Luke 19:28-34: “All Creatures Great and Small”
“And after He had said these things, He was going on ahead, ascending to Jerusalem. And it came about that when He approached Bethpage and Bethany, near the town that is called Olivet, He sent two of His disciples, saying, ‘Go into the village opposite you in which you enter. You will find a colt tied, on which one has never sat. Untie it and bring it here. And if anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ Then you shall speak, ‘The LORD has need of it.’ And those who were sent went away and found it just as He had told them. And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, ‘Why are you untying the colt?’ And they said, ‘The LORD has need of it.’ And they bought it to Jesus, and they threw their garments on the colt, and put Jesus on it” (Luke 19:28-34, NASB).
A few months ago, I wrote an article where I confessed that I am not, by nature, an overly emotional person, and I tend to keep my feelings in check. An exception to this would be to watch any movie or TV show that depicts animals in peril or facing their demise due to some accident or natural causes. I am not so much affected by so-called “reality” shows like those seen on Animal Planet but am referring to those shows that were a part of days gone by.
Those of you who were a part of the “Baby Boomer” period probably watched or heard of the weekly drama Lassie about a collie that gets caught up in several tense scenes and situations, and would rescue other animals or people in some kind of distress or immediate peril. I normally did not find interest in this type of show as a child but decided to watch it one night. Big mistake. The episode had a scene where a kitten was caught in a barn that was on fire, and on hearing the kitten’s cries, Lassie bravely ran in, found the little furball, and brought him out right before everything went down in flames.
My tears started flowing. Dad reassured me that everything was planned, rehearsed, and that no one would be hurt, and besides, Lassie and the kitten were safe and sound, back at home, and the end theme would play as the credits rolled by. After a few minutes, I calmed down, and we went to the local ice cream parlor to drown my sorrows in a sundae. It was a win-win for everyone.
Fast forward a couple of years later, and I was watching the CBS Saturday Morning Special about a boy in the ghettos of Chicago who adopts a stray cat and puts together a makeshift shelter for it with parts from an old stove, and takes care of the cat every day before and after he goes to school. The cat was a “friend” for the boy, and it helped teach him the importance of responsibility and affection. But, while crossing the street to meet the boy, who is coming home from school, the cat is hit by a car, and you can guess my reaction when this unexpectedly happened (the accident was off screen, thank heavens).
I lost it totally. Mom had just returned from the grocery store, found out what happened, and again, I was reassured that it was a story that she said I really did not need to be watching in the first place because it involved an animal in trouble, and she knew that I would break down as sure as anything. I had to face the fact that these types of shows could not be a part of my TV viewing ever, and that suited me fine. As the years passed, my viewing interests focused on intellectual and challenging features such as Charlie’s Angels, Rocky, and Star Wars, and all was right with the world so far.
I discovered a humorous way of looking at the issue when I watched the Bill Murray film entitled Stripes (1981). I was travelling home from Dubai where I had been working for over a year and saw it in a theater in Singapore, where the bad language and questionable scenes had been cut out by the government censors. One scene shows Bill Murray’s character, an Army recruit who takes the responsibility of training the men in his platoon after they had lost their drill instructor in an accident. He asked the men a question to test their emotional character and empathy towards others. He asked them whether they had ever seen Old Yeller and if they cried when the dog died. After some hesitancy, they all raised their hands, and this scene concluded with the platoon determined to be as one and watch out for each other during the training.
The way that he had asked the question was a unique method of showing the importance of teamwork and success. I have used this story in sermon illustrations and as a tool for witnessing. So far, everything is good, right?
Years later, I decided to take a few deep breaths and watch a scene of Old Yeller that was on YouTube, when his teenaged owner had to put the dog down due to rabies. The mother offered to do the unpleasant task and save the boy the pain, but he said, “No, Momma. I will do it. He’s my dog.” I turned it off at that point. I did not cry, but I knew this movie was not going to be part of my collection any time soon.
I did veer from this pattern the year I got married, and at our first Christmas together as a newlywed couple, Cathy and I decided to watch a movie entitled The Juggler of Notre Dame. If you have ever seen it at any time in your life, you know that you need to have a case of tissues handy. No animals were needed in the making of that picture because the main characters went through enough hardship to cause the tears to flow.
I am blessed to have a tender heart towards these creations of God and the plights in which some find themselves at times. My pastoral concern for the welfare and treatment of children and the down and out of society in my years of hospital and rescue mission work helped me to be more empathetic and caring in a world where cruelty, anger, and pure barbarism seem to be the normal pattern of societal behavior today. This world we inhabit now is no different from that in which Jesus arrived to fulfill His mission to redeem us from our sins that have brought about the moral freefall and the hell to follow. The debauchery that was the Roman Empire is an undisputed example of outward glory and inward rot in the realms of the ancient world.
