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Getting a Handel on Christmas (1)-Shouting for Joy

Series: Christmas Series: Getting a Handel on Christmas

Sermon on Dec 3, 2003

Zechariah 9:9-10

Zechariah 9:9-10
Rejoice Greatly

If you have your Bibles, please turn with me to Zechariah chapter nine. This is our first in a series of studies in Getting a Handel on Christmas. As you look at these words, let me read you again the words that were sung earlier this evening. The libretto that was prepared for Handel's Messiah by his friend, Charles Jennens of Leicestershire, was based upon texts from the King James Version of Scripture. But he didn't generally take the texts as they were originally written. He would usually group them together with other texts from the Bible. Here's what he did with Zechariah 9:9-10, and I think you’ll agree he gives a good synopsis, even if he didn't quote all of it. “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion. Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem.” Now, thus far, that's pretty much the King James Version of Zechariah 9:9. But he continues, “Behold, thy King cometh unto thee. He is the righteous Savior, and He shall speak peace unto the heathen.” So, after announcing that the daughter of Zion, the daughter of Jerusalem ought to rejoice, he then says three things: the king is coming, he is a righteous Savior, and He shall speak peace to the heathen. Now, if you have been following along in your translation, you’ll recognize that that's a good outline of what Zechariah says. Then, in the libretto, the lyrics that Charles Jennens wrote, he has the soloist repeat, “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion. Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem.” The libretto has two parts: rejoice and then rejoice because. The first part is this is what the people ought to do: they ought to rejoice. The second part is they ought to rejoice because of three things: one, your King is coming; two, He is a righteous Savior; and three, He is going to speak peace to the heathen. So there is the outline that Jennens gives us to Zechariah 9:9-10.

Now, let's hear God's word in Zechariah 9:9-10

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
He is just and endowed with salvation,
Humble, and mounted on a donkey,
Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
And the horse from Jerusalem;
And the bow of war will be cut off.
And He will speak peace to the nations;
And His dominion will be from sea to sea,
And from the River to the ends of the earth.

Now, reading those side by side gives us a picture of the synoptic version you get in Handel's Messiah, and the complete version in God's word. Let me remind you that Zechariah is speaking these words that the same time that Daniel is with the other captives in exile in Babylon. Zechariah is back in Palestine ministering with other prophets such as Haggai, while Daniel and many of the captives are down in Babylon. Zechariah is ministering to a small, faithful remnant of God's people who are very, very discouraged. The last king of Israel has seen, with his own eyes, his heirs slaughtered by the Babylonians, and then after the Babylonians allowed him to see his heirs, his children, nephews, nieces, family killed before his very eyes, they put his eyes out. So that the last thing he would remember seeing was the cutting off of the line of the kingship of Israel. Can you imagine how traumatic that would have been for him. But just as traumatic for Israel, because Israel remembered that God had said to David, “I will put your descendants on the throne and they will reign forever.” So this was not just a personal crisis, not just a national crisis, but this was a theological crisis. Has God's word somehow failed, as not only Israel has fallen prey to her enemies, and been carried off into Babylon into captivity, but the kingship, the kingly line of David has failed. This was a huge theological problem, and in that context, God gives this prophecy to Zechariah to speak to that faithful remnant of Jews in Palestine that had not been carried off into captivity, in order to encourage them to wait upon the fulfillment of the promises of God. Let's remember the context, and look to the Lord in prayer.

Heavenly Father, we thank You for this, Your word. We thank you for this beautiful rendition of it in song that we have heard tonight, and we pray that the words of this song and the very melody of the music would not simply resonate in our hearts with great sentiment, but that we would be moved by the truth that is contained in that word and that we would be moved to faithfulness and hope and trust by that word. This we ask in Jesus' name, amen.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion. Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem. Behold, your King is coming to you. He is just, and endowed with salvation, humble and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the bow of war will be cut off, and He will speak peace to the nations, and His dominion will be from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth. This is Zechariah's picture of the coming of the coming of the Messiah. And I want you to see two things in particular. First of all, I want you to see his announcement of the coming of the King, the arrival of the king, and it's going to be a matter of joy, as you can imagine. And second, I want you to see the specific reasons why Zechariah wants us to rejoice at the coming of the king. The first reason is because of the person of the king, the second reason is because of the work of the king, and the third reason is because of the result of the work of the king.

