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The Donkey Who Carried a King

A Message by R.C. Sproul

The biblical teaching that Jesus was the Suffering Servant who carried the sins of His people when He went to the cross is vividly brought home to children in The Donkey Who Carried a King, the latest children's book from respected theologian, author, and educator Dr. R.C. Sproul.

Davey was a young donkey who was bored and unhappy because he was never given anything to do. Then one day, some strangers came to the gate—and Davey's master picked him for a very special task. Davey carried the King, Jesus, into Jerusalem. A few days later, Davey saw some angry people making the King carry a heavy beam of wood. Davey could not understand it—until another donkey helped him see that the King was being a Servant on behalf of His people.

The Donkey Who Carried a King offers a unique perspective on the events of Jesus' Passion Week and calls all believers, both young and old, to follow in the footsteps of the Suffering Servant for the glory of God. Jesus was willing to leave the glories of heaven to suffer and die in this world on our behalf, so we should serve Him with all our hearts.

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    The Suffering of Christ

  2. devotional

    The King Comes on a Donkey

  3. article

    King of Kings

The Suffering of Christ

A significant portion of the Heidelberg Catechism deals with the teaching of the Apostles’ Creed, which summarizes everything we must believe to be saved (Q&A 22). Questions and answers 37–38 of the catechism deal with the assertion of the Apostles’ Creed that Jesus “suffered under Pontius Pilate,” reminding us that Christ was born not to have an easy life but to suffer for His people. But what exactly does it mean that Jesus suffered for us?

That is what question 37 of the Heidelberg Catechism asks, and it turns to Isaiah 53 in providing the answer. Isaiah’s prophecy in this chapter is one of the most important christological texts in the Bible. The Apostle Peter refers to it in 1 Peter 2:18–25, revealing that Jesus’ work on the cross is the ultimate fulfillment of this text and the means by which human beings can be reconciled to God. Of course, it is easy to understand why Peter applies Isaiah 53 to Jesus. The prophet’s references to stripes made by flogging, the silence of the Suffering Servant, and His burial in a rich man’s grave, among other things, all find parallels in the passion of Christ (Isa. 53:5, 7, 9; John 19). It is as if Isaiah himself was an eyewitness to Jesus’ death even though he lived centuries before our Lord went to the cross.

Whether or not Isaiah actually saw a vision of the crucifixion itself, we do know that Isaiah 53 gives us the inspired, inerrant interpretive grid through which to view Jesus’ life and death. It can be easy to focus on the physical pain and disgrace Christ experienced at the hands of lawless men, but we dare not miss what was going on “behind the scenes.” While human agents were killing an innocent man, God was pouring out His wrath on this same man — His incarnate Son. He was crushing Jesus “for our iniquities.” Indeed, He was laying on Christ “the iniquity of us all” (vv. 5–6). God was cutting Him “off out of the land of the living” (v. 8), sending Jesus into the exile of hell while He hung on the cross so that “his soul” would make “an offering for guilt” and satisfy the Lord’s just demands (v. 10). The Father was offering up His Son as a true sacrifice, a substitute to endure what we deserve so that we might enjoy what Christ alone deserves — eternal life. In bearing this wrath, Jesus suffered so that His people would not have to.

The King Comes on a Donkey

Judah went into exile in Babylon after centuries of suffering at the hands of Assyria, Egypt, and other foreign enemies. One of the great blessings of Judah's return from exile was supposed to be safety from all of the nation's foes (Deut. 30:1–10). However, this did not happen at once in the sixth century BC when the Judahites returned to their land. Many of the surrounding powers opposed the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem (Ezra 3). When Nehemiah arrived in the land, Samaria and other foreign powers attempted to thwart the efforts to rebuild Jerusalem's wall (Neh. 4:1–14). Such problems demonstrated that Daniel was correct when he foresaw the extension of the conditions of exile past 538 BC (Dan. 9).

Although the Judahites had certainly merited the continuation of the exile, the Lord in His grace did not intend for this to last forever. Thus, during the ministry of Zechariah, God gave the prophet visions of the end of the exile. Zechariah 9:1–8 describes this in terms of the defeat of Judah's enemies. Verses 9–17 view the end of exile in terms of the return of the Davidic king to Zion. We read that this king would enter Jerusalem riding on a donkey. The Davidic king's riding on a humble beast of burden has precedent, for Solomon was presented as David's rightful successor by being placed on David's mule (1 Kings 1:33). In any case, the image is one of humility. Final salvation would not come to the people of God through the traditional route of a conquering king on a noble horse. Instead, it would be achieved in an unexpected way through what men typically regard as weak and despised.

