Riding on a Donkey

Series: Zechariah Part 2: The Coming King

Sermon by David Strain on May 11, 2014

Zechariah 9:1-17

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Now would you take your copies of the Scriptures in your hands and turn with me to the prophecy of Zechariah, chapter 9; Zechariah chapter 9.  You can find that on page 796 in the church Bibles.  Before we read it together, let’s turn together towards the Lord and ask Him for His help as we pray.  Let’s pray.

Lord, we live in a context where there are so many voices that clamor for our attention, that demand our response, that claim that we owe our allegiance to them.  There are the voices of our own lusts and ambitions and pride and selfishness within and the clamoring voices of the world all around us.  Help us, please, by the powerful work of the Holy Spirit to hear above the din, the cacophony of competing voices, the clear voice of our Savior saying to us, “This is the way, walk in it.”  O give us ears to hear what the Holy Spirit says to His church, in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Zechariah chapter 9 reading from verse 1:

“The burden of the word of the LORD is against the land of Hadrach and Damascus is its resting place.  For the LORD has an eye on mankind and on all the tribes of Israel, and on Hamath also, which border on it, Tyre and Sidon, though they are very wise.  Tyre has built herself a rampart and heaped up silver like dust, and fine gold like the mud of the streets.  But behold, the LORD will strip her of her possessions and strike down her power on the sea, and she shall be devoured by fire.

Ashkelon shall see it, and be afraid; Gaza too, and shall writhe in anguish; Ekron also, because its hopes are confounded.  The king shall perish from Gaza; Ashkelon shall be uninhabited; a mixed people shall dwell in Ashdod, and I will cut off the pride of Philistia.  I will take away its blood from its mouth, and its abominations from between its teeth; it too shall be a remnant for our God; it shall be like a clan in Judah, and Ekron shall be like the Jebusites.  Then I will encamp at my house as a guard, so that none shall march to and fro; no oppressor shall again march over them, for now I see with my own eyes.

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!  Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.  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.  As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.  Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.  For I have bent Judah as my bow; I have made Ephraim its arrow.  I will stir up your sons, O Zion, against your sons, O Greece, and wield you like a warrior’s sword.

Then the LORD will appear over them, and his arrow will go forth like lightning; the Lord GOD will sound the trumpet and will march forth in the whirlwinds of the south.  The LORD of hosts will protect them, and they shall devour, and tread down the sling stones, and they shall drink and roar as if drunk with wine, and be full like a bowl, drenched like the corners of the altar.

On that day the LORD their God will save them, as the flock of his people; for like the jewels of a crown they shall shine on his land.  For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty!  Grain shall make the young men flourish, and new wine the young women.”

Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken to us in His holy and inerrant Word.  May He write its truth upon all our hearts.

Zechariah 9-14: A Different Perspective

Last year I attended a meeting of mission pastors in New York City and during some of the free time I did the typical tourist things in New York.  I went to MoMA, you know, the Museum of Modern Art.  I went to Times Square; it was a lot of fun seeing all the sights.  Manhattan, you know, is densely packed jungle of skyscrapers and tower blocks and it’s hard from street level to get a sense of perspective and to know where you are in relation to everything else.  So I went to The Rockefeller Center and took the elevator to the top of the rock and from there Manhattan looks completely different.  You can walk around the viewing platform and you’ll see Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty and there’s Times Square and the Empire State Building; the whole of New York City spreads out before you and on into New Jersey and the horizon line far beyond that.  From that vantage point you get an entirely different perspective. 

Tonight as we leave the theme of “The Coming Kingdom,” which has been the theme of chapters 1 to 6 in the book of Zechariah, and we leave behind as the pivotal chapters, chapters 7 and 8, dealing with true and false religion, and we turn our attention to Zechariah chapter 9 and what is really the first part of the final section of the book dealing now with “The Coming King.”  The coming King.  It’s in this part of Zechariah’s book that we find the most explicit and persistent references to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.  And as we turn to chapter 9 it’s a bit like ascending to the top of the Rockefeller Center to the viewing platform because here, at least in chapter 9, you get to see well into the future.  You get to see the whole landscape as it were, the immediate future facing God’s people and well beyond that to the coming of Christ and even beyond that to the worldwide conquest of God in bringing the nations to bend the knee to the Lord Jesus. 

