And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples, Saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me–Mat 21:1-2
Bethphage Became Famous in Providing an Ass
The village of Bethphage, which is here mentioned, lay in the immediate neighbourhood of Bethany. It was situated somewhere on the Mount of Olives, amid the gardens and vineyards of its slopes. It is singular that nowhere else do we light on any mention of this village. This is the one and only reference to it, in the Old Testament or in the New. Other townships have become immortal through being the birthplace of this or that disciple, but Bethphage is rescued from oblivion because it supplied the ass which Jesus rode. How the obscurest village starts into life by association with our Lord Jesus Christ! Let Him visit it, or make some claim upon it, and its name is perpetuated through the centuries. And as with villages, is it not with lives which have been brought into contact with the Master? They waken from the sleep of insignificance when once He has visited the heart.
The Lord May Have Known the Owner of the Ass
Now this getting of the ass at Bethphage we are not to think of as anything miraculous. We are not to take it, as is sometimes done, as an example of the omniscience of Christ. Probably Jesus had some friend at Bethphage, perhaps a gardener in some olive-garden. And they had talked together amid the olive trees, where Jesus loved to be in the warm days. And it was then, as they talked and walked together, that the gardener had pled with Him to take the ass, and the Master had promised that if the need arose He would remember the offer of His friend. It may be they then agreed upon a password, and the password was this, “The Lord hath need of them.” If anyone appeared and gave the password, he was to get the ass at once for Jesus’ use. And now the morning had come when it was needed, for Christ was to go in triumph to the capital, and Christ remembered the bargain with His friend. “Then sent Jesus two disciples, saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them and bring them unto me. And if any man say ought unto you, ye shall say, The Lord hath need of them, and straightway he will send them” (Mat 21:1-3). The two disciples did as they were bid. They went and found the ass and the colt and they brought them to Christ. Then followed the triumphal entry, amid the wild enthusiasm of the people. But it is not of that I wish to speak, it is of this lowly errand which preceded it, for even in that there are lessons for us which may profitably occupy us. First we shall view that errand in the light of rebuke; next in the light of fulfilment; and lastly in the light of trust in Christ.
The Errand Was Meant as a Rebuke
First, then, let us view this errand in the light of a gentle and a wise rebuke. Now to understand why a rebuke was needed we have to go back to the preceding chapter. It is there we see the mind of the disciples as they went up with Jesus to Jerusalem. First there had come to Him the mother of Zebedee’s children, worshipping Him, and desiring a certain thing of Him. And her sons were with her–she did not come alone–they knew and sympathised with her request. And her request, as you are all aware, was that her sons might share in Jesus’ glory, and be seated on His right hand and His left, in the approaching advent of His kingdom. Christ was setting His face toward the cross, and they were dreaming of kingdoms and of crowns. They thought that the hour was very near at hand when the glory of their Lord would be revealed. And they were dreaming their dreams of that epiphany, and picturing the splendour of it all, when Jesus was within a day or two of Calvary. But the sequel of that request is still more notable, for when the ten heard it they had indignation. They were angry at the two, and why were they angry? Because they had tried to steal a march upon them. They were not indignant because of the wrong thoughts which their two brethren were cherishing of Jesus; they were indignant at this mean attempt to rob them of what was to be common to them all. Only thus have the words of Jesus any meaning, the words which He immediately addressed to them. He spoke about the princes of the Gentiles, and of the kind of dominion which they exercise. And He told them that in the Kingdom it was different, for there the greatest was to be the least, even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many. Such was the spirit of the chosen twelve as they went up with their Master to Jerusalem. The hour was coming when they would all be kings, and the days of their humiliation would be ended. In spite of all the teaching of the past, it was of such a future they were dreaming when Christ was travelling towards Gethsemane and sweat blood upon the garden ground.
Now, in the light of that ambitious spirit, do you begin to see the meaning of this errand? It is one of the gentlest and the sweetest checks that Jesus ever gave to those He loved. Probably Bethphage lay on the main road. They would all have passed it had they gone on together. There was no real need of sending on the two, as if the village had been distant from the highway. But Christ deliberately made the errand, and made it in the ingenuity of love, that He might teach them in pictorial fashion what they all needed so terribly to learn. Dreaming of thrones, He sent them for an ass. He bade them go and fetch a beast to ride on. Picturing themselves exalted above Caesar, He sent them about the business of a slave. Wrapped in a vision of the coming glory, when they would be exalted in authority, He gave them a menial service to perform which was fitter for a scullion than a king. I do not suppose they understood it then, but I am sure they understood it afterwards. As they looked back on it, in the sweet light of memory, they saw in a flash the meaning of their Lord. And Nothing would ever be too lowly for them, when Calvary was past and .Christ was risen, when they remembered the last lowly service which they had been asked to render to their Lord.
When We Are Filled with Visions of Self-Importance, God Calls Us to Some Very Humble Task
Now, brethren, it seems to me that Christ often rebukes us in that fashion. When we are filled with visions of our self-importance, He calls us to some very humble task. There is a sense in which every Christian is a visionary. He sees far more than can ever meet the eye. He follows a Lord whose vision was so wonderful that it could see the Kingdom in the mustard seed. But the mark of a Christian is not vision only; it is also instant and unquestioning obedience; and so are we summoned to some lowly duty, just as the two were sent to fetch the ass. There is nothing too mighty for a Christian’s hope; there is nothing too menial for a Christian’s hand. With the largest and the loftiest outlook, he must always be ready for the lowliest service. And often that is the meaning of our service, which is so trifling that we fret at it–it is the gentle rebuke of Jesus Christ to those who are prone to dwell among the clouds. Christ does not only teach us by His words, He teaches us by what He asks from us. He sets us a task to do–a very humble task, perhaps in the church, perhaps by the hearth at home. And then as we do it we discover this, that we are learning more of the spirit of our Master than in all the golden dreams which we were nursing as we walked beside the Master to Jerusalem.
