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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

    Sentenced to Death

  2. article

    Humiliation to Exaltation

  3. devotional

    The King Comes on a Donkey

Sentenced to Death

Ultimately, Pontius Pilate does not believe that Jesus wants to supplant the caesar and destroy the Roman Empire as an Israelite king. Several factors explain why he finds no fault in Jesus (Matt. 27:11–23). First, whether through outside sources or his own intuition, Pilate sees that Caiaphas and the other leaders seek Jesus’ death out of envy, not the truth (v. 18). Secondly, his wife has had a nightmare about the events transpiring (v. 19) and sees involvement in the death of Jesus as disastrous for Pilate. Finally, the response of Jesus Himself to His accusers strongly refutes their accusations. John’s gospel tells us that at one point in the trial our Savior assures Pilate that His kingdom is “not of this world” (18:36) and therefore not interested in the violent overthrow of the caesar. Coupled with this is Jesus’ appearance before Pilate bound and beaten, which likely convinces him that the Nazarene is no real threat to the Empire.

Jesus’ innocence, however, makes Pilate no less willing to give in to his fear of a riot and have Jesus crucified to prevent an uprising (Matt. 27:26). Ultimately, this compounds his guilt — to commit the great sin of executing the Lord of glory Pilate must unashamedly cast justice aside. Moreover, the gathered mob is not excused for demanding Christ’s death simply because they are following their leaders (v. 20). But if in this mob there are those who once hailed Jesus as David’s heir (21:1–11), why do they follow along? It is because they want a violent conqueror and their expectations cannot accept that this bound man is God’s Messiah. Barabbas is willing to overthrow Rome by any means necessary (Mark 15:7); thus, the people prefer him over the humble Jesus (Matt. 27:21).

Pilate futilely tries to shift blame to the crowd, and, tragically, the crowd’s acceptance of responsibility for Jesus’ death has been used over the centuries to justify anti-Semitism (v. 25). Many professing Christians have literally brought blood upon Jewish people, a gross misuse of the text given that Jesus and His disciples are Jewish and that the crowd is speaking for itself, not an entire ethnic group. In reality, all people are guilty of having Christ killed, for our sin made His death necessary in the first place (Rom. 3:21–26).

Humiliation to Exaltation

R.C. Sproul

It just hangs there. It dangles as if it were simply an afterthought attached to the second chapter of Genesis. But we know there are no afterthoughts in the mind and inspiration of the Holy Ghost. Thus, we look at this passage to give us a clue about our condition prior to the misery of sin. Chapter 2, verse 25, reads, “They were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.” This tells us that before sin came into the world, there was no shame. There was no embarrassment. The experience of humiliation was completely unknown and foreign to the human race. However, along with the first experience of sin came the awful burden of the weight of personal shame and embarrassment. Shame and embarrassment are feelings and experiences that occur to us in various degrees. The worst kind of shame, the most dreadful form of embarrassment, is that which results in utter and complete humiliation. Humiliation brings with it not merely the reddened face of embarrassment but also the sense of despair as we lose our dignity and our reputations are cast into ruin.

Yet it was precisely into this domain of shame and humiliation that our Savior came voluntarily in the incarnation. The popular hymn, “Ivory Palaces,” depicts this descent from glory — the Son of Man’s voluntary departure from the ivory palace that is His eternal dwelling place. He chose willingly to make Himself of no reputation, to become a man and a servant, obedient even unto death. It is this humiliation that Christ willingly accepted for Himself, which stands at the beginning of the entire progress that He travels on His road to glory and to His final exaltation. The progress, as the New Testament traces it, is one that moves from humiliation in the birth of Jesus to His exaltation in His resurrection, ascension, and return.

The quality of exaltation is the exact opposite, a strong antithesis, to the quality of humiliation. In exaltation, dignity is not only restored, but it is crowned with the glory that only God can bestow. And so when we look at the biblical theme of the exaltation of Jesus, we look at the way in which the Father rewards His Son and declares His glory to the whole creation.

We are told that no one ascends into heaven except the One who descends from heaven, and we are also told that in baptism, we are given the mark and the sign of our participation with Jesus in both His humiliation and His exaltation. The promise of participating in the exaltation of Christ is given to every believer — but there is a catch. There is a warning, and that warning is clear: unless we are willing to participate in the humiliation of Jesus, we would have no reason to expect ever to participate in His exaltation. But that is the crown that is set before us, that we, who have no right to everlasting glory and honor, will nevertheless receive it because of what has been achieved in our stead by our perfect Redeemer.

In 1990, I wrote a book entitled The Glory of Christ. The writing of that book was one of the most thrilling experiences I’ve ever had in writing. My task on that occasion was to demonstrate that while there is a general progression from humiliation to exaltation in the life and ministry of Jesus, this progression does not run in an unbroken line that moves uninterrupted from humiliation to exaltation. Rather, the book explains that even in Jesus’ general progress from humiliation to exaltation, in His worst moments of humiliation, there are interjections by the grace of God, wherein the Son’s glory is also manifest.

For example, when we consider the nativity of Jesus, it is easy to focus our attention on the sheer impoverishment that went with His being born in a stable and in a place where He was unwelcome in the resident hotel or inn. There was an overwhelming sense of debasement in the lowliness of His birth. Yet, at the very moment that our Lord entered humanity in these debasing circumstances, just a short distance away the heavens broke out with the glory of God shining before the eyes of the shepherds with the announcement of His birth as the King.

Even when He goes to the cross, in the worst moments of His humiliation, there still remains a hint of His triumph over evil, where His body is not thrown into the garbage dump outside of Jerusalem; rather, following the prophetic prediction of Isaiah, chapter 53, Jesus’ body was tenderly laid to rest in the tomb of a wealthy man. His death was ignominious, but His burial was one that was a great honor in ancient terms. His body was adorned with the sweetest spices and most costly perfumes, and He was given the burial plot of honor. Therefore, God, in the midst of the suffering of His obedient servant, would not allow His holy One to see corruption.

And throughout the pages of Scripture, we see these glimpses here and there, breaking through the veil and the cloak of Jesus’ humanity, piercing the armor of the humiliation and debasement that was His lot during His earthly sojourn. These moments, or glimpses, of glory should be for the Christian a foretaste of what lies ahead, not only for the ultimate exaltation of Jesus in the consummation of His kingdom, but also a taste for us of heaven itself, as we become the heirs and joint-heirs of Jesus. Jesus’ final lot, His destiny, His legacy, promised and guaranteed by the Father, is glory, and that glory He shares with all who put their trust in Him.

In common language, the terms exaltation and humiliation stand as polar opposites. One of the most magnificent glories of God’s revealed truth and most poignant ironies is that in the cross of Christ these two polar opposites merge and are reconciled. In His humiliation, we find our exaltation. Our shame is replaced by His glory. The songwriter had it right when he wrote, “My sinful self, my only shame, my glory, all the cross.”

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.

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