In verses 1 to 8 in chapter 9 there is a word of judgment - judgment on the pagan nations that surround Israel.  And yet mixed into that message of judgment is a precious promise of grace.  This time the big idea is, God’s enemies, verses 1 to 8, God’s enemies are both destroyed and delivered.  Then look down at verses 11 to 17.  This time our attention is cast even further into the future.  In 1 to 8, Israel are being, God’s people, Judah, are being asked to look a little further forward to the future just about a century ahead of them.  But in 11 to 17 the future stretches far further beyond the limits of their gaze, falling here now not on God’s enemies so much as upon God Himself and upon His covenant people.  God’s people, we learn in this section of the chapter, will be His instruments in the cosmic conflict that will mark the dawning and advancing of His kingdom in the world, but more than that, they will also be precious adornments that display His beauty to the world.  And so if in 1 to 8 the big idea is that God’s enemies are both destroyed and delivered, in 11 to 17 the big idea is that God’s people are both conquerors and a crown.  The enemies of God are destroyed and delivered; God’s people are conquerors and a crown.  And then right in the middle of the chapter, in verses 9 and 10, acting as the hinge, the pivot  between these two sections, Zechariah explains for us why and how it is that these apparently exposed and exclusive themes are not mutually exclusive after all but will in fact be fulfilled together - judgment and grace; wrath and mercy.  Zechariah turns our attention to the Lord Jesus Christ. 

I. God’s Enemies are Both Destroyed and Delivered

Let’s look first then at verses 1 to 8; God’s enemies are both destroyed and delivered.  God speaks to the nations surrounding Israel and Judah. It is an oracle of judgment that begins, notice, in the north with Damascus and then proceeds southward along the coast.  There’s a word for Tyre, the impregnable city of the Phoenicians.  Tyre had an island fortress defended by massive 150 foot high walls.  They had grown unbelievably rich on the security and the maritime trade for which it was famous.  Verse 3 - “Tyre has build herself a rampart and heaped up silver like dust and fine gold like the mud of the streets.”  But a day is coming, Zechariah tells us, when even unbeatable Tyre will be thrown down and “devoured by fire,” verse 4.  Ashkelon, verse 5, Gaza and Ekron, Ashdod and the Philistines, each will face in turn defeat and devastation. 

Now understand these are not the major enemies of God’s people.  Assyria and Egypt and Babylon and Persia are not mentioned here.  These are not their current enemies at all.  No, actually these are the pagan nations that confronted the Israelites back when they first entered the land of Canaan and began to make conquest of the land and to settle it during the era of the judges.  These are the nations that threatened Israel during the reign of their kings.  And by the time that Zechariah wrote, they were all now like Judah herself, minor vassal kingdoms in the great Median-Persian Empire, none of which really threatened the people of God anymore.  So why does Zechariah pronounce the terrible word of judgment on them that he does?  Notice too, that the list, although it reads like a list from Joshua or Judges of the nations that contended with the people of God in its earliest days, the list doesn’t move from south to north as God’s people moved from the wilderness across the Jordan into the land making conquest of the enemies that faced them, driving out the Canaanites before them.  This list moves from north to south.  So what is going on here?

Well first of all, Zechariah is predicting the route taken, about a hundred and fifty years later, by Alexander the Great after defeating the Persians at Issus in the year 333 BC.  Alexander moved south along the coastal regions destroying the harbor cities of the Persian Empire so that he would prevent reinforcements being landed at his rear before he would turn again to deal with the main Persian force.  So Tyre fell to Alexander on his march south. He built a causeway about a half a mile long out to the city and the fortress that had stood firm against Nebuchadnezzar for thirteen years fell to Alexander in seven months.  Like dominoes, one after another after another, the cities of the Levant fell to the Greek army.  This is the judgment that Zechariah predicts.  But the terms in which he does it are deliberately reminiscent of the conquest and settlement of the land of Canaan by the Israelites in the early days of their history.  And that fact clues us in to the theological significance of this coming Greek invasion.  Zechariah really is picturing a new conquest of Canaan.  He’s rewriting Israel’s history.  Instead of failing to drive out their enemies and settling down instead to join them in their idolatries and their immorality, the Lord will at last judge and destroy them.  When Joshua led the conquest of Canaan, they never could defeat Ashkelon and Ashdod and Gaza.  But a new history will be written, Zechariah says.  It’s going to retell the story of the conquest not as a stalled and partial invasion ending in compromise but as a decisive comprehensive victory in which God Himself will hold His enemies to account for their sin.  It will be a precursor of a greater victory for the people of God still to come, a full complete rewriting of their story, not according to their failure but according to God’s triumph. 

