[The following are the notes for a sermonette given to the Portland UCG congregation on April 11, 2020.]
I know that most of us have not been traveling very much recently because of the stay at home order in this time of Coronavirus, but I would like to begin today with a question: Does the animal you ride or the car you drive say something about you or your purpose? In our world we are used to making judgments about people from their transportation choices. This was true not only in our world but in the ancient world as well, as the Bible pays considerable attention to the animals that people rode and the significance of those transportation choices. And, though it may not always be obvious, the difference in the choice of mount between the first and second coming of Jesus Christ is a matter of great relevance to the purposes that Jesus Christ had and has for his first and second coming. It is easy for us to make fun of the way that the disciples, before Christ’s death and resurrection, were continually misunderstanding the purposes of Jesus’ first coming, but if we are not sensitive to the implications of the mounts that Jesus has for His first and second coming, we may be easily deceived ourselves. Let us examine today the implications of Jesus’ choice of transportation between His first and second coming and how it relates to His different purposes in those comings.
As we have just observed the Passover, it is natural for us to read those parts of the Bible that talk about the period before Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. One of those stories involves the entrance of Jesus into the city of Jerusalem. We read about this incident in John 12:12-19. John 12:12-19 tells us the story of the procession of Jesus’ entry into the city of Jerusalem in a way that fulfilled prophecy that the disciples did not understand at the time: “The next day a great multitude that had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, and cried out: “Hosanna! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ The King of Israel!” Then Jesus, when He had found a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written: “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your King is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt.” His disciples did not understand these things at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that they had done these things to Him. Therefore the people, who were with Him when He called Lazarus out of his tomb and raised him from the dead, bore witness. For this reason the people also met Him, because they heard that He had done this sign. The Pharisees therefore said among themselves, “You see that you are accomplishing nothing. Look, the world has gone after Him!””
The passage here in John makes a note that Jesus riding a donkey colt was in fulfillment of a prophecy, and we will discuss that prophecy shortly. It noteworthy, though, that the disciples did not understand what it meant for Jesus to be riding into a city on a donkey colt as opposed to some other sort of animal. I don’t know how familiar most of you are with donkeys, but if you have ever seen the movie Shrek, you can have some idea of how the Palestinian donkey is a sociable and friendly animal that delights to serve those who own it and those who ride it. Yet it should be noted at the same time that the donkey is not the animal that world conquerors ride on. When you ride on a donkey you are not surveying territory that you have taken by the sword and grimly surveying the fields of one’s slaughtered enemies. Instead, when you ride on a donkey you are traveling humbly and modestly, and that mode of transportation precisely expresses the purpose that Jesus had in his first coming, when he humbled himself and emptied Himself of his divine prerogatives and came to His people as the humble son of a carpenter to suffer and die for the sins of mankind. Predictably, the Pharisees were more concerned about the world going after them and their losing their own power over the commonfolk than they were about these purposes.
The humility that was involved in riding on a donkey was part of why Jesus had been prophesied to enter Jerusalem that way. This is precisely what was prophesied in Zechariah 9:9-10. This prophecy, interestingly enough, discusses both the first and coming of Jesus Christ and it contrasts the different mounts related to both. Zechariah 9:9-10 reads: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the horse from Jerusalem; the battle bow shall be cut off. He shall speak peace to the nations; His dominion shall be ‘from sea to sea; and from the River to the ends of the earth.’” As Zechariah clearly states here, the donkey is not the vehicle one uses to announce that one is a conquering hero. It is lowly and humble, and verse nine describes this humility as being an important part of the salvation that Jesus Christ brought with Him at His first coming. In the next verse, we see the contrast between the first and second coming with a discussion of Jesus Christ returning to the earth as a conquering hero to cut off the chariot and horse from Israel and to break the bow of battle. And what do you think Jesus Christ will be riding when He does this?
If you are familiar with equestrian statuary, you already know the answer to this question. If you visit a city in Europe or on the East Coast, you are likely to be able to be not too far away from war memorials that honor various generals throughout history. And frequently these generals will be honored in a consistent way riding on some noble steed in a way that shows them as a glorious military leaders. And that is precisely what we find if we look at the biblical prophetic account of the return of Jesus Christ in Revelation 19:11-16. This passage describes the return of Jesus Christ in stirring martial terms as a conquering hero who will rule over the world in might and power. Revelation 19:11-16 says: “Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND
LORD OF LORDS.”
Contrary to what we may think, it matters a great deal in what vehicle Jesus Christ comes. For His first coming, when He came as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind to open the way of salvation, Jesus Christ rode on a humble and lowly donkey colt into the city of Jerusalem where he was soon crucified. When Jesus Christ returns to this earth it will be to put the earth to rights and to bring it under His rule. Unsurprisingly enough, given this purpose, He and His army will be riding on white horses fit for conquering heroes. And our age is just as likely to mistake the purposes of Jesus Christ as was the time of the first century. Jesus’ disciples and many of the Jews of his time sought Jesus to be a conquering king when He came as a sacrificial Passover lamb. Our age looks to Jesus Christ as a loving and gentle and approving teacher when He will return as a conquering king to crush the rebellion of wicked humanity. So long as we pay proper attention to the importance of Jesus’ choice of mount, we can avoid being deceived ourselves about Jesus’ different purposes between his first and second coming.