by Pastor Dave Strem
Used by permission
Luke 19:36-39 record a significant day in the ministry of Jesus. It is the day the crowd cried “Hosannah,” which means “Lord, save us,” as they waved palm branches and honored His presence. It is often referred to as the triumphal entry. The tradition of waving palm branches began when God commanded in the book of Leviticus that once a year, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, which ends up being around harvest time, September or October, to wave palm branches and live in booths or tabernacles to remind them of what God had done for them in delivering them from Egypt. It was a time for celebrating God’s salvation. When Solomon built the temple, he decorated it with palm branches as a reminder of God’s provision. And in the book of Revelation we find references to the continuation of this practice. “And I looked and there, behold, before me was a great multitude that no one could count. People from every nation, from every tribe, people and language and they’re standing before the throne and in front of the lamb and they were wearing white robes and they were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God and to the one who sits on the throne, the Lamb of God.’” In summary, to wave the palm branches signifies thanking God for some special work of deliverance He has accomplished. It is to express personal thankfulness toward God for a deliverance. The waver is personally thanking God for what He has done!
That sets the stage for what the crowd does in Luke 19. It says, “As he approached Bethphage and Bethany on the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples saying to them, go to the village ahead of you and as you enter it, you will find a colt there tied which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it to me and if anyone asks you why you are untying it, tell them, ‘The Lord has need of it.’ Now those who were sent ahead went and they found it just as He had told them. And as they were untying the colt its owners asked them, ‘Why are you untying the colt?’ And they replied, ‘The Lord has need of it.’ They brought it to Jesus. They threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it and as he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. When he came near the place where the road goes down to the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in a loud voice for all the miracles they had seen. ‘Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.’ Yet some of the Pharisees in the crowd said, ‘Jesus, teacher, rebuke your disciples.’ Jesus replied, ‘I tell you that if they keep quiet the stones will cry out.’” Doesn’t it feel good to see Jesus being praised. To hear Jesus being celebrated. But it is easy to miss the profound message in this story. Jesus told people stories all through the New Testament not to make them feel good, but to make a point. And God recorded this story not to make us feel good but to make a point.
First, we need to put this story in context. Luke chapter 19 begins with Jesus’ arrival in Jericho and as He is passing through Jericho He sees a man in a tree named Zaccheus. Jesus spoke to him saying, “Zaccheus, today I will stay in your house.” And Zaccheus is excited about spending time with Jesus. What a contrast with the religious leaders who only wanted to spend time with Jesus to trip Him up, to catch Him in some contradiction with which to accuse Him. While Jesus is celebrating with Zaccheus and his friends in that house, He tells them a story, a story with a point. This story is about money and stewardship. If there was one thing Zaccheus and his friends understand, it was money. Jesus spoke to them where they were in their understanding because He wanted them to understand the gospel for themselves not because He wanted to impress them with how much He knew. The point of Jesus’ story is that trustworthy servants are faithful when the master is away, not just when he is in their presence. Jesus was essentially telling them that His kingdom was not going to start immediately but that there was going to be a period of time in which His servants would have to prove themselves faithful. In this context, the triumphal entry takes on heightened significance.
John chapter 12 gives us the exact timing for these events. John 12 informs us that Jesus arrived in Bethany six days before the Passover. The Passover was on Saturday and if He arrived six days before Saturday, that means He arrived in Bethany on Sunday. Later Sunday evening Jesus is at the house of Simon the leper (Mark 14:3) and having a meal in His honor with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. Lazarus is sitting around enjoying the company of Jesus, Martha is preparing a dinner, and Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with precious oil. It was a special night for Jesus and those who were there with Him. The next day, Monday, Jesus goes to the Mount of Olives.
The Bible writers record events that occurred in the life of Jesus to teach a point. As John 20:30-31 tell us: “Jesus’ disciples saw him do many other miraculous signs besides the ones recorded in this book. But these (in the book of John—the main theme of John) are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life.” Bible writers had to be selective. Luke 19 records the story about Zacchaeus just before the triumphal entry. John 12 records Mary’s anointing of Jesus’ feet just before the triumphal entry. Both writers were telling us that the triumphal entry was not what it appeared to be on the surface. That something significant was going to take place after it.
