9 : 9 - 17
In Zechariah chapter 9 we come across a familiar passage because it is part of the Christmas story. In our Christmas Carol Services we read this part of Scripture every year. Your king comes to you…righteous and having salvation…gentle and riding on a donkey. Nativity plays re-enact this description. This is a prophesy of the Messiah which came true with Jesus. It is an accurate picture of what actually happened when Jesus entered Jerusalem. The shouting and rejoicing also happened as we know crowds welcomed Jesus and waved palm branches. These words were spoken in 618 BC however. How conscious was Zechariah of prophesying about the Messiah? Was he instead looking forward to the restoration of a good and divinely called monarch for Jerusalem and Judah, if not in his own time, then certainly in the future?
Scholars today also make the point that Jesus read the Old Testament. He knew this passage. It is where the idea to enter Jerusalem on a donkey came from. Jesus saw what was expected and put it into practice. He acted out the part of the expected Messiah. But he did not reign in Jerusalem in peace. The kernel of prophecy is there however. Zechariah foretold a peaceful righteous powerfully saving kingly figure who would arrive in Jerusalem. He, like the other Old Testament prophets, had an inkling of a coming Messiah without understanding the full implications of what would happen. It is easy for us in 2009 to recognise Jesus as the One in question even although many orthodox Jews do not and still await this messiah as described in Zechariah.
Zechariah does not prophesy that his kingly figure will perish cruelly after his entry to Jerusalem. He does however continue to preach this vision of peace and prosperity for the returning Jewish exiles. This kingly figure it seems as if by magic or divine power without fighting battles and wars will establish peace in the middle near east region. A large area is described from Iraq to the Mediterranean. It is not a subjugation or a well organised empire. It is a state of peace. Has it ever happened? The answer is that at the physical and political level it did not happen. After 618 BC there were many wars and battles and invasions of what we call The Holy Land.
The Persian Empire and then that of Alexander the Great of Greece were followed by Egyptian and Seleucid rule. Seleucids were not characters from Dr Who or Star Trek - they were from north of Phoenicia in what we would now call Turkey. Then came the Romans who were there in the time of Jesus. In 70 AD they flattened Jerusalem and ploughed it over. In later centuries the Islamic world captured Jerusalem leading to the Crusades. It was not until 1948 that a Jewish state was re-established. Today Jews and Muslims fight over Jerusalem still.
But that is not the whole story of Zechariah’s prophecy. The vision of global or continental peace was fulfilled in and through the Christian mission. This kingdom as Jesus said was not identical to a political kingdom and did not depend on force of arms. But it certainly spread throughout the ancient near and middle east across west Asia and into what we call Europe - and it did so rapidly creating an international community of salvation, righteousness and peace. In the middle of the 4th century AD this community became identified with the Roman Empire in its last decades when Constantine, the Roman Empire declared Christianity to be the Roman Empire’s official Faith.
To this day that association continues in the Roman Catholic Church based in the ancient capital of the Roman Empire - Rome. Now - it is clearly seen to be a community of Faith and part of the wider larger community of Christian faith which includes many other Christian churches and denominations stretching to every part of the earth. A great fracture took place at The Reformation but even so - all Christians today are united at a spiritual level under the name of Jesus Christ. I doubt that Zechariah had any idea of such a phenomenon occurring. That is no shame. He did glimpse a vision of the rudimentary embryonic kingdom of peace that would actually come about. And the miracle is that it did - in Jesus Christ - it actually happened. Only - so much more did because Jesus was the Son of God as well as being the Jewish Messiah.
Verses 11 and 12 have a more immediate relevance to the returned exiles. Jews kept in prison under Babylonian rule will be freed. They are called “prisoners of hope”. They are signs of a good future already being organised by God for His people and so they are prisoners with hope too as a consequence of their own trust and faith in God. As prisoners they had lost everything, homes, farms, cattle, money, families. But they are to be indemnified and have their goods restored just as many Jews received compensation for losses incurred during the 2nd World War and the Holocaust. This is still happening. Jewish families can still claim art treasures and antiques and funds held in Swiss banks that belonged to their families who lived in Germany during the nineteen thirties and forties. Is it not amazing and extraordinary that even this part of Zechariah’s message should still be coming true 2600 years and more after he spoke and wrote it.
There is a warning also about Greece contained in Verse 13. The distant prospect of war is not excluded at the end. Verses 14 - 17 represents inspirational preaching. The people will see the visible effect of the presence of God in their midst. It is not like Joel’s prophesy of the Day of Pentecost which foretold the pouring out of divine power on men, women and children - something that actually happened at the birth of the Christian Church. But it is a vision of realised relationship with God - a dynamic personal experience for many which works.
That is what we recognise and celebrate today. The living God still speaks to individuals, deals with us, calls us and enables us to prosper in faith and Christian life. God is alive in our midst. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead for you and for me. The Holy Spirit is moving in this place. Renewal and revival is there for the offering and accepting. It is us who are sleepy and bored and demotivated and lazy. It is not that the Lord is not willing to save. The Lord will appear over them says Zechariah. We recognise the presence of God in each other’s lives. The Lord their God will save them. We see people coming to faith and being saved. They will sparkle in this land like jewels in a crown. Spiritual sparkling is something you can see in real Christians. They have a light about them shining through their eyes. Christians still light up the land wherever they are. It is Christ’s light they are reflecting. There is no other comparable but many live in spiritual darkness in our country today. How attractive and beautiful they will be - Zechariah is not talking about physical beauty but the beauty of living to please God and the effects of a sincere Christian commitment. And to crown it all there will be no shortages of the necessities of life. So much grain that will make the men strong and non-alcoholic wine to make the women fertile.
Zechariah is so inspirational that you want to give three cheers. But at its heart are simple truths. If you seek God you will find God. If you love God, much good will come of it. If you decide to follow Jesus you will have an exciting and fulfilling life. If you continue in faith and are not discouraged, you will be filled with the blessings of the Holy Spirit and the powers of heaven.
And in Christianity there is an even greater vision which stretches beyond this earthly life and journey into eternal life and beyond. For if there are many blessings on earth which accompany the Christian life, there are more to come in the hereafter. Just try to compare for example, the life of Jesus on earth with His life in heaven now.
On earth Jesus struggled and battled against evil, indifference, disbelief and rejection. Even so, he quietly triumphed and established His spiritual kingdom among his disciples. Our Christian life is not so different from His. We have to struggle also with ourselves, our relationships and circumstances to be true to our faith calling. Our Christianity is often hidden from view for we are indistinguishable from others as we walk down the street.
But Jesus is triumphantly risen from our physical death and His life in heaven far exceeds the limitations of human life on earth. So it will be for us. Our Christian baptism and profession of faith is part of the life and existence of God and of Jesus Himself. It will not die with us here on earth but will live forever as Jesus lives forever.
That is why it is a great thing to be a Christian - immeasurably great - with the greatness of the living God in Jesus Christ our Lord.