Bible Text: Zechariah 9:9, Philippians 2:5-11 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year Our Humble Lord Zechariah 9:9 & Philippians 2:5-11 by William Klock St. Matthew’s account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem takes us back to Prophet Zechariah’s oracle of judgment against the enemies of God’s people. The first verses of Zechariah 9 are a litany of woe and destruction: “Lo, the Lord will strip Tyre of her possessions and hurl her wealth into the sea and she shall be devoured by fire…Gaza too shall writhe in anguish…The king shall perish from Gaza; Asheklon shall be uninhabited…I will make an end of the pride of Philistia…” These were great nations and prideful pagan peoples who worshipped false gods, produced unspeakably immoral cultures, and persecuted the holy nation of Israel next door. You can almost hear the Israelites cheer as Zechariah speaks this message from God. You can picture the Messiah, the Anointed One, riding down from heaven, flaming sword in his hand, to drive his enemies out of the Promised Land and destroy them and their cities. In verse 9 Zechariah exhorts the people to rejoice: Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he… (Zechariah 9:9a) I see pictures of the allies liberating Paris in August 1944. Grateful crowds cheering the men who drove off the Nazis and a victory parade through the streets led by Charles De Gaulle. We’ve all seen those pictures. Just put it in an ancient context – move it from 20th Century Europe to Ancient Palestine and you’ve got the idea. The Jews had been looking for their promised Saviour for centuries. Every girl longed to be the chosen mother of the Messiah. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday, many of those in the crowd cheering him on were no doubt expecting that in Jesus of Nazareth was come the one who would ride down on the pagan nations with his flaming sword in hand, giving the Romans the boot, and leading the people in a great victory parade through the streets of Jerusalem. But that isn’t the end of verse 9 – it goes on: …triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass. (Zechariah 9:9b) This isn’t the Messiah that the people were expecting. Conquering heroes ride through town in a chariot or on the back of a warhorse – not on the back of a donkey. Donkeys are farm animals for poor people. But that’s what the Messiah did – he came, the conquering hero, riding into Jerusalem on a simple donkey. St. Paul writes about the humility of the Messiah in our Epistle lesson: Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Philippians 2:6-7) Jesus was “in the form of God.” This was one of the great Christological passages of the New Testament that the Councils drew on when they worked out our creeds. St. John reminds us, “In the beginning was the Word” – in the beginning was the preincarnate Christ, in the beginning was the eternal Son of God, the second person of the Trinity. Jesus said of himself, as we read last week in our Gospel lesson, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” Jesus named himself with the holy name that God revealed to Moses when he appeared in the burning bush: I AM. Jesus Christ is God, the creator of the universe, the sustainer of life, the source of all blessing, now incarnate. Jesus had every right to ride down from heaven, sword in hand, to vanquish the enemies of his people. He is perfectly holy, he is perfectly just, he is God. The Messiah deserved the praises of the people around him – he deserved their worship – he was God and we all, as his people, owe him all those things. They are our “bounden duty and service.” And yet Christ didn’t come in the way people expected. He came humbly like one of us – and even then not as the highest of us, but as like the lowest. As St. Paul says, he “emptied himself,” became a man like us, and not just a man, but a servant. Not just a servant in the terms that we think of a servant. The Greek word used by St. Paul is δουλος; not a just a servant – literally a slave. St. Paul says that Christ emptied himself, that he gave up his heavenly and godly prerogatives, and became the lowliest of the low. Theodoret commented on these verses saying, “Being God, and God by nature, and having equality with God, he thought this no great thing, as is the way of those who have received some honour beyond their merits, but, hiding his merit, he elected the utmost humility and took the shape of a human being.” Jesus was God, yet he didn’t feel the need to “fill himself up.” Instead he emptied himself, St. Paul’s Greek literally says he “poured out” himself. As God, Christ was worthy of the people’s praise, worship, and adoration. He was worthy to be led to the Temple and enthroned inside of it as the Creator and King. He was worthy to receive their tribute and their service. But that’s not what Christ did. Christ emptied himself – he poured himself out. He knew that as God he was worthy of all these things, that he deserved and even had a right to greatness, but instead he gave up all thought for himself and poured out his fullness so that he could enrich others. St. Paul isn’t saying that Christ gave up his divinity. He’s telling us that Christ gave up the rights that he had as God and put himself totally at the disposal of his people – God became poor so that his people could be rich. Jesus was born as one of us. He could have been born as a nobleman – a rich man or a man in a position of political power, or even as a Levite, maybe as the high priest himself or some other earthly religious leader. He could have, but instead he