Pastor Joel Leyrer - Palm Sunday - Sunday, March 28, 2021

Text: Zechariah 9:9-10

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Dear Friends in Christ, Do the names Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego ring a bell? These were the three men thrown into a fiery furnace because they refused to give a powerful king by the name of Nebuchadnezzar the kind of honor they reserved only for God.

These men had a contemporary named Daniel. His story may also ring a bell. He was thrown into a den of lions another king kept on reserve for those who got on his bad side. Daniel found himself there for the same reason Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego got themselves in trouble: he refused to give his king the honor he reserved only for God.

Both of these events took place in that period of time before the birth of Christ we call the Old Testament. We call them Bible “stories,” but they were real events.

In the New Testament Book of Acts we learn of Christian men and women being imprisoned and persecuted and driven from their homes. Why? Because when the authorities of the day insisted they either deny their relationship to Jesus Christ or suffer the consequences, they chose to suffer the consequences.

It didn’t end there. Persecution of Christians continued for centuries. Early believers were considered to be subversive and “enemies of the state” because they would not recognize the Roman emperor as their heavenly king. Often they paid for this with their lives. There was always a way out – a simple verbal denial of Christ was usually sufficient – but for many this was not an option.

And it’s still not over. In many places persecution continues to this very day. Do an internet search and you will find organizations and sites (one of the better-known examples is “Voices of the Martyrs”) dedicated to chronicling modern-day persecution.

The question that begs to be asked is, why? What prompts such loyalty, such allegiance?

The answer is simple. Christians have a king. And when a choice had – or has – to be made between him and any earthly authority that sets itself up in opposition to him, Christians choose him. Because ours is no ordinary king. For us, Jesus Christ is

THE ONLY TRUE KING

Today, on this Palm Sunday, we’d like to talk about this king. Specifically

  1. His character, and    
  2. His achievements

First, a word or two on the historical background of our text. God’s instrument for delivering this message to his Old Testament people was the prophet Zechariah. Zechariah’s work spanned a long period of time, but if we’re looking for a date we can place him around the year 500 BC.

It was a time when some of God’s people had just recently returned from a 70-year captivity in the land of Babylon. They were busy reestablishing themselves in their homeland of Israel. Of first importance was building a new temple, but, sadly, the people were consumed by their own self-interests. So, Zechariah’s immediate message was a combination of rebuke and encouragement to get this job done.

But there was a far bigger spiritual message and a far bigger spiritual picture Zechariah wanted his people to set their sight on – one that painted a portrait of the glorious future that awaits the people of God.   

In our text God, though Zechariah, is telling his people to look forward and find strength in what was to come. No matter what the external circumstances of God’s people may be, they will never be overrun spiritually, because they have a powerful leader. When this leader comes, he will make all things right. He’ll bring peace to the hearts of those who know him and eventually, at the conclusion of all things, that peace will extend throughout eternity. This is reason for God’s people to rejoice.

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!  Shout, daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”  Zechariah calls him a king. We know him to be Jesus Christ. And today, in direct fulfillment of this Old Testament prophecy, he rides into Jerusalem. Notice how he is described.

First, as a righteous king. What do you think of when you hear the word “righteous” attached to an individual? Probably someone who is just, fair, morally upright, and above corruption. But for humans, this is always a qualified general statement, because even the most “righteous” among us is still a sinner.

When it comes to Jesus, however, this is not a general statement. It’s a simple statement of fact.  Jesus is perfectly righteous. The writer to the Hebrews declares that Jesus was like us in every way but with one exception: he never sinned. Living out this sinless righteousness is part of what he came to do as our substitute.

This is the way it works. God asks us to be sinless and righteous. It’s the covenant of our creation. But we can’t do it. We sin. So, God, in a profound act of love far beyond our understanding, sent his Son to do in our place what we cannot do: be perfectly righteous. Theologians sometimes refer to this as the “active obedience of Christ.”

