“The Promised Coming”
Texts: Zechariah 9:9-12
By: David D. McDonald
April 5, 2020
NRSV ZECHARIAH 9:9-12
9Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 10He will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.
11As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. 12Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.
NRSV MARK 11:1-11
11 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’ ” 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.
Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan in their book The Last Week argue that the procession Christians celebrate on Palm Sunday was most likely a protest march. On that day there was a “peasant procession” led by Jesus as he entered Jerusalem from the east. At the same time there could have easily been a full-fledged “imperial procession” led by Pontius Pilate and his Roman soldiers who entered from the west.
Borg and Crossan write, “Jesus’ procession deliberately countered what was happening on the other side of the city. Pilate’s procession embodied the power, glory, and violence of the empire that ruled the world. Jesus’ procession embodied an alternative vision, the kingdom of God.”
The way that Jesus walks this day is a way that is decidedly counter to the ways that the world walks. And the way that Jesus walks and the way that Jesus talks might be limited to Jesus had not Jesus commanded us also to walk and talk this way. Earlier along this journey Jesus clearly said that not only would he go to the cross but that we should go to the cross as well.
“Take up your cross daily and follow me,” he said. Discipleship is always a matter of imitation….” (PR, April 1, 2012)
“Mark’s lesson outlines a procession celebrated on Palm Sunday. The parade endorses our faith in Jesus the Messiah and trumpets God’s triumph. Jesus rides into Jerusalem and into our lives as a conquering Lamb, “for he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with him are called and chosen and faithful” (Rev 17:14). And, no doubt, for a moment at the beginning of the palm parade we do feel called and chosen and faithful. But the there is a deep shadow cast by this parade, and similar to another parade that took place November 25, 1963. The John F. Kennedy funeral parade came up Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC It was one of the most gripping images of the 20th century. It was a parade that symbolized the broken heart of a nation. We now all know that for all the pageantry of parades, our palm parade has an ominous side.” (M.A.M.3/29/2015)
In Mark’s Gospel chapter 10 ends with the story of blind Bartimaeus in Jericho. For a moment, picture this closing scene of chapter 10 that stands like an introduction to this morning’s passage, the opening verses of chapter 11. Consider the place – Jericho. It is in Jericho that Joshua fights his first battle for the Lord. Moses passes the mantle of leadership to Jeshua – Joshua – in Hebrew it is the same as the name, Jesus. The Spirit of the Lord fights the battle. The leaders blow their trumpets and walk around the hills overlooking Jericho seven times and the walls come tumbling down. The children of Israel emerge victorious against a fortified city inhabited by great warriors. Could any faithful Jewish family forget that story so woven into their heritage? Moreover, blind Bartimaeus comes to Jesus when he is finally called. He springs up and throws his cloak. A miracle unfolds. A blind man sees. From the site of Israel’s early and magnificent conquest of the land, in the days when a slave people from Egypt emerged as a mighty nation, Jesus turns and heads towards Jerusalem. The scene cannot help but elicit the sensation that God’s mighty Spirit is with Israel again. This must be the long awaited Messiah – the king of kings. Why it is so obvious that even a blind man can see it and casts his cloak, a gesture used to herald the coming of the king on his coronation day?
I suspect, that as Jesus made his way to Jerusalem, the crowd; just for a moment, perhaps, saw the hand of God writing a chapter in history and they knew enough to know it was God, but did not have the foggiest idea of what was about to happen. They wanted to celebrate this visitation of the divine.
Perhaps they were looking for Elijah to return. What good Jew could forget the powerful image of the transfer of power from Elijah to Elisha that takes place in I Kings 2:12, “Elisha kept watching and crying out, ‘Father, Father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!’” Then Elijah was swept away in a chariot of fire. Certainly this powerful image lies behind the prophecy of Zechariah that we read this morning. Indeed, we celebrate on Palm Sunday, Jesus riding on a colt, the foal of a mare, with the crowd throwing cloaks and branches ahead of him like a king heading for his coronation. The crowd could hardly be expected to imagine that the crown of Jesus, would be a crown of thorns.
Even when the crowds seem to have the wrong idea, it is remembered by the gospel writers. The crowds were declaring what they did not know; they were speaking things they did not understand, and that is something worth writing about. In the church we are often particular and peculiar about getting our reasons for worship just right. Tragically, many a church has divided and fought over the way a bulletin looked, or worded. In fact, some have dared to assert that we would be better off without bulletins Likewise, we are careful and cautious about our theology. We dot I's and cross T'sand in the process sometimes, fail to miss the essential joy of being God’s people. There is a certain humor that God sees in our being so wrong that we are right.
