Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass. 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 command peace to the nations; his dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.
When Jesus entered Jerusalem publicly for the last time, he did it in a way that very consciously fulfilled the prophesy of Zechariah 9:9. He sends two of his disciples to get the young donkey to ride on, and Matthew tells us very plainly in Matthew 21:4–5, "This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet." Then he quotes part of Zechariah 9:9, "Tell the daughter of Zion, Behold, your king is coming to you humble, and mounted on an ass, even on a colt the foal of an ass."
From Pre-Easter Darkness to Light
One other gospel writer tells us that this was a fulfillment of prophecy, namely, John. In John 12:15 he quotes part of Zechariah 9:9 and then explains to us honestly that the disciples did not know what was going on at the time. He says, "His disciples did not understand this at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that this had been written of him and had been done to him." In other words, after the resurrection of Jesus and his Ascension to the Father in heaven, a lot of things began to fall into place about what Jesus had really meant by the things he did and said.
It's like reading a good novel. In the early chapters you wonder why this character was introduced and what that comment means and why the person did this or that. But when the last chapter unfolds, everything falls into place. That's the way it was for the apostles after the resurrection. Lights went on everywhere. There must have been a hundred ah-ha experiences. "So that's what he meant when he said . . . "
- "Destroy this temple, and in three days I build it again."
- "If a seed falls into the ground and dies it bears much
- "The stone which the builders rejected has become the head
of the corner."
- "A little while and you will see me no more; again a little
while and you will see me."
- "If David calls him Lord, how is he is son?"
And not only did the words and actions of Jesus shine with new meaning in the light of the resurrection of Jesus, so did the Old Testament. John says this donkey act simply went over their heads. But later the passage in Zechariah 9:9 flamed with personal significance when they realized that they had witnessed its actual fulfillment in the life of Jesus.
Now where are you in your understanding of the prophets? Are you still scratching your head in a kind of before Easter darkness or are you standing in the light with the apostles now that Jesus is glorified to the Father's right hand? Well, the answer is, I suspect, both. There are things puzzling and hard to catch on to in the prophets—partly because they have not happened yet and we don't know the exact way that they will. But also partly because we have not gone back and pondered the prophets from the standpoint of what we now know about their fulfillment in Jesus.
Zechariah's Future and Ours
That's what I want to do this morning. Let's let Zechariah tell us about the meaning of Palm Sunday by going back to his prophecy and reading it in the light of its fulfillment in Jesus. I hope that you will see before we are done that this is not irrelevant to our situation today in 1989 America. When God inspired Zechariah 500 years before Christ to see his entry into Jerusalem, he also inspired him to see thousands of years beyond that to another day of worldwide reign and worldwide peace. It is very crucial we see how these two visions are related—one in verse 9 and one in verse 10. Palm Sunday has to do not just with Zechariah's future, but with our future too.
God's Goal for Our Joy
First, let's look at Zechariah 9:9.
The verse begins with a command to rejoice! "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!" Zion is another name for Jerusalem. So Zechariah is repeating himself for emphasis. And "daughter of Zion" and "daughter of Jerusalem" mean the people of Zion and Jerusalem. The offspring of this holy city.
Of course you might say, "Well I am not part of the daughter of Jerusalem, so this is not something for me to get excited about." Are you sure? You know Paul said something very strange and wonderful in Galatians 4 about Jerusalem being the mother of all Christians. We don't have time to go into that. But don't rule yourself out yet. This text is going to reach out and get you included one way or the other before we are done with verse 10.
The point we need to get a hold of here is that God's final goal—God's plan for his people—is joy. And he heightens the expectation of that joy by saying its GREAT joy—"Rejoice greatly [exceedingly], O daughter of Zion!" And he heightens it again by saying that the kind of joy he has in mind is a shouting joy. "Shout aloud [or shout triumphantly]"—it's a word used for trumpet blasts and victory shouts.
I won't press this any further because "Irrevocable Joy" is the theme of next Sunday's message. And because next Sunday evening is the Festival of the Resurrection. But let me say a week in advance that these two lines are one of the reasons we need periodic festivals in our lives. Paul says, "Rejoice always." But we don't always go around shouting; we could more than we do! But it helps to have some special times made just for that kind of release.
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
That is God's goal for us and our destiny beyond all the misery and sin of this world.
