Don't Let A Donkey Outdo You

This unusual sermon applies lessons from the donkey that Jesus rode.

Categories: Special Days › Palm Sunday

The ancient church father, Cyril of Jerusalem, preached on the various ways that the Bible uses animals to illustrate human characteristics. Bill Gothard published a full color book that does the same thing. So, for example, the Bible presents the fox as representing the craftiness of men, the snake as representing the treachery of man, the neighing horse the wantonness of young men, and the ant represents industry and preparation for the future. I've never preached on animals before, but I was struck by the unusualness of this foal of a donkey. Donkey's symbolize stubbornness and waywardness in Scripture (eg., Prov. 26:3). They are difficult to control - especially if they have not yet been broken. But Zechariah 9:9 prophesied about a donkey who would carry Jesus and who would be miraculously good natured. Almost everyone points out that Jesus riding this foal of a donkey represents a miracle. I believe that there is much more communicated to us by this donkey than what was spoken through Balaam's donkey in the Old Testament.

In fact, Tom Rees told a story of a jockey in England who was converted simply by hearing this passage read out loud. What had happened was that, on a whim, he had attended a Palm Sunday service at an Anglican church in England. And God had prepared him by making him absolutely disgusted with himself over the sins of his youth that he just could not control. But as this passage was read he was utterly amazed that Jesus could calmly ride an untrained colt that had never been mounted before, had not been broken, and had not been trained, and that was certainly not accustomed to being ridden in a noisy environment. He recalled the many difficult hours that he had spent training colts and horses and he instantly knew that this was a miracle. He thought that if Jesus could so quietly and quickly control a colt, surely Jesus could master his untamed, wayward, and immoral life. He felt hopeless about conquering his sins, but this passage instantly gave him faith that Jesus could do what he could not. And he submitted himself unreservedly to Jesus. He was soundly converted that day. He discovered that only Jesus can bring every thought captive to obey God (2 Cor. 10:5). Only Jesus can tame our unruly flesh. And Jesus did exactly that with that young man. So my message from Mark 11 is this: "Don't Let A Donkey Outdo You."

It left home at Christ's command (vv. 2-7a)

Here was a donkey that left home and all that it had ever known. Now, granted, the disciples brought the colt to Jesus. He didn't come on his own. But the colt did not resist being brought. He did not resist the new and unknown. Those who train donkeys and horses say that a donkey colt is much harder to break. They are skittish and easily frightened, and not easily approached. In fact, one donkey breeder said that if Jesus could instantly ride that donkey, He can tame and subdue anything. For this colt to leave home without any fuss shows a miraculous work of God upon the colt.

But it is a far more miraculous work of God when a person leaves all to follow Jesus. Why? Because our hearts are prone to wander. Apart from grace God describes the human heart as deceptive, idolatrous, lustful, and desperately wicked. Like Saul of Tarsus - the unconquered heart is hell-bent. But God instantly converted Saul and brought him from persecuting Christ to calling Him Lord. And that's what becoming a disciple involves. In Mark 8:34 Jesus said, "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." Matthew 10:38 says, "he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me." But it's not enough to follow Jesus at the beginning of our Christian walk. We must continue to follow Him. Let's each of us do better than this donkey and rather than needing to be led to forsake all, let's forsake all for Christ willingly and joyfully of our own initiative.

It submitted to a new Lord (v. 2-3)

Second, in verses 2-3 we see that this colt submitted to a new Lord. Previously he had a master who had tied him up to keep him from wandering. But Jesus claimed lordship over this donkey. Look at verses 2-3.

Mark 11:2 and He said to them, “Go into the village opposite you; and as soon as you have entered it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has sat. Loose it and bring it. 3 And if anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it,’ and immediately he will send it here.”

This colt had an owner. That's why they asked what in the world the disciples were doing when they started to untie the donkey. But as soon as they discovered that the Lord Jesus had need of it, they let them take the donkey. This donkey was being given to serve a new Lord who would soon be declared to be the universal King. And this colt submitted to Christ's lordship without question. It's a miracle enough to have an instant breaking of the colt, but it is even more of a miracle that it was done by a stranger. But the colt submitted.

Can we do better? Are we willing to submit to Christ's commands for us, no matter how uncomfortable those commands might be? Submitting to Christ's lordship is an evidence of genuine grace at work within us. Is Christ Lord of all in your life? Or do you stubbornly hold onto certain things that Jesus is asking for? Donkey breeders believe that a donkey's stubborness is part of its instinctual self-preservation. But believers are called to lay down their lives for Christ; not preserve their lives. Don't let this donkey outdo you. By grace you can do better than this donkey.