God also said that the soul that sins is the soul that shall die. Again, that’s us. So after living perfectly as our substitute, Jesus then died as our substitute. We refer to this as the “passive obedience of Christ.” That is why he is riding into Jerusalem today. By week’s end he is going to be on a cross. But no one took Jesus’ life. He gave it.

Zechariah clues us in on what this righteous life and death translate into when he tells us our King comes to us “having salvation.” Providing salvation is what Jesus Christ is all about. Salvation means we have been rescued from the damning consequences of our sin. It means we are in a right relationship with God. It means the wall of our own sinfulness that once barred our entrance into heaven has been dismantled.

No earthly king or authority could do this for us. Only Jesus. Our King may not have conquered any foreign nations. He may not have ushered in the golden age of the Jewish nation as many in his day mistakenly hoped he would. And he may not have left behind instructions for constructing self-aggrandizing memorials or monuments like earthly kings often do.

What he did do makes all those things insignificant in comparison. Because he took on stronger enemies like death and the devil – and he conquered them with his sinless life and death. He then proved his victory by his resurrection.

And that is why he is truly the King above all kings.

Yet, look how he came to us. Zechariah continues the prophecy:  He comes gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” In many ways the world back then was no different than today. People of power and influence put it on display by their trappings and their entourage.

For example, horses were the animals of royalty and military power. Donkeys were the pick-up trucks of the time. Dependable, reliable, and good for hauling; but not exactly the statement image a political handler would choose for conveying royalty.

But here comes Jesus. And if this isn’t enough, we learn from the gospels that the donkey was borrowed. Such is the humility, the low station our King willingly accepted to carry out our redemption – which underscores the great paradox of our King…

“Who, being in very nature God did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross.”

Zechariah’s prophecy continues with an explanation of what this King above all kings would achieve. I (God) 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.” 

Christ came to proclaim and provide peace. What kind? Earthly peace, as in no more fighting? As in the absence of conflict? If that is what is meant, Christ failed miserably. At any given time and in any given place there is a war going on or about to go on.

The peace that Christ provides is better than that. The original Hebrew word used here is one you may have heard before: “shalom.” It is a rich word. Embedded within it is the concept of wholeness, completeness, soundness, health, safety, and prosperity, carrying with it the implication of permanence.

The night before his enemies nailed him to the cross Jesus said to his disciples and followers of all time: Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. I do not give you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” 

The kind of peace our Lord gives us is the inner peace and tranquility of knowing that our sins are forgiven and that we are loved, forgiven, and cared for by God. And this peace resides within our hearts no matter what the outside circumstances may be. No health problem, financial setback or personal tragedy can dislodge it.

People want peace and happiness. They chase after it and seek it in various ways: wealth, fame, professional security, etc. But the bottom line is that peace is not something we attain. Rather it is a state that God in his grace through Christ bestows upon us. And once we have it, like the air we breathe, peace is a condition in which we live.

That it is the kind of peace provided to us and for us by the King above all kings…

Who comes riding into the city of Jerusalem today approximately 20 centuries ago. He may not fit the world’s prototype of a king, but we know that never has a more important or powerful king walked the earth. He rides into town today to carry out the work of saving us from our sins and giving us eternal life. Five days from now this work will come to a painful climax as our Savior is nailed hand and foot to the cross.

All to bring us peace of heart and peace of mind.

A final consideration. At the beginning of this sermon, we noted the powerful allegiance he instilled and continues to instill in people like Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, Daniel and all their historical and modern-day spiritual counterparts. Can he have any less effect on us today?

Holy Week makes clear what Jesus did for us. So, what do we do with Jesus? This is what we do with Jesus. We love him. We honor him. We are loyal to him. We obey him. Above all, we live for him. And this all unforced, uncoerced, voluntarily. Because he is the King above all kings.

Soon the divine drama resulting in our salvation will play itself out before us once again. God grant us a blessed Holy Week. Amen.