April 1, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“[Jesus said]: ‘Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.’”
“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.” For centuries, the Lord’s people had heard these words proclaimed to them. Zechariah’s prophecy had spoken of a king who would come to the capital city of Israel. Kings had come and gone in Jerusalem throughout the centuries. But the level of monarchy and regality had been on a downward angle. The kings of Israel had started with Saul, soon followed by David and Solomon. That was the zenith. After that, a series of kings ruled over a divided nation, one that had devolved into rivalries and religious indifference and impiety.
By the time Zechariah came with the message about a coming king, Israel was no more. Samaria, the Northern Kingdom, had been absorbed into the Assyrian Empire. Judah, the Southern Kingdom, had fallen to Babylon. There was no king in Jerusalem. The line had ended with the exile. Only the foreign, pagan rulers of the East exerted authority. The kings that the descendants of Israel knew were tyrants, conquerors who had to be served. And yet, the Lord’s divine promise remained. A pledge that an heir to David’s throne would arise had been given.
It is that divine promise which is the foundation of Zechariah’s prophecy. He calls the exiled people of Israel and those who were left under oppression in the homeland to rejoice: “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.” A king is coming! But not just any king—“your king,” your ruler, one who belongs to you. He is bringing benefits for you: “righteousness and salvation.” He is not a tyrant full of pompous glory, but is “humble and mounted on a donkey.”
The prophet reveals more details about this coming king. His rule is going to be great and restorative as he fulfills the Lord’s will: “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.” The exile will be brought to an end: “As for you also, because of the blood of My covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.” All things will be made good, right, and whole again: “Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.” That is the king whom the Lord’s people were to expect and receive with great joy.
This prophecy speaks about Jesus, the Messiah. He is the fulfiller of the divine promises made through Zechariah. Those promises set the agenda for what He accomplishes on earth. So as Jesus goes up to Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, He acts according to what the Lord had spoken: “The next day the large crowd that had come to the Feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet Him, crying out: ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’ And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written: ‘Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!’” The actions of that day were signs given to draw people’s minds back to the divine promise that had been made. The people were to recall what the expected Messiah was to bring to them: joy, righteousness, salvation, an end to war, a proper rule, restoration.
But Jesus does not limit Himself to signs. He also speaks about what He is going to do: “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself.” This is the fulfillment of the divine promises. It is the purpose of Jesus’ presence in the world: “Now is My soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.”
So what is it that Jesus is meant to accomplish? What is this matter of casting out the ruler of this world? What is the lifting up that He speaks about? Jesus is discussing the matter of His death for the life of the world. He is talking about what His act of redemption is meant to achieve. Jesus brings judgment to the world: with His presence, righteousness is now standing in direct contrast to the world’s evil. Jesus is bringing order to the world: with His presence, the rightful King of heaven and earth is taking back authority from Satan, the ancient usurper. Jesus is bringing faith to the world: with His presence, people are led away from the wandering into the ways of unrighteousness and are drawn to Him.
But how is this accomplished? Jesus’ words speak to that: “when I am lifted up from the earth”. The Gospel Writer provides the understanding of this statement: “He said this to show by what kind of death He was going to die.” And there is the unique nature of Jesus’ work: His rule begins with an act that looks impotent and weak. He brings righteousness and salvation, but it is accomplished by acting in full humility. It is described in the apostle’s words about Jesus: “who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
A marker is put down at Jesus’ crucifixion: here is the true Ruler of all things and He is reversing the damage that had been done to His world. The damage had been done from early days. Death had been brought into Creation, where only life had been. Exile from Paradise was imposed. Mankind was removed from being the Lord’s steward to Satan’s serf. An impostor was exerting rule. Enmity runs through the generations of humanity. But this was coming to an end with Jesus’ presence: “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.” It is done through His crucifixion, the act of redemption for which we praise Jesus “who accomplished the salvation of mankind by the tree of the cross that, where death arose, there life also might rise again and that the serpent who overcame by the tree of the garden might likewise by the tree of the cross be overcome.”
In the humility that is shown in Jesus’ crucifixion, divine glory does shine through. He dies. And yet, that is how life is given. He serves. And yet, that is how His rule begins. He is victimized. And yet, that is how victory is achieved. So Jesus says: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Jesus comes as humble king, but He does bring righteousness and salvation with Him, just as Zechariah had promised. It is how He delivers the promised benefits to the people.
This is how you are delivered. Jesus’ dying is cuts off the assaults of sin and death from you. You suffer from these, but Jesus gives you victory over them in everlasting life. Jesus’ atoning sacrifice brings divine peace. You are no longer ostracized from God. His redemptive act achieves freedom for you. You are set free from bondage from sin and slavery to Satan. His serving as substitute for all mankind restores you to your rightful place. You are again declared to be recipients of the Lord’s favor that grants both temporal and eternal blessing. The fruit that Jesus’ death bears are all the benefits of salvation that are given to you, the citizens of His eternal kingdom.
That is what the promised king has brought to you. He came in humility, but bringing righteousness and salvation for you. It was accomplished by His obedience unto death, even death on the cross. He was lifted up from the earth, a few feet from the ground in crucifixion. But Jesus has also been glorified much more—in His resurrection and ascension: “Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” That’s the rule that your humble King now possesses in His glory.
What was promised has come to pass. The seed was planted and died, but it bears much fruit. Jesus’ soul was troubled, but He has brought comfort for yours. Jesus was lifted up on the cross, but has drawn you to Himself. The darkness of death seemed to snuff out the light, but it still shines so that you may be led by it. The hour for Jesus’ glorification has come and you are called to share in it. So rejoice on this day and this week, even as you hear of the suffering that your King has undergone for your sake. For your now Risen and Glorious King is still coming to you—righteous, having salvation, and giving you a place where He rules for eternity.
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.