became not only a man, but a slave. A rich man would still have had some right to the admiration and praise of men. A great political leader – a warrior or a king – would have been raised up on a pedestal by his people. A great religious leader would have been looked up to by the people too. But Jesus’ desire was to empty himself – to completely pour himself out – and so he became a lowly slave to others. Not literally a slave, but he took on himself the attitude of a slave. He didn’t come to lord over people. He came to serve them. Remember that Jesus’ ministry was to the people as he traveled by foot around the country with nothing more than the clothes on his back. It was Jesus who washed his disciples feet. His ministry was one of service to others. St. Paul goes on in verse 8: And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Christ became one of us so that he could serve us. In Hebrews 4:15 we read: For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Each of us is guilty of offending God. Each of us has committed the cosmic treason of sin. God graciously created us, and yet every one of us has rebelled against the very one who has given us life. We, his creatures, choose to be gods and arrogantly enthrone ourselves on his seat. Christ had to become one of us so that he could be the second Adam – so that he could live life as we do, suffering temptation, but not falling to it. He was obedient in every way that we are not and that total obedience led him to the cross. Again in Hebrews we read: In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 5:7-10) The ultimate act of service and of obedience was his death on the cross in our place. I don’t know that we give much thought to the manner of Jesus’ death other than to focus on its cruelty and heinousness. If we look at the mock trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin and before Pilate and someone asks us “Why?” I’m not sure we give the right answer. Why was Jesus dragged through these sham trials? Why was he crucified? Why was he taken out to be executed with two thieves? Jesus could have died in all sorts of ways. Why couldn’t he have been hit by a speeding chariot or stampeding horse while walking down one of Jerusalem’s narrow streets? Why couldn’t he have died from typhoid or leprosy or one of the other many fatal diseases that plagued the ancient world? Why couldn’t he have fallen out of a boat on the Sea of Galilee in a storm and drowned? Jesus had to suffer what he did because it’s what we deserve. We deserve to be put on trial for our sins. We deserved to be mocked and ridiculed for our sins. Ultimately we deserve to die a criminal’s death for our sins. As you read the Gospel lessons this Holy Week, put yourself in the place of Christ. Would it be unjust if we had stood accused before Pilate or before the Sanhedrin? Would it have been unjust for us to have been scourged? Would it have been unjust for us to have been nailed to a cross and left to die? No. I expect that every one of us is probably guilty of a crime that was punished by death in the Old Testament – remember that even dishonouring one’s parents was a capital crime! Yet we take all those things very lightly. But God’s divine standard is even higher. God’s divine standard hands down the death penalty for any and all sin. Every one of us stands condemned before God. But an awful lot of the time we seem to forget that fact. We ignore the fact that we’re sinners. We ignore the fact that our sins deserve death. And we start thinking that God owes us something. Instead of living Christ’s humility in our own lives, we become proud and self-righteous. We take pride in the knowledge that we’ve never stooped as low as this or that person. We take pride in our good works and in our “morality.” We like to point out the faults in other people, but aren’t interested in having others show us our own faults. We like to praise ourselves for overcoming sin as if we are somehow totally victorious over all the sin in our lives and as if the victory we’ve experienced over a handful of sins is somehow because of our own doing and not God’s. Each of us came to Christ knowing that there was nothing we could do to save ourselves. We came to him in humility – totally relying on his sinlessness and on his sacrifice – his sinless death made in our place. (If you haven’t ever done that, then regardless of what you may think, you are not a Christian and still stand condemned before God.) We knelt humbly before him at one time, but it seems all too common for us to become over-confident in ourselves as time goes on, and eventually we start to get the idea that somehow we can stand before God on our own merit. Maybe we rely on Christ a little bit and we pay lip service to his death on the cross as the payment for our sins, but in reality we expect to earn God’s favour. We start to see righteousness in ourselves and that’s a very dangerous illusion, because when we become self-righteous we kill our Christian witness. The self-righteous person takes great pride in the sins he doesn’t commit, but is blind to the sins he falls into every day. He goes to work and condemns the sin in everyone else around him, but is blind to the obvious sin in his own life. He shows an utter lack of charity to others, he short-changes the company by leaving early when the boss isn’t around, takes home office supplies, he gets caught up in the dirty jokes of the guy in the next cubicle. You wonder why people have no interest in Christ. It’s in part because of our lack of Christ-like humility. It’s we proclaim Christ with our