A little girl given a new bicycle for her birthday could not wait for her Daddy to come home from work so she hopped up on it when Mommy wasn’t looking and started to ride it in the den which she knew she was not supposed to do, and proceeded to get it stuck between the sofa and a cherry sugar chest which Daddy had just finished building in his shop just a couple of weeks earlier. Her training wheels left marks on two of the feet of the chest and when Daddy came home he saw what had happened immediately upon entering the room and was upset, took the bicycle out of the room, and proceeded to snatch up daughter and give her a lecture. She listened very intently and then said:
"Everything will be fine Daddy. Everything will be just fine."
He started to give her a second lecture on how things were not, "Just fine!" Then it dawned on him; however, that she was quite right. Things would be just fine. Even when things are not the way we want them; even when we have bumps, gouges, and dents - things will be just fine. In the long run such things mean little. Concern for safety, respect for property, love in the midst of disappointment became a great deal easier to talk about in the growing years. Things are in the last analysis far less important then people. Moreover, what is more important is the love that God shares with us and we in turn must share with one another.
Another thing that this passage of scripture brings to my attention is the fact that Jesus is persistent in his journey with destiny. He will not be deterred by the threat of the authorities or the fact that there is a reward being offered for his capture. Neither is he deterred by these crowds that are offering such praise.
It is a paradox of faith, that Jesus pursues a course that leads to His own death. It is not what many of us would do. We want to avoid pain, suffering and death. We do not want to take the consequences of being right and being dead wrong. We would rather have the accolades of friends, family, and community, then the simple knowledge and belief that we have taken the right stand. This is raw courage. It can be undertaken only with a constant and persistent faith.
The New Interpreter's Bible, Vol. VIII, p. 660, in its commentary on this passage notes the irony of joy and suffering, praise and loneliness that accompany this chapter of Jesus’ life:
"The joyful expectations for God's salvation that attend his approach to the city will leave us abandoned on the cross. This story reminds us that faith is not built on such cycles of hope and disappointment. Jesus knows the patient suffering and apparent lack of success required for the coming of God's will."
The humble reliance of Jesus upon his faith, the certain knowledge of God's will, and the joy of serving the Father combined to make this a Triumphal entry to Jerusalem as the crowds proclaimed their loud Hosannas. This scene that is so right can only be understood in the light of a God who is able to take our well-intentioned but misplaced efforts and use them to serve the glory of his kingdom. Jesus comes to Jerusalem in the eyes of the crowd as a new king, a righteous prophet, a Messiah all rolled up into one image of hope.
God, too, sees Jesus as the hope of the world, but as a king crowned with thorns and nailed to the cross. The glory of God is revealed in the agony and suffering of this one in whom the world is rejoicing. We who hear this story can rejoice because God has given us glasses by means of the scripture to see that evil does not triumph, God does. This is the wonder and the miracle of Palm Sunday. Good Friday is coming, but it is not the end of the story; Easter morning tells the rest of the story. It is in this hope, which Jesus carries with him, that we rejoice. We can share in the joy off the crowds, but only because we know that this hope of the resurrection is the will of God. All the things, which the crowd cherishes most, will disappear. Their hopes and their dreams will be blown away like dust before the wind. The hopes and the dreams of our Lord; however, do not disappoint. They will remain until the end of time. This is God's time. I am reminded of a story that supposedly took place during the time when Arthur Goldberg was Secretary of Labor under President Kennedy. The President saw his labor secretary and went up to congratulate him on averting a strike. He began the conversation saying:
"How do you do it, Arthur?"
Golderg replied, "The trick is to be there when it's settled." (Fadiman, p. 247)
We are fortunate to live in a time when the way to salvation has been settled. Christ has walked that long road to Jerusalem and seized the day. We may live life in joy knowing that God has been faithful and persistent in seeking and saving His children. What remains is for us to live life in the joy and knowledge that we are saved by faith and that not of our own doing - be persistent in doing good, loving your neighbor, seeking peace, and living with hope. True joy and happiness comes from riding the waves of life in valley and crest knowing that we shall always come ashore at the Master's feet. Amen!