Roman rule and culture had a mix of nobility and abject cruelty towards subjects and beasts alike. History tells of the slaughter of numerous wild and exotic animals by gladiators for the amusement of the citizens. Coliseum and arena floors ran red with the blood of man and beast. Pack animals, such as donkeys and oxen, were often overloaded with goods to the point where many animals simply dropped dead from exhaustion and overwork and were left on the roads for the carrion to eat, along with the bodies of crucified criminals on crosses throughout the Empire’s main thoroughfares.
Animals were viewed and treated as mere beasts of burden, and not as a pet or household companion in most areas of the Empire. Paganism and its fruits bore no real affection or care for the animal kingdom, but Scripture presents them as unique and special creations of God, designed for specific needs in the land of Israel and for the benefit of the people.
The Scriptures describe both domesticated and wild animals (2 Samuel 12:3), and as clean and unclean as it pertains to sacrifices before God for atonement of sins by the people (Exodus 12:3-14; Leviticus 11:1-31, 16: 3, 5; Deut. 14:1-20). God decreed that humanity would have dominion over the animals and be responsible for their care and well-being (Genesis 1:26, 2:19, 9:2; Exodus 23:5; Deut.22:6; Job 5:22; Psalm 8:6, 91:13; Jer. 27:6; Matt.12:11; Luke 13:15, 14:5; Heb. 2:8). Cruelty, exploitation, neglect, and abandonment of animals was a sin often punished by restitution of the offender towards the owner (Lev. 24:18, 21), and in some cases, death of the offender.
This shows us that every individual and animal life is precious, valuable, and of worth and purpose in this world. Every creature has a reason for its existence, and a preconceived role in the story of history. God takes a very high view of life, and we have got a lot of gall to believe in the superiority of our self-centered, vile, puny, and depraved conceptions of what is and is not fit to live or exist and that we should have precedence over the decrees of the Sovereign LORD who holds the lives of us all in His hands. Scripture teaches us that He will use the beasts of the field to kill the unrepentant wicked who are living during the time of the promised Tribulation (Revelation 6:8).
If nothing else, this verse alone should encourage those folks who support animal rescue charities like the ASCPA and PETA (the organization, not the bread) to start reading the Bible and discover the One who gave us the animals in the first place. Just a thought.
The specific verses that we are covering in this study of Luke center on the need and use of a colt, unridden and tied, unaware of the role it will play as Jesus enters Jerusalem as decreed by the prophet Zechariah: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, humble, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zech.9:9). The colt had no knowledge of what was to come.
He heard no loud cry or declaration from the heavens, as some think we need in order to get a clear sign from God to do anything instead of praying and reading the Word for guidance. This animal, born and bred for domestic use, had no sense of call, rational thought, logical idea, or redemptive soul. He was simply a creature of God used for a divine purpose by just being at the right place; and that is just as significant and important as when we are being trained and available for a service or task when needed.
The fire fighter, for example, has the equipment, skills, knowledge and strength to do the job he has signed up to do at a moment’s notice. The spotted dalmatian pup hanging around the firehouse does not know the first thing about fire safety and procedure, but he is still useful as a mascot, support animal and familiar symbol of what is noble and courageous about the fire and rescue profession.
Support animals and our pets do not know how to fill out forms, or negotiate deals, or handle weapons and tools, or present ideas, but their worth is priceless when you look at a therapy dog by the side of a veteran who has seen more hell than we could ever imagine; or a police dog comforting a child who has just witnessed a family tragedy by letting its head be scratched; or a content cat sitting in the lap of a lonely senior adult giving companionship and comfort to them when no one seems to be around; or when you and your family gather to say goodbye to a pet who was part of the family for years, then you and I both know that God’s love is visibly demonstrated in those acts of affection and devotion found in that special friend which is all too often absent in us.
That colt Jesus rode was born and used for something great, specifically to be the symbol of the conquering king, triumphant over sin, death, hell, and the grave. After it was all over, the owners probably came to get the colt and take it back home. It would not be an eyewitness to the resurrection, nor able to preach the gospel as the apostles did and as we need to do today while the daylight is still here, but guess what? This anonymous beast was just as significant and needed as we are. Who knows? The same Lord Jesus Christ who will say to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” will more than likely say it to that colt and to every animal who has been a source of comfort, labor, sacrifice, and perhaps did nothing more than wag a tail or purr softly and bring peace to a troubled heart or helped wipe away a tear.
That is a happy ending for all creatures great and small, for the LORD God indeed made them all, and for that I say, Amen.