Advent thoughts: December 23

“Behold, your King is coming to you, righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9—read Zechariah 9:9-12).

When Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem at the beginning of Holy Week, he was fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah. Of course, God did not create a checklist through Moses and the prophets and then begin figuring out how to accomplish all that he had said. God created time. God exists outside of time. God experiences all times at a glance. When Moses and the prophets spoke the Word of the Lord, their messages were already accomplished in the sight of God. The Holy Spirit reported the plan of salvation to Moses and the prophets as if it had already been accomplished in time. Therefore, they wrote in the past and present tenses about events that were still centuries in the future.

The donkey is a humble creature, a beast of burden. Having a king ride a donkey in a parade is equivalent to seeing an important leader today riding a bicycle in a parade. The humility of Jesus is reflected in his choice of a donkey, yet Jesus also exercised the royal privilege of riding an animal that had never been ridden before.

The prophet calls the King righteous. Jesus is perfectly righteous. He lived a pure and sinless life, never once breaking any of God’s commands. He loved his Father fully and trusted his Father completely. He loved the people around him and helped them in their needs. Jesus never used his power as the Son of God for his own benefit. In righteousness, he used his divine power to help others: to heal the sick, to feed the hungry, to calm storms, to cast out demons, and even to raise the dead. We view perfect love as we read about all the miracles Jesus worked to help others, and as we realize that he refused to use any of that power to help himself.

Jesus also has salvation. He rescues people in trouble. His healings and other miracles were part of his rescue mission, but they only paved the way for his greatest act of service. Jesus could fix anything that goes wrong with the body: eyes, ears, legs, and even minds. But his goal was to strike at the root of the problem—to overcome evil at his source. Therefore, Jesus took on the guilt for the sins of the world and carried them to the cross. He paid in full the penalty for all the sins of history. In the process, he defeated sin and evil, and in the end, he defeated death itself.

The full results of that victory will be experienced when Jesus is seen on the Day of the Lord. All the dead will be raised on that Day, and all will stand before his throne of Judgment. Every eye will see him, and every ear will hear his voice. No one will be blind or deaf. On that Day, the King will welcome into his kingdom all those who trust his promises. Those who looked elsewhere for salvation will be left standing in the darkness, outside the celebration of his kingdom.
“Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.” The price Jesus paid to redeem us is more than sufficient. We will not always be prisoners of sin and evil and death. Because of the price Jesus paid, we will celebrate his victory with him in his kingdom forever. Thanks be to God! J.

Palm Sunday and Holy Week

Most weeks consist of seven days, but Holy Week—the most important time in the Christian calendar—is eight days long. The first day of Holy Week is Palm Sunday, and the eighth day of Holy Week is Easter Sunday. The Gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John each devote at least one-third of their volume to these eight days.

As he was approaching Jerusalem to celebrate the holiday called Passover, Jesus sent two of his disciples into the suburbs to get a young donkey that had never been ridden. The donkey was so young that, according to Matthew and Mark, the disciples also brought its mother to Jesus. A donkey is a simple beast of burden, hardly fit for a king, but the privilege of being first to ride an animal is indeed the prerogative of kings. The prophet Zechariah had foretold that Jesus would enter Jerusalem in this way. He wrote, “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.”

Thousands of other people had come from Galilee to Jerusalem for Passover. Some of these people had heard Jesus preach and had seen some of the miracles he performed. Maybe the Galilean crowd included some who had eaten bread and fish when one boy provided his lunch and Jesus used the food to feed five thousand people. Maybe some of these Galileans had been healed by Jesus and others had friends or relatives who had been healed by Jesus.

The crowd gave Jesus a red-carpet treatment. They lined the road with their cloaks so the donkey would not get its feet dirty. Others cut branches from the trees to line the road, and still others waved branches in the air. John reports that some of the people waved palm branches, which is why the commemoration is called Palm Sunday. Palms do not grow in the hills of Jerusalem, but their branches can be obtained in the Jordan River valley near Jericho, and many of these travelers had passed through Jericho on the way to Jerusalem. The palm branch is a symbol of Israel, so waving a palm branch is like waving a flag at a parade today for the people of Israel.

The crowd also sang as Jesus entered Jerusalem in their midst. They sang “Hosanna,” a Hebrew word that means “Save us.” It had become a word of praise, since only the mighty can save others. The people sang, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” a quote from Psalm 118 that their teachers said refers to the Messiah. They sang about the King, the Son of David, other labels given to the Messiah. They openly declared their belief that Jesus was going to keep the promises God had made to Moses and the prophets, that he was going to redeem and rule the people of God. Some of the Pharisees in the crowd objected to the parade and the words the people were singing, but when the citizens of Jerusalem asked who was causing all this fuss, the Galileans told them, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.”

Jesus chose to enter the city of the Lord on a special day. He entered on the tenth day of the month of Nissan, a day of preparation for the coming Passover celebration. On this day, every family among God’s people was to take a lamb into their household and treat it as a pet for half a week. Then they would kill, cook, and eat this lamb. The death of this lamb would remind these families of the cost of their sins, but it would also remind them how God rescued his people from slavery and death in Egypt at the time of the first Passover. Jesus now began to fulfill the promise John the Baptist made when John pointed to Jesus and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” This is what Jesus came to Jerusalem to accomplish that week. J.