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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. article

    The Suffering Servant and Conquering King

  2. article

    The High Call of Service

  3. devotional

    The Suffering Servant

The Suffering Servant and Conquering King

Alec Motyer

John the Baptist was the last of the “Old Testament” prophets, and his message — “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” — tells us in a nutshell what the task of the prophets was and how they went about it. Their task was to speak the word God had given them; their objective was a message relevant to their contemporaries; and their method included news of coming events so that people might be forewarned and forearmed. So John said “repent” (a message for the present), and also predicted (“the kingdom is at hand”), so that in the here and now the people might prepare for what was coming.

All the prophets were like that. We are so accustomed to using the word prophecy in the sense of “prediction” that we can fall into the error of seeing Old Testament prophets — and also the New Testament, which looks forward to the second coming — as if they existed so that we could compose a calendar or map of the future. Not so! The prophets looked back to Moses as the “father” of their order. They were not innovators but exponents of the Mosaic deposit of divine truth. They sought to recall a people “prone to wander” back to their roots in the exodus, to walk with God as, for a time, their ancestors had done (Jer. 2:1–3). But in the course of this summons back to revealed religion and ethics, they enhanced their message to the present by alerting people to the future.

But recall this also: though the prophets lived long ago — from Amos (about 750 BC) to Malachi (about 400 BC) — their word is also what the Lord is saying to us. When they proclaimed “Thus says the Lord,” they meant exactly that. Their words were precisely the words the Lord Himself would have used if He had spoken in person instead of by the prophets. What a precious deposit we possess, then, in their books. Moses, said Stephen, “received living oracles to give to us” (Acts. 7:38), and Hebrews sees Psalm 95 as something “the Holy Spirit says” (3:7), and urges that, in Jeremiah 31:31– 34, “the Holy Spirit bears witness” (10:15). The old word is the present word. The unchanging God addresses us with His unchanged word. Just as the Old Testament people are our ancestors (Gal. 3:29) and the Old Testament history is our pre-history as the people of Jesus, so “whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction” (Rom. 15:4).

Never tire, then, of reading and re-reading the prophets. If a passage seems at first sight puzzling, ask the question, why did the prophet say this? Usually each passage contains the answer, but in any case Proverbs 2:4–6 is true for the whole Bible: knowledge is in the gift of God, and He gives it to those who search His Word as if looking for hidden treasure.

We must turn now to a particular “treasure” in the books of the prophets: how, like Abraham (John 8:56), they rejoiced over the coming day, the coming Person, and the coming new heaven and new earth. But remember, they offered no dates. They were not composing a calendar; rather, they were calling us to present commitment to the Word of God, in expectation of the glory yet to be.

Amos saw the messianic future through the spectrum of the Lord’s covenant with David (2 Sam. 7:16; Ps. 89:24–37): Davidic rule, world dominion, the restored creation, settled existence, eternal security (Amos 9:11–15; see Gal. 6:16). The land-based promises of Amos 9:14–15 are to be understood in the light of Jesus’ affirmation that His kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36), and in the light of the New Testament teaching that the Jerusalem in question is the heavenly city to which we already belong (Heb. 12:22; Gal. 4:21–26 ) and which is yet to be (Rev. 22:9–10). This idea of land recovery is prominent in Obadiah, also, when he says that the Lord’s people will “possess their possessions” (vv. 17, 19–21).

Just a word here about prediction and fulfillment. Think of a perennial flowering plant. The first year’s flowers are delightful but meager. It takes some years of maturing for the full flower to bloom, yet the full flower was present, in embryo, in the first flower. There is continuity and development, but no contradiction. The full flower was what the first flower was always intended to be. Just so, the kingdom not of this world, the heavenly and eternal city, is what the gift of the land and the city were always meant to be. In this sense, what we usually call “fulfillment” is really “perfecting” and “maturing,” the ultimate “realization” of what was always there from the start.

In focusing on the coming “David,” Amos affirmed the main line of prediction. Micah follows the same theme, foretelling that Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (5:2), and, interestingly, he adds but does not develop a reference to the Messiah’s mother, His work as shepherd, and His position as “their peace” (vv. 3–5; see Eph. 2:14–18).