It submitted to the Lord when quite young (vv. 2,4,5)

The third thing that I see is that this colt submitted to the Lord when quite young. Both the words "colt" and "foal" indicate a very young donkey. There are some traditions where parents let their their children and teenagers sow their wild oats thinking that they will get it out of their system and come back to the Lord. Bad idea. We should seek to guide the hearts of our young to the Lord from the time that they are babies. There should never be a time when our children do not hear Christ's voice speaking through the Scriptures, or in song, or in prayer. If God can tame a young donkey's heart, He can tame the hearts of our young children. Some parents are ready to cry and to pull their hair out in exasperation over their children's rebellion. It's a good place to be. Joel was the toddler that brought Kathy and me to tears and made us realize that we cannot do this parenting thing in our own strength. But what we cannot do, Christ can. And it is so important that we fall on our knees before King Jesus and ask Him to tame the hearts of our children - which, by the way, He did in a marvelous way with Joel. He continues to be a God of miracles. Don't give up hope. Bring your child to Jesus even as these disciples brought this colt to Jesus. After all, He invited us to do so.

It served His "need" (v. 3)

Fourth, this donkey served Christ's needs. In verse 3 Jesus says, "And if anyone says to you, 'Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it,’ and immediately he will send it here." But notice the word "need." "The Lord has need of it." I don't usually think of Jesus as having any needs. After all, Jesus created all things, sustains all things by the Word of His power, and shows His omniscience by saying exactly what these people would do.

But the word for "need" is χράω. It doesn't speak of neediness, but of usefulness. And that Jesus could find usefulness in a young colt that isn't remotely trained or ready for riding is encouraging. He has set up His kingdom to need each one of us - weak as we are. And I find that hugely encouraging. You should be thinking, "If Christ could find this colt useful and needed for His kingdom, who am I to withhold my service to Jesus just because I think I am inadequate?" If that donkey could be useful for Christ, any one of us can. He especially loves to take the weak, the broken, the hurting, the hopeless and to manifest His power and grace through them. Don't let a donkey outdo you. See yourself as useful in Christ's kingdom.

It served as a testimony to Christ (symbolism)

The next point shows why this donkey was needed. It served as a testimony to Christ via symbolism. The donkey and the mule were historically not used in war - other than as pack animals. The horse had that function, and the horse was often a symbol of conquest and war. But the donkey and mule were both perfect symbols of peace, and thus were used for the coronation of kings. Solomon rode on a mule to be coronated. The Messianic King prophesied in Genesis 49:11 started His reign by binding His donkey to the vine, and his donkey's colt to the choice vine and then going to death. It was a prediction of this colt and its mother being bound where the disciples found them. Deborah refers to judges who rode on donkeys as symbols of their rule (Judges 5:10). The thirty sons of Judge Jair rode on thirty donkeys as symbols of their rulership (Judges 10:4). The same was true of the sons of Abdon in Judges 12. The point is that this donkey testified to Christ's kingship and that Christ was the Messiah. This was the preliminary to His coronation at His ascension, but it was an important preliminary.

And if we don't want to be outdone by a donkey, we too should make sure that our lives and our words are good testimonies to our Savior and Lord. We wear the name Christian, but do we take His name in vain by a bad testimony? Don't let a donkey outdo you. Make your life a testimony to the Kingship of Jesus over you.

It was not distracted from duty (vv. 7-8)

The sixth thing that I see is that this donkey was not distracted from duty by the crowds that swirled around them, and the noise, and the branches being waved, and people running up and putting their clothing under the feet of the donkey. That could have been very unnerving for this colt. Look at verses 7-8.

Mark 11:7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes on it, and He sat on it. 8 And many spread their clothes on the road, and others cut down leafy branches from the trees and spread them on the road.

As skittish as donkeys can be, and as hugely skittish as colts can be, it is amazing that this donkey was not distracted from duty. The crowds were huge, the noise of the singing was loud, the crowds were no doubt pressing to see Jesus, people were running up to lay down clothing and palm branches. It would be enough to distract any animal - even a trained one. But this donkey was so under the control of Jesus that it was not distracted from duty.

What about you? Do you get easily distracted from your spiritual disciplines through the things that are knocking on your eye gate, ear gate, touch gate, and other senses? Which takes priority - games or Bible? Which takes priority - sports or devotions? Which takes priority - Sabbath or work? There are so many things that are trying to distract us from serving the Lord, and we must ignore those things and do what is right. Don't let a donkey outdo you. Don't get distracted from duty.

It glorified Him (vv. 9-10)

The seventh thing I see is that this donkey was part of the ceremony of lifting up Jesus and glorifying Him. The point of Palm Sunday was to acknowledge and to celebrate the fact that Christ was Messiah and King. It was to glorify Him. Verses 9-10.

9 Then those who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: “Hosanna! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ 10 Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”

Even though Hosanna meant "Help I pray" or "Save I pray," it had become by that point a shout of praise and adoration similar to Praise God or Hooray! It still was a request for God to save the nation, but the way it was used was a strong affirmation that Jesus was the Savior, the deliverer, the helper of Israel.

Second, the crowds were asking God to bless Jesus.

Third, they acknowledge Him to be the representative of the Lord when they spoke of Him as coming in the name of the Lord.