I. The announcement of the coming of the King.
The first thing Zechariah says, under the inspiration of God's Holy Spirit, as he speaks as an inspired prophet of God, is “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion.” God, through the prophet, calls that remnant of faithful people in Zion, in Jerusalem, to rejoice at the coming of their king. The daughter of Zion, the daughter of Jerusalem, is a beautiful way that God speaks about His relationship to Israel, Daughter is so often found in the context of broken relationships in the prophetic literature, but here it's a beautiful way of God speaking of His tenderness for His own people, the daughter of Zion, the daughter of Jerusalem, and God is describing His people as the daughter of Zion.

Now, the great question in all the later prophets is, “How could the promise of God to David fail?” That there would never lack a son of his lineage to sit on the throne of Israel. And the answer that is given by the prophets of the Old Testament, and is of course, elaborated on by the writers of the New Testament, is in two parts. One, God is going to establish a new covenant, not like the old one that can be broken; and two, God is going to send a Messiah-King, who is the descendant of David, and He is going to reign forever. If you’re talking to a people who have beleaguered, and their king is coming back and they know it, you really don't have to command them to rejoice. They’ll do that naturally. If their king is coming to their rescue, and they've been beleaguered by all their foes, you don't have to command them to rejoice. So, why does Zechariah command Israel to rejoice? Because the king is nowhere in sight. There is no sign of the existence of this king, and in fact, of course, they were going to have to wait some 600 years before the King came. Now, I want to tell you, my friends, that behind every story that you've ever read, that when the cavalry rides over the hill at the last second, behind every idea of that, of the arrival just in the nick of time, is this redemptive truth. That, though God's people seem to be surrounded on all their sides by enemies, yet God is sending their king to their rescue.

And we could tell so many stories like that from history, and we could tell so many stories like that from literature. In fact, Tolkien's The Return of the King has such a story of people rejoicing at the return of their king. This book contains one of the greatest scenes in all of epic literature, and one of the greatest scenes occurs on the plains of Pellenor, when the enemies of Gondor, the last free city in all of Middle Earth, are swarming around the walls of the city and have completely surrounded the last men who are fighting. And Eomer of Rohan is leading a rag-tag beleaguered force of men against the mighty host of the Dark Lord Sauron. And the blast comes out from the city walls for all the soldiers of Gondor to retreat within the city, because they've seen not only this sea of enemies approaching the city, but they've also seen, coming up the river, the corsairs of Umbar, these ships which are laden no doubt with the enemies of their people. And when those corsairs unload their deadly enemies onto the field, they’ll be even more out numbered than they are now. So the people in the city are utterly despairing. The city is going to fall, the hope of a free Middle Earth will end. So there's great despair. And the men who are out in the middle of the fields, they see these ships coming too, and they see the black flags and they are absolutely overwrought. And Eomer, the King of Rohan, the ancient friend of Gondor, decides he's going to take a stand and he's going to die with all his men in defense of Gondor. Now, you need to remember this: Gondor has not had a king for hundreds of years. Gondor's last king went out into the wilderness and was never seen again, and for years and years and years it has been ruled by stewards. There has been no king in Gondor. And at the critical moment, in the midst of this battle, what should happen, but that the king should return. Now, folks, in that setting you don't have to tell anyone to rejoice. Now Tolkien says it so much better than I could.

“Stern now was Eomer's mood, and his mind was clear again. He let blow the horns to rally all his men to his banner that he could, for the thought that he would make a great shield wall at the last and stand and fight there on foot until every man fell, and do deeds of song on the fields of the Pellenor, though no man should be left to remember that last king of the mark.

