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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Donkeys, Unfulfilled Prophecy, and the Cross

Jesus read Zechariah 9:9-12 (Our first reading this morning) many times in His life. The Word had come to Zechariah 500 years before the Word became flesh to dwell among us! Jesus knew these words, today He acts to fill up their meaning! During the exile, Persia conquered Babylon and the Jews were able to return home and rebuild the Temple.The book of Zechariah seems to be a transition into the emerging literature of apocalyptic and much of it is echoed in the Revelation of John. In Chapter 9 God declares that He will bring judgement on the nations and restore Jerusalem. However, the judgment has bits of good news for Gentiles! 9:1("all the nations will turn/or/ belong to the Lord like Israel") and 9:7 (God will clean them of uncleanness and they too shall belong to God) especially lend themselves to a universalist reading. The Kingdom of God to include non-Jews! In 9:8 YHWH God says that He will encamp in His house--the Temple--and He will keep watch on it that no one will march against or overrun it again. This is part of the prophecy to which we shall return. The next verse was what we read in church today.

The city is told to rejoice and shout, for her king has come. Three words are used to describe the king.
   *He is tsaddik (just, lawful, righteous; justified by God). Translators have debated the exact meaning of this word here. Some think it means he is a legitimate king, of Judah's Davidic line. Others think that it means God has justified the king, while others think it means he is a righteous and faithful king. [Jesus is all three!]
   * He is yasha (to save, be saved or be delivered). This Hebrew word is in Jesus' name (YHWH yasha= Yeshua) and may point to the saving work of the King or be a  declaration that God saves the King. Both active and passive are possible. [In Jesus, we will see both simultaneously.]
   * He is aniy (poor, afflicted, humble, wretched, weak) and riding on a donkey. In the verses that follow the war horses and chariots are banished. The world's power is in might; the power of God's Messianic Kingdom is peace and love. [In Matthew 11:29 Jesus says He is meek and gentle of heart.]

Luke 19:29-40 tell us of Jesus' ride. Unlike Matthew, Luke does not spell out the Biblical reference. My guess is Jesus didn't either, but He knew the scriptures. So did the Jews. They knew Jesus was declaring Himself to be the Messiah King. On Good Friday the saving death of the King will be manifest and on Easter we will celebrate the saving act of God who raised Jesus from the dead. The short donkey ride is full of meaning, but much of it is discovered in the verses which we did not read today, the rest of Luke 19 that sandwich today's Gospel.

Luke 19 begins with the story of Zacchaeus, the story of a tax collector called by Jesus. The people were scandalized and grumble. The thankful sinner repented with a remarkable outpouring of generosity (unlike the "law-abiding" rich young man of 18:18-30). Hear what Jesus says, "The Son of Man has come to seek out and save what is lost." This echoes the Zachariah passage which says the humble king brings salvation!

Next Luke 19:11-27 is a conflation of two parables moved by the author to introduce Jesus riding the donkey. The parable serves as an interpretative key. In it, God has expectations that people use the gifts He bestows on them; this is probably a model for understanding the judgment on Jerusalem. However, Luke's added some lines about those who opposed the King. At parable's bleak end they are brought forward and slain. If the Son of Man has come to seek and save the lost, clearly those who stand in opposition to His reign face certain doom. In the real world Rome will slaughter many who rejected King Jesus.

Immediately after Jesus rides the donkey, in 19:41-48, Jesus weeps over the city. "If only you had known the things which bring peace," He cries. Here we see the full blown tragedy of Zechariah 9.

The prophet saw God's heart for His people; a vision of the humble King on a donkey providing God's deliverance. The arrival of Jesus was to begin an era of peace and prosperity. Instead, Jesus make clear, that opportunity is lost. The people of God are blind to His offer and will instead experience the opposite of the thing God promised. God will not sit in the Temple to protect it and cleanse the Gentiles and integrate them into His people. Instead, Jesus will cleanse the Temple and the Roman armies will trek through and destroy the temple of God. There will be widespread slaughter of the people. Salvation offered and rejected. And Jesus wept.

As we begin Holy Week, it is easy to forget that God's plan --to seek out and save the lost-- is always in flux as He deals with rejection and unbelief. What is true then is still true now. The Messiah King comes to gather a people to Himself. We can choose, like Zacchaeus, to repent and believe, or reject Jesus and try to silence the disciples. Humans are fickle, those who cry out "Hosanna in the Highest!" one day yell "Crucify Him!" a few days later.

Humans are fickle, and we are human.

But God is faithful. His desire is to gather all, Jew and pagan, into His people.
His desire to seek out and save the lost.
He weeps over those who turn from life to choose death and He stands ever vigilant to embrace any who return to Him.

The interplay of Prophet writings and Gospel give us insight into the ever-changing nature of the world and God ever-consistent efforts to find a new way to bring His plan to fruition. The God who weeps for the lost, the God who seeks to save them; YHWH God is the faithful, merciful Father and His righteous Messiah King is Jesus.   


  1. We all are guilty. We need to know that only thru God's grace are we saved.

  2. all of us are guilty
    all of us
    God's grace and mercy in Jesus are His work of salvation. I agree. thank you Bill