Bethphage and Bethany are suburbs, if you will, of Jerusalem. They are about a mile to the east, just over the Mount of Olives. Just over the hill. From here, He sent two of his disciples to a nearby village to find a special colt that had never been ridden and were to bring it to Him. He said to them, “If anyone asks you why you are untying it, tell them the Lord has need of it.” This little part of the story is recorded to remind us, again, that God has a plan. “Go and you will find.” We need to recognize this for two reasons. First, it is a major theme in the Bible. God’s Word keeps saying it. God’s Word keeps pointing it out. It is like a lighthouse beacon, it keeps on flashing around and around and around. In Scripture God is saying, “Trust me, I’ve got a plan. I’m not caught off guard by the events. I’ve got a plan. I’m invested in seeing you through. I’ve still got a plan. Trust me. I’m with you. I’ve got a plan.” You get that message? God is interested and involved and invested in your life. He knows what’s coming. Secondly, we need to keep reminding ourselves of this because the world around us seems so out of control. Every day the world’s pressures and concerns impact our lives. Every day Satan plants seeds of doubt and discouragement in our hearts. “Did God really say that?” “Where’s your God now?” “Use your common sense. You don’t need Him.” “God gave you a brain, figure these things out yourself.” Whether you are a middle school girl or a guy struggling to build a business, God has a specific plan for you, a plan beyond the generic truths that apply to all Christians. It is not simply, “I know who you are. I’ve saved you and I will come back for you later.” There are things He has planned for your life if you will just allow Him to work out His best plan for you. No detail is unimportant for His consideration.
God not only orchestrates billions of stars in the galaxy every day, in a galaxy bigger than even our scientists can fathom, He also does something much, much harder. He orchestrates a plan of life on this earth with billions and billions of free-will individuals. And amazingly, no matter how much they try, they cannot mess up His plan. He has a plan, He has a design, and He is able to work it out despite widespread rebellion. God is looking for individuals who will enter into His plan with Him, that they might be a part of what He is doing. Luke 19:30 says, “Go.” Verse 31 says, “Tell.” Circle those two words because those two words are action words. “Go find and then tell!” The two disciples went and did as Jesus instructed. They did what they were told. Don’t you wish that characterized your life every day? “God said it, and I did it!” Wouldn’t it be good if we could all say that?
Notice the phrase, “the Lord has need of it.” The Lord has need of it? We are not in the habit of thinking that the Lord needs anything, but that is what it says. God could have fulfilled this need in any number of ways. He could have had a wild donkey wander in from the wilderness. He could have poofed a donkey into existence right there in the middle of Bethany, but He goes to an individual and asks for his cooperation. He goes to him and asks, “Will you return to me what I have given to you? Will you partner with me in what I am about to do?” God is not dependent on His people, but He wants to involve them in His purposes. God wants partners. God wants willing individuals to join with Him in His plans and share His purposes. This does not imply a weakness or insufficiency in Him. It points to just how humble He really is! Instead of hogging all the glory, He wants to share it with us! Here was a man who had a donkey who became a part of God’s redemptive history because he was willing to give what he had to God. Someday we get to meet him. He is going to say, hi, my name is “________,” you do not know me but I am the one that gave the donkey to Jesus.” And you will say, “Oh, I heard all about you. Hi!” He is part of history because he gave what God could use in the completing of His will, His plan. Does it matter how much or how little you have? God partners with people to use simple things for great results. Moses was asked to give a walking stick. Rahab gave a corner of her house to the spies. David gave up his slingshot for God. The widow gave two cents. The young boy gave five loaves and two fishes. This man gave his donkey.
Donkeys in Jesus’ day were very valuable. They were burden-bearing animals. They carried things. They transported things, so they were the trucks of their day. Donkeys helped with the farm work. They pulled farm equipment, pulled loads of stuff and so they were the tractors of their day. Donkeys carried people. They were the cars of their day. I tell you this because I want you to know that giving a donkey was no little gift. If you saw someone out in the parking lot jumpstarting your car, you would say, “What are you doing?” And the guy says, “The Lord has need of this.” Would you let Him have it?
Matthew goes on to explain that this man not only gave his colt but also the donkey’s mother. This man’s gift gets even more significant. But he was willing to give it up. It was significant for this man and God used it for a significant purpose. What has God given you that He wants you to give for His significant purpose? It may be significant for you, but it can become even more significant if you give it to God. The lesson here is not about donkeys. It is about attitudes. It is about partnering with God. Two days before this happened, Zaccheus turned over the keys to his house to Jesus. Mary gave Him precious, expensive oil signifying His soon death and burial. And both will forever be remembered for what they did. Neither sought to earn anything from God for their actions, they merely sought to partner with Him in accomplishing His work. There is a great difference between the two reasons for giving something to God. One person tries to earn God’s favor. The other gives to God out of gratitude and faith.
