March 24 & 25, 2018 Palm Sunday
Zechariah 9: 9-10
Dear friends in Christ Jesus:
They must have had their heads hanging down toward their feet most of the time. They must have felt defeated. Sure the Children of Israel had returned from their exile in Babylon. But the temple was still in ruins. They were a small remnant of what they once were. And they struggled with their identity. But the prophet Zechariah told them, “Look up! Here comes your King!”
Fast forward a few centuries. They must have had their heads hanging down toward their feet most of the time. They must have felt defeated. Sure the temple was now rebuilt and Herod had even done some impressive renovations. But they still didn’t have their freedom, not really. They were subject to the Romans who told them what to do and how to do it. They longed for the glory that was once their peoples. But someone shouted, “Look up! Here comes our King!”
Fast forward a few millennia. We often have our heads hanging down toward our feet much of the time. We often feel defeated. Sure, we have our freedom. We’re not subject to another country and we have no king ruling over us. But we are subject to sin and to its sad effects. We long for the glory that could be ours. But today we hear, “Look up! See your King!” And we look up to see our our conquering king. We look up to see him on the back of a donkey. We look up to see him on a cross. We look up to see him coming on the clouds.
“Look! Up in the sky! What is it?” “It’s a bird!” “It’s a plane!” “It’s Superman!” There is great relief as the hero has come to the rescue. That must be how the Jews of Jerusalem must have felt when Jesus came to their city. They didn’t need to hang their heads any more. They could look up and see their hero. Only, they didn’t have to look up into the sky to see him. They only had to look up to their hero riding atop a donkey.
Here he was, the long-promised Messiah. Here he was, their conquering hero, their salvation from the Romans, their salvation from poverty and sickness and suffering. They gave Jesus a hero’s welcome. They spread their coats on the ground to welcome him. They shouted their praises to honor him.
When Zechariah prophesied, “Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you,” the Hebrew word for shout is the form of the word for a battle cry. How hopeful they must have been that their hero was finally here to wage war on Rome. Here was their superhero ready to conquer the world: “His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.”
And they had seen Jesus do amazing miracles. How hopeful they must have been that he would raise the fallen troops back to life, that he would end the need for supply lines as he multiplied fish and loaves, that he would destroy the enemy once and for all. So they shouted “Hosanna!” which means, “He saves!” They shouted their war cry to their king coming to conquer the enemy for them. But what a humble way to enter the city: On a donkey?! It would be like Superman coming to the rescue driving an old beater. Jesus didn’t ride a golden chariot pulled by white stallions. He was coming gently and peacefully and in humility. “See, your king comes to you… gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
And how strange it must have seemed to those who still followed him on Good Friday. Their hero that they were encouraged to look up to was no longer even on the back of a donkey. Now they looked up to see him hanging on a cross. How strange it must have seemed to see him dying, to look up to see him being tortured to death. It was strange because they were expecting him to be a different kind of king. They were waiting for one who would put Israel’s enemies under his feet. They were expecting the Messiah to wage a war to end all wars. They were looking to Jesus to be their Superman who would destroy Rome and bring them national peace.
But now they looked up to see him dying. And they must have wondered why. Why did he who raised the dead not keep himself from dying? Why did he who walked through the angry mob now let himself be arrested? How they must have wanted to hang their heads again.
And how strange it sometimes seems to us when we look up to Jesus and wonder why. Why does the almighty God allow this body of mine to break down the way it does? Why does he let my relationships fall apart leaving me feeling so alone? Why does he let me struggle with my finances and allow me to worry about so many things? Why doesn’t he just save me from all suffering and pain? Why doesn’t he save me from all that bothers me? Why? Because he’s not that kind of king. He didn’t come to wage war on poverty or disease or unhappiness. He didn’t come to take away problems or pain or to make everything right in this life.
