Text: Zechariah 9; John 12:12-19
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!
Thus, began the week of our Lord’s passion. Five days before the Passover, the true Passover Lamb rode into Jerusalem amidst shouts of praise and acclamation.
Our Lord rode into Jerusalem not like any king of the earth, but as the true Melchizedek – the true king of peace. He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to fulfill the Scriptures that were written about Him, and to bring peace to our distress and calm to our fears. He rode into Jerusalem to suffer and die, and – by His death – win for the whole world the forgiveness of sins. Today, as we enter into our Lord’s holy week, we focus on these words, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold your king is coming.” With these words from the prophet Zechariah, we are reminded that our king Jesus comes to calm our fears and bring peace to our distress by His own death and resurrection.
The text today takes place on a Sunday, five days before the Passover. St. John tells us this at the beginning of chapter 12, when he said, “Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.” If you know the Gospel, you remember that it was there that Lazarus’ sister Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with oil and wiped them with her hair. “The next day,” St. John says, “the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem.” Confessing their faith in Jesus, the crowd – some of whom witnessed the raising of Lazarus’ and thus believed – grabbed palm branches from the trees and spread them out. They sang praises to Jesus from Psalm 118, believing that He is the fulfillment of the promises God had made. Jesus then sat on a donkey to come in, just has it had been written in the prophet Zechariah.
When we heard this text last, it was from St. Matthew on the First Sunday of Advent. Matthew, likewise, cited this passage from the prophet. But, we didn’t spend time then speaking about it. Zechariah was one of the last prophets of the Old Testament. His ministry took place after the children of Israel had been returned from exile, but before the temple was rebuilt. It was a time of turmoil. The people of Israel were returned to Israel, but in their absence, others had moved in. These others did not take well to the Israelites returning, nor did they think highly of the God of Israel. In fact, they greatly opposed the rebuilding of Jerusalem and they caused God’s people much distress and fear. Zechariah’s ministry to the people was one of comfort. He reminded them that God had not forgotten them. And, even as His promise to return them to their home had been fulfilled, so, too, would His promise to give them a king.
Both Sts. Matthew and John cite this passage from Zechariah, but – by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – St. John makes a change to the text. The original text from Zechariah said, “Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion,” but John changed it to, “Fear not, daughter of Zion.” It’s not a huge change, but a purposeful one. Jesus, the true king of Israel, rode into Jerusalem to calm all fears and distress. What were the people of Israel afraid of then? You name it. Death, for one. Without modern medicine and care facilities, death was an ever-present reality. Poverty, that was a thing. Or, perhaps, when the faithful looked around – perhaps they were afraid, as in Zechariah’s day, that God had forgotten them. What are we afraid of? Probably the same things. Death, I’m sure; what about the way the world is headed? When it comes to money, we may not be destitute, but it often stretches thin. And what about church life? Are we afraid that we may be the last generation to worship in this place?
“Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming…righteous and having salvation is He.” These are the words our Lord has given us by the Holy Spirit. We hear these words again today, the day we celebrate what is called “The Triumphal Entry.” Jesus rode into Jerusalem amidst shouts of praise and acclamation. Not like any other king did He ride in though, but humbly and mounted on a donkey. Normally, a king would ride in victoriously on a war horse. Jesus’ horse was a donkey, and His victory was yet to be won. The battle He had come to fight was not against flesh and blood, against barbarians or armies, but against the devil, against sin and hell, and against the powers of death itself. The field of this battle would be the cross.
Not as any other king did Jesus ride in, but as the true king of peace, who would secure peace for the world by the sacrifice of His own body and blood. In just five days, shouts of praise would change to taunts and jeers. The waving palms would change to lashes and blows. The cloaks spread out on the road before Him would give way to His own clothes being torn from Him as He was nailed to the tree. And, all this He suffered willingly, most willingly. He suffered all these things and died, so that our sins might be forgiven and so that we might have peace. We’ll hear these words on Friday, “They made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence and there was no deceit in his mouth…Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied…[He shall] make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.”
Not as any other king did Jesus ride in, but as the true Melchizedek, the true king of peace. Jesus rode into Jerusalem to bring calm to our fears and peace to our distress. Just as all men have since the Fall of Adam, we also live beneath the shadow of death. As the consequence of sin, we will die; and this causes us to be afraid. By His death, Jesus made our death but a doorway to heaven. By His death, He atoned for our sins and secured for us forgiveness. Then, by His rising again, Jesus restored us eternal life. And, not only did Jesus rise from the dead, but He remains alive even now and – even now – remains with us. Not only is our fear of death conquered and calmed in Christ, but so is every fear and distress we now face. For, we now face all things having been united with Christ. That is what our Baptism means. In Baptism, we were united with Christ and He with us. He can no sooner abandon us than He can Himself.
Now, what does that mean? It means that all the situations in life that cause us distress and fear, we now face with Christ, and He with us. We live our lives as victors in Christ. And even though death may threaten with disaster, though our finances may go to the pot, we have a greater treasure in Christ our Lord. Not only does He remain with us in our lives, but He is here with us now. He has promised to be where two or three are gathered in His name and He is present for us in the blessed Sacrament. By His true body and blood, He binds up our wounds and strengthens our souls. St. John wrote, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold your king is coming.” And so, fear not, for your king has come and is here to calm your fear and give you peace.
 Jn. 12 and Zech. 9.