The Errand Was Meant to Be a Fulfilment of Prophecy
In the second place, let us regard this errand in the light of fulfilment. When the disciples, at their Master’s bidding, set out for Bethphage to fetch the ass, I think we may take it as reasonably certain that they had no thought of any prophet’s word. Doubtless they were astonished at the errand, for Christ had never ridden so before. Probably they were very glad to go, for their Lord was weary, and this would ease the journey. And so they went, in love and in obedience, ready to serve in any little way, and never imagining that in this common deed there was anything of unusual significance. The point to note is that though they knew it not, they were fulfilling the prophecies of God. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass” (Zec 9:9). So, long ago, had Zechariah prophesied, heralding the advent of Messiah, and now the hour of history had come when that prophetic word was being crowned. Through all the ages that prophecy had waited–had waited for this moment on the highway. And now the hour had come, and these two men were the chosen instruments of God to crown it. And yet they did not know what they were doing, and never remembered that it had been foretold, and never dreamed that for a thousand years this lowly service had been willed of God. Had it been anything great that they were called to, it might readily have stirred prophetic memories. There is that in our great hours which lifts us up and sets us among the prophets and the psalmists. But a trifling errand like this to Bethphage–who would have thought that this was a fulfilment? And yet it was as surely a fulfilment as the dying of their Master on the Cross.
In the Trifles of Life. We Are Working Out God’s Plan
Now from that we would all do well to learn this lesson about the will of God. We would do well to learn that we are working out His plans in the little as well as in the great. You remember how Job, when in his great affliction, cried to his friends, “The hand of God hath touched me.” What he felt was that in that mighty sorrow there was something that cried aloud of the divine. But it is not only in our greater hours that we should recognise the hand of God. It is the commoner service and the obscurer trials that visit us as we journey every day. Great services reveal our possibilities; small services reveal our consecration. Great services come to us but rarely; small services are with us every day. How then can God be near us in our lives, ordering everything in love and wisdom, unless we are wakened to detect His hand in the insignificancies of the common day. It is not only on the field of battle that the prophecies of God come to fulfilment. It is not only where the great and mighty are toiling in the eyes of all the world. It is where the mother is working for her children, though no one across the street has heard her name. It is where the workman is busy with his task, though there is not a voice to cheer him on. God may be near to us when we are exalted; but He is nearer still when we are faithful; when we pursue our way unnoticed and unknown, clinging to what we know is right and true. It is such a life that has His benediction, and moves in the line of His appointed plan, and in the end, when all the books are opened, will be found as the fulfilment of His will. Seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not. Remember these two disciples and their errand. It was only the fetching of a village ass, and yet the prophets had sung their song about it. And so with you, amid your daily drudgery, that seems so far sometimes from heaven and liberty, the will of God, more ancient than the hills, is working out its purposes of love.
The Errand Was Meant to Be an Exercise of Trust
Now we all know how in their greater tasks the disciples were inspired by trust in Christ. Had they not trusted Him they never had gone forth to preach the Gospel and to heal the sick. “Lord,” they said, when they came back to Jesus, “the very devils were subject unto us.” They were amazed at what they had accomplished–these ignorant and uneducated men. And they had done it because they trusted Jesus, and leaned upon Him as children on a father, and drawn their strength from fellowship with Him, who was the wisdom and the power of God. They did their mighty deeds because they trusted–but was trust needed for such an act as this? Did it take faith to go and fetch an ass, and bring it to their Master at His bidding. If you remember the visions that they cherished, and the kind of dreams of which their hearts were full, I think you will agree that this obedience was only possible in loyal faith. They went at once. They never asked one question. If the Master said it, it must be all right. Was no one likely to interfere with them? Were they not certain to be charged with stealing? Other men would have had doubts like that. They never hesitated for an instant. They went at once, without a moment’s hesitancy, and they went because they trusted Jesus. Not only in their great deeds did they trust Him. They showed their trust in little deeds as well. They honoured Him not only when they preached, but when they went upon a menial errand. Their faith was splendid in the hour of miracle, when in the name of Jesus they were mighty; but it was not less splendid in this unnoticed hour, when they were sent to fetch the ass from Bethphage.
Now I want to ask you this one question–is your faith like that of the disciples? Is it conspicuous in inconspicuous times? Is it operative in your obscurest day? That, after all, is the test of living trust that is the joy and blessing of believing. We are all cast on God in the great moments. We feel that we must trust Him, or we perish. There are services and there are trials so great that they bow us down at the feet of the Almighty. But a trust like that, born of a great despair, though God will accept it, and grant the needed grace, is not so honouring to love and fatherhood as the trust that irradiates the common day. To waken on our immemorial mornings and say, “Please God, I shall have faith in Him today”; to take up our cross in the profound belief that underneath are the everlasting arms; to go to our drudgery, to bear our burden in the happy and sweet sense that God is with us, that is the trust which is honouring to heaven. That is the trust which the disciples showed when they went at once upon their lowly errand. That is the trust which you can show today, without waiting for that impossible tomorrow. And when the day breaks, and the shadows flee away, and life is unrolled before the great white throne, that is the trust which will receive the welcome, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Glory to God in the highest!