In the day of salvation, Ephraim and Jerusalem would no longer trust the war horse and chariot (Zech. 9:10). The prophet is speaking of the reunited kingdom of Israel and pointing out that the salvation achieved by the humble Davidic king would convince the people of God to rest in Him alone and not in the idols of human might that the old covenant community often relied upon (Isa. 31:1; Jer. 42:19).

These promises would be fulfilled because of the blood of the covenant (Zech. 9:11). Once more we see the unconditional nature of salvation—God has committed Himself to redeeming His people despite their unfaithfulness. The "blood of the covenant" likely refers to the covenant of salvation the Lord made with Abraham in which God made a promise to save the patriarch's children and ratified it with the shedding of blood (Gen. 15). Because of this oath, the Lord would not fail to save His own.

King of Kings

Iain Campbell

“In the beginning was the Word.” With these majestic words, John opens his gospel, in which he gives us his account of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, all designed that his readers will believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and, through faith in Him, will come to know the life He is able to give (John 20:31).

In John’s gospel, Jesus is described in various ways, and the book of Revelation picks up on some of these descriptions. For example, in Revelation 19:7, John talks of Jesus the Lamb, echoing John the Baptist, who spoke of Jesus as the Lamb of God (John 1:29, 36). In the book of Revelation, the image of Jesus the Lamb is at His marriage, and His bride is the church. Interestingly, it was at a marriage that Jesus first displayed His glory (2:11), and it will be at a marriage, His own marriage, that He will finally display it in all its effulgent splendor.

In Revelation 19:11–14, we are again introduced to Jesus the Word of God, but in a very different context. The pastoral attractiveness of the marriage supper of the Lamb gives way to a different vision. John sees the Word of God as a glorious, majestic, victorious, warrior King who rides out of heaven on an awesome white steed. In addition to being called the Word of God, he is called “Faithful and True,” picking up on the earlier selfdesignation of Christ as the “Amen, the faithful and true witness.”

This King rides out to make war. It is a holy, righteous war, one in which He assaults with victory the kingdom of sin and darkness. His eyes flash with fire, His head bears many crowns, His robes drip blood, heaven’s armies follow Him, a sword comes out of His mouth, and He will rule the nations with a rod of iron (Ps. 2:9; Isa. 11:4; Rev. 2:27). He secures victory on behalf of His army — which is none other than the linen-robed bride of the previous vision. The bride who sees Him as her husband also follows Him as her King.

The victory this King has won for His bride has been at a great cost to Himself. He has trodden “the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God” (Rev. 19:15 — a phrase that picks up a similar image of the victorious Messiah-warrior in Isa. 63:3). He has won victory for His people by enduring God’s wrath against their sins, as a result of which He now triumphs over all His enemies and rules over all of His people as “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev. 19:16).

The composite picture of these verses, alongside the images of the Lamb who is a bridegroom, serves as a warning against trying to interpret Revelation woodenly. When people ask us if we take the Bible literally, we need to find out what their question means. We certainly do in the sense that we believe every letter to have come from the mouth of God — the Word of God written is “Faithful and True,” just like the King whose word it is; but we certainly do not take it literally if that means violating the characteristics of the genre and style of writing in which it is given.

The book of Revelation is a picture book using vivid imagery to convey who Jesus is and what He has done. As our King, He appeared to wage war on sin and Satan, to “destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Heb. 2:14–15). As our King, He rode into death, separating His soul from His body as a warrior unsheathes a sword, in order to emerge with victory over death and the grave. As our King, He rules over the armies of heaven and the forces of the world, ruling, directing, and governing all things. As our King, He will finally triumph over all His enemies and the enemies of His church.

He is King of kings (a Hebraism that conveys the superlative designation of the One who is King over all kings, powers, nations, and kingdoms) because He does what no other king can do — He guarantees us a share in His triumph and conquest. We are “more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37). What He gained for us, He guards for us. No force in the universe or outside of it has the power to rob us of His protection or of our portion in Him. If we are united to Christ, as the linen-dressed bride is to the Lamb, then we are protected by His righteousness, as the linen-arrayed armies are protected by the King.

Christ's title echoes Old Testament designations of God as “God of gods and Lord of kings” (Dan. 2:47) and “King of heaven” (4:37). He wears the title on His robe, the symbol of His authority, and on His thigh, the symbol of His power. These are also designed to show that the enemy of the King is a father of lies, a counterfeiter, the beast who wears multiple crowns with blasphemous names (Rev. 13:1), whose Babylonian prostitute is also covered with blasphemous names (17:3).

The message of the book of Revelation is that no matter how successful the kingdom of sin and of Satan may be, the victory will belong to God’s chosen Messiah. God laughs at every attempt to overthrow His kingdom (Ps. 2:4) because He knows what the outcome of the story is going to be. At the name of Jesus, every knee will bow (Phil. 2:10).

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