lips, but all these folks ever see is us trusting in ourselves. We say we follow Christ, but we fail to live like he did. We’re called to imitate Christ, because for many people we’re the only Jesus they’ll ever see. To a certain extent, we set the standard for the unbelievers around us – but too much of the time we set that standard awfully low and misrepresent what it means to be a follower of Christ. You wonder why some people don’t want anything to do with the Church? It’s because they look at us and they see prideful do-gooders and hypocrites. St. Paul doesn’t just tell us about Christ’s humility and servant attitude because he wants us to know that Christ was a humble servant. Notice how he begins this doxology: Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. St. Paul’s point is to urge us to be like our Saviour. We’re given the example of Christ so that we can be like him. Philips Brooks said, “The true way to be humble is not to stoop until you are smaller than yourself, but to stand at your real height against some higher nature that will show you what the real smallness of your greatness is.” Christ is that higher nature for us – he is our measuring standard. He is the one who shows us how small we are when we’re tempted to think we’re spiritual big shots. And when we faithfully hold Christ’s example before us we can never be self-righteous – we can never trust in ourselves for access to the Father, because we will always be humbled by the Eternal Son, who condescended to become man, and who died in our place to pay the penalty for our sins. St. Paul’s doxology reminds us that because of his humility, the Father has exalted the Son and given to him the name above all names: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.(Philippians 2:10-11) He who confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord, honours the Father, and he who hates the Son also hates the Father. On judgment day there will be no one on earth who will not confess that Jesus is Lord. The saints will confess it in love and admiration, and those who rejected Christ will have their eyes opened and will confess it in fear and trembling. God will honour those followers of Christ who make their confession out of faith and love, but there will be no hope for those who are only able to make that confession on the final day out of fear after their eyes are opened to the glory of Christ. Our goal as Christians should be to give to Christ alone the glory for our redemption. We need to be like him in his humility, not full of ourselves, but pouring ourselves out so that we can be filled by the grace that Christ has poured from himself. Those around us should see Christ-like humility, not pride. They should see redeemed sinners serving their God out of gratitude and aspiring to personal holiness, not self-righteous, holier-than-thou jerks. Self-righteous people rarely have the desire to serve out of humility, because prideful people don’t stoop down unless it’s to take pride in that stooping. Just as he exalted his humble Son, God also promises to exalt those who follow in his humble footsteps. Our sole desire should be to faithfully follow Christ – to be like him – to imitate his model of the humble servant, but we can only do it when we rely on the grace we find in him. This was what we prayed for in our collect today: “Almighty and everlasting God, who in your tender love towards mankind sent your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature and to suffer death upon the cross so that all mankind should follow the example of his great humility, grant that we may both follow the example of his patience and also have our part in his resurrection, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Bible Text: Zechariah 8:1-8, 20-23 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year Sermon on the Old Testament Lesson for the Second Sunday after Epiphany Zechariah 7 & 8 by William Klock Comparing ourselves to others is something we all do. It’s something we have to do to some extent just to know if we’re doing what we’re supposed to or accomplishing our goals. But as much as it’s essential some times, we also have to be careful. There are some times that we compare ourselves to others with the wrong motive and we really get ourselves into trouble when play the “spiritual comparison” game. How often do you think things like: “I go to church every Sunday. I’m a lot better than my neighbour who isn’t even a Christian,” or maybe you start comparing your “good works” with those of your brothers and sisters. That’s dangerous territory to get into. When we start making those sorts of comparisons, what’s at the heart of it first is pride, but secondly we’re forgetting that God doesn’t love us or save us because of our works—not one of us can be good enough to earn God’s favour. Our works are an outgrowth of our faith and we only have our faith by the grace of God—aside from his grace we would stand condemned before him just like anyone else. The Jews had this problem and it was something that Zechariah addressed. They were focused on their good works. God was focused on their hearts. Look at chapter 7:1-6. In the fourth year of King Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah in the fourth day of the ninth month, which is Chislev. Now the people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-melech and their men, to entreat the favor of the Lord, and to ask the priests of the house of the Lord of hosts and the prophets, “Should I mourn and fast in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?” Then the