefront of their minds. They had centuries of theological and practical experience that helped to fuel the fires of anticipation that this might be the year of the decisive and victorious battle to overthrow their Roman oppressors. They were locked and loaded, as we may say, on the belief that Messiah would be the one to lead this triumphant battle and that His kingdom would be established.

As Stuart Weber has written: “What the people failed to understand was that the king had come to defeat a much greater enemy than Rome—an enemy that knew no national boundaries or respected no political or sectarian differences. It was an enemy whose defeat would have repercussions far beyond the end of this life. Jesus had come to defeat Satan, our own sin, and the claim of death” (HBC, Matthew). Jesus was already across the bridge, and He was about to show the way for others to follow—at Calvary. Let’s apply the text to our lives.

Applying the Passage to Our Lives

In the span of 42 days, our world has been turned upside down by a horrific assault by Russia upon the sovereignty of Ukraine. We see nightly news images of bombed, burned, and gutted buildings; but, of late, we have begun to view heinous humanitarian injustices committed by the Russian army against innocent civilians. The United States has sent in excess of $2.3 billion in military aid, while the European Union, more than 25 nations, has sent $551 million. All of us sense the global need to halt the Russian aggression; however, I believe that there is a key need to consider some spiritual realities.

Here is a spiritual thought for our Easter hearts. First, if we are not careful, we may miss the occasion to represent the Easter peace of Christ amid such hostility. Easter will arrive in a week, and then the Church across the globe will begin the fifty-day preparatory period prior to Pentecost. It would be at that time that the Holy Spirit was given to the Church to enable them to spread Christ’s peace through the world. The world is alert to the horrors of evil, but we know that Christ has ultimately conquered evil and the grave. The gospel of Jesus Christ is what will give our world hope in this critical time.

Reflecting Upon and Discussing the Passage

1. I do not believe that I misread the text when I say that people will often miss the point of our peaceable kingdom mission until they see the demonstration of peace in our lives (read again Matthew 5:9, 13-38). Examine your Christian presence in the home, your church, and the community. Do people see you as warlike or as an agent of Christ’s peace?

2. For Families: On this day, Palm Sunday, make or purchase palm leaves for your children to take to church. The celebration that Christ was coming was an exciting time for the people of Jerusalem. “Hosanna! Hosanna!” they shouted “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matthew 21:9). Here is a breakfast song for the children to watch and sing as they prepare their hearts to worship the Lord Jesus on this special day! [Click Here]

May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock