I think it was C.S. Lewis who noted that the trouble of a childhood Sunday School education is that as adults a childlike version of Bible stories remains in our head. Noah is a sweet old man that God used to save the animals in a really cool boat and the Walls of Jericho came crashing down to the sound of faithful musicians. Simple and sweet, generations of children have left church with a child appropriate Bible story on their lips, a moral lesson for their heart, and the obligatory sticker affixed somewhere on their forehead.
I really value my Sunday School experience but at times I still see even events like Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey through the lens of a Sunday school lesson. “Oh look, there is Jesus riding triumphantly into the city on a donkey. See, he’s teaching us humility…now who wants to be humble like Jesus and get a sticker?”
Yes, of course he was being humble in that moment…but he was doing so much more.
Jesus was beginning the final leg of his earthly mission, which would culminate with his crucifixion and resurrection, of shaming and embarrassing the systems of this world.
All sins forgiven, the slate wiped clean, that old arrest warrant canceled and nailed to Christ’s cross. He stripped all the spiritual tyrants in the universe of their sham authority at the Cross and marched them naked through the streets.
Jesus was very intentionally exposing the governance of human history for what it is…
… a sham!
Brian Zahnd notes in his brilliant book A Farewell to Mars that history has been shaped by empires that feel they have the right to do so through their power and might. One empire after another rises, shapes history, declines, and then fades.
The Apostle John weeps in Revelation 5 because one beast (empire) after another comes up out of the sea to wage war on the earth and no one seems able to break the cycle. That is until an angel tells John not to weep because Jesus has broke (and is breaking) the cycle:
I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll (break the cycle) and its seven seals.” Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne,
Revelation 5: 4-6
Jesus riding on a donkey into Jerusalem was not just a Sunday School lesson in humility.
Jesus was putting the “way it’s always been done” power and violence mentality on notice that there was a new sheriff in town and all the rules were about to change.
See, if Jesus had come riding a stallion and leading an army, the “powers of this world” would have been quite content. It’s what they know and understand; power reinforced through violence! If Jesus wants to be King for a while he can; he can be just another beast who comes up out of the sea to make war on the Earth and cause John to weep.
But instead he comes riding on a donkey to adoring crowds who shout his praise.
That had to scare the crap out of the devil!
You know that point in a sporting event when the game is over before the clock has run out? When you see who the winner is going to be even though there is still 10 minutes left to play?
The “powers of this world” knew at this moment, when he saw Jesus riding a humble donkey through the Jerusalem streets, that it was “Game Over”!
The crucifixion and resurrection sealed the deal but it was Jesus coming
* not with an army but as a sacrifice
* not with power but with compassion
* not on a victory war horse but on a mule
that the cycle was broken!
So as Easter approaches and you begin to see images of Jesus riding a humble donkey remember, this isn’t a nice Sunday School lesson, this was the moment when everything changed!