Micah’s contemporary, Isaiah, was the chief prophet of the Messiah. His book consists of a threefold portrait. Against the background of the failure of King Ahaz, Isaiah affirmed the certainty of the Lord’s promise of a true king in the line of David (chaps. 7–12); in the light of Hezekiah’s sin in turning from the way of faith in God’s promises (38:4– 6) to the way of self-reliance (39:1–4), Isaiah preached a message of comfort (40:1), and foresaw “the Servant of the Lord” who would bear away sin (52:13–53:12); and, knowing that his people would return unchanged from Babylon, still under the rule of a foreign king, he foresaw the anointed Conqueror bringing in both salvation and vengeance, a figure with whom the Lord Jesus identified Himself (61:1–2; see Luke 4:16–21) and which He will consummate at His return (2 Thess. 1:7–10).

Isaiah’s royal Messiah is born of a virgin (Isa. 7:14; see Matt. 1:18–25), a word to be taken in its plain meaning. His very birth brings light, joy, and liberation (Isa. 9:2–6); His name proclaims Him the supernatural one (“wonderful,” v. 6) — indeed, He is God Himself (v. 7; 10:21), bringing peace and the worldwide, endless rule pledged to David (v. 7). His rule is in righteousness (11:2–5) over the new earth (vv. 6–9), and He is the faithful one, for He is both “shoot” and “root” of David’s father, Jesse (vv. 1, 10). Isaiah’s third portrait, the anointed Conqueror (59:21; 61:1–3; 61:10–62:12; 63:1–6), elaborates the kingly portrait in terms of salvation for His people and vengeance on all foes, setting up the new heaven and the new earth (65:17–25).

Isaiah is best known for his central portrait of the Servant of the Lord. This Spirit-filled Servant brings “justice” (literally, “judgment,” that is, what the Lord has decided upon and revealed as His truth) to the Gentile world (42:1–4). But He has a wider task also: to bring the Lord’s professing people who have lost their way and their peace back to Him (48:22; 49:1–6). The Servant obediently endures the direst suffering (50:4–9), and this suffering (52:13–53:12) proves to be the way of salvation, a substitutionary sin-bearing (53:4–6, 12) along with the imputation of His righteousness (53:11). In this way, Isaiah saw the full maturing of the first flowering in the atoning sacrifices of Leviticus. It was given to him to realize that ultimately only a person can be the substitute for a people. He called that person the Servant of the Lord; we call Him Jesus (Isa. 53:12; see Luke 22:37).

Jeremiah and Ezekiel add their testimony to Isaiah’s picture of the Servant and the truth of a bloodbought salvation. Jeremiah saw the messianic future in terms of a new covenant (Jer. 31:31–34; see Heb. 10:15–18). He did not explain how it would be that the Lord would forgive our iniquities and remember our sin no more. No doubt he was relying on the explanation Isaiah had already given. Ezekiel was a priest (Ezek. 1:3) who saw the future in terms familiar to him — the perfection of the Lord’s temple in the midst of the Lord’s gathered people (chaps. 40–48). These chapters are not an architect’s specification of a temple to be built, but a prophet’s statement of truth in priestly terms. We can gather to the holy God only where sacrifice is offered and where there is priestly ministry to offer it. Ezekiel’s vision is fulfilled in Ephesians 2 and Hebrews 7:1–8:6.

Please let this brief review whet your appetite and encourage you to be thrilled at the miracle of inspiration whereby the Messiah was seen with such perfect accuracy so long before His advent. The abundance of the predictions underlines the uniqueness of the Lord Jesus and the agelong working of the sovereign God.

The High Call of Service

George Grant

The heroine of My Fair Lady, Eliza Doolittle, captured the sentiment of most of us when she complained, “Words, words, words — I am so sick of words. I get words all day through, first from him, now from you. Is that all you blighters can do?” She was tired of empty rhetoric — as high sounding as it was. Instead, she wanted to see something real.

Talk is cheap. Promises are a dime a dozen. Most of us have had about all of the spin-controlled sound-bites we can stand. We’ve heard just about all the hollow rhetoric we can tolerate. We all know that actions speak louder than words. That is a universal truth — no less valid in business or politics or media as in faith or family or church. Good intentions are simply not sufficient. There has to be follow-through. There has to be substance. 

John the apostle admonishes us accordingly, “Let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18). In the biblical scheme of things, love is something we do, not just something we feel. Mercy is something we extend, not just something we intend. Hope is something we must act on, not just something we harbor. Our orthodoxy (right doctrine) must be matched by orthopraxy (right action). Our life together must be marked by both Word and deed.

This does not by any means minimize the primacy of the Word of God in the Christian life. It is simply a recognition that God’s truth will always bear incarnational, tangible, and demonstrable fruit.

The Westminster Confession of Faith highlights this notion, asserting that the church has been entrusted with “the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world” (25.3). In other words, to carry out this stewardship faithfully, the mission of the church must be organized around Word and deed — or what Francis Schaeffer called “contents and realities.”

