Sunday, March 20, 2016

In your darkest hour He comes to save you


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Rejoice greatly O daughter Zion! Shout out O daughter Jerusalem! Behold your king shall come to you. Righteous is he and having salvation, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt the foal of an ass. Zechariah 9:9

WHEN help arrives we always rejoice. When we are in trouble, confused, at the end of our ropes and all out of options, then a savior suddenly appears who knows the way forward, we instantly go from the depths of depression to the heights of exhilaration. Our confidence is renewed, the smile returns to our faces and all our fears melt away like the remaining snow on a sunny day in March.

We all need a reason to rejoice. God’s Old Testament people were having a bad time of it. In Zechariah’s day they were suffering enormous frustration. They had just come out of 70 years of captivity in Babylon. They were there because of their sins. God was exercising fatherly discipline. He was administering a divine thrashing because, like foolish children who never seem to learn until it hurts, His people were rushing headlong into destruction. They were on the broad and easy way that leads to hell, but He did not want that for them, neither does He for you. They knew the right thing to do but would not do it. They were having too much fun indulging their desires, and those pesky threats from the prophets about divine reprisal seemed distant at best. That’s how it is with sin, one hallucination leads to another, one delusion on the way up, another on the way down.

We are the same. Our hearts do not naturally look to God for help, neither do we want to fear, love and trust in Him above all things. And even if we do, even if we are baptized and raised well, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16) prove too strong, and like Old Testament Israel the consequences seem distant.

Israel’s captivity was now over and now God was graciously allowing Israel to return to its ancestral home. There God’s people would rebuild their beloved temple, and start a new life of blessing for as far into the future as the eye could see. With God’s chastening still fresh in their minds they set out with new vigor to do things His way, to worship Him alone and to live as He would have them live, but just when they had made up their minds to do the right thing they met stiff resistance! For the 70 years they were in captivity other people inhabited their land. And though the Jews (as they were now called) came back to Jerusalem with Persian funds and a letter of authorization from King Cyrus to rebuild the temple, the people who occupied the land fought them. They resisted the true church. They could not bring themselves to confess: I believe in One God the Father Almighty maker of heaven and earth. They were happy to be syncretists, that is, people who paid homage to many gods, people who hedged all their religious bets, and covered all their theological bases just in case the god they preferred was the wrong one in the end. Not much has changed in 2,600 years.

It was into this milieu that Zechariah promised them that God would send a mighty but kindly king to rescue them from their enemies and give them the blessings of on-going peace. In His vision Zechariah saw a future king who would inhabit the temple they were building, who would live among His people and dispense every blessing to them from it, but that king never came. There was a series of kings to follow, some better than others, but none fitting the Prophet’s description. None who could save the Holy Nation from Greek, Syrian, or Roman Imperialism. Each of these world powers successively possessed the holy nation and had their way with it, until the number of people who could still believe in a coming King or a loving God was too small to notice, but that is when God decided to act!

In the fullness of time He sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law to redeem them that are under the law. (Gal 4:4). …Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.(Phil 2:6ff).

The name Zechariah means: the Lord remembers, and remember He did. When God gave the promise to Zechariah that Behold your king comes to you, He did not have any normal mortal in mind, but His own Son, even Jesus Christ our Lord, who rode humbly into Jerusalem on a young donkey, who entered the holy city in order to be judged for our sins, crowned with thorns and enthroned on the cross as the King of the Jews. From that bloody and lofty perch He put an end to all sin, all judgment and made an irrevocable treaty of peace between God and man.

This same Lord still comes to us today and is present among us with His good gifts and Spirit in the church’s worship, the very thing we are engaged in at this time. We are His temple and His temples. He dwells in us and with us to fulfill every good promise God made in Scripture, and not one will be broken. He does not dwell with us in a hazy, imaginary or ambiguous way, but in very specific ones which Christ Himself established, namely the Word and the Sacrament. That is why the church’s liturgy is historically divided between two parts, both indispensible. The earlier part is called the Service of the Word in which the spoken Word of God absolves our sins, teaches us right from wrong, makes us wise unto salvation, gives us reason to rejoice even in our sorrows, and fills us with good hope. It fortifies us like a suit of armor against the assaults of the devil and like a shield against all his fiery darts. The second half is called the Service of the Sacrament and is the climax of our gathering. Here we meet Jesus not just in the words, but substantially and truly as we take His life-giving Flesh and Blood into our own, and become holy and immortal like He is.

So Rejoice O Daughters of Zion because Zechariah’s prophecy has been fulfilled, your king has come. Not only has He come but He still comes bringing salvation to all who want it, to all who need it, and He will come yet again, one final time, in order to put a definitive end to the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem and to extend His kingdom of Peace to the ends of the earth. We will be a part of it. Amen.

Rev. Dean Kavouras

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