And when we get disappointed in what Jesus doesn’t do for us, don’t we sometimes reject him just as the inhabitants of Jerusalem did so long ago? Don’t we sometimes feel that if he won’t be the kind of Savior that we want right now, well, then, we have no need for him? We’ll pull him out later when we need him.
And of course, for abandoning him, for being too afraid of other people to shout his praises, for expecting him to be the kind of king we want when we want him to be, we deserve to be abandoned by him, to have him shout at us in a rage, to have no hero to rescue us, but to be forever damned.
But you know that’s not the end of the story. And you know what kind of King he is. “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation.” Look up and see your hero. Look at him who was perfectly righteous. Look at him who never sinned, not in deed, not in word, not even in thought. What a super hero he is. Look up see your King hanging on the cross, no longer in glory in that Palm Sunday parade, but dying on that cross. Look up to see him at his lowest, waging his war against Satan, against death and hell. Look up to see him fight the ultimate battle.
We no longer need to hang our heads in shame. Look up! Your sins are forgiven! He did come to proclaim peace. He did come to win that peace. He won peace between you and God by paying for your every sin, for every time you abandoned him, for every time you went AWOL on God. He gave you his righteousness. He made you perfect in God’s sight. He conquered Satan, sin, death, and hell for you and brought you into his Kingdom where he rules all things for you. What peace he brings!
Ah, but things don’t always seem very peaceful, do they? If he came to bring us peace, then how come we still have so much strife? How come when we turn on the news we hear reports of wars, of crashed planes, of traitors, of murdered families? If he came to bring peace, then how come our lives are so full of broken relationships, of problems and pains, of worries and fears? How come life too often feels anything but peaceful?
Because he’s not that kind of king. Zechariah prophesied, “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. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.”
On a wall outside the United Nations building similar verses are etched that describe world peace. Of course, you know that there has not been world peace since Jesus came into Jerusalem that first Holy Week. There have been wars and rumors of wars ever since. In 1949, right on the heels of the Second World War, the US Air Force unveiled its newest plane. It was a Convair B-36 plane. It had a wingspan of 230 feet! And beneath those mighty wings were four bomb compartments capable of carrying 86,000 pounds of bombs. (That’s ten times more than World War II’s B-17 Flying Fortress.) It had a range of 9,000 miles. (That means it could literally cover half the globe!) It was a plane that was so impressive that every enemy knew that you did not want to get in a fight with the owners of that plane. And so it was given an unexpected nickname for a plane wielding 86,000 pounds of bombs: “The Peacemaker.” You see, everyone knew you wouldn’t want to fight on the other side of this plane, so you’d be very eager to make peace instead.
Of course, the need for such a plane reminds us that ever since Jesus’ death there have indeed been wars and rumors of wars. And until he comes there will continue to be. Jesus himself told us that there will be no world peace “from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth,” as long as this world exists. So, obviously, this prophecy must mean something more.
And of course it does. Jesus is the real “Peacemaker.” But his concept of peace means, first and foremost, that we have peace with God. As such it also means that we have peace from guilt and shame, peace from fear of death and of hell. But it does also mean that one day soon we will have peace from all of our problems, from all suffering and from all pain, from all frustration and from all heartache. There will be a time when he will end all wars and save us from all of the effects of sin and give us a perfect, eternal peace. Just, not yet.
So we look up to watch for our returning King. We look up to the skies and eagerly await his return. We look up and wait for the day when he will return no longer humble and gentle, riding on a donkey, no longer suffering on a cross. We look up to watch for him who will return riding on the clouds. We look up with that certain and eager expectation that one day soon he will come to bring us perfect peace.
Look up and see your King. See him ride into Jerusalem to be our conquering hero. Look up and see him on that cross, where he paid for all of our sin and brought us peace with God. Look up to the skies and watch for his return. For one day soon he will come again and will bring us peace. And in the meantime, don’t hesitate to shout his praises! Don’t hesitate to, “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! [For] your king comes to you, righteous and having.” Amen.