Wed Night Lent 5 – Pr Smith

Msg for Lent 5 Midweek,

Zech 9:9-12

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Unlike the pre-exilic prophets we are probably more familiar with, Zechariah is prophesying to a people already returned from Babylonian exile in the midst of their rebuilding efforts encouraging them that God is guiding their efforts and restoring them. As I mentioned last week, one of the tasks of a reader of Bible prophecy is to try to determine in what way the prophecy might have found at least partial fulfilment in the hearers of their day. And yet no one arrived at the gates of Jerusalem in Zechariah’s day riding on a donkey to be the new king. In fact, the rebuilt walls of Jerusalem don’t stand for a hundred years before an upstart Macedonian named Alexander comes knocking. After him come the Ptolemies and then the Seleucids. There is a brief period of independence thanks to the bravery of the Maccabees that survives under the Hasmoneans. But in less than 50 years, the Romans arrive and Judea is a vassal state once more. They all came on war horses and without humility. And their rule was certainly not from sea to sea. No one up until Jesus arrives in Jerusalem humble and riding on a donkey. As comforting as the prophecy of Zechariah was, almost none of it was fulfilled in the day of his hearers. Their descendants would have to wait 500 years for their Messiah-king to come.

But he came just as He was promised to come, “righteous and having salvation.” A quick scan of the available English translations gives quite the unexpected variance. The NASB has “Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation.” The NRSV has “Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he.” Righteous and having salvation seems to my ear to be quite different from triumphant and victorious. The Hebrew has the word sadiq, which we normally translate as righteous, and which the Greek translates with dikaio. And the root translated either as “having salvation” here is yasa, in Greek sodzo, a word strongly linked to our idea of salvation in both testaments. And here is a bonus grammar point. Yasa is in a form (niphil) which could be either passive, which means it could read like the ESV and NIV, “having salvation” or as a reflexive, something more like “showing himself to be a Savior.” So which is it? It could work either way. I like that. By the way, I point this out not because I’m some master of the original languages but precisely because this is pretty basic stuff. Using “triumphant” and “victorious” here, especially when the Hebrew words are so well known, seems to me to be an attempt of some translation committees to put distance between this text and Palm Sunday and therefore Good Friday and Easter Sunday and that makes me suspicious. And so, “he comes, righteous and having (or endowed with) salvation.”

We are living in an extraordinary time to be students of the Bible not just in terms of grammar and vocabulary. In the last 200 years, archeologists have found mountains of physical and textual material that corroborates the text of the Scriptures and helps us understand the original context of the Bible. And when we look at the available historical data, we can see that throughout the many different peoples of the Ancient Near East, the king had at least six major functions:

(1) the king represented the gods before the people (his role as mediator-messenger-prophet-servant);

(2) he represented the people before the gods (his role as priest);

(3) he maintained justice (his role as judge);

(4) he was commander-in-chief of the military (his role as warrior);

(5) he “tended” his people, which included protection, provision, and guidance (his role as shepherd); and

(6) he guaranteed well-being and harmony for his people aka shalom.[1]

Rest assured I am not making a case for a new American king, but, if we put it like that, a king doesn’t look so bad, right? No, I’m really just pointing out that the prophet Zechariah portrays the coming Messiah as the complete and perfect King by applying all six royal functions to him. We should be very familiar with he idea of Jesus as prophet, priest, and king and you can find them throughout Zechariah but two are in sharp focus tonight: warrior and peace-bringing.

This is where many people, even believers who read the Bible get it wrong. They see all the violence in the OT and think that the OT God is a warrior God of violence and wrath. And they look at Jesus in the NT and see Him as representing a God of love and peace. They get the Bible wrong and therefore they get God wrong. In our reading tonight the OT God is clearly speaking through His prophet promising one who will come and maintain justice, command the armies against the enemies of His people, tend His people and bring them into the peace of His abiding presence, His shalom. The OT God is FOR His people; He is for them a God of love and peace. He is a warrior God of violence and wrath only for the enemies of His people. Zechariah’s hearers may have to wait for the day when that messiah comes in the flesh, but they don’t have to wait to see the heart of their God in His promise. Zechariah’s readers didn’t get it wrong and that’s why there are numerous Jewish commentaries on this passage that see it as messianic. How those rabbis could read the text and not see Jesus fulfilling it boggles my mind.

Luther puts it this way: “The one who comes brings not violence, nor armor, nor power, nor anger, nor wrath.… Here there are only kindness, justice, salvation, mercy, and every good thing.” (AE 20:94).

And so it is in these last days this year of our Lenten journey. The one who arrives in the city of Shalom to the shouts of “Hosanna to the Son of David!” is the one promised through Zechariah 500 years earlier. The kingdom He comes to rule does not need tanks and missiles. He speaks peace. It is not a kingdom limited to the geography of the Promised Land but fills the whole earth. It is a kingdom of the forgiveness of sins sealed in the testament of His blood and therefore sets free those captive to the rule of sin and death. Jesus is the peace-bringing king.

But Jesus is also the coming warrior king. It may not look like it because He comes in peace to you. But He comes as the fiercest warrior king to your enemies. Jesus rides into Jerusalem ready to do battle against the demonic forces of this world against death itself. And they think He will be easy pickings. The story of David facing Goliath is not a fable or a manifestation of wish-fulfillment, that the weak can really overcome the strong. It was a typological prophecy that when the warrior king came, He would come to overthrow the power of sin, death, and the devil, of all that threatens the life and prosperity of God’s own.

Remember the citizens of Paris, occupied by the Nazis did not fear the approaching war machine of the Allied forces. They waited and waited until that last capitulation of the Nazi leadership and the liberator rolled down the Champs Élysées. In a similar way, the people of Jerusalem welcomed Jesus as king, proclaiming Him to be the Son of David and thus the Messiah of God. As their warrior king, Jesus came to overthrow their true enemies: sin, death, and the power of the devil. Those for whom he came, need not fear his fierce wrath, he fights on your behalf. And we still await His final coming on the last day, when the fulfillment is complete. But the battle has been decisively won.

That’s why we have this reading on Palm Sunday, not just for the donkey bit, for the peace-bringing, but also for the warrior king who comes for all who trust in His work, for you. Behold, your king comes for you.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

[1]Expository Bible Commentary, p 796.

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