To that end, from the earliest days of the apostolic church, congregations were purposefully structured for Word and deed ministry. Each local body was to be led by elders who were charged with the weighty task of preserving sound doctrine. They were to teach it, exhort it, nurture it, and highlight it in every aspect of congregational life — in both its evangelism and its discipleship, from its worship to its societal presence. They were to bring the Gospel to bear in Word and deed. That fixedness in the Word was to provoke holiness, godliness, and faithfulness.

In addition to the elders though, those early fellowships were also served by deacons — or more literally, servants. They were to translate the truth of the Word into very practical deeds. They were to make evident the beauty of human relationships transformed, reconciled, and restored by the Gospel. They were to provoke abundant evidence of true koinonia (community). At the same time, they were to ensure that covenantal relationships would show forth selfless service crafted in tenderness, empathy, excellence, intelligence, and glory.

According to Acts 6, the deacons were charged with the responsibility of coordinating, administering, and conducting the charitable generosity and stewardship of the church. It seems that because of the spectacular growth of the Jerusalem congregation, the distribution of food to the needy had gradually become uneven and inefficient. A number of the Grecian widows had been overlooked. The Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (vv. 2–4). Thus, these seven men, or deacons as they would later be called, were to practically translate Word into deed. They had as their primary duty the oversight of the mercy ministry of the church. This was the essence of the diaconal function.

Throughout church history, this sort of practical-deeds ministry has been more or less faithfully carried out by men of passion, conviction, and concern — men like William Olney and Joseph Passmore. Olney and Passmore were deacons for many years at London’s Metropolitan Tabernacle during the pastorate of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Their busy stewardship of service involved the administration of almshouses, orphanages, relief missions, training schools, retirement homes, tract societies, and colportages.

Sadly, in our congregations today this balanced Word and deed vision is, at best, a secondary notion in the functioning of the church offices. Indeed, instead of meting out the succor of compassion in ministries of service, our deacons are often called upon to spend most of their time sitting on committees and launching building drives. Instead of spending and being spent on behalf of the needy, instead of modeling Word and deed, our deacons are waxing the floors of the fellowship hall or dusting the dampers, pew by pew, “and goodness knows what other trifles,” as Olney put it. Consequently, we leave our churches and our communities with the impression that the Gospel really is little more than “Words, words, words.”  

The Suffering Servant

Exile was the fate of God's old covenant people because they rejected His righteous rule (Lev. 26:14–39; Isa. 39; Hos. 1:2–5; 5:14). Sin led to the exile, so even though the Lord could use Cyrus to bring His people back to their homeland (Isa. 45:1–13), something else would have to be done to restore their relationship to God if they were never to be cast out again. God would have to establish His kingdom—His blessed presence would have to break into history, removing the transgressions that kept His people from seeing His face and guaranteeing their heavenly citizenship forever.

Only by a sovereign work could this kingdom be established (52:3–6, 10). Moreover, since the Lord's kingdom and the Davidic kingdom were to be one and the same as an eternal kingdom (2 Sam. 7:1–17; Ps. 110), this kingdom could come only through the Son of David. In other words, God would have to do this work through the Messiah, a holy King who could atone for the sins of His people and establish them in righteousness.

Isaiah told the exiles this would happen through the work of the Suffering Servant (52:13–53:12). Christians have long insisted that this Suffering Servant is Jesus, while Jews contend that He is the nation of Israel. Who is right? Well, the Suffering Servant in Isaiah's famous passage is clearly an individual, for 53:8 distinguishes the Servant from "my people," that is, Israel. Still, modern Jews are not wholly incorrect, although they miss the essential point. Isaiah does refer to Israel as the Lord's servant, and this servant's vocation was to be righteous (44:1, 21; 45:4; 53:11; 60:3). Yet the nation of Israel was unrighteous (1:1–20; Rom. 3:9). An ideal Israel was needed who could serve God in righteousness, a man who would embody and represent Israel before the Lord in order to fulfill Israel's vocation. This man could only be the Messiah (Isa. 9:1–7; 11; 42:1–9; 49:1–7). Indeed, the Suffering Servant is Israel, the ideal and perfect Israel—Jesus Christ.

This Servant "shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted" (52:13), an image of majesty and awe. Yet this exaltation does not occur in a manner that human beings would expect. The Servant is not lifted high because of some kind of outer beauty or evident regal stature, for He is "marred, beyond human semblance" (v. 14) and has "no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him" (53:2). No, humiliation is the path for the Suffering Servant's exaltation.

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