word of the Lord of hosts came to me; “Say to all the people of the land and the priests, When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted? And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves? (7:1-6) Fasting is something that wasn’t overly common as a religious practice in the time before the Babylonian Exile, but after the Jews found themselves in Babylon, and especially after their return to Judah, fasting became much more common. I think the reason for this is that when they were exiled they finally remembered all of God’s calls to them to repent and turn to him. They realised that they were under his judgement and were being punished for their sins—so they fell on God’s grace and mercy and turned back to him. That was wonderful. The problem was that like so many of the things we do as part of our religious life, that fasting ended up becoming a way for some people to feel superior to others—to show off their spirituality. This delegation that came to the Temple to ask about their fasting probably was involved in just this sort of thing. Ash Wednesday isn’t a big part of our culture in British Columbia, but if you’ve been to a place where it is a big deal, think about all the people you see going around all day with ashes smudged on their foreheads as if having gone to church that morning was something to be proud of. The ashes are supposed to be a sign of humility, but for many they’ve become something to take pride in—to say, “I’m more spiritual than you.” That’s the idea here. And God responds to the people through Zechariah with a simple question: “When you fast, are you fasting for me or for you?” He also addresses what is probably a case of legalism on their part. They ask about a particular fast that was common in the fifth month, but God responds and asks them about all their fasts, not just that one. The real heart of the matter is what their motives and attitudes were. A fast was supposed to be an outward sign of their inner humility. It was supposed to be their way of saying “I’m sorry” to God—a way of demonstrating that they’re turning back to him. Instead it turned into a way for them to outdo or show up each other. Zechariah reminds them of what led to their current situation. Look at verses 7-14: When Jerusalem was inhabited and in prosperity, with her cities round about her, and the South and the lowland were inhabited, were not these the words which the Lord proclaimed by the former prophets?” He’s reminding them of the time before the Exile, when times were good and the people should have been grateful to God for everything and should have been following the ways he had revealed to them. And the word of the Lord came to Zechariah, saying, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy each to his brother, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor; and let none of you devise evil against his brother in your heart.” That’s what God called them to do—to show truth, justice, compassion, and loving-kindness—to demonstrate with their works and actions that their hearts were infused with God’s grace. Instead they did the opposite. This was one of the primary messages of the prophets: God’s call to live holy lives—to reflect his holy character; to treat other people as God would treat them; and to be a light shining on a hill, a light showing God to the pagan nations around them, but they didn’t do that. God knew what was in their hearts. Remember St. James’ proclamation that “faith without works is dead”? That’s what Zechariah is getting at here. These were people who loudly declared their faith, but didn’t show any evidence of it But they refused to hearken, and turned a stubborn shoulder, and stopped their ears that they might not hear. They made their hearts like adamant lest they should hear the law and the words which the Lord of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great wrath came from the Lord of hosts. “As I called, and they would not hear, so they called, and I would not hear,” says the Lord of hosts, “and I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations which they had not known. Thus the land they left was desolate, so that no one went to and fro, and the pleasant land was made desolate.” No matter what happened, the people ignored God. So to get their attention he raised up the Babylonians, who came and wiped out their land and took them away in captivity to Babylon—a city that was itself a symbol for everything that was evil in their time. Isaiah called to the people in much the same way. In Isaiah 55:6-7 we read his call: Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. God called and called and called to his people to turn back to him, but they wouldn’t listen. Isaiah tried to remind the people to turn back and receive God’s mercy and pardon while they still had a chance to do so—because he knew, like we should, that eventually there comes a time when our patient God says that enough is enough and our punishment comes. Zechariah is reminding this delegation that came to ask about fasting of all this. Imagine how exasperating this must have been for him. He’s been preaching about how the Jews got to where they were. Their fathers had rejected God time after time and had eventually seen God’s punishment. They were removed from their home and were made desolate and that’s what finally woke them up. So their fathers turned back to God, and now a generation or so later, this group of religious show-offs arrives to ask legalistic questions about their fasting practices—they’re doing exactly what led their fathers into exile. Zechariah