March 25, 2018
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.
I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
and the war horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off,
and he shall 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 also, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.
Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope;
today I declare that I will restore to you double. (Zech. 9:9-12)
The New is in the Old concealed; the Old is in the New revealed. This pithy statement expresses for us the relationship between the Old and the New Testaments in the Bible. All Scripture speaks of Christ. And all of the prophets of the Old Testament prophesied of Christ, as Jesus himself said. (Luke 24:44) If you do not know Christ as he is revealed in the New Testament, the prophecies of the Old Testament will make no sense and the Old Testament will remain a closed book to you. But if you do know Christ, then the Old Testament becomes an endless fountain of knowledge, that teaches of Christ Jesus and his salvation on every page. Our Gospel lesson tells us this when it says that Jesus' disciples did not understand what was going on, but after Jesus was glorified they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done by him. (John 12:16) Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem to the waving of palm branches and shouts of "Hosanna!", were written about in Zechariah chapter 9. And since Christ has been revealed to us in faith, this Old Testament lesson reveals to us much about our king.
Jesus is the king prophesied of by Zechariah, who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. Yet, it is important to know what type of king he is and what kind of kingdom he will rule. It is clear from Zechariah's words and through Jesus' fulfillment of these words that Jesus is a spiritual king and his kingdom is a spiritual kingdom.
The prophet tells the daughter of Zion to rejoice and the daughter of Jerusalem to shout. Zion is the mountain on which the city Jerusalem is seated. The daughters of both are the same citizens of this city. And they did in fact rejoice and shout as Jesus entered on a donkey. Yet, there is also a spiritual fulfillment of this prophecy, which transcends its physical manifestation. For Jesus does not enter Jerusalem to rule as a physical king over Israel. As Jesus says to the Samaritan woman in John chapter 4, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. … But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth." (John 4:21, 23) And St. Paul makes a distinction between the physical Jerusalem, which corresponds to slavery under the Law and the free Jerusalem above, who is our mother. (Galatians 4:25-26) And the author to the Hebrews speaks of a spiritual Jerusalem when he declares to those of faith, "But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first born who are enrolled in heaven..." (Hebrews 12:22-23)
And Zechariah makes clear that Jesus comes not to rule a physical, but a spiritual Jerusalem by the manner in which he describes his conquest and rule. He comes lowly on a donkey, not upon a war horse. Neither does he threaten any of the political leaders of Jerusalem. Zechariah does not say that he will put an end to Roman military rule, but rather he says, "I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem." Ephraim represents the northern kingdom of Israel. Jerusalem represents the capital of the southern kingdom and the true capital of the united nation of Israel. Zechariah tells us that he will cut off their military might, that is, God will put an end to the political and earthly kingdom of Israel and replace it with a spiritual kingdom. Jesus does not conquer with the use of military might, he even leaves his twelve legions of angels in heaven (Matthew 26:53). Rather, he speaks peace to the nations. He conquers the nations by the word of his mouth.
This brings us to another proof from Zechariah that Jesus' kingdom is spiritual. "His rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth." Jesus' kingdom will not be confined to the borders of Israel but will rule over the entire earth! If this were a prophecy of a physical kingdom, it certainly would have failed, since the kingdom of Israel no longer exists and the nation of Israel only rules a sliver of land. This prophecy is shared by Psalm 72:8, "May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth!" Psalm 72 also makes clear that the Christ's kingdom will have no end, "May they fear you while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations! … May his name endure forever, his fame continue as long as the sun!" (vss. 5, 17a)
Today the Church recognizes the Annunciation of Jesus' Birth to the Virgin Mary. Exactly nine months from today is Christmas. At the annunciation the angel Gabriel spoke to Mary as recorded in Luke chapter 1, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." (Vss. 30-33) The angel Gabriel makes clear before the conception of Jesus in the womb of his mother that his kingdom shall be an eternal, spiritual kingdom.
And this tells us a lot about what Jesus is doing as he rides into this holy city. Jesus does not come to battle earthly armies. He comes to wage a war within our hearts! We are captives to sin and death, under the constant threat of God's Law. Satan is constantly assaulting our hearts with temptation and doubt and our hearts themselves are by nature tainted with sin. And the Ten Commandments, which we have not kept constantly threaten death and eternal punishment. This is the task at hand. No amount of chariots or swords or tanks or nuclear missiles can solve this dilemma. Rather, Jesus, who was appointed by God to live under the Law perfectly in our stead must sacrifice himself as our scapegoat. As Jesus rides weaponless upon a donkey into his city he comes fully armed to win the day and set his people free.
And this makes the betrayal, the beating and spitting, the scourging, the willing ascent to the cross all make sense. It is by this punishment upon his body and soul that he removes our sin from our consciences, disarms the devil and removes the threats of the Law from us. The Prophet says, "As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit." Not the blood of the thousands upon thousands of lambs to be sacrificed that week for Passover. That is the blood of the old covenant. No, by the blood of the new covenant, which Jesus will shed, he sets the prisoners free from the waterless pit. We are the prisoners. The waterless pit is the threat of the Law upon all sinners. Just as a waterless pit cannot offer life, so the Law promises only death to us sinners. We are left to suffocate in our own sins, until Christ comes to rescue us through his blood!
When we see Jesus riding in on a donkey we see the Lamb of God being led to slaughter silently and willingly. He humbles himself to the point of death upon the cross. "Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Jesus won for himself an eternal kingdom inhabited with citizens, who will live forever. He couldn't do this with military might. He had to do it through humble sacrifice.
This message is difficult to accept, even for us, who have no hope like the Jews for the re-establishment of the kingdom of Israel. We are earthly minded. We want a powerful earthly king. We want God to work for us on our terms, make us rich and healthy and successful and happy. We make God out of our own image and demand that Jesus ride in on his war horse and solve the earthly problem we deem to be the most important. But God reveals to us through Scripture that the spiritual is more important than the physical and the eternal is far greater than the temporal.
This means that Jesus will serve you in a different way than you would expect, if you simply want him to solve your earthly problems. We are the daughter of Zion and Jerusalem. We are citizens of Jesus' spiritual kingdom. And Jesus comes to us even today, bringing salvation for us. But you will only recognize him if you recognize your greatest need: the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. And you will only recognize him if you pay attention to his word as it is revealed in Scripture.
Mary was rightly perplexed by the message of the angel. Yet, when Gabriel told her this was from God and her son would be the Son of God, she responded, "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." (Luke 1:38) And so our mother in the faith teaches us how to live in Christ's kingdom today: by trusting in the word that comes from God. God's Word reveals to us that the lowly rabbi who rides in on a donkey and is beaten and crucified to death does so to bring salvation to you. God's Word reveals to you that Jesus comes to you today with words of peace, the forgiveness of sins, and even his body and blood, which sets prisoners free. God's word reveals to you that you live now in a spiritual kingdom you cannot see, which grants you peace with God and eternal life by grace apart from your works. Through physical eyes this is impossible to see. But with spiritual eyes of faith, you can with confidence say to God, "Let it be according to your word." Amen.