What God Will Do to Make His People Rejoice
Now the rest of the text is the basis of this joy. What will God do to make the daughter of Jerusalem rejoice? Here is where the prophecy begins.
The next line of verse 9 says, "Lo, your king comes to you."
A King That Makes People Happy Is Coming
One very important point is obvious from these few words, "Lo, your king comes to you." It's obvious that when he comes, he will make the daughter of Jerusalem happy. Or to put it another way he is the kind of king who makes his people shout for joy.
He is not a Nero who fiddles while Rome burns. He is not a Marcos who lives in lavish luxury while his land languishes in poverty. He is not an Ayatollah that shames his citizens. He is the kind of king that will make the daughter of Jerusalem, the offspring of Zion, leap for joy. Children will sing hosanna. Old men will dream dreams. Slave girls will prophesy. The blind see. The lame walk. The deaf hear. The lepers are cleansed. The poor have good news preached to them. Zechariah commands the daughter of Zion to "shout for joy," because the king is coming. So he must be the kind of king that makes people happy.
Now how does he do that? Why is it such good news that this king is coming? Why isn't it frightening and fearful?
He Is Righteous
The next lines give the answer. The RSV says, "Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he." Focus on these two words for a moment. The NASB says, "He is just and endowed with salvation." The NIV says, "Righteous and having salvation."
The first word is indeed "righteous" or "just." The reason the RSV often translates this word with "triumphant" is because it is so often used in the sense of "successfully standing up for what is right." That implies victory for the oppressed and the innocent. In other words God's righteousness does imply victory because he is God. But I think we do best to keep the meaning "righteous" or "just" so that we don't miss the intention that God's victories are accomplished in his righteousness.
So the first thing Zechariah says about this coming king is that he is righteous. He will stand victoriously on the side of right—on the side of the innocent and the faithful—the ones who have waited in faith and patience like old Simeon and Anna—the ones who have stood true to God's word. "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." In other words, the righteous king coming from heaven will bless those whom the world has cursed because they stood for the righteousness of God. And so Jesus, just like Zechariah, says, "Rejoice in that day and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven" (Matthew 5:12).
That's the first reason the coming of this king is good news. That's the first way he makes people happy. He is righteous—he is not wicked. He stands up for those whom the world thought were crazy in their commitment to love and lowliness and justice. The tables will be turned, the righteous and the lowly will be vindicated. And they will rejoice!
He Is Gentle and Humble
The second way he makes the daughter of Jerusalem happy is found in this other word. The RSV translates it "victorious." The NASB, "endowed with salvation." And the NIV, "having salvation." The Hebrew word is literally "saved." This form of the word is used two other times in the Old Testament. Psalm 33:16, "A king is not saved by his great army." And Deuteronomy 33:29, "Who is like you, O Israel, a people saved by the Lord?" But to call the coming Messiah "saved" is so strange that most translators just can't accept it. How would it inspire joy and worship for the king if he were described as "saved"? It doesn't sound strong and mighty.
What would your answer be? Mine is: that's the whole point of verse 9. The king is not coming mainly as a strong warrior but as a gentle peacemaker. He is strong. But he is not strong in the sense of being bossy or hard or loud or fierce or cruel. That's the point of the next two lines.
Humble, and riding on an ass,
on a colt the foal of an ass.
He is humble not arrogant or pushy. The word is often used for afflicted as well as meek. And if he is afflicted and meek, it may not be so strange that he would need to be rescued or saved from some affliction or danger or attack.
He Comes as a Peacemaker
And riding on a donkey—what does that mean? Well coming right after the word "humble" it surely reinforces the idea of being lowly and meek. He isn't mainly interested in a big show that exploits the people for his own ego.
But the ass was not as despised then as it is now. In the Old Testament kings and kings' sons did ride now and then on asses. But they did not ride on asses when they were going into war. Then they rode on warhorses. The ass was an animal for peacetime—for work time—not for war. What the donkey stands for, then, is that this king is coming not only as a humble man, but as a peacemaker.
In Luke 19:41, right after the entry into Jerusalem on the donkey, it says, "And when he drew near and saw the city he wept over it, saying, 'Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace!'" That shows, I think, that his choice of a donkey to enter the city was like coming in under a white flag—not of surrender, but of desire to make peace.
