- The Explore the Bible lesson for March 28 focuses on Luke 19:29-40.
Jesus was far more than a showman. More than once and almost certainly more than is recorded in Scripture, Jesus was all but invited to put on a show of the miraculous. That spiritual bullying began just after his baptism. He went for some time alone with his Father, and Satan was first in line tempting Jesus to show off his power.
Jesus never gave into the temptation. It is also true Jesus knew the power of what we now call “optics.” Riding the donkey into Jerusalem was of those “optics” moments.
The context of this includes the time and the crowd. As for timing, Jesus is now closer to his encounter with the cross than ever. That moment was only hours away, and Jesus knew it. Secondly, many of those who would cheer his torturous death were in that crowd, laying down palm branches and seemingly worshipping Jesus or celebrating him as their political savior.
Jesus soon would disappoint them. Suddenly, those who had once praised him would be screaming, “Crucify him!”
Some meaningful principles present themselves here for consideration.
Not about the praise of others
We should always be wary of allowing the praise of others as securing our standing or security, especially when it comes to our spiritual commitments. Jesus had two of his own disciples, Peter and Judas, who shifted their allegiance from Jesus and settled for personal gain and safety on the very night Jesus was arrested.
Like Peter after his betrayal, I, too, have wept at how fickle I can be. Having made my commitment to follow Jesus as Lord, I’ve learned the hard way that living out that commitment is not easily kept. Too often, I’ve done or said things that I know broke my Savior’s heart. I’m never more vulnerable to that spiritual slippage than when living in the afterglow of some good spiritual accomplishment. My guard is never down more than when I’ve accomplished something that is kingdom praiseworthy. All of us have those moments in our spiritual histories.
More than one pastor has stood behind the pulpit while glowing in the adoration of a standing ovation from the congregation that has just called him to be their pastor. The praise is effusive, overwhelming and sometimes even unanimous. Then, somewhere down the road, the pastor learns those who once stood in praise can then turn on a dime to stand in rebellion or anger.
There is nothing in this text in Luke that indicates Jesus was taken in by the praise of the crowd—which demands some explanation of the context. Jesus was on a mission toward his own death that would make our resurrection from the dead possible. It doesn’t take much reading between the lines to sense Jesus’ sense of focus.
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Take on the servant’s role
Of course, that donkey does far more than provide transportation for Jesus. A true king wouldn’t be caught dead on a donkey. The king would demand the finest white steed in the land, an animal indicative of absolute power that would have been the king’s. Jesus was preaching a wordless sermon by riding that beast, a sermon we often fail to see or hear even now.
Paul later explained the meaning of the silent sermon with these words recorded in Philippians 2:5-7: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.”
Jesus went into Jerusalem, not as a power broker but as a servant, a sermon he vocalized at least once like this: “‘Whoever would be great among you must be your servant,’” (Matthew 20:26).
It was as if Jesus was painting a picture, an “optic,” that demonstrated what he’d been preaching. The donkey was the perfect image of having chosen a life of service, not power brokering.
The true power of God’s kingdom is found in service. When we feel weak-kneed in our faith, one way back to strength and hope is to find someone who could use our help and then make it available.
There is nothing in all of creation that is more powerful than the power of self-sacrificial service. Jesus showed that on the donkey. Very shortly, he would demonstrate it again while bleeding to death on a cross.
Glen Schmucker is a writer and blogger. He has served as a Texas Baptist pastor and as a hospice chaplain.