had to be throwing his hands in the air at this point. Talk about thick-headed people! First Zechariah reminds these people of where they had come from, then he reminds them of where God promises they’re going. To see the direct response to the question of fasting we have to jump to the end of Chapter 8. Look at verses 18 and 19: And the word of the Lord of hosts came to me, saying, “Thus says the Lord of hosts: The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah seasons of joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts; therefore love truth and peace. What I see here is God sort of saying to these people, “Guys, knock yourself out on the fasting, because it’s not going to be very long before the time for fasting is over.” Think about it. God was wanting these people to look to the coming Messiah. Everything they’d been taught—their scriptures, their worship, their Temple, everything—was designed by God to point to the coming Messiah. And they just weren’t seeing it. And what happened when the Messiah came? They still didn’t see it and went on with their false piety and their legalism, totally oblivious to Jesus. God calls them here to be joyful, glad, and cheerful and to love truth and peace. Instead they took pride in their very pious show of dourness and fasting (it’s easy to be happy and joyful all the time, but to them that wasn’t very spiritual—they were doing the hard work of looking grim and sorrowful). And where were their works? They weren’t showing love and truth—they were showing pride and arrogance. But even when God’s chosen people are wrapped up in their own pride and selfishness, God will still do his work. He’ll still do what he promised. If his own people won’t turn to him, God will see that other people will. Look at verses 20-21: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: Peoples shall yet come, even the inhabitants of many cities; the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the Lord, and to seek the Lord of hosts; I am going.’ God hints at the fact that it won’t be long before he starts looking outside of Judah to do his work. Here he’s talking about people coming from the outside to come to Jerusalem and to the Temple. God’s own chosen people are off doing their own thing and ignoring God while foreigners start showing up to worship him and to the work that they should have been doing. But God will still work through is people. There’s a hint here that God will so bless his people that the rest of the world won’t be able to help taking notice. That was the mission of the Jews. God called them to be his people—to follow his way and to be so blessed that they would draw everyone else to God. Look at the last two verses: Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to entreat the favor of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’” I love the imagery here of the gentiles grabbing hold of the Jews and wanting to go where they go so that they can be a part of their blessing. Christ gives us the same mission. As Christians we should have people following us around and wanting to be a part of what we’re a part of. People should be seeing God at work in our lives and wanting to get in on it. In my experience that doesn’t seem to be what happens most of the time. More often than not, what they see in us is a bunch of dour and self-righteous men and women who pride ourselves on our good works while we turn our backs on everyone else. How often do we talk about God’s love, but spew hatred and prejudice with our actions, or at least give the wrong impression? Consider how Jesus dealt with sin. He approached unbelieving sinners with a heart of love and compassion. His message was one of God’s grace and mercy—grace and mercy that draw the sinner to him and through him bring transformation. It wasn’t the come as you are and stay as you are message of some today—but it was a loving message of come as you are and be renewed. The problem that seems to be present in the church is that we look at unbelieving sinners and somehow expect them to be other than they are without first receiving God’s grace. We get angry—and don’t get me wrong, there are places for righteous anger—and we confront sin, but we do it as if we’re somehow better than them—as if we’re not sinners ourselves. Only Jesus could make that claim. We’re like the Jews who prided themselves on their fasting and pious acts. We compare ourselves to the unsaved and get to feeling pretty good about ourselves. We start to become self-righteous and we forget that there isn’t a single bit of righteousness in us that isn’t Christ’s righteousness. When we live our lives like that it’s no wonder that we push people away instead of drawing them to us. We’re as much a part of God’s promise through Zechariah as the Jews were. We need to be living in the grace of God. We need to be reliant on his grace every moment of every day – and we need to be aware of our reliance on his grace. We need to understand that we live only because of that grace and not because of anything we’ve done. If that’s where our hearts are we will be living examples of God’s grace and the work of the Holy Spirit. That’s the point when we become contagious Christians. That’s when people will be following us around and wanting a part of what we have – wanting to find new life in Christ.
