Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
July 6, 2014
Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
July 5, 2020 (edited for the people of God at St. Matthew)
Focus: God freed us by His blood.
Function: That the hearers rejoice in the blood of the Lamb.
Structure: This is the historical situation of the text…these are the meanings for us now.
Freedom by the Blood
“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.”
The words of the prophet Zechariah mark a celebration, rejoicing. They mark the arrival of a King, a King who would bring with Him peace. This reading fits in remarkably well in the midst of our culture’s celebration of another holiday weekend.
As we come together today, many of you are with your family and friends. Many others aren’t here because they’ve traveled to see their family and friends. People are celebrating the land in which they live and the freedoms that they’ve enjoyed. And even though it wasn’t a normal celebration this year, from what I’ve been told, firework sales were record setting, and the last couple of nights certainly do nothing to disprove that.
The people living in the context of our Old Testament reading could have had a similar celebration. After generations of wars, including civil war, the remainder of God’s people were conquered by Babylon in 587 BC. For roughly 50 years, they served in Babylon, many, if not all, of them under poor conditions. They had been stripped from their homes and from their land. They were weighed down, they were oppressed. But in 538 BC, King Cyrus led his Persian army against Babylon, and won. God had sent him. We learn that from the book of Ezra, that even Cyrus himself believed it to be true. God had given him a mission: to set God’s people free. And so in that same year, Cyrus proclaimed that freedom to God’s children. They were free to leave Persia and return to their homes in Judah and Jerusalem.
While they may have longed for freedom from Babylon during their exile, they didn’t really have plan for what they would do if it actually happened. They were allowed to return home. And yet, most didn’t. King Cyrus even paid to rebuild the temple, and yet they hesitated and waited for years. They didn’t have a plan, and when the opportunity was given to them, they hardly took it. They were free from their bondage, and yet they were lost on how to live as God’s people.
But God had made them a promise: “As for you also, because of the blood of My covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.”
And God kept His promise. He reminded them of the blood of the covenant, by which He pledged Himself to be their God, and they His people. And He never forgot. It’s what the prophet Zechariah’s name means: Yahweh remembers. He was still looking out for His people.
So in the midst of their newfound independence mixed with confusion, fear, and chaos, God again provided for His people. He gave them two prophets: Haggai and Zechariah. In their recent history, God’s people only knew the prophets for declaring bad things to them. We even heard that idea in last weekend’s reading from Jeremiah, that the prophets of old prophesied of famine, war, and pestilence. Isaiah and Jeremiah forecasted the doom of the nation. Some of the prophets are so negative, you’ll never hear about them in most churches.
But that’s not the case with Zechariah. Martin Luther said this about him:
“This prophet lived after the Babylonian captivity. With his colleague, Haggai, he helped to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple and to bring the scattered people together again, so that government and order might be set up in the land again. He is truly one of the most comforting of the prophets. He presents many lovely and reassuring visions, and gives many sweet and kindly words, in order to encourage and strengthen the troubled and scattered people to proceed with the building and the government despite the great and varied resistance which they had till then encountered.”
It wasn’t often a prophet was sent to encourage and build up God’s people. But in their newfound independence, delivered by the blood of the covenant, they were lost, like sheep without a shepherd, and encouragement was exactly what God chose to give them. They had been free for 16 years and they had accomplished nothing. Many of them, out of fear, hadn’t even left Cyrus’ Persia.
But in the year 520 BC, that’s what Zechariah and Haggai did. They encouraged the people with God’s Word, inspiring them to return to their homes and rebuild. And they did. And by the year 516 BC, the new temple was complete. And they celebrated. They’d been set free.
Even though our text today is the only time Zechariah appears in our lectionary readings, he did leave them with a couple other prophesies to remember. He warned them of people who would come, false christs, who would claim to be their Savior. And he warned them that these men would only lead them astray.
And then he told them of the true Christ. Of the King who would come to them “humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” We celebrate this together every year on Palm Sunday as we rejoice together with the church triumphant shouting “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”
Then we also hear the words “He shall speak peace to the nations; His rule shall be from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.” We celebrate this together each and every time we meet, as we hear the words of Christ that bring peace to the nations, “I forgive you of all your sins.”
Zechariah also told them about the thirty silver coins and that their Shepherd would be struck. These events came to pass through Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of the Christ and then His crucifixion. The King’s blood was shed.
The peace Zechariah proclaimed to God’s people wasn’t the peace they expected. After generations of war, they expected earthly peace, what we might call a ceasefire. But that’s not what they needed. It’s not what we needed. Instead, God again provided for His people precisely what was needed. And the Shepherd’s blood was shed.
The blood of the covenant, which Jesus calls “the new covenant in My blood,” is again God taking care of His people. By His blood you are free. By His blood your transgressions have been forgiven. By His blood, your sins have been washed away. By His blood, you have been made clean. All of us, and now today Daeson, are white as snow. We are clean, we are free.
But in our newfound freedom from sin, it’s easy for us to be just like God’s people of old: lost, confused, and afraid in the chaos of this world. We are in need of a Shepherd. If you doubt it, try to read through Paul’s statement again. It’s a tongue twister! “For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…for I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.”
In our freedom from sin and death, it’s so easy to get lost and confused. It’s so easy to allow ourselves to get caught up in the world and the culture around us. We believe the lies and we give in to the temptations. We listen to the false christs who lead us astray, telling us there’s a better gospel, a better cause to fight for. We seek the comforts of this world rather than rely on the only true source of comfort which is God Himself.
For this Paul tells us there is another law at work, another war being waged. He says, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” The peace that was prophesied wasn’t a ceasefire; it wasn’t even a worldly peace among men. The peace that was prophesied was the blood of the Lamb. That our sins are washed away. That we are free from the bondage of sin and death. The peace of God is salvation; it is not reconciliation here (point around); it is reconciliation here (point up and down, God and man).
And to help us in the present time, God has provided many gifts for His people. There’s the gift of baptism, when God looked down on you and called you His own dear child. There’s the gift of the Lord’s Supper, where He freely forgives us of all our sins. There’s the gift of the church and this community, where we gather together to be built up and encouraged. There’s the gift of parents, grandparents, extended family, pastors, and others who help to raise us in the one true faith. There’s the gift of God’s holy Word, which continues to strengthen our faith as we read it daily. God has richly blessed His people!
Zechariah closed his prophetic ministry with one more prophecy. He foretold the coming day of Yahweh. He told the people that the day would come when “Yahweh will be King over all the earth. On that day Yahweh will be One and His name One…Jerusalem shall dwell in security.” When that day comes, we will see clearly, guided by our Shepherd. We will not only taste the freedom that we have in Christ, we will enjoy Him to the fullest. And that will be cause for celebration and rejoicing. Indeed, it already is. Amen.