Moreover, Jesus himself calls two disciples to go and prepare the way of the Lord. The image is so reminiscent of that powerful Isaiah passage that heralds the coming of the Messiah. In addition, this passage paraphrases Zechariah 9:9:
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”
The prophet Zechariah begins with the vision of four horsemen set loose on the world. It is a prophecy of Israel’s redemption and gathering those who have been dispersed. Is it any wonder that the crowds were expecting a warrior? Is it any wonder that they would be surprised by his arrival, not on a stallion fitted for war, but on a colt. How ironical! Is it any wonder that they through cloaks and laid branches before Jesus in eager anticipation for the arrival of the king of kings? Could the crowds be blamed for celebrating and shouting? They must truly have seen in Jesus one who would unite the people against hated Rome, rise up and strike down the hated occupying force of a heathen imperial empire. Yet, if the people only saw Jesus in the light of the opening chapter of Zechariah they miss the point of the prophet. For in Zechariah the horsemen set lose on the world come to redeem it for God. They come to battle the powers and principalities for God. The last horseman is a pale horseman on a pale steed – the pale of death is coming. In Zechariah the people of Israel are redeemed and returned to their homeland. The captives of Babylon are set free. The Prince of Peace sets them free. Could it be that they are set free by death? The people lining the road to Jerusalem are paving palm branches and crying “Hosanna.” That Jesus was destined for the cross and resurrection must have been the furthest thing from their mind. Still, in Zechariah the pale horseman rides the stallion of God’s choosing. He is also the last of the four set free on the earth.
Consider our morning text from Mark in that light. Does death accompany Jesus on the way? The disciples are coming from Bethany and Bethphage. Bethany is the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. From John 12 we learn that Martha was very busy serving dinner. Martha was so busy she could not sit and listen to Jesus. In fact she was upset with Mary who was at the feet of Jesus and anointing his feet with costly perfume – a perfume often used to anoint the dead in preparation for burial. Judas was there as well complaining about the squandering of such costly things – little did the others seem to know that the hour of the betrayal was at hand. Lazarus was there as well. The man whom Jesus raised from the dead. Yes, all was in preparation as Mark notes. He who could raise the dead was coming to Jerusalem though the chief priests were plotting to kill Lazarus as well as Jesus. These who should have seen in Jesus the Prince of Peace wanted a Messiah of power riding on a mighty stallion. In point of fact the Pale rider of death was headed to Jerusalem on a poor beast of burden that would pale beside the mighty war steeds of Rome garrisoned in the quarters of Pilate. Yes, the long awaited Prince of Peace was coming to Jerusalem. He was coming to die. Blind Bartimaeus who could not even distinguish the features of the face of Jesus prior to their meeting made the telling prophetic gesture casting his cloak aside. The King of Kings was coming. The Prince of Peace, the Savior of the world was on His way. Who took up the chant of “Hosanna?” Those who chanted were the bystanders, the everyday folk of the street with their children. It should have been no surprise, but it was. It should have been as plain as day, but the world was still shrouded in darkness. Not until the dawn of Easter morn would the full revelation of God be seen. The Prince of Peace, King Jesus would die on the cross for the people of God. He would offer His life on our behalf. In a startling reversal of human wisdom, the Prince would be the first to die that all might enter the kingdom. He who would rise from the tomb came that others baptized into his death might rise in new life.
“Today is one of the hardest days of the entire church year on which to affirm the faith we claim as our own (writes Andrea La Sonde Anastos in M.A.M. for April 1, 2012). We are invited to consider the ambivalence Christians have always shown, an ambivalence that welcomes the One who is Radiant Truth Incarnate with shouts and songs of praise one moment . . . and nails him to the cross the next moment. We are asked to wrestle deeply with our own discomfort at the challenging mandate of Jesus, and with our own broken response to our discipleship.
The story of this day and this week is not about some other people in some other time. It is about us. It reveals the full reality of our own spiritual journey, which encompasses moments of abiding commitment to holiness and, at the same time, a faint-heartedness that leads us to deny our principles in the time of trial, leaving us colluding with the powers and principalities. Indeed, leaving us to deny the one we call Messiah, not once, not twice, not three times, but again and again and again. Daily.”
“In a poem, George McDonald says of Christmas, “We were all searching for a king to slay our foes and lift us high, thou camest a little baby thing, to make a woman cry.” McDonald well knew that from birth to death, Jesus did not come to meet our expectations of what a king should be like. He came to meet our need, to bring us peace we could not have on our own. He came to meet our deepest needs – our need for a means to God that is not self-devised, our need for salvation that is more than a political solution, our need for the truth about who God really is rather than who we hoped God would be.” (P.R. 03/29/2015)
The Lord comes on a humble beast of burden, not some luxury sports car, nor does he have the most powerful weapons on earth backing him. He comes unarmed – like a lamb led to the slaughter. Satan seems to be at every corner, rubbing his hands, waiting for the angel of death to descend on God’s Son. Who will we follow? Will it be this man of peace coming from the East side of the city like the wise men who came to see Him at the appearance of His star or will we follow Pilate and his Imperil troops bent on establishing the Pax Romana of Rome by force. The Lord comes, will you follow? Pray for strength and courage in your times of trial. Let us pray…..