In Matthew 21:2-3 we find Jesus issuing a straightforward command to a duo of his disciples. There could be no misunderstanding it. It was simple, concise, and odd.
“Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,”Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.'” Matthew 21:1-5 (ESV)
This precedes the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. You are likely familiar with these verses, but let’s ease into them, and sit, and splash around. There are a few things present in these verses that could be missed if we zip by them without taking the time to digest what Jesus was saying, and why He was saying it.
Let’s begin by working backwards through these verses. This can help to set the stage. Verse 5 tells us why Jesus gave the command: so that prophecy could be fulfilled about Him. Jesus did not tell the disciples that this act was being done to fulfill prophecy. He just told them to do it; and they did it. Good, straight-line obedience is shown here. While the act of obeying was straightforward — Jesus spoke, and they went and obeyed — the path getting there wasn’t. We could say that this passage shows the non-linear ways and work of God.
For those of you who didn’t like algebra, non-linear simply means that it doesn’t go in a straight line, or a straight path. So, this passage has a non-linear nature to it. In other words, it takes a direction that doesn’t seem like a straight, or common sense, or logical one to us. We know from Isaiah 55 that God’s ways are not our ways…at all. This passage illustrates this profoundly.
To develop this further let’s put some examples up on the workbench and tinker with them.
There are many times in the Bible when God tells His people to do odd things. The crossing of the Red Sea in Exodus comes to mind as an example of this. Moses and the Israelites were fleeing Egypt and walked straight to the Red Sea, yet there is no Red Sea Toll Bridge for crossing. The enemy is closing in … sweaty-arm-pit-time. The next thing that you know they were walking across the powder dry bottom of the Red Sea. This is a great demonstration of the power and the work of God, though it does not strike me as non-linear for two reasons: 1. That was the direction that they were headed to get to where they were supposed to go. 2. The enemy was right behind them, and angry (the Egyptians were not riding hard toward them to remind Moses that he had forgotten his favorite blanket!). So, while it was a miraculous event, it is in my mind a linear one.
When Jesus miraculously fed thousands, or Daniel wasn’t torn apart and eaten in the lion’s den, or Elijah called down fire at Mount Carmel, the visible, powerful work of God was displayed. And, it made some sense. Further, the acts of God in these and other passages show that His miraculous works were in response to a situation and were the sensible resolution to the situations involved. Or in other words, the conclusions to the situations are imaginable. Had Jesus not fed the masses, and instead given them new sandals, or the lions surrounding Daniel turned in butterflies, or Elijah smote the wicked priests with a pox, then maybe that’s a non-linear response.
You are probably wondering why I am making a big deal about this idea of God’s work occasionally, or frequently, being non-linear. It’s because it is at the heart of this story in Matthew 21, and an undercurrent that flows throughout the Bible, and it will help us to see and follow Christ in the manner that He desires, not the manner that we manufacture to fit our own needs or wants. I hope that I have your attention now. Let’s move on and see this in action.
In Matthew 21, there was no enemy pursuing, or needy crowd to feed, heal, or teach. It was just Jesus and his rag-tag band of followers approaching Jerusalem. Jesus was walking to His death — the death that would be the atonement for sinners like me, and you. As He prepares to enter Jerusalem, he tells two of His disciples to do something simple, or so it appears. Let’s reduce Jesus’ words to a checklist that those two were to follow:
- Go to the village.
- Find a donkey and a colt.
- Untie them.
- Bring them to me.
- If you run into someone who wonders what in the goose liver you are doing, then tell them that “the Lord has need of them,” and you will be on your way back to me.
- An Old Testament prophecy will be fulfilled although the disciples did not know it at the time.
Is it beginning to look a little odd, or crazy, to you yet? It kinda looks like the disciples were about to pull off a “donkey-jacking” (now, that is a dandy pun embedded in that hyphenated term, please keep reading while I pat myself on the back.) and go for a joy ride — albeit a dang slow one — back to Bethpage. And, Jesus had told them to do this. Chew on this for a bit. Slowly.
Now, let’s take the same scenario and put it into today’s context. This is where your mouth will drop open, and you will run around your living room shouting, “non-linear and non-sensical” over and over, until you spouse tells you to shut up.
Let’s imagine that we are at our weekly small group meeting and prayer time. All of a sudden we have an Acts chapter 2 experience in which we all sense in unison that two of us are to go and do the Lord’s bidding. It is as follows:
A missionary and his family are returning home to start a farm, which they will use to build an orphanage. God wants to use us to meet one of their pressing needs. He had revealed to the missionary family that two people would show up with the very thing that they had been praying for to enable them to do their work.
Two of us are to go to the local John Deere dealership early the next morning. There will be a brand new John Deere tractor and an F-150 Ford truck (four door of course, with a moonroof too!) that will be unlocked. The keys will be in the ignitions of both the tractor and truck. A bag of cash will be sitting in the back seat of the truck. This very tractor, truck, and the cash will be used to help buy the farm, build the orphanage, and honor God. All of it will fulfill the promise of God to these humble missionaries.
We are to take the tractor, truck, and cash and bring them to the missionaries.
And, if anyone stops us and asks what in the heck we are doing, or flashes a badge, we are to tell them that “the Lord has need of these things.” And, they will let us go. Uh-huh.
The point here is striking, and kicking us in the shins. Oftentimes, the things that God does, or leads us to do, make little sense to us, and they won’t follow the straight-line sense or logic that we use in everyday life. That is because when we walk with Christ there is no such thing as everyday life, or common place, or usual. Our life-walk with Christ won’t be on a linear path, or smooth path, or easy path. So, all of this to make this point: an authentic, biblical Christ-following life isn’t a simple line; it is non-linear!
Many sermons, books, TV “preachers,” and such present the Christian life as a set of keys that unlock life’s mysteries and problems, formulas that yield success, and steps that bring prosperity and peace, etc.
The Christian life — as presented in the Bible — is non-linear. There are no magic keys or secret steps, though many books are sold that suggest, or outright claim this. There is no formula either. It isn’t “A + B = C” every time, or ever. It is life of faith. Keys, secret steps, and formulas are ways to walk by sight, and our own senses, and to try to maintain control of our lives, or manufacture our preferred outcomes. God’s ways are above us and beyond us and our faculties. We must walk by faith … faith that is fed and informed by God’s Word and applied by His Holy Spirit.
This non-linear nature of Christ-following can be challenging, or frightening. But, it is actually thrilling. Children, or at least my children, do not have any problem with the wonder, fun, and excitement of non-linear living; they enjoy it. They rarely, if ever, know the outcomes, or connect the dots of different events. Yet, they love, laugh, soak in moments, and look forward to things to come. As God’s children we are to do the same. Child-like (not childish) faith honors Christ. It also embraces paths that aren’t straight, and that do not seem to make sense to us. This post is about to come to an abrupt halt. That is intentional. It is so that the punctuation at the end of this meditation on Matthew 21 and the non-linear — at least to us — ways and work of God is two verses that cause us to pause, ponder, and realize that…
“… give me life in your ways.” Psalm 119:37
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV)
His ways are not our ways; they are the way of life. It’s a non-linear life. Buckle up, it’s incredible.