March 24, 2013
“Your King Comes to You”
"Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the horse from Jerusalem; the battle bow shall be cut off. He shall speak peace to the nations; His dominion shall be `from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth.'" Zechariah 9:9-10
The interpretation of the Bible is not a mysterious secret. Any text written by anyone on any topic must, if it is to be understood by others, be subject to correct interpretation. Many rules of interpretation are just common sense. You follow the rules of grammar. You interpret what is unclear in light of what is clear. You interpret the text, if possible, in the language in which it was written. You stay with the plain sense of the text and don’t interpret it figuratively unless the context requires it. These are all common sense rules which, if followed, will help you understand any piece of writing, including the Holy Scriptures.
Then, there are rules of interpretation that apply specifically to the Bible. The Bible is different from any other piece of writing. Out of all writings ever written, only the Bible is inspired by God. God directed the writing of the human authors in such a way that every word they wrote is what God wanted them to write. So whenever we come to the Holy Scriptures we must humbly consider that we are standing on holy ground.
The Lord Jesus Christ himself gave to us a fundamental principle of biblical interpretation when he met with some of his disciples shortly after his resurrection from the dead. St. Luke writes:
Then He said to them, “These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.” And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures. (Luke 24:44-45)
To understand the Bible requires that we understand why it was written and about whom it was written. The main topic of the Bible is Jesus. He is the subject of every book. From the five books of Moses, through the Psalms, through all of the prophets, the Old Testament is about Jesus Christ.
There is a little rhyme that helps us to remember how to interpret the Old Testament and the New Testament. It goes like this:
The New Testament lies in the Old concealed;
The Old Testament is in the New revealed.
Knowing this fundamental principle of biblical interpretation, we can understand what the prophet Zechariah is saying in the words of our text:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your King is coming to you.
St. Matthew and St. John both cite this text from Zechariah as being fulfilled in Christ’s triumphant entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. The daughter of Zion or Jerusalem is the people of God. Zion is a physical mountain and Jerusalem is a physical city, but the names Zion and Jerusalem are used throughout the Scriptures to refer to the people of God. And the King here described is like no other. He is not a political ruler. His rule differs from that of any other king.
He is just. He justifies you. He is the Savior. He saves you. He rules over you. But he doesn’t use the same kind of power as other rulers. He has no military. He has no use for a chariot or a bow or a tank or a gun. He speaks peace to the nations. His peace is the peace of reconciliation with God. It isn’t maintained by diplomacy backed up by force. It is a peace he won by his own suffering and death. The peace he procured is the peace he proclaims to the nations. And his dominion is from sea to sea, to all the nations in the world.
Last week in Wednesday school we discussed the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.” It stands right in the middle of the prayer and it is the only petition that asks God for material blessings. The other six all ask for spiritual blessings. Among the material blessings for which we pray under the heading “daily bread” are “pious and faithful rulers” and “good government.” We call such blessings daily bread because they pertain to the needs and wants of our bodies.
There are six times as many petitions in the Lord’s Prayer asking God for spiritual blessings than for material blessings because our spiritual needs are so much greater than our bodily needs. When we forget that it is easy to politicize Jesus and turn him into something different than what he came to be.
Jesus comes to his people. He comes to the daughter of Zion, to the daughter of Jerusalem. He comes to the faithful. He comes to the Church. He does not come to the United Nations or to the halls of Congress or to the White House. He does not come with a political or social or economic objective in mind. He comes to the daughter of Zion, the daughter of Jerusalem, the holy Christian Church.
Jesus comes with justice to give. He is just and having salvation. But his justice is not the justice of this world. The justice of this world is always imperfect. His justice is perfect. The justice of the world depends on police, courts, and prisons and the whole thing is tied together by laws backed up by guns. Christ’s justice depends on his obedience and suffering and death, with no reliance whatsoever on any kind of force or violence or the threat of violence or coercion or incarceration.