Eomer rode to a green hillock and there set his banner, and the White Horse ran rippling in the wind. Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope's end I rode and to the heart's breaking: Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!
Eomer laughed as he spoke. For once more the lust of battle was upon him; and he was still unscathed, and he was young, and he was king: the lord of a fell people. And, lo! even as he laughed at despair he looked out again on the black ships, and he lifted up his sword to defy them.
And the wonder took him, and a great joy, and he cast his sword up in the sunlight and sang as he caught it. Behold! Upon the foremost ship a great standard broke, and the wind displayed it as she turned. There flowered a White Tree, and that was for Gondor, but Seven Stars were upon it, and a high crown above it, the signs of Elendil that no lord had borne for years beyond count. And the stars flamed in the sunlight, for they were wrought of gems by Arwyn, the daughter of Elron, and the crown was bright in the morning, for it was wrought of mithril and gold. Thus came Aragorn son of Arathorn, Elessar, Isildur's heir, out of the Paths of the Dead, borne upon a wind from the sea to the kingdom of Gondor.”

Now, everybody breaks out into song. And it's not surprising, because the king had come to their rescue. You don't have to tell people to rejoice when the king has come. Zechariah has to tell Israel to rejoice, because the king has not come, but is coming. He tells Israel to wait in faith for the coming of the king. Matthew and Luke tell us when this was fulfilled. This prophecy was fulfilled when Jesus rode into Jerusalem to die. Isn't that the most shocking thing in the world. The passage that promises the king coming to deliver his people, is fulfilled with Jesus riding a donkey into Jerusalem to die. That only makes sense if the thing that we really need to be delivered from is not Roman captivity or Babylonian captivity, but captivity to sin. And the reason that the children sing, “Hosanna, Hosanna” to the son of David, and the reason why Matthew and the gospel writers attach that event of Jesus going into the City of Jerusalem on that donkey to die on the cross with the fulfillment of this prophecy, is because the king came to deliver his people from sin by dying in their place. It's the most shocking deliverance in the world. The king delivers his people by his own death. And Zechariah is calling upon the children of Israel to await the coming of Messiah King, and the reestablishment of David's monarchy, and that's the central hope of Israel. But so many people in Israel didn't see it because they were expecting a king with worldly power.

Who is the famous Christian theologian who made the statement, “It is one of the most grievous mistakes in theology to think that though Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world,’ He meant that it was.” It's one of the most grievous mistakes of theology, isn't it, to think that Jesus came to set up an earthly kingdom. No, His kingdom was not of this world. It wasn't like the worldly powers of the nations and the rulers around Him. It was a different kind of kingdom; it was a kingdom to be sure, that was going to be inaugurated right here, and it's a kingdom, to be sure, that will rule this world and everything under the cosmos one day, but it was a kingdom of deliverance from sin and a kingdom of the establishment of righteousness and justice and mercy and peace and glory and grace. And Jesus came to do that as Messiah King in His own death. And so the command, “Rejoice greatly” is given to us in anticipation of the coming of that king.

Now, the king's already come, but that command is just as applicable to us because we have to await another coming of the King. Because our King has come and gone, but is coming again. And so, we too must live in hope and trust. What did Luther say, “Everything in the world is done by hope,” and here's the hope: your King is coming. So rejoice, rejoice in the middle of whatever it is that you’re going through. Rejoice, your King is coming.

So, what about that King, what about that King's work is a matter of our rejoicing? Zechariah outlines three things. The person of the king, the work of the king, and the result of the work of the king. Look at the second half of verse 9: “He is just and endowed with salvation, humble, and mounted on a donkey, even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

So, the person of the king is righteous and saving and humble and reigning. The qualities mentioned here are expressed in action by the king. He is just, He redresses crimes against His people and deals justly with the innocent. He is a Savior, He saves or delivers His people and triumphs over their enemies by God's will in His great struggle. He is humble in what He is willing to endure, and that is what the picture of the Messiah riding into Jerusalem on a donkey reminds us of, the humility of the King. He's on a mission of peace and that can be seen by the very mount that He rides. You don't ride a donkey into battle against horses, so riding the donkey shows that He's come not to wage war on Jerusalem, but He's coming as an emissary of peace to Jerusalem. And it's striking that Zechariah draws attention to both the kingship of the Messiah and the humility of the Messiah. And this is precisely what the gospel writers pick up on as well. The person of the Messiah, Zechariah is saying, is surprising. The Messiah will surprise you; He's a king, yes, but He's a humble King, and He's not come to dominate you, but He's come to bless you with freedom and peace. He's on a mission of mercy and rescue and redemption and release. So the character of this King is attractive. It's not uncommon in literature to find people writing wistfully about kings who have gone away, and it's not uncommon in literature to find much grumbling about kings who are in power. It's easier to wish that they were around when they’re not around, than if you have to deal with them when they are present. But this King doesn't disappoint when He arrives, because this King has qualities that no earthly King has ever had; he's just, he's saving, He's humble; He's reigning; and He gives Himself on behalf of His people. So what Zechariah is telling us is that the quality of the King's person is a reason for us to rejoice.

