Read This Page in My Language
Sermon: Zechariah 9:9, 10
Lent 6 – April 14, 2019 – Rev. Steven Radunzel
If you had been in the crowd on the first Palm Sunday when Jesus entered Jerusalem you would have approached Jerusalem from the east. You would have walked through two little towns, Bethany and Bethphage, not far from Jerusalem. And then you would have come down the Mt. of Olives to a rather magnificent and inspiring view of the temple and the large courtyard area that surrounded it. This was the backdrop for Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem to the shouts of hosanna.
Five hundred years earlier Zechariah prophesied this arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem on a donkey to the shouts of many in Jerusalem. But in Zechariah’s day the sight was not so magnificent. Jerusalem was still largely in ruins, its walls had not been rebuilt, and the temple was barely in the process of being rebuilt. And yet Zechariah tells the Daughter of Zion, the Daughter of Jerusalem, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to shout for joy because their King and Savior was coming to them.
Zechariah’s words that make up our text this Palm Sunday are among some of the most joyful and hopeful words in his prophecy if not in the whole Bible. But if we had been standing in Jerusalem in Zechariah’s day and heard his joyful prophecy read, we might have scratched our heads and said, “What are you talking about? The walls of the city have not been rebuilt. We’re vulnerable to our enemies, and the temple hasn’t been finished yet. What’s so joyful about that?”
There may be times when we might want to ask the same type of question. It’s difficult to rejoice as the Bible tells us to when we don’t feel so joyful.
Today we’re going to ask the question
IS THERE REALLY ANYTHING TO REJOICE ABOUT?
In 586 B.C. the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem, destroyed the city and the temple, and carried many inhabitants into captivity to Babylon. In 538 B.C. Cyrus the Persian conquered the Babylonians and as a gesture of good will allowed and Jews who desired so to return to Jerusalem to rebuild their city and their temple. And many did. And so began a long process of rebuilding. It’s in the midst of this rebuilding process that Zechariah’s prophecies to the people of Jerusalem.
Sometimes when we think about the return of Jews from their Babylonian captivity to Jerusalem, we think of a grand and glorious event with thousands and thousands of captives victoriously returning in triumph to their homeland. We might be tempted to compare their return to the people of Israel under the leadership of Joshua marching into the Promised Land and watching the walls of Jericho fall as the LORD settled them in their new land.
It wasn’t like that. It wasn’t so grand and glorious. First of all, while there were several thousand Jews who did choose to return to Jerusalem, they were only a remnant of the Jewish population in Babylon. After 70 years of captivity many of the original captives had passed away, and many of those born in Babylon had built homes, begun businesses, and chose to stay in Babylon. They had no memory of Jerusalem. They had never been there. They only heard accounts from parents and grandparents.
And when those who returned did get to Jerusalem it had to be an overwhelming, disappointing mess. The city was still mostly in ruins. The protective walls lay on the ground. The temple, burned by the Babylonians, needed to be rebuilt. The LORD provided leaders for the people for the purpose of rebuilding like Zerubbabel and Ezra and Nehemiah, but he didn’t provide miracles of rebuilding for them. It was long hard, discouraging work with a lot of opposition from the residents of the area who not so thrilled to see the Jews return.
It’s in the middle of all this rebuilding, difficulty, disappointment, and discouragement that Zechariah the prophet writes God’s words: Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion? Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!” The sons and daughters of Jerusalem, the residents of Jerusalem, didn’t seem to have a lot to rejoice about.
Do you ever feel like those residents of Jerusalem? Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday next week are probably the two most triumphant, victorious Sundays of the church year. We really do have every reason to rejoice and shout like Zechariah says. But do you ever come to church, whether on Palm Sunday or Easter or any Sunday, and just don’t feel like rejoicing? Maybe the weather’s bad. Maybe you’re sick. Maybe you’re exhausted. Maybe you’re having family problems. Maybe you’re worried about your future. Maybe you have doubts about God’s words and promises. Maybe you’re troubled by what’s going on in our nation and world. And if you ever feel like that you have a bit of an idea of how many of the people of Jerusalem felt in Zechariah’s day.