A Word of Warning

So at once a warning word and a comfort word, these opening verses.  It is a warning word for the world.  Judgment is coming, so repent!  It may not come immediately.  When Israel made its first conquest of the land, the conquest stalled and it never did drive out all their enemies.  Judgment upon the pagan nations did not fall at that time but it will fall, Zechariah says, the Lord will execute judgment; He will finish the task.  We may think we have gotten away with our sins.  Psalm 97 depicts the wicked saying, “The Lord does not see, the God of Jacob does not perceive.”  He doesn’t know and no one else will ever know.  We’re secure in our sin, perhaps.  All this God talk, you know, it amounts to nothing and it changes nothing; judgment is not coming.  I can sin and get away with it too and turn on the religion with the best of them to cover it up.  Well Zechariah warns us here, doesn’t he?  Judgment may be delayed but it is coming.  It may be delayed but it is coming.  It’s a word of warning.

A Word of Comfort

But there’s also a word of comfort here.  A word of comfort for God’s people.  There are stories of past failure, their record of stalled obedience, of incomplete defective service when they first entered the land.  All of it will one day be overwritten with a new story and they won’t write it; God Himself will do it by other means.  He will act for them and provide a new narrative in place of the old one. It actually is a pointer to us to the Gospel.  When the Lord Jesus came and has provided for us, has He not, a new narrative, a new story - His own obedience to cover our stalled obedience and our outright disobedience.  There needn’t be judgment; there is also mercy.  There’s a warning word but also a comfort word.

A Word of Grace and a Promise of Deliverance

And then sounds a surprising note in this section dominated by these themes of judgment.  Another melody begins to play amidst all these minor warning, threatening keys.  There’s a promise of extraordinary undeserved grace.  Verses 7 and 8 - “I will take away its blood from its mouth, and its abominations from between its teeth.”  That could be another threat of judgment on the pagan nations for their characteristic ritual uncleanness that was so emblematic of their sin, only it’s not; keep reading.  God will end at idolatry and vice, not just by way of destruction and judgment but also by way of deliverance.  Listen to these words of promise; they’re extraordinary.  “Philistia too shall a remnant for our God; it shall be like a clan in Judah, and Ekron shall be like the Jebusites.”  The Jebusites were a people group whom Israel failed to conquer when they first entered Canaan.  And when they were at last defeated by King David they were simply assimilated into the people of God. 

You see what the Lord is saying?  Not everyone will face destruction.  Some who deserve to be destroyed will receive deliverance. Not everyone will be judged.  Some will be incorporated in to the people of God and receive mercy.  “Those who were not a people will become the people of God.  Those who had not received mercy will receive mercy” - 1 Peter 2 and verse 10.  There is not one of us in this room for whom that is not your story if you’re a Christian.  That is all our story, is it not?  We have not deserved mercy.  We have deserved the wrath and cruse of God.  we were exiles and strangers and foreigners to the covenants of promise and the commonwealth of Israel, but God who is rich in mercy loved us, united us to Christ, and grafted us in and made us part of the people of God.  God’s people, God’s enemies rather, are both destroyed and delivered by His grace.

II. God’s People are both Conquerors and Crowns

Then look down at verses 11 to 17.  If in 1 to 8 Zechariah focuses on the relatively near future, 11 to 17 casts an eye to the still further horizon.  The theme remains one of military conflict and the defeat of God’s enemies, but imagery this time is not borrowed from the conquest of Canaan in the early days of Israel’s life.  This time the imagery focuses on God Himself; God Himself as the primary combatant.  He is the Warrior-God in these verses.  Verse 14 - “Then the LORD will appear over them, and his arrow will go forth like lightning; the Lord GOD will sound the trumpet and will march forth in the whirlwinds of the south.”  Here is God the warrior who prosecutes His conflict with sin and Satan and His allies with supernatural than human. 