Bible Text: Zechariah 9:9-12 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year Sermon on the Old Testament Lesson for Palm Sunday Zechariah 9:9-12 by William Klock I’d like to look this evening at today’s Old Testament lesson. Its connection with the Gospel is an obvious one. St. Matthew, in today’s Gospel, notes that when the disciples found the donkey and colt in Bethpage, in accordance with Jesus’ prophetic instructions, and when Jesus rode that donkey into Jerusalem, it was all in fulfilment of these words spoken by Zechariah five-and-a-half centuries before. But what was the significance of those words to the Jews when they originally heard Zechariah speak them? Zechariah was on of the men who returned from exile in Babylon along with Zerubbabel—about 538 B.C. He was a priest. These exiles went back to Jerusalem to rebuild not only the city and their nation, but also to rebuild the temple. But as a priest it wasn’t just the temple that was important to Zechariah—so were holiness, right worship, and the peoples’ commitment to God. Zechariah started his ministry about twenty years after the people got back to Judah. When they left Babylon with Cyrus’ approval, they had great plans and visions. They were going to rebuild Judah to its old greatness. The problem was that their visions weren’t very realistic. The fact is that there wasn’t much left of Judah. They had visions of the Davidic kingdom, but that kingdom fell apart after Solomon’s death four hundred years before. It had split in two and gradually degraded and had fallen apart from that point onward. The northern kingdom had been destroyed and the people dispersed. They were going back to Judah—to the smaller southern kingdom. Even that wasn’t what it had once been in terms of area. The Babylonians had carved up the whole region. A lot of the land had been given to other people and nations. These returning exiles had their work cut out for them. And it didn’t take very long for reality to set in. In Ezra and Nehemiah we read about all the troubles they faced. Even though the Emperor had given them permission to return and rebuild, he was far away and the people around them were threatened by these strangers who were now rebuilding Jerusalem. We read how they had to make rebuilding the city wall a priority and built with their swords at hand, to fight off those who wanted to thwart their work. Pretty soon the people all but gave up on their original mission. They intermarried with the pagan peoples around them. They started living like the pagans around them. They all but forgot about rebuilding the temple as the centre of a restored Judah. The people got discouraged and it just seemed easier to ignore their ideals and just “go with the flow” of the world. Two prophets stepped in to encourage the people to get back on track with their original mission. First Haggai called the people to return to their work of rebuilding the temple. The foundation had been built, but so many other things had come to occupy the attention of the people, that the foundation was as far as they ever got. Then a few years later Zechariah backed up Haggai’s call to build the temple with his exhortation. And what Zechariah does is turn the rebuilding of the temple into an object lesson that points to the future restoration of God with his people. Imagine how the people felt. Even had they not been distracted by all the worldliness and worldly cares around them, they knew that the temple they were building wasn’t the same as the temple that had been destroyed. It’s not just that it wasn’t as grand and glorious as the one built by Solomon, but two very important things were missing: the ark of the covenant was gone and so was the shekinah—the visible presence of God. Those two thing had been at the centre of the tabernacle and then the temple from the time God had given his law and the people had built the tabernacle under Moses’ leadership. The ark sat in the Holy of Holies—its lid the mercy seat—and the glory of God rested on it. The ark was now lost forever and no one had seen the shekinahsince before the fall of Jerusalem. Maybe these people hoped in some way to get these things back, but I think they knew that they were building a temple that was really, in many ways, just an empty shell. But Haggai and Zechariah urge them to rebuilt it anyway. That temple was a symbol of their commitment to God, even when they weren’t aware of his presence with them. God used that second temple to transition the people away from thinking of God’s kingdom in terms of a physical place. It transitioned the people away from thinking of God being present with his people in a temple made with hands and pointed them toward a time when his presence would abide in the people themselves through his Holy Spirit. Zechariah spoke to a people who thought of the kingdom only in terms of a strong nation as had existed in the days of David and Solomon and they thought of God in terms of the temple and a system of imperfect sacrifices for sin. That’s what they had so longed for while they were exiles in Babylon. They’d finally been released from exile. They came back to Judah, full of excitement and enthusiasm to rebuild that old kingdom…and then reality set in. They just didn’t see any of that happening anymore, so they gave up. And now Zechariah says to them: Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! (Zechariah 9:9) And the people would probably have responded: “Right. Why should we rejoice? As far as we can tell, God has abandoned us.” And Zechariah goes on: Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, These people, without a doubt, hoped for a king. But all their hoping just wasn’t realistic. They had a king—and emperor—and his name was Cyrus. He might let them rebuilt Jerusalem, but their having their own king was out of the question. And yet