YOUR KING COMES TO YOU…
- with humility
- with peace
- with freedom
Based on Zechariah 9:9-11
Entrances matter. The bride walks down the aisle escorted by her dear father wearing the most beautiful white wedding dress she could have found. The courtroom stands as the black-robed judge walks from his chamber to his chair to preside at the trial. The talk show host comes out from behind the curtain wearing a suit from one of New York’s finest men’s designers to the cheers and standing ovation of the audience. The graduates process to the front of the gym in their cap and gowns to celebrate the newly completed phase of their academic accomplishments. The clergy and children march through the church during the processional hymn on Palm Sunday to commemorate the beginning of the “holiest” week of the Church Year. Entrances matter. They tell us that the event we are experiencing is important and worth our attention.
There was never a more important entrance in human history than the entrance of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday. Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem on this day set the wheels in motion for the final and most important events in God’s plan to rescue humanity from sin. The First Reading for today’s service, written by the prophet Zechariah in the late sixth century B.C., previewed Jesus’ Palm Sunday entrance into Jerusalem and especially revealed how Jesus would come into the city where the world’s salvation would be accomplished this week. Zechariah previewed for his Old Testament readers, and reviews for us today, that your king, Jesus, comes to you with humility, with peace, and with freedom.
The new baseball season has started up again, but I’d like you to go back to the end of the last season. Did you watch game seven of the World Series? Do you remember the reaction from the Cubs’ fans and especially players after they won game seven in extra innings and “broke” the 100-plus year “curse”? Players storming the field and jumping for joy and running and shouting and laughing and screaming — it was the picture of utter excitement! It was the picture of a winner!
Unlike the World Series, Zechariah knew the outcome of Holy Week before it happened. He knew—and we know today—that Jesus is going to be the winner. So how does he look? Does he look like the picture of a winner? “Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Zechariah predicts that Jesus is the winner. He predicts the crowd’s excitement for the winner. But does Jesus look like our image of a winner? On the one hand, Jesus is called our “king” and is described as “righteous,” one with a just and fair and godly character. But some of the other terms doesn’t sound like the description of a winner. He is “lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Zechariah does not peer through the prophetic clouds and see Jesus striding in on a stately stallion, but on a borrowed beast of burden. Another prediction of lowliness is behind the original word that’s translated, “victorious.” The word literally means that Jesus would be saved. We normally think of Jesus as the One who saves, but when he willingly went to the cross and laid down his life to pay for our sins, God the Father would later raise his Son from the dead to, in a sense, save Jesus from death. And by miraculously raising his Son back to life, Jesus was proven to be “victorious” over our sin and guilt. So even though our translation says Jesus would be “victorious,” it does so in a way that points out his lowliness and his humility that would allow himself to suffer and die as the world’s sacrificial substitute.
Jesus’ entrance doesn’t look like we would expect it to. Kings do not generally display humility. And Jesus’ humility displayed this week stands in stark contrast to times in our lives—times when we put so much pride into ourselves and our earthly accomplishments that we might even think that God should be proud of me for all I’ve done for him. But if there is anyone who needs humility, it is you and I. Our prideful assumptions and the blind eye we can easily turn toward our sinful condition should mean that God would humble us all the way to hell! But Jesus humbled himself for us and submitted himself to death on the cross for us. The reason he is ultimately victorious over our sin and death is because he humbled himself to endure the punishment for our sin. And that is why your King comes to you this week with humility.
How does a nation secure peace? Events in the international news are forcing us to deal with that question again. What is the best way to secure peace? Do you secure peace through diplomacy, so that no one views you as a threat? Do you secure peace through military strength, so that no one wants to mess with you? How does a nation secure peace?
How does Jesus secure peace in his kingdom? Does he accomplish it by spiritual diplomacy or religious might or something else? Zechariah essentially quotes Jesus and describes his kingdom with these words from verse ten: “I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.”
