The Triumphal Entry
One of the highlights of the year, when I was a secondary school teacher, was the Year 11 Prom, a celebration to mark the end of exams and five years of compulsory schooling. The students would dress up in elegant gowns and tuxedos and enjoy a formal meal in the school hall. What was fascinating, as much as choice of outfit, was the mode of transport they selected to make a memorable entrance to the event. Sports cars, Cinderella carriages, big red buses, tractors, motorbikes, VW vans, 1940s bicycles and even a Humvee, all of which revealed something about the characters of their young passengers.
When Jesus chose a foal as the means of transport for His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, it revealed something of His character, too. He came as the Prince of Peace, riding a donkey, the very symbol of peace (as opposed to a horse which would have denoted an intention to fight). The colt, by definition less than a year old, ‘on which no one has ever sat’ (Mark 11:2b) had never worn a yoke or been used for labour. Such animals were traditionally saved for sacred purposes (Deut 21:3), so Jesus’ holiness is affirmed in his choice of beast. The sacred donkey for the sacred Saviour. Additionally, Jesus fulfils the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9, ‘Behold, your King is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden’, confirming that He is the Messiah, the long-awaited deliverer of the Jewish nation. So, on a donkey, Jesus came as the Holy Messiah, the Prince of Peace.
At that time, many multitudes were heading to Jerusalem for Passover, but as the crowd caught wind of Jesus coming, they threw down their cloaks and palm branches before Him, both ways of showing honour to a King. Cries of “Hosanna!” have come to be translated as “Hallelujah”, but originally meant “Save us we pray, O Lord.” Jesus entry is ‘Triumphal’, but in His divine authority, He knows that this is the beginning of the last week of His life.
Once in Jerusalem, Jesus cleanses the temple. The Amplified translation of Matthew 21:12-13 explains well why He did this: “And Jesus entered the temple [grounds] and drove out [with force] all who were buying and selling [birds and animals for sacrifice] in the temple area, and He turned over the tables of the money changers [who made a profit exchanging foreign money for temple coinage] and the chairs of those who were selling doves [for sacrifice]. Jesus said to them, “It is written [in Scripture], ‘MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER’; but you are making it a ROBBERS’ DEN.” The temple had become a place of corruption where people arriving with birds for sacrifice were told that their birds weren't good enough to be used and that they must purchase the temple doves (at an inflated price). Likewise, disadvantageous exchange rates were applied to foreign currency. Jesus references Isaiah 56:7 and Jeremiah 7:11 to point to the significance of his actions.
It's interesting that immediately after Jesus cleanses the temple, He turns His attention to healing the blind and the lame. He models the importance of getting rid of sin and getting right with God before focusing on ministry. The priests and scribes didn’t understand this at all and were so self-important that they were ‘indignant’ that Jesus healed the sick and that the children cried out to Him in praise. It seems such a strange reaction when they were clearly standing in the presence of God, but if the truth be known, I imagine we have all expressed indignation at times in church, therefore in the presence of God, when someone acts in a way we don't like. Perhaps we need to ask God to cleanse our hearts too?
As a final thought, did you know that all standard donkeys bear a cross on their backs, being formed by a dorsal stripe of darker hair down the length of the back, crossed by a shoulder stripe across the top of the body at the withers? Is this evidence of God's designation of this animal at the time of creation to carry His beloved son? I believe so.