6th Sermon in the Path for Discipleship series
Given on Palm Sunday
Zechariah 9, Matthew 21:1-11
Have you ever found yourself amazed when you understand the lyrics of a song for the first time? You are familiar with the tune. You may have sung this tune, and, I’m just guessing here, made up your own lyrics when you didn’t know the real ones. The power of music is that something can stay in our mind, even if lyric’s substance is not worth keeping. It doesn’t go away easily.
Zechariah 9 is an oracle. An oracle is an utterance from God, often through a medium, in this case, the prophet. It is like many of our songs in that we might not understand all of the words, or what the author meant by a specific line. But like a well loved song, we get a feel for what is happening.
There are three headings in the New International version for this chapter: Judgment on Israel’s enemies, The Coming of Zion’s King, and The LORD will appear. These headings are not the Scripture themselves, but the translation committee’s attempt to summarize passages in the Bible. These accurately portray the feel of the chapter. We might not remember the specific words of this chapter after today’s service, but the impression speaks to important matters that stay with us.
As a Christian, I read back into this Hebrew Scripture, and I feel that the three headings speak to the Trinity: That God is the Judge, Jesus Christ is the Coming King, and LORD appears, at least in this age, when the Spirit of God is at work.
Matthew, in his story of the Triumphal entry, references Zechariah 9. The story of the Triumphal Entry is one about judgment, Jesus as King, and the appearance of the LORD among people who may or may not be attentive to what God is doing.
Judgment is one of those electric words. Is “do not judge lest you be judged” the most quoted Scripture by people, whether believer, skeptic or enemy? The word judgment might send nervous shivers within you. People don’t like the word. I think people may have missed the mark.
Webster’s defines judgment as “a formal utterance of an authoritative opinion”. At its simplest form, when God pronounces judgment, he is simply announcing what he has the right and power to do. The meaning of the verb judge is “to form an opinion about through careful weighing of evidence and testing of premises”. When a judge judges, she is weighing the testimony against other testimony.
As people of faith, informed by Scripture, judgment could really be called, Our Good God’s Good judgment. Nothing God does is evil or wrong or harmful. All that God does is good and light and life-giving. So when God pronounces judgment, it is because judgment is needed.
Why wouldn’t we want anything that attempts to threaten the reign of God to be judged? Evil, death, sin, rebellion against God and God’s people: these are things that all of us want gone. The world will be better on that day when God pronounces judgment against all that separates us from our good God.
In Scripture, some of the words associated with God and judgment include “righteous, true, and just”. Some of the Biblical language associated with humans and judgment include
- All humans will be judged by God
- Judgment is what we face after death
- Judgment begins with God’s people, not unbelievers
Paul, in his second letter to the church in Corinth writes:
We make it our goal to please him, whether we are at
home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him or her, for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (5:9-10)
If you have placed your faith in Jesus Christ, you will not face God’s wrath when you stand for judgment. He will look at us through the love for his Son. We can leave those doubts of wonder if I will get into heaven: you will if you believe in Jesus. But we must also acknowledge that this doesn’t mean we won’t be judged. We will give account of our lives: not in an attempt to please God enough for him to let us into heaven, but as an answer of all the life and goodness that God has displayed to us. We won’t receive wrath due for our sins if we are in Christ, but we will receive judgment for all that we do as a Christian. This reality should motivate our words, our actions, our thoughts, our prayers, our care. This reality should be with us in the board room and the cubicle, the grocery store aisle and the mall, at home and at meal. Our words, our actions, our thoughts, our prayers can bring glory to God.
Zechariah’s Oracle mentions attempts to thwart the power of God and to harm God’s people. Many of those names of tribes and groups no longer exist. Someday, all that we see around us that attempts to separate from God will no longer exist. It will undergo judgment from God. That is a really good thing. An example from the Iron Men’s Bible Study a few weeks ago was the growing awareness within the Church about the importance of taking care of the environment. If there is something that destroys what God has created, and God were to pronounce judgment upon that, and have it cease to exist, isn’t that a good thing?
Palm Sunday is a pronouncement from God that he loves his Son, and that his Son will reign as King. And all that which separates us from God was put on notice that day. That first Palm Sunday, there were people who wondered what was going on: What’s all the noise? What’s all that racket about? Who is that? The crowds say. The reply is “It is Jesus the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee”. The message of Christ as King is a bold message that evokes questions and response from people. When people consider this congregation, this use of space, are they seeing Jesus Christ lifted up as King? Are they asking the question of that first crowd: what’s happening here? Who is that one in the center receiving all the attention and praise? If all that our congregation is and does was put into song, would the lyrics be recognizable to people? Would they get the feel that we are lifting up Jesus as King?
During Lent, we have been talking about spiritual disciplines. We highlight worship on Palm Sunday and Celebration on Easter Sunday. The events of Holy week detailed in Scripture should evoke a wide response of emotions. We have feelings of triumph on Palm Sunday, feelings of humility when Jesus clears the temple, feelings of wonder and awe as Jesus breaks bread with his disciples, feelings of sadness during betrayal and trial and crucifixion, feelings of gratitude when It is finished, feelings of a joy and newness of life that comes from resurrection, if we just have enough faith to enter in.
Worship is worth giving. We are to give God his worth. Ultimately, he alone is worthy. And so we give our worship through our triumphant songs, and our still tears, in uncertainty and in the defining moments of life. God is to be praised. Both in the future, and right now, today!
Part of our struggle as a church is that of low expectations. James writes, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” That is nice that you believe in God, but it really isn’t that special. We are called to love God with all of our heart, with all of our soul, with all of our mind and with all of our strength. And we are called to love God by loving our neighbor. Jesus taught us: “Love one another, by your love the world will know that you are my disciples”. And in God’s judgment, love will endure.
There are two directions for palms in the Scripture: Psalm 118 invites us to wave them as we enter in the festal procession. In the story of the Triumphal Entry, the people placed them on the ground for the King of Peace’s foal to walk upon. The Palms were used for praise, and for purpose.
These two directions: lifting up in praise and laying down with purpose are both important things to do. We celebrate our Good God who makes good judgment. We celebrate that Jesus is King. We celebrate the Lord’s appearing in this world.
You are called to believe. But belief requires a lifetime of devotion and energy and commitment. You don’t have to stay in a place where the demons are. You can enter into much more than that. You can praise and pray, lift up and lay down your palms. You can join in the song of the ages, that God is praised, that God be blessed for sending Jesus. If you don’t want to do that, that’s your choice. But please know that in that case, God has another for the job: if you don’t praise, then the stones will burst with praise.
And that rock song, will be one all the creation will understand.