And if that weren't enough, just a few verses earlier in Luke 19:38 Luke tells us that the people were shouting, "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!" I think Luke wants to make plain in the way he tells the story that Jesus was coming on the donkey mainly as a peacemaker. And not just peace on earth between man and man, but also peace in heaven between God and man. "Peace in heaven!" they cried. Let God in heaven be at peace with his people!
So what Jesus meant when he chose that donkey to ride on was this: I am meek and lowly in heart; I am approachable; you can find rest for your souls here; I am not against you, I am for you; I did not come to condemn but to save; I come on behalf of God, my Father in heaven, to reconcile you to him—to make peace between you and your Maker.
Now how did Jesus make peace between sinful people and a holy God? Colossians 1:20 says that he made peace "by the blood of his cross." Jesus died to make peace between God and sinners. Looking back from this side of Good Friday and Easter we can see all that in the words, "Lo, your king comes to you; righteous . . . humble and riding on an ass." He is righteous, which means he can be our righteous substitute and fulfill all that we have failed to do. He is humble or afflicted, which means he is willing to be rejected and despised and beat up and killed for others. And he is riding on an ass, which means that he wants to make peace not war, and that this is why he gives himself up to death.
Does the King Need to Be "Saved"?
But now what about the word "saved" in the line that says, "Lo, your king comes to you; righteous and saved"? I said that translators reject it because the context seems to demand something more powerful, more regal. So they say, "Having salvation," or "victorious." But is it true that the context demands something powerful and regal? I suggest that the context points to the possibility that this humble king bearing tidings of peace on a simple donkey may indeed be treated in such a way that he needs to be saved—not from his own sin, but from ours. He will need to be saved from our scoffing and our smiting and our murder. How do you get saved after you've been murdered?
Peter gives the answer in a sermon preached seven weeks after the death and resurrection of Jesus. He says to a crowd in Jerusalem, "You killed Jesus by the hand of lawless men. But God raised him up, having loosed the pangs of death because it was not possible for him to be held by it." In other words, God saved Jesus from the grave. He loosed the pangs of death. So Jesus was saved. (See Psalm 16:10=Acts 2:27; Isaiah 53:12.)
No, it does not sound powerful and regal in Zechariah 9:9 when the coming king is described as righteous and saved. But it is not supposed to. It's supposed to sound humble and peaceable. What the humility of Jesus means is that he was willing to be so afflicted and so abused and so defeated that he needed saving.
And because God saved him from death and raised him up alive forever, he can now save anybody. He comes to you this morning as a peacemaker. He has laid down his life so that he might make you a genuine offer of reconciliation. He doesn't want there to be a barrier between you and him. He doesn't want hostility or indifference to stand in the way. He has come farther toward you in his humility than you could ever go toward him. And there is still time in your life to hear Jesus say, "O that they knew the terms of peace."
Are We Included in This Hope?
Yet you may say again, am I included here? Is this not some strange 2,500 year old Jewish prophecy that really has no relevance to my modern life at all? To give one last answer to that, we look very briefly at verse 10 to get one point from all the things we might talk about. It says,
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 command peace to the nations;
and his dominion shall be from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
Here is the one point for you personally this morning: this king, who came in humility to Jerusalem about 1,959 years ago riding on a donkey of peace, now reigns in heaven and commands peace to all the nations. That means America and that means you. His reign begins humbly in Jerusalem, but then it spreads to all Judea and then to Samaria and then to the ends of the earth.
There is no people or tribe or tongue or nation excluded from his command to make peace with God through Jesus Christ. And therefore I can, with great confidence and even the authority of God's Word, say to every one of you Gentiles this morning far away from Jerusalem, he is reaching out to you with peace this morning. He loves peace and hates war. He loves peace and hates hostility. He loves to bring near and hates it when there is distance and enmity and bitterness and unbelief separating you from God.
I give you one last incentive to make peace with him this morning. It says, "His dominion shall be from sea to sea." This humble, righteous, killed, and saved and peacemaking king will one day, and perhaps very soon, come back to the earth as ruler over all the nations. There will be a judgment and only those who received the terms of peace will enter his kingdom.
In the meantime king Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth and commands all men everywhere to repent and believe in him. You are very clearly included in this word from God this morning and it is utterly important that you settle things with God today.