Perhaps like me you long for good times to return again: the opportunity to take a holiday whenever, wherever you wish; the opportunity to meet with friends, any number of people, indoors or outdoors; the opportunity to forget face masks, to sit closer than two meters to somebody from another household. Perhaps you long for good times to return.
If you do picture for a moment the Jews of Jesus' day. they longed for good times to return.
Once they were a powerful nation. They were extremely prosperous. Israel sits at the crossroads of two ancient major trading routes, and all goods passing in any direction had to pass through. Arguably certain container ships still have to pass through that particular parcel of land to get anywhere with varying degrees of success. Like the Egyptian authorities today, the Jews knew how to tax people on the goods that passed through their land, and they profited very well from it. They were a prosperous nation. They had a strong and a wise king to rule over them. Most wonderfully of all, God himself lived amongst them, symbolically dwelling in the temple that they had built.
That was their past, but now they were under Roman occupation. Instead of richly taxing those who passed through, they were themselves heavily taxed and downtrodden. And they resented it. And they had no independent king at all. They longed for good times to return.
Or you could picture the people of Zechariah's day, 500 years earlier even than Jesus' day. They, too, longed for good times to return.
In the year 587 BC, the Israelites had been exiled, forced to go and live in the country of Babylon. 50 years later, 538, they returned and began to rebuild their temple, but the progress petered out and the project ground to a halt through opposition and sheer disillusionment. Until in the year 520, when Zechariah and Haggai (two prophets) turned up and prophesied words to encourage the people, the temple was finally finished.
But for all of that, they were still few in number. Militarily they were weak and vulnerable. They had a new temple, but God himself did not live within it; he had never moved back in. and once again, they had no king. They, too, were longing for good times to return.
Zechariah's book was written to reassure the people that good times will indeed return; it was written to encourage them to keep trusting God, and to keep hoping. But they did have to look in the right place if they wanted to see those good times promised.
So Zechariah as a whole is a very optimistic and positive book. Lots of the other prophetic books contain lots of sections where the prophet criticizes the people for their poor behaviour. Zechariah has a little bit of that, but for the most part he's just writing to encourage them, and to strengthen them, and to reassure them good times will return.
Jerusalem will be rebuilt and will prosper; God will return to Jerusalem, and make it a place of safety, a place of blessing, a place where the young can play, a place where the elderly can sit in comfort and peace, a place where the crops grow and are flourishing, where wine and good food is in plenty.
And the climax of all these fresh blessings from God will come with the greatest blessing of all: the coming of a king. If you were to go home and read through Zechariah up to this point, so that's the first eight and a half chapters, you will discover that God's going to do lots of things for his people. But nowhere has a king been mentioned, until Zechariah chapter 9, verse 9, which was just read for us. The king will come, and as he comes he is the climax, the final piece of all of the other blessings that have been promised.
So Zechariah wants to anchor his message of reassurance that good times are coming in the promise that a king will come. But he's an unexpected kind of king, so you have to know what to look for if you're going to be reassured by this.
So here are four things from these verses in Zechariah about the king who will come.
1. A Victorious King
Number one: he will be a victorious king.
Here's the middle of verse 9: “See your king comes to you, righteous and victorious.” He's pictured coming to the city of Jerusalem having won a great victory.
Now if you read the first bit of chapter 9 before our reading, verses 1-8, you discover that that is a prophecy of God's victory over all the ancient enemies of Israel. It goes around all the points of the compass and says how God will defeat one after the other. It's a fairly punchy little list of all the enemies that God will defeat, until Israel is secure in the middle. And then this king comes to the city, victorious; he arrives, having himself just won a great victory.
Perhaps you watch historical dramas when the king and the army goes out, defeats a threat and then they come back. And all the people who stayed behind in the city were wondering what had happened on this military campaign. Will they just have lost all their loved ones? The reassurance there is, as the king and the army marches on horseback back into the city, and they've been victorious.
2. A Gentle King
Second, a gentle king. He will be a gentle king. The end of verse 9 goes on like this: “… lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” That word “lowly” captures ideas of being humble, of being gentle, of being materially poor.
He's not lowly and humble because of the donkey. In those days kings rode donkeys. Donkeys were fantastic vehicles for processions of state. I mean you wouldn't drive one to war (that is part of the point; we will come to that) – they were useless in battle. But for a procession of state, they were a tremendous dignified animal on which to ride.
(Our trouble is we're too conditioned by Blackpool seafront to imagine how it could possibly be dignified for a king to ride a donkey. But they did do that.) Of course, poor people, they didn't ride donkeys; they walked. So, no, he's not lowly because of the donkey; he's lowly as a description of his character, of his class, of his style of leadership.
This king is very different from your typical political leadership, both then and now. So now the more senior, the more respected, the more important, the political leader, the flashier the jet they use to travel to meetings on the other side of the world, and the shinier the car they are chauffeured in for the 200 yard journey between their house and their office. This king here is totally different; he is a gentle king, lowly and humble.
