Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A Donkey, Not a Warhorse

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. (Zechariah 9:9-10)
Messiah, Israel’s final king, would enter Jerusalem on … a donkey. This was not the ride for a head of state in those days. Former kings of Israel would ride mules but not donkeys. That might not seem like much of a difference to us today, but back then it was. The donkey signified humility, which is why the word “lowly” is paired with “riding on a donkey.”

Messiah would not come like other kings, with the trappings of earthly power, but with meekness — the gentleness born of strength. It would not be the strength of the warhorse but of justice and righteousness, and so would he be victorious, bringing salvation to his people.

The coming of Messiah was the coming of the kingdom of God and would deliver Israel from the exile and bondage she was now in. The chariots and warhorses that enforced her exile would be gone and the bow of battle broken. Then result would be peace, not only for Israel but for all the nations, for in the end, the rule of Messiah will extend all around the world.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem at the beginning of that final week, he chose to ride in on a young donkey. When his followers heard he was coming, they cut down palm branches and strew them in his path, which was traditionally a symbol of welcome but was also used to celebrate a great victory. They met Jesus with shouts of “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the king of Israel!” (John 12:13).

They were identifying Jesus as their Messiah King. Though many of them were likely expecting a great military victory to follow, Jesus fully understood that their victory and salvation would come by a different means, by the way of the cross.

The manner of Jesus’ warfare was quite unexpected. He allowed the Roman Empire, the Jewish leaders and the devil himself to do their worst upon him. He bore it all meekly and quietly. “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7). Finally, death came and claimed victory over him.

All of that was in vain, of course. At the cross, Jesus disarmed all the “principalities and powers” (Colossians 2:15), the demonic influences that put him there. Through death, he broke the power of the one who holds the power of death, that is, the devil (Hebrews 2:14). Death itself has been defeated through Jesus’ death on the cross. God raised Jesus on the third day, “exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).

Every knee bowing and every tongue confessing Jesus the Messiah as Lord is the victory of the cross. And this victory is currently being worked out in the world as the kingdom of God continues through the proclamation of the gospel in word and sacrament. In the end, his peace will be revealed throughout the whole earth.

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