Fourth, they were affirming that the time of the kingdom had come.

Fifth, they were acknowledging Jesus to be the prophesied King who would descend from David and who would be the Messiah.

And sixth, by shouting Hosanna in the highest, they were referring to the kingdom of heaven. Heaven is the highest. Finally the time had arrived when the kingdom of heaven would progressively come to earth and take over the earth.

So it was all a time of enormous jubilation and celebration - and at the heart of it all was Jesus riding on a colt of a donkey with the mother donkey coming along side in order to fulfill the Old Testament prophecies of two donkeys at His coronation. And the parallel passages speak of two donkeys.

The point is, it wasn't just humans glorifying Jesus. The donkey was glorifying Jesus too by pointing to His kingship, Saviorhood, and rule over all. Don't let that donkey outdo you in glorifying Jesus and seeking to extend the knowledge that His kingdom had come and His will would now begin to be done more and more. Acts 2 starts as a tiny mustard seed (only 120 genuine believers) and it has been growing non-stop despite persecution to billions of Christians today. Pew Research says that there are 2.3 billion Christians. Gordon Conwell Seminary's Center for the Study of Global Christianity says that it is closer to 2.5 billion in 2019. And it is growing exponentially. As man's rebellion becomes more irrational and self-destructive, it will eventually come to ruin. And it is my prayer that Christians will rebuild civilization out of the dust. But we can start right where we are at by lifting up Jesus, serving Him where we are at, advancing His crown rights in our jobs, our entertainment, and in politics county by county. The donkey didn't worry about whether the crowds were sincere or insincere. He didn't worry about the size of the opposition. His goal was simply to carry Jesus and His agenda forward.

Don't let that donkey outdo you. Don't worry about the opposition of the modern Pharisees and Sadducees and Herodians of our day. Don't get distracted by the fickleness of crowds. Be faithful where you are at and keep carrying the crown rights of King Jesus forward in your county.

It finished its course (v. 11)

The last thing I see about this donkey is that it finished its course in verse 11 and brought Jesus all the way to His destination - the temple.

11 And Jesus went into Jerusalem and into the temple. So when He had looked around at all things, as the hour was already late, He went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Why did Jesus ride to the temple? That was the day in which the lambs were herded to the temple. Josephus says that there were over 250,000 lambs led to the temple – crowding the streets as Jesus rode his donkey in the midst of those lambs toward the priests who would examine the lambs. And interestingly, far from finding blemish in Jesus, Jesus finds blemish in them and cleanses them out of His temple. No longer will Jesus allow these priests to legitimately perform their ceremonies. He is the last Lamb. But anyway, when you picture the Lamb of God riding a donkey in the midst of those 250,000 lambs, you have this image of King and Priest wedded together. He was unlike the priests in the temple. He was a priest after the order of Melchizedek, who was both a king and a priest. And all of this gives added meaning to the feeling in Christ's words when he talks about his death in John 12 while riding there. This was all very self-conscious. He was fulfilling prophecy in perfect synchronization with the festival rituals.

And there were many who sought to divert Jesus from His goal of dying. The Pharisees tried to stop Him because they didn't want to kill him while millions had come to the festival. They worried about riots. They wanted to wait till after the festival. Peter rebuked Jesus for talking about dying at all. But here was a donkey that minded its own business - and its own business was to take Jesus where Jesus wanted to go, not where the donkey wanted to go.

And once again I say, "Don't let that donkey outdo you." Determine to follow Jesus through thick and through thin. Don't worry about whether it will be pleasant or painful. All that matters is that you are sticking with Jesus. This is so different from the soft Christianity that so many people know. They won’t do it unless it’s pleasant or easy. Well, we need to get past that. Isaac Watt’s hymn, “Am I a Soldier of the Cross” tries to paint the picture that just as military life is quite different from civilian life, Christian life is quite different from ordinary life. One of the verses from that hymn that was emblazoned all across the wall of the huge auditorium where I went to school said this: “Must I be carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease, while others fought to win the prize and sailed through bloody seas?” Let's learn the humility and faithfulness of this donkey. To reiterate the points that display its life,

  1. First, leave all and follow Christ.
  2. Second, submit unconditionally and unreservedly to the Lordship of Jesus.
  3. Third, start submitting to Jesus when you are young and persevere in following Him till you are old. Dedicate your young to Jesus - just as the Collen’s did this morning.
  4. Fourth, realize that Christ's kingdom needs you - not in an absolute sense, but in the sense that you are useful to Him. If you are useful to Him, be willing to be used by Him.
  5. Fifth, testify to Jesus - to the fact that He is your Savior and Lord.
  6. Sixth, don't let games, applause, pride, fear, or anything else distract you from God's call upon your life.
  7. Seventh, glorify Him in all that you do.
  8. And eighth, finish your course.

Don't let a donkey outdo you. Amen? Amen. Let's pray.

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