God’s People as Conquerors

What we need to be sure we don’t miss is the role of God’s people in the victory of the Lord.  If in 1 to 8 the point was that God’s enemies are destroyed and delivered, in 11 to 17 the point is God’s people are both conquerors and crown.  Look at 11 to 13 with me.  “As for you also, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.  Return to your stronghold O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.  For I have bent Judah as my bow; I have made Ephraim its arrow.  I will stir up your sons, O Zion, against your sons, O Greece, and wield you like a warrior’s sword.”  Greece is the power that would sweep through the region conquering nation after nation, but here the people of God are not overcome by the might and the posturing of any worldly superpower.  Instead, they themselves overcome.  In the warfare of God, His people become His instruments.

Look at the text again.  He bends Judah- that’s the old southern Hebrew kingdom.  He bends Judah like a bow and Ephraim, representing the old northern kingdom, He makes His arrows.  When the Lord marches forth, the weapons of His warfare are His own people.  Here’s an important corrective to passivity and indifference in the Christian life to thinking that you can be a passenger in the church of Jesus Christ.  God works sovereignty and omnipotently and freely to be sure; the Lord reigns and He does whatever He pleases. And yet, He is pleased to work through His people to use His people.  The cosmic warfare of the kingdom of God with the kingdom of darkness rages all around us every day and we need to realize we are not civilian bystanders caught up in the conflict; we are combatants in the Lord’s army.  Certainly the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh.  They have divine power for destroying strongholds.  “We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God and take every thought captive to obey Christ” - 2 Corinthians 10:4-5.  “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.  Therefore take up the whole armor of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all to stand firm” - it’s a call to arms.  There’s a war on.  Are you engaged on the front line or have you signed a truce?  You are God’s instruments.  You are combatants in the Lord’s army in the spiritual conflict between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness, between the reign of grace and the perverse wickedness of the world.  So Zechariah encourages the returned exiles in Jerusalem of his own day with a bold declaration that they will share in the victory of God one day.  He’s going to triumph and He’s going to use them to do it.  They are going to participate in His victory.  They will be conquerors along with their conquering God. 

God’s People as Crowns

But more than that, he says, they will also be crowns.  Verses 16 and 17 - “On that day the LORD their God will save them, as the flock of his people; for like the jewels of a crown they shall shine on his land. For how great is his goodness, and how great his beauty!”  Did you hear that?  When God saves His people they become to Him like jewels of a crown.  Isn’t that beautiful?  When God saves His people they become to Him like jewels in His crown, shining on His land - precious, beautiful.  Now don’t misunderstand.  The point here is not that God will make much of us; it’s not so much that we become diamonds that He’s just got to have - “You’re so beautiful.  Look at you!” It is rather that we come to display, to manifest His majesty.  That’s what the psalmist says.  “They shall shine like jewels of a crown on his land.  For how great is his goodness, how great his beauty!”  We become adornments manifesting, displaying to the world, the beauty and glory and sovereignty and grace of our conquering Warrior-God.  The church displays God’s glory and makes His greatness known.  That’s what we are for. 

So God’s enemies are destroyed and delivered, God’s people are both conquerors and crown, and the question that Zechariah 9 really raises for us is “How can it be that both war and peace, both wrath and grace, both condemnation and consolation can sit together so comfortably here?”  There’s a seamless transition from the theme of judgment in 1 to 6 to the theme of mercy in 7 to 8.  Zechariah doesn’t even pause for breath when he moves from the strong declaration of God’s conquest of the nations in 11 to 15 to his celebration of the place of God’s people as they display His glory at the end of the chapter.  How can these positive and negative themes sit together so very comfortably? 

III. Christ the Coming King: Where Condemnation and Consolation Meet

Well the answer is bound up in verses 9 and 10.  “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”  The first eight verses ringing with this theme of military conquest would lead us to anticipate the words of verse 14 - “The LORD will appear over them and his arrow will go forth like lightning,” and so on.  This theme of conquest and this picture of the Warrior-God, they sit together so very well.  But Zechariah doesn’t immediately go there, does he?  Instead he goes, verse 9, to Zion’s king, “righteous and having salvation, humble, sitting on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”  It’s an image of peace, not war, of peacetime rule, not wartime mobilization.  It seems so incongruous in a context filled with the difficult themes of violent judgment inflicted on the nations that surround it. 