II. The work of the King is a reason for to rejoice.
This Messianic King will bring peace and unity to His people, He’ll come to defend Jerusalem. “I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the bow of war will be cut off.” There are two great thoughts that are being brought home here. First, it's the idea that the new King will banish the great engines of war from the land of Jerusalem, because He's able to protect His people and end all the threats from their external enemies. Israel will no longer be a battle ground, because He's going to wipe out their enemies, all the engines of war will be removed, because He's going to come and protect them. But the second idea here, and you see this with the mention of Ephraim and Jerusalem, is indicative of the hope that Israel will be united again. You will remember that 400 years before the time of Zechariah, Israel was one nation. In the time of Zechariah, Ephraim is divided from Jerusalem. The northern kingdom has long years before been sundered from the southern kingdom, and the mention of Ephraim and Jerusalem is a reminder of the hope of Israel that all of Israel will be united one day again. It's interesting that in the New Testament this is taken to indicate God bringing in all of His people, not simply from Palestine, and not even simply from the ethnic origins of Judaism, but of all the peoples of the world who have been chosen by God from the foundation of the world as His people, being brought into the kingdom of God. So the Messiah, we're being told here, is going to unify God's people and He's going to bring relief from conquest, and He's going to bring liberation and peace. The work of the King is a reason to rejoice.

III. The result of the work of the king.
But the result of the work of the king is also a reason to rejoice, and you see this at the end of verse 10, and it may be the most surprising thing that Zechariah says. It's not what you’re expecting. He will speak peace to the nations, Zechariah says, and His dominion will be from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth. What's surprising about this is that Zechariah says the benefits of this coming Messiah King are not simply for Israel. He will speak peace to the nations. In the context it's apparent that what that means is not Him simply defeating the nations; that's already been talked about in the previous clause. But this is Him coming with a message of peace for the nations; this is Zechariah pointing to the Gentile outreach inaugurated, in part, in Jesus’ ministry, but in full-blown glory on the day of Pentecost, when the gospel begins to go to all the nations. And as we go out in sharing the gospel to all the nations, we go as heralds of the king who has come and is coming. This Messianic hope, you see, is international. He will speak peace to the nations, it is global, the Messiah will rule over a worldwide empire. That's why Bo an Homer Lee and Elbert are in the Ukraine. Because they want to see the day when people from every tribe and tongue and nation bow the knee to King Jesus. They want to see this prophecy fulfilled in all of its glory, and they know that God uses means to accomplish His will. And His means of bringing the nations to Christ is the word of God, received by faith. Faith comes by hearing, and that by the word of God.

So the Messiah will rule over not only Israel, but a worldwide empire, and for all three of these things, Zechariah says, “What do we need to do?” “We need to rejoice. Your King is coming.” And I want to say that that command to us to rejoice is just a relevant now as it was 600 years before the first coming of the Messiah. It's easy for us to feel as if the Messiah is not going to come again, just as it would have been easy for them to feel that the Messiah was not going to come the first time. They had to wait long, long years, long past the life spans of those who first heard these encouraging words, before Messiah came. But He did come. And He did reign over the enemies of His people. And He did purchase peace for them on the cross of God through His own righteousness, and through His sacrifice, and He did purchase for them the fulfillment of all the promises of God.

You need to understand, this prophecy is not contingent; it will come true. The nations will worship and serve the living God, and it's our privilege to participate in god fulfilling that prophecy. But it's also our privilege to believe in it and to rejoice in it and draw strength and hope for our own living because of our conviction that God is true to His word, and He will not allow these words to fall; He will bring them to pass. May God bless His word to your hearts, let's pray. Amen.

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