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The Sounds of Lent: Donkey’s Hoofs,
Cheering Crowds and Jeering Crowds

Matthew 21:1-11

Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Palm Sunday—March 28, 2010

“The Sounds of Lent: Donkey’s Hoofs”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

For our Wednesday evening Lenten services this year the messages have been based on the theme, “The Sounds of Lent.”  We are continuing that theme during Holy Week, which begins this morning.  On Maundy Thursday we will mediate on the sounds at the Last Supper, singing, breaking bread, pouring wine.  On Good Friday we will consider the sounds of dice, which the soldiers played while Christ was dying, and his final death cry from the cross.  This morning for Palm Sunday, our message is based on the sounds of the donkey’s hoofs and the cheering crowds and jeering crowds.

On the cover of today’s bulletin are some photographs I took in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday in 1980. It was a special experience to be in Jerusalem for Holy Week.  I was traveling with a group of Lutheran pre-seminary college students, and we held Communion in Jerusalem on Maundy Thursday, on Good Friday walked the Via Dolorosa, the traditional route Christ took to Calvary, and early on Easter Sunday morning we attended a memorable sunrise service held by the local Lutherans of Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives.

To celebrate Palm Sunday, I hiked up the Mount of Olives and walked down the modern road which must be about the same route Jesus took into the holy city on the first Palm Sunday.  It gave me goosebumps when partway down the Mount of Olives I came upon the scene in the first picture on the bulletin cover. 

Photo by Rev. Kevin D. Vogts

At the exact spot where Jesus would have mounted the donkey to ride down into Jerusalem, there was a donkey, tied up alongside the road.  There was no one around, he didn’t seem to have an owner. He was just there, almost like the miraculously provided donkey in today’s Gospel Reading, giving a perfect picture of what it must have been like on that first Palm Sunday.

The conquering hero riding into the capital city was a common custom and familiar scene in the ancient world.  But, Jesus turns this well-known event on its head, with some unexpected but very symbolic twists on the traditional victory march of the conquering hero.

“At 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 tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here.’”  In the government and military there is a strict code of established protocol to which you are expected to rigidly adhere.  Of course, the proper protocol for a conquering hero is to enter his capital city mounted on a stately white steed.  Jesus certainly could have procured such a proper aristocratic mount.  He could have just as easily had his disciples miraculously encounter stately steed and bring it to him for his entrance into the city.

But, instead, he rides into Jerusalem on the exact opposite of a thoroughbred, the most humble beast of burden, a lowly donkey.  He did this not out of necessity, not because that was the only animal available, but purposely, to make a point of great symbolic significance.

The sound of the clip-clop of donkey’s hooves that first Palm Sunday may have been very unusual for the entrance of a conquering hero, but for those who knew their Hebrew Bible, it should not have been unexpected.  For, Zechariah prophesied exactly that in today’s Old Testament Reading: “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!  See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey.”  So, Christ’s unusual entry into Jerusalem upon a donkey was first of all the fulfillment of prophecy, the gentle clip-clop of the donkey’s hooves testifying, “This is the long-awaited Lord, the promised Messiah.”  

“The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, “Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”  The word hosanna is called a praise-shout, used in worship in the Old Testament.  It is a one-word prayer: “O Lord, Save!”  The crowds cry out, “Hosanna!  O Lord, Save!” because that is who Jesus is, and why he has come.

Some in the crowd that day thought he had come to save them from their national enemy, the Romans, who oppressed their people.  But, he has a much greater mission, against a much greater enemy.  He is waging war against the greatest enemy of all of humanity, the one Revelation describes as, “that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.”

“Hosanna!  O Lord, Save!” That is who Jesus is, and why he has come.  We have been led astray into the ways of sin by that ancient serpent called the devil, and we all deserve the punishment of death and damnation.

“Hosanna!  O Lord, Save!”  That is who Jesus is, and why he has come, the Lord come to save you.  But, the sound of the clip-clop of donkey’s hooves means he will save not through military might but through humble sacrifice.  As Paul says in today’s Epistle Reading, “He humbled himself and became obedient unto death—even death on a cross!”

“They took palm branches and went out to meet him.”  The next photograph on the bulletin cover is a palm branch, like those the excited crowd waved and laid down on the road before Jesus to welcome him into Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday. 

Photo by Rev. Kevin D. Vogts

Like a ticker-tape parade giving world champions a hero’s welcome to their home city, in the ancient world the waving of palm branches was a traditional symbol of victory. 

Paul says in 1st Corinthians, “Thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. . .  The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”  Jesus has won the victory for you the victory, conquered for you over sin, Satan, and even death itself.

Just as he rode into the city not on the expected warrior’s white steed, but on a humble donkey, he also took the cross, a symbol of death and defeat, and he conquered through it, transforming it forever into a symbol of life and victory.  As the prayer before Communion in today’s service says, “[You] made his cross a life-giving tree for all who trust in him.”


[Hymn Interlude]

“The Sounds of Lent: Cheering Crowds and Jeering Crowds”

The next photograph on the bulletin cover is the road leading down the Mount of Olives into Jerusalem. 

Photo by Rev. Kevin D. Vogts

Though this is the modern road, it must be about the same route which Jesus took nearly 2,000 years ago.  At the bottom of the road is the Kidron Valley, which separates Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives.  The next photo is from the Kidron Valley looking up at the eastern city walls of Jerusalem. 

Photo by Rev. Kevin D. Vogts

These walls date from the Middle Ages, but are very similar to the city walls at the time of Christ.  In this photo is the Golden Gate, which has been blocked off for structural reasons, but is similar to the gate Jesus rode through.

On Palm Sunday cheering crowds line this road waving palm branches as Jesus entered Jerusalem.  But, just five days later, and about a mile to the west, jeering crowds line the road as he carried his cross out of the city to Calvary. 

It probably wasn’t the same people in those two crowds, who had changed their minds about Jesus during the week.  Today’s Gospel Reading says, “When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God.”  So the cheering crowds on Palm Sunday were Jesus’ disciples, but the Gospels indicate that the jeering crowds on Good Friday as he carried his cross to Calvary included only a few of his disciples, who mourned and wailed for him.  The jeers that day came not from disappointed disciples, but from his enemies, whom the Gospels report had long been plotting to kill him.

The sound of the jeering crowds on Good Friday represents the opposition and ridicule and scorn that Christ and his Gospel and his followers will always face from a hostile world.  As Paul says in 1st Corinthians, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

This morning we are concluding in Adult Bible Class a video series on the opposition and ridicule and scorn that Christ and his Gospel and his followers still face in our world today.  When you watch this series it is surprising how prevalent such hostility is even here in our own land.  But, it really shouldn’t be surprising.  As Jesus warned his disciples at the Last Supper, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.”  “In fact,” Paul tells Timothy, “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

“To this you were called,” Peter says, “because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”  The contrast of the cheering crowds on Palm Sunday and the jeering crowds on Good Friday is a reminder to us of Christ’s call to take up our cross and faithfully follow him.  And, if necessary, like the many modern examples in our Bible class series, to endure for him the world’s opposition and ridicule and scorn. 

As Hebrews encourages us, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”


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