But we know that Zechariah was no fool. His words weren’t just wishful thinking, some feeble attempt the cheer the people up. They were God’s inspired words, and if they were God’s words then we know there really was a good reason to rejoice and shout.
And here’s why: “See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” You have to admit that sometimes on the surface God’s words don’t always make things clear. They’re not always easy to figure out. The people of Jerusalem who heard Zechariah’s words had to wonder, “What king? We haven’t had a king in 70 years. Zedekiah was our last king, and the Babylonians captured him, killed his family, blinded him, and put him in prison until he died. So who’s this new king? Who’s this new king who’s going to save us? And he’s going to come to us riding on a donkey? That’s not all that impressive.”
We know what Zechariah was writing about. We know that 500 years later Jesus, the Son of King David, would come riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, literally in fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy. Hundreds of people would be rejoicing and shouting to Jesus, “Hosanna,” “Save us now, Lord.” And many of those who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday indeed thought that Jesus was their mighty king who would give them salvation, salvation and freedom from the Romans. They had just witnessed Jesus’ astounding miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead. Jesus was just the Messiah and Savior they were looking for. They found something to rejoice in.
But you and I who live 2000 years after that first Palm Sunday and know what happened in Jerusalem that week and what happened on the next Sunday, we who have the gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry written down for us, know even more why Zechariah was telling God’s people to rejoice and shout.
Jesus didn’t come to conquer the Romans or rebuild the nation of Israel. The salvation that this King Jesus had was far greater than freedom from the Romans or any other earthly nation. It was freedom from sin, guilt, and eternal condemnation. On Friday Jesus would die on a cross to atone for the sins of the world.
Many of those who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem waving palm branches on Sunday had to be devastated on Friday afternoon when Jesus was dead. Their hope was all gone. The Romans were still there. What was there to rejoice about now? Maybe Zechariah had it all wrong!
Zechariah didn’t have it all wrong. He was absolutely right. On the third day, on Sunday, the Sunday after Palm Sunday, early in the morning, Jesus rose bodily from the grave. He was alive, and his resurrection proved that he really was Israel’s King, he was the Son of God, our sins were forgiven, we were declared justified, not guilty of our sins, and we would rise to one day from the grave to live with Christ eternally. That’s why Zechariah tells God’s people to rejoice and shout.
That’s why God says in these words of Zechariah, “I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war-horses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations.” By atoning for the sins of the world Jesus brought peace between God and all people. Sin had separated us from a holy God, but Jesus took the guilt of sin on himself, away from us, and reconciled us to God. Because of Jesus we are at peace with God.
That promise is for all people and all nations. Zechariah writes, “His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.” Jesus’ message of forgiveness would go out from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria and Galilee to Asia, Africa, and to the whole world. And here we are today, people who represented many different nations in our ancestry. We are the fulfillment of this prophecy. Today, 2500 years after Zechariah, we are the ones who have every right to rejoice and shout. Our King, Jesus, has brought us salvation.
So, is there really anything to rejoice in? There most certainly is. Maybe the weather’s bad. Maybe you’re sick. Maybe you’re exhausted. Maybe you’re having family problems. Maybe you’re worried about your future. Maybe you have doubts about God’s words and promises. Maybe you’re troubled by what’s going on in our nation and world. Maybe you don’t feel like rejoicing and shouting.
The people of Zechariah’s day didn’t see a lot of reason for rejoicing and shouting, but many of them did. They rejoiced and shouted by faith. They knew that no matter what things appeared to be on the surface or how they felt on the inside, God’s promises were always true. He would send a King who would bring salvation. His kingdom would spread throughout the world. His kingdom would last forever.
That’s why we come to church on Sunday morning. We come to this sanctuary, this holy place, for a good reason. We gather here within these walls for an hour each week to shut out the world, to push our problems away. We know by faith that God is with us, that he has forgiven our sins, and that one day Jesus is going to come again to take us to be with him forever.
That’s what there’s to rejoice about. So, daughters and sons of Jerusalem, children of God, believers in Jesus, rejoice greatly and shout. Your king has come, righteous and having salvation. And he will come again, and we will shout: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” Amen.