The Old Testament nation of Israel once was one nation, but after Kings David and Solomon, the nation split into two. “Ephraim” was a significant tribe or section of the Northern Kingdom, and Jerusalem was the significant city that also housed the temple in the Southern Kingdom. You can imagine that there weren’t always the best of feelings between these two nations that had once been one. But Zechariah describes Jesus taking away all the implements of war. In a sinful world, this is neither diplomacy nor strength. In a sinful world, this would be naivety! But in Jesus’ kingdom, this is the blessed reality. The humble sacrifice of Jesus on the cross defeated our spiritual enemies of sin and Satan and hell so that, in eternity, there will be no enemy or disunity to threaten us. God’s believing children from every nation will be united as one people, and so Zechariah can say, “He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.”
Jesus’ entrance as King doesn’t look like we would expect. Kings and rulers generally don’t operate without some kind of military might. And Jesus’ peace-bringing kingdom stands in stark contrast to times in our lives—times when we battle and bicker and berate one another in our homes or workplaces or neighborhoods. But if there is anyone who needs peace, it is you and I. Our sinful condition and our sins against God’s law mean that God would have every right to remove peace from our eternal future and place us in the prison of his enemies in hell! But Jesus entered into Jerusalem for us and by his death on the cross for us he won peace for a world full of sinners, including you and me. The reason he gives us peace is because he paid the hellish penalty our sins deserved that, if left unpaid, would have meant that the war our sin caused between us and God would have remained eternally. But Jesus replaces war with peace because he erases sin’s punishment with his life-giving forgiveness. And that is how your King comes to you this week with peace.
Do you remember the story from seven years ago about the 33 miners in Chile who were trapped underground for over two months? The world breathed a sigh of relief when the ideas and efforts of some of the most gifted minds around the world engineered a way to reach those men and, one by one, bring them out of their underground prison and back to safety. I recently read that the experience of being blocked and trapped in that mine was so traumatic that many of those men still suffer psychological scars from that event.
King Jesus rode into Jerusalem to give us spiritual freedom from a spiritual prison. What does that look like? How did he accomplish that? God, speaking through Zechariah, says, “As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit.” The original Hebrew word for “prisoners” implies someone who is bound; today we would say they are handcuffed. That makes the picture of our spiritual situation twice is bad. Spiritually speaking, people are not only stuck in a pit that they can’t dig themselves out of, but to make matters worse they are bound and utterly helpless. And being bound hand and foot in the dry, waterless pit called hell makes being buried in a Chilean mine look like a vacation at a resort!
Believers in Jesus were once in that spiritually helpless situation. But we who were once bound are now freed! How? “Because of the blood of my covenant with you.” A reference to blood is most often a reference to death: someone’s blood was shed. And the death of Jesus, the King who comes to us this Palm Sunday, would be the way God carried out his “covenant” with us. This is how God kept his promise to us to free us from the eternal results of our sin without denying his justice that demands a payment for our sin. This is how God gave us freedom and new life when we had no way to win our own freedom and had no prayer for eternal life!
Jesus’ entrance as King does not look like what we’d expect. Kings don’t give freedom to subjects who rebel against them. But Jesus’ kingdom is not one of fear but one of freedom. The kingdom Jesus brings us stands in stark contrast to the personal little kingdoms we set up in our hearts—a kingdom that’s all about me, myself, and I. But if there is anyone who needs Jesus’ kingdom, it is you and I. Jesus would have every right to tell people stuck in sin’s waterless pit to stay there because that’s what we asked for. But Jesus enters into Jerusalem, and by giving up his freedom and enduring hell’s pains, he has won spiritual freedom for us now and eternal freedom forever in heaven. The reason you have freedom is because Jesus loved you from eternity to win your freedom, and he has placed faith in your heart that delivers his blood-bought freedom into your heart and that takes away any fear about your standing before God. That is how your King comes to you this week with freedom.
Entrances matter. There was never a more important entrance in human history than the entrance of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday. It’s an entrance that we follow because everything that follows it is what we have put our faith and hope and eternal confidence in. So follow Jesus this week. Enter back into this church on Thursday and Friday and Sunday and follow him as he humbly gives you peace and wins your freedom in an astounding and miraculous way that only God could do. Follow his entrance today. Follow him with faith always. Amen.