It’s really not until Matthew 21 and John 12 that the incongruities of Zechariah chapter 9 begin to resolve.  Only in the Gospel records of the life of Christ do we understand how all of this fits together.  Matthew 21 and John 12 are the Gospel accounts of the triumphal entry where this text is quoted as being fulfilled as Jesus, riding on a donkey, enters the gates of Jerusalem.  He was there acclaimed “Son of David” by the crowds, remember, on loud “Hosannas.”  And it was He, the Lord Jesus, who took up Zechariah’s language in verse 11 sitting at the Passover table on the night when He was betrayed.  He said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”  It was on the basis of the blood of the covenant, Zechariah said, that the Warrior-God would save His people and use them in His service.  And so Jesus was nailed to the tree.  On His brow was set a crown of thorns, over His head the mocking declaration, “The King of the Jews.”  And yet the crown and the sign proclaimed much more than they knew, didn’t they?  At the cross, in the emulation of the Son of God, the blood of the covenant was shed by which sinners are saved.  There, He dethroned the rulers and authorities and the supernatural powers of this present darkness, putting them to open shame, triumphing over them in the cross - Colossians 2:14 and 15.  In Jesus the tension of the text, wrath and mercy, judgment and grace, justice and deliverance, celebration and conquest, in Jesus the tension of the text is resolved.  Both come together, don’t they, at Calvary.  In Him, wrath and mercy meet; judgment and grace.  He is the one who embodies humility, emptying Himself, “becoming obedient to death, even the death of the cross,” Philippians 2 and verse 8, and yet He is the One who conquers the world, defeating death in His resurrection.  God has seated Him, Ephesians 1:20 and 21, at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.  Jesus wins!  He rules and reigns!  He has made conquest of the world and He is the victor and He has triumphed by the cross. 

A Call to Escape Judgment and Flee to Christ

That means two things as we close.  First it means if we are not Christians this evening, Zechariah has been telling us about coming judgment yet he’s also been telling us about an offer of mercy, about a way of escape, about the possibility of deliverance.  And here in verses 9 and 10 we find out how it can be yours.  It can be yours by faith in the King who came to Zion to die for sinners and to shed His blood of the covenant to make you His.  Trust in Christ.

A Call to Participate in the Conquest of the Nations with a Servant’s Posture

And secondly, if we are Christians, Zechariah has been calling us to participate in the Lord’s conquest of the nations.  And yet here in verses 9 and 10 we learn the manner of that conquest.  It is to be constrained by the pattern of our Savior’s conquest.  How did He win the victory?  How did He triumph over the rulers and authorities and principalities and powers?  “He did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped.  He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted Him, therefore God has highly exalted Him and given Him the name over every name that at His name every knee should bow on earth and under the earth and in the sea and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”  He wins.  He reigns.  He triumphs.  How?  By taking the servant posture and by giving Himself for others.

How do we participate in His victory and in the great conquest of the Savior that He is prosecuting through the Gospel in the world?  We do it the way He did it, by taking the servant posture, by coming in humility and giving ourselves for others.  Our weapons are not carnal but spiritual and mighty for pulling down strongholds.  It’s not by boycotts and lobby groups and political action that the kingdom of God advances, is it?  It is by selfless sacrifice, by loving service, and by Gospel witness in the mold and pattern of the crucified Lord.  The Lord Jesus will use His people as His weapons but every one of those weapons is cross-shaped.  Our lives are to be cruciform, cross-shaped, bearing the imprint of likeness to the Savior who gave Himself for us.  We are to go and give ourselves for others.  Would you pray with me?

Our Father, we praise You for the Lord Jesus who, by the blood of His covenant, has purchased for Himself a people from every tribe and language and nation so that the Philistines might be as a clan in Judah and Ekron like the Jebusites, so that we, who once were aliens and strangers and foreigners to Your people may now be the people of God, grafted in by Your grace.  As we see our Savior’s selfless sacrifice and as we hear the call to arms and to labor in the conquest of the nations with the Gospel ourselves, help us to follow the model and pattern our Savior has set and to give ourselves for the good of those around us.  For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.

Please stand and receive the benediction.

And now may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God our Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all now and forevermore.  Amen.

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