The justice that Jesus gives is the blessed exchange where he gives us his own righteousness and takes upon himself our sins. This is what he came to do. He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, not a warhorse. He came to suffer, not to inflict suffering. He came to submit to injustice by bearing the sin of the whole world in his own body. He did not come to toss off unjust institutions of men. He witnessed slavery and said nothing to condemn it. He saw Roman tyranny over the Jews and did nothing to fight against it. He saw and experienced poverty, and taught his followers nothing about how to acquire wealth, whether by a free market economy or by socialistic schemes of wealth redistribution. In other words, any attempt to turn Jesus into a political deliverer flies in the face of clear biblical testimony.
But Christ’s justice is better than anything the politicians can offer. He treats the real cause of injustice, not merely the symptoms. More than that, he deals with the injustice that matters the most: the sin within us all. It is my sin that hurts me more than your sin against me. If I can only learn this, I’ll know what I need most in life.
People want outward, civil, temporary justice and will trade away inward, spiritual, and eternal justice for it because they don’t know that their biggest problem in life isn’t the bad that others do to them. It’s the bad that they do.
And it’s getting worse. As the self-esteem gospel has taken hold in many churches and homes, sin has been redefined. It is no longer understood as a violation of God’s law. After all, whatever God’s law says is just a matter of interpretation. Who really knows? And who are you to impose your interpretation on others? Sin has become a violation of the religious sensibilities of openly unrepentant sinners.
When serial sodomy is sanctified as marriage and the right to kill unborn babies is seen as essential to the rights of women, is there anything sacred anymore? No, and it is precisely the triumph of the profane over the holy that has led Christians to toss off a message of spiritual deliverance in favor of a message of social and political and economic salvation. After all, if there is no more sin there is no more need for the forgiveness of sins.
But we see in ourselves sin we cannot uproot. We must acknowledge in sorrow that our loveless hearts have led us to do loveless deeds that have hurt our neighbor and brought disrepute on the holy name of Christ that we bear. We admit to God that we have stood on our pride, ignoring the biblical encouragement to imitate Christ’s humility as he walked to the cross to suffer and die for us. So then, what do we need in our condition? We need the justice that the world cannot give. We need the forgiveness of our sins.
That’s what Zechariah prophesied. That’s what the promised King brings to us. He is lowly, riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. For sinners who know their sins and want deliverance from them, he is exactly what they need. See how he comes. He comes in humility. He comes as if he were poor and lowly. He is God almighty. But he sets aside his divine prerogatives and assumes the role of a slave. He comes in humility on a donkey.
He doesn’t come to threaten. He doesn’t come to whip anyone into shape. He doesn’t come to wage wars on this or that or the other social and political evil. The only war he comes to wage is the war against your soul waged by the devil with his temptations and lies. He wages this war against all evil by suffering and dying on the cross. There he hallows the Father’s name, does the Father’s will, and establishes the kingdom of grace on this earth. There he procures forgiveness for us from his pain, destroys the power of the tempter, and delivers us from all evil. There, where Jesus is crucified in the place of sinful humanity, is where he establishes justice for us, saves us from all our troubles, and gains the kingdom into which he ushers us.
Today is the first day of Holy Week. How do the events of this week affect us? We have jobs, or studies, or travels, or other obligations. We have worries, bills, problems, and unresolved issues that aren’t going away. And on top of that, life isn’t fair.
But our biggest problem is never the problem out there. It’s always the problem within our own hearts. It’s always the sin that would claim us, control us, and direct us in paths of living that hurt our neighbor and profane God’s name. We need Jesus as our King. We need the authority of his forgiveness in our lives. That gives us our identity as God’s children, as the daughter of Zion to whom he comes.
And he comes. He doesn’t summon us to where he is, make us wait, and keep us waiting as we worry about whether he will help us in our need or whether we will be able to afford to pay him for his services. No, he comes to us. He comes with what we need. We need justice. He justifies us by his blood. We need salvation. He saves us from our sins, death, and hell. We need his governance over us. He fills us with his Spirit through whom he speaks peace to the nations. He sets our hearts at peace by forgiving us all our sins. He does so freely by his grace.
This is the correct interpretation of the text before us today. It is all about Jesus the Savior of sinners. He comes to us in our need and gives us what we need the most. We cry out, Hosanna! “Save us now!” That’s what he does. Amen