A Prophecy of Joy – Sermon for Palm Sunday

Behold, Your King is Coming to You
Zechariah 9:9-12
Palm Sunday
March 20, 2016
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

palm-sunday“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”  With those words, the prophet Zechariah foreshadowed the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.  It was a day of celebration, a victory parade of sorts.  Picture the many images you have seen of crowds lining the streets of Detroit or some other city, filling up Hart Plaza to celebrate a Stanley Cup or NBA Championship. Such a crowd was gathered in Jerusalem to welcome the Messiah, to rejoice at his arrival, to anticipate the deliverance he would bring. There was no tickertape, but there were palm branches waving to and fro celebrating the occasion. There was no red carpet, but there were cloaks to honor his arrival. There were voices crying out, almost certainly in song, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! The King of Israel!”  But we must not get swept away in the celebration. We must remember the Word of the Lord spoken through his prophet Zechariah. I invite you to have those words before you today as we consider the significance of what they say. “Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey.”

These words reveal just how great a gift the Messiah actually is. The Messiah is our King, and he is coming to us. This statement is not simply referring to the direction of his travel. It is not, “Hey, look, the Messiah is coming down the road and he happens to be coming in our direction.” Rather, it is a statement of advantage. “Behold, the Messiah is coming to you,” meaning “for you,” for your good. Like when a child gets stuck on top of the monkey bars and another child goes to get the teacher. When the teacher is on her way, classmates try to calm the frightened child by telling them, “Don’t worry, she’s coming.” The prophet Zechariah says the same thing. “Rejoice! You King comes to you, righteous and having salvation.” Your salvation.

God has been planning this. He’s been building this. He’s been working throughout 51b798dd58c9a1b70fbdc04bf1bef646history to bring about the salvation of the world on the day when he sends his Messiah. That’s what our Psalm said just a few moments ago: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the corner stone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Like a child makes a spaceship by carefully piecing together tiny blocks of Legos, our Lord has made the day of salvation. This day of salvation is the day which the Lord has made. This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous indeed.

Your king comes to save you, something only he can do because only he is righteous. Only he can fulfill the Law properly, for only he is without sin.  Only he can be the sacrifice to take away the sin of the world. Where our righteousness is only derived from him, his righteousness is his own. We are like the entourage who live in luxury only because they happen to be friends with someone famous. We are like the people huddled around the fire trying to get warm with the heat the flames produce.  He is the fire itself. He is the heat. He is the warmth. He is true righteousness. And he shares that righteousness with us. He not only lets us warm our bones by the fire, he sets up camp right in our hearts with the fire of the Holy Spirit that is ours through the preaching of his Word. He not only lets us live in the lap of his luxury, but he actually seeks out the lost and says to us, “Come, follow me.” He selflessly gives us all his riches, and takes our poverty for himself.

This Messiah is humble and riding on a donkey.  Jesus was humble. His birth was humble, not in the palace of the king, but in the barn of a full hotel.  His childhood was humble, not surrounded by cameras and bodyguards and all the other trimmings that typically surround celebrity children, but the simple son of a carpenter and his wife who lived in a small town in Northern Israel.  In the famous words of the prophet Isaiah, “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.”  In the words of the Apostle Paul, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”

This Messiah is humble not only in appearance, but in mission. He does not come as a despot to subdue the empires of the world. He speaks peace to the nations.  That itself should give us a moment’s pause. The righteous one, the Messiah, speaks peace. We have his words today. Do we use them to speak peace? Or do we prefer judgment and condemnation? Which Bible verses are the quickest to pop into our minds: the ones that Maundy-Thursday-Backgrounds-3condemn the sins of others, or the ones that speak of the tender compassion of our God? Is the Word of God a two-edged sword to be used against Satan, or do we prefer to cut down the people around us with it so that we are the last one standing?

For all the abuse that sinful people have done to and with the precious Word of God, that Word remains first and foremost a word of peace.  The Messiah speaks peace. He speaks peace to the warring nations in the book of Zechariah. He speaks peace to calm the storm in the Gospels. He speaks peace into your life. Cast all your anxiety on him and live in peace, because he cares for you.  He doesn’t promise that your life will be free from problems or pain, only that in him you will have perspective that rises above the chaos of this life. And he can promise that because he can deliver. He is, after all, the only true King, righteous and having salvation is he, and his rule shall be from the River to the ends of the earth, and he shall rule from sea to sea, and he will rule in peace.

That is why through the Messiah, we are prisoners of hope.  In the words of the prophet Zechariah, because of the blood of God’s covenant with us, he will set us free. For the Israelites of old, that referred to the blood the cows and birds that Abraham cut in half. By the shedding of that blood, God irrevocably bound himself to the Israelites, promising to give Abraham a son, a promise fulfilled in Isaac; promising to give Abraham descendants as numerous as the stars, a promise fulfilled in the people of Israel and even in the church today; promising to establish the Israelites in the land of the Canaanites, a promise fulfilled in the days of Joshua; and promising to send the Messiah, the one through whom all nations on earth would be blessed, a promise whose fulfillment we will celebrate over the span of the next week.  Because God had made a promise and sealed it in blood, the Israelites could confidently wait for his deliverance.

We have a blood covenant with God too. Not one sealed with the blood of goats or bulls, but with the blood of the new covenant, the blood of Christ himself, given and shed for us and for our salvation.  That blood, the very blood waiting for you at the communion rail this day, established a promise between you and God, a promise that he will never leave you or forsake you, a promise that you belong to him, and that he lives in you. And because Christ lives in us, in the words of Paul, we are bondservants of Christ, slaves of Christ. Weholy-communion remain prisoners, but we are no longer enslaved to sin. Because we are in Christ, we are, in the words of the prophet Zechariah, now prisoners of hope, enslaved to hope. Hope permeates everything we do. Hope tints our view of the world around us as we look past the struggles of this life to thank God for the blessings. Hope seasons our speech, for we are the salt of the earth.  So we speak not only of the concerns and brokenness of this world but of the promise of the life to come. Hope defines our relationships as we live in forgiveness and reconciliation, rejoicing in the unity we possess in Christ.

And that is the stronghold to which we return, the stronghold of Christ himself. Through the gift of baptism we are in Christ. We are in the Kingdom of God. Nothing can harm us in this stronghold. If God is for us, who can stand against us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in our Stronghold, Christ Jesus our Lord.

So Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey… and he will speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. As for you, because of the blood of God’s covenant with you, he will set you free from the waterless pit. Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope, for the Lord has promised that he will restore to you double.

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