As the story progresses we see people spreading their cloaks on the road. Matthew and Mark add that many others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. When He came near the place where the road goes down to the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully praising God in a loud voice for the miracles they had seen. “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.” I want you to recognize there are five groups of people at this event. There are some who offer their cloaks, there are some who work to cut branches and provide branches for Jesus. Others stand and cheer, they offer words to Jesus. Some are just part of the crowd, observing what is going on. They are just watching. They are just giving it their attention, but they are not really part of what is happening. The fifth group is the critics, who refuse to believe. There is a wide range of people and a wide range of responses that people have to the arrival of Jesus. To some He is a deliverer, to others He is a threat. People have the gift of choice. There are many things that a person cannot choose. You cannot choose your parents, where you are born, or maybe even your culture. Your will cannot undo these realities as if they were not a part of you. So, in a sense, our will is not absolutely free. We do not usually make random choices that have no root in our past, upbringing, or biology. But no matter who we are, or where we live, or what we have done, God has given us the privilege and responsibility to choose Him. God has given us that freedom!
Where would you fit in these five groups? Where would you like to fit in? God has given you the power to choose. Not all your choices are determined. But realize that your eternal destiny will be determined by the choice you make regarding Jesus Christ! No past can rob you of that power. No matter your past you can step out of it to choose Jesus. In that day when all who have been redeemed will raise their voices in praise for the mercy and grace of God Almighty, there will be people from every walk of life. People with good families and people with bad families will be there. People from relatively healthy cultures and people from sick and dysfunctional cultures. People who experienced physical health through most of their lives and those that were sickly and weak. People who have experienced mental illness and those with sound minds. All kinds of people will be there. And the one common thread they will have is that each sought God’s mercy offered in the Lord Jesus Christ! Each had the internal power to choose Christ despite their backgrounds and past and actually made the redeeming choice.
Have you been a skeptic? You do not see God and so you do not believe in Him? Become an investigator. See if what we are talking about is real. You owe it to yourself to find out. But let me ask you, “If the events of the cross are true, what greater thing can God do for you than He has already done?” It is a dangerous thing, spiritually, to snub the cross. It is to crucify afresh Jesus all over again! Either you accept that Jesus was pierced and died for you or you agree with His tormenters who beat Him and drove nails through His flesh. There, ultimately, is no middle ground! God’s grace has been extended to you, but you must receive it or it will do you no good.
If you are a sideline observer, get involved. If you give verbal assent to Jesus, that is not enough. God wants your heart not just your interest. He is not putting on a TV show or a play to hold your interest, to entertain you. Isn’t it time you put your faith into action? Your life needs to feel the impact of the Son of God. If Jesus has not positively impacted your life then you are not a Christian, you are not a believer! Salvation occurs when a repentant sinner receives by faith the work of Christ at Calvary. If there is no spiritual life then there is no saving faith! Do not allow spiritual life to pass you by because of mere neglect. Choose Jesus, get involved with Him!
If you are a practical Christian, you genuinely believe in Jesus Christ and are doing many of the right things described in the Bible. You find that God’s Word really does help and you are trying to do what the Bible says because you find it works in your life. Step up and learn to walk with God when the details are unknown. Step out on faith and do the things that God says to do when you cannot see exactly how the situation is going to work out. Sometimes God is very specific about what He wants us to do, or not do. Do not commit adultery, do not steal, thou shall not lie. Those are clear and direct, specific. Other times the future is uncertain and unknown to us. And God wants us to walk into that darkness with Him trusting that He will work out His perfect will within that darkness. Practical Christians have trouble doing this. They are good with the specific commands and injunctions, but walking in the darkness frightens them. “Practical Christian, the next time God calls you to walk into something you do not understand, Go!” And if you do go you will gain the sense that God is real and that life can be an adventure.
“Hosannah!” Celebrate the God who wants to bless your life. The thief comes to rob, kill, and destroy. Join me in praying, “Lord, save us from the thief.” Follow Jesus. Give Him what you can and watch what He does with it. He will make it worth more than if you expended it on yourself. Partner with God and He will do great things with what you give Him!