3. He Brings God’s Blessing
Number 3: hHe brings God's blessing.
Verse 9 starts like this: “Rejoice greatly, daughter Zion; shout daughter Jerusalem. See, your king comes to you.”
Now, as I say, this is the first time we've had mention of a king in the book of Zechariah. But we have had God come to Jerusalem. So chapter 8, the previous chapter, pictures God coming to the city to bring great blessings.
So chapter 8, verse 3: “This is what the Lord says, ‘I will return to Zion and dwell in Jerusalem’” (the same two labels in chapter 9 verse 9). “Then Jerusalem will be called the faithful city, and the mountain of the Lord Almighty will be called the holy mountain. This is what the Lord Almighty says, ‘Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each of them with cane in hand because of their age; the city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there. the seed will grow well; the vine will yield its fruit; the ground will produce its crops; the heavens will drop their dew, and I will give all these things as an inheritance to the remnant of this people.’”
Those are the blessings that come when God comes to Jerusalem. But now in Zechariah 9, the king comes and you'll notice that when the king comes those same blessings arrive. So the very last verse of our reading, verse 17: “How attractive and beautiful they will be! Grain will make the young men thrive, and new wine the young women.”
The king comes to bring in all the blessings that we've already learned God himself will bring.
A victorious king. A gentle king, who brings God's blessings.
4. He Brings God’s Peace
Fourth: He brings God's peace.
He comes on a donkey not a war horse, which leads into verse 10: “I will take away the chariots from Ephraim, the war horses from Jerusalem; 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.”
The external threats have been neutralized (chapter 9, verses 1-8); internally, life is now good (chapter 8), and therefore all is now well. In the fullest, richest sense of the word, they have peace.
4 things about the king. Victorious. Gentle. He brings God's blessing. He brings God's peace.
The victorious and gentle king will come to Jerusalem on a donkey to bring God's blessings to a climax, and so to bring peace.
That is the prediction of Zechariah chapter 9.
So no wonder the crowds erupted with excitement when Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday on a donkey. Only, they'd misunderstood what was happening. In fact, they'd misunderstood on three fronts.
Firstly, they had misunderstood Zechariah chapter 9. They wanted the victorious king (they wanted the romans overthrown); they did not want (or even recognize as important) that the king should be gentle and humble.
Secondly they had misunderstood Jesus so far. So, yes, with Jesus there were huge signs of victory. He'd cast out demons and evil spirits; he had raised the dead; he had fed the hungry until they had too much to eat. But he also befriended sinners, choosing as his preferred company the least desirable people in society. And when in Hohn chapter 6 the crowds wanted to make him into a political king, he deliberately hid himself from them so that they couldn't.
The crowds have misunderstood Zechariah 9; they've misunderstood Jesus so far.
Thirdly they've misunderstood the stage that we are at. Jesus comes into Jerusalem as the victorious king from Zechariah chapter 9, but he hasn't actually yet won the victory.
And so, because the crowds have misunderstood him, they grow disillusioned and within a week (probably not exactly the same crowd that has cheered him into the city, but within a week) they've killed him. He was not the king they were looking for. So they've got disappointed and tired, and they've rejected him.
Only he actually was the king they were looking for, and he is the king that we are looking for.
Because the reason Jesus entered Jerusalem was to suffer and to die. Jesus took on himself as he died on the cross the sin of all of his people, the bad things we do and the good things we don't do. And when he took all of the sin of his people on his own back it killed him, just like it kills us. But so, he paid for it in full, so that he defeated the suffering and the death that is the result of our sin.
So that, at the very moment when we see what a humble king he is (strung up on a Roman cross for all to laugh at), at that very moment we actually see what a victorious king he is, how he came to bring all of God's blessings by dying in our place, and so to bring peace.
Many people today still find Jesus disappointing. I mean obviously lots of people don't even give him a second thought, don't even look at him to have the chance to be impressed. But even when people do look at him, many see him as offering a quick fix solution to all of our problems. If you do that, you will either cynically know that it's too good to be true, and therefore not give him a second thought. Or you'll follow him for a season, until some disaster strikes, and you realize that the whole thing was a bubble and was too good to be true and he can't deliver. Then, like the crowds in Jerusalem, you will give up because his claim to be able to solve all of life's problems just doesn't work.
But he is actually the king that God sent. He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, as the king who is both humble and victorious, so that he could die on the cross and rise again, and so do all that is needed to solve all of our problems.
If you receive him on his own terms, if you see that his victory comes from him dying and rising again, if you want are willing to wait for him to return and fulfil all that he achieved, then you will discover the very hope that Zechariah wanted to inspire in the tired, down-beaten people of God.
Good times will return. More than “return”; good times will come for all of God's people, the like of which has never been seen before.