Zechariah doesn’t just promise a king; he promises the King—the Messiah. He knew what they didn’t: that the Messiah, the King of kings, was their only real hope. The Jews learned over the centuries that earthly kings could never solve their eternal problems. In fact, their kings tended to get them into trouble more than anything else. But the people always seemed to want a king anyway. Had it been possible these returning exiles would have accepted a king in a heartbeat. This was the same King the people were hoping for in Jesus on that first Palm Sunday when he rode into Jerusalem—a king come to re-establish the nation and drive out the foreign oppressors. But God’s plan wasn’t to give them another earthly king—it was to give them a heavenly king. Zechariah’s promise isn’t an earthly king riding in on a great war horse. He goes on to describe him as not only bringing righteousness and salvation, but also says that this king comes to his people: …humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. This is a new kind of King and he comes humbly. In fact, Zechariah says in verse 10: I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. This didn’t compute for most people. The King—the Messiah—was coming, but he was coming humbly, riding on a lowly donkey, and he was going to disarm the nation. The people had always relied on horses and chariot and on bows and swords. In fact, it was only because the people armed themselves that they were able to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and it was those strong stone walls that gave them what little peace and protection they had. I’m sure some people laughed at Zechariah: “A humble king, taking away our chariots and our bows to bring peace? Ha!” And yet Zechariah says that he’ll not only disarm his people, but he’ll rule the earth and bring peace. Actually—more specifically—he’ll bring peace, and because he’ll bring peace, he’ll rule the nations. Again, that’s backwards thinking by worldly standards. But think about that. The world wants peace, but we think we’ll have peace when a strong ruler or a strong nation forces the trouble-makers into peaceful submission. What we get in the end is a free-for-all and a total lack of peace. My own nation seems convinced that it can bring peace by invading countries that don’t see things our way and imposing democracy and peace at the point of a gun. The problem is that everyone else thinks the same way. Everyone wants peace, but we all want it on our own terms. The world has this foolish idea that we can wage war in order to establish peace. That was the idea behind World War I. It utterly failed, and yet we continue to do the same thing almost a century later. No, in contrast, the Great King will establish his kingdom, not by enforcing peace with a sword, buy by first establishing a peace that requires no sword to maintain. And this is where the line is drawn between those who understand and those who don’t and between his kingdom and the world. This is where that empty shell of a temple points the people to the futility of horses and chariots and earthly kingdoms. God’s kingdom will never come at the point of a sword or the barrel of a gun. God’s kingdom comes as the King enters the hearts of the people—as he establishes a temple not made with hands. And he builds that new temple as men and women give up their earthly loyalties and trust in the Saviour, allowing him to transform their hearts. He comes humbly—in fact, he came and established his kingdom by first dying for his people—dying as a sacrifice for their sins, that they might be restored to fellowship with God. And as he frees his people from sin and death, his Spirit knits those people together and replaces pride and selfishness and every other sin with the same love and peace and humility that the King himself showed his people on the cross. The question for us is whether or not we’ve received the King. And if we have received him—if we’ve trusted in the sacrifice for sins he has made for us—are we letting his Spirit transform our lives and our thinking. There are too many Christians who continue to think just like the world. We expect Jesus and his Church to somehow govern the physical world in a way that isn’t much different from those Jews who lined the road on that first Palm Sunday, hailing Jesus as King. They expected him to wield a sword to establish righteousness. We’ve changed things a bit, but not that much. We often fall into the trap of thinking that Jesus will establish righteousness throw the collective voting power of his Church—just to name one example. But brothers and sisters, that’s still expecting the kingdom of God to be established by the sword. If Jesus is our Lord, we need to look to his humble example. We need to see that he was humble unto death, that he might win his kingdom not by force, but by love. And friends, if we would seek to grow God’s kingdom in the same way—by loving and by being willing to sacrifice ourselves—we would truly see his kingdom grow. We pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come.” Let us make it a reality as we follow the example of loving humility set by our Lord. Let us pray: “Almighty and everlasting God, who in your tender love towards mankind sent your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ to take upon him our nature and to suffer death upon the cross so that all mankind should follow the example of his great humility, grant that we may both follow the example of his patience and also have our part in his resurrection, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”