In Christ, our gracious king, beloved brothers and sisters!
”You daughter Zion, rejoice greatly, and you daughter Jerusalem, shout! Look, your king comes to you, Lo, your kings comes to you, a righteous one and a helper, poor and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
So had Zechariah prophesied. In today’s gospel Matthew puts his finger on this prophecy, so to speak, points it toward Jesus riding into Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey, and in so doing explains to the whole world that this man is the promised king of Zion, the Savior.
All prophets have prophesied about this Jesus, however the most wonderful is the prophet Isaiah, whose book we will begin to contemplate today. He prophesies about him not only in such magnificent language like no other prophet but also in greater abundance than all the others put together. He preaches about the virgin birth of the Savior, his dual nature as God and man, his obedience, suffering, death, and resurrection. He preaches about the royal army of those on high, the outpouring of his Holy Spirit, the glory of the Church, which he gathers from all nations, her1 consummation on the last day through his return, the resurrection of her dead and her joys in eternal life. He testifies about the LORD’s anointed, who through his message of grace saves the wretched. He teaches Christ’s vicarious atonement for sinners with the clarity of the New Testament.2 People have therefore rightly called him the evangelist, yes the evangelical heart of the Old Testament. All souls eager for salvation3 will therefore certainly welcome a number of considerations about Isaiah’s words.
The book of this prophet is a very skillfully interconnected whole Therefore we should read it often in its context. For (the) sermons in the church service, however, it will be most fruitful to choose the texts according to the order of the church year. So at the beginning of the church year today, I call out to you on the basis of chapter 52.
Zion, Your God is King!
Therefore you are and remain
“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”
These words move us directly into New Testament times. They portray as fulfilled, what the previous verses prophecy, namely the redemption of Zion. Zion, the people of God, sat captured in Babylon. God had allowed the Jews to be led there because of their sins. However, in so doing he had not sold his ownership of Zion to foreign rulers. For what had he received from them for payment? Only wailing ridicule, and constant blasphemy, as though he was not able to save his people from their⁴ hands. Be confident, my Zion! In this way he encourages the despairing. I will indeed know how to protect my honor. For as little as I ceased to be the LORD of my people at that time, when the Egyptians oppressed them with difficult service and afterwards when the Assyrians committed acts of violence against them, just so little now, when you lie in Babylon’s bonds. That I can prove, because I am the Almighty; and that I want to prove, because I am your faithful covenant God, who promised eternal redemption to you. The day is coming when I will say to you: Here am I, your King! Then you will be forever free!
What kind of freedom does the LORD mean? By no means chiefly the deliverance of Zion out of the physical captivity in Babylon. He had previously prophesied that; in the 44th and 45th chapters he had even given the name of the hero, who as his servant should save the Jews from Babylon, namely Kores, the future king of Persia, Cyrus. To be sure, our chapter includes this liberation, taking it, however, at the same time as a picture of an immensely more important and greater redemption, a redemption, which truly has as an outcome for the believers also their eventual, full freedom from all physical evils, which,4 however, previously saves from the worst of all evils, sin. Only because God promised this to them, could the repentant children of Zion have been truly confident in their prison.5 Because ultimately what does a person possess of all earthly freedom, if he at the same time remains and dies in his sins? The thousand-fold curse of the divine law pursues him like a hostile army with deadly bullets and finally drives him into the jaws of hell. However, he who is free from sins is truly free. A person may put his life into chains, indeed he may throw it into a lion’s den or a fiery furnace,6 God is for him; who may be against him?
How God would provide this freedom for his people, is revealed by the chapter following our text, the fifty-third chapter. For the redemption of Zion from their sins, the Lord does not need Cyrus. For this purpose he himself must become the servant of the LORD. The same Immanuel, the same God-man, about whom the Prophet speaks in chapters seven, eight, and nine, and in chapter eleven says: “A shoot will rise from the root of Jesse”, is the servant of the LORD, about whom it is said in the fifty-third chapter: “He shoots out before him like a tender root (shoot) and like a root from dry ground”, and then the Prophet describes him further as the great patient sufferer, who is led for us like a lamb to the slaughter, because the LORD threw the sins of us all on him. In this way he redeemed us. He stepped into our place, expiated our guilt and atoned for our penalty. Thereby he wrestled us out of all evil might against us, in order that no curse or compulsion of the law, no power of death and of hell, much less the power of men, touch our souls, indeed without His Will for us no one is even allowed to bend one little hair.
The struggle of God’s faithful servant was difficult; it cost him his life. However, look there! The crucified stands, living again, on the battlefield, as the victorious King of his people, whom he himself has saved from the most terrible of all captivities. And (what) now? “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!” Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy. When the Lord returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes. Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.”7 The great glad tidings, that Jesus Christ, our God, as the Savior of sinners forever reigns, now go out into all the world, Now it can be said: “Zion, your God is king!” Therefore “Shake off your dust; rise up, sit enthroned, Jerusalem. Free yourself from the chains on your neck, Daughter Zion, now a captive.”8 Your bonds are broken; you are free, eternally free!
“Her” in these cases is referring back to the Church of Christ. So another translation might be, “the consummation… dead… joys… of the Church” ↩
Isaiah was an Old Testament prophet before Christ, and yet his prophecies are so clear and vivid they are comparable to New Testament accounts written after the events occurred. ↩
The word used here is “Heilsbegierigen”, describing the subject, souls. The word “Heil” means salvation, and the word “Begiereig” means eager, so the translation “eager for salvation” fits here. ↩
“Which” here referring back to the subject of the first relative clause, deliverance. ↩
“Prison” here referring to their captivity in Babylon. ↩
The pictures here alluding to Daniel in the lion’s den, and also Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace. ↩
“How beautiful on the mountains… the salvation of our God,” Isaiah 52:7-10 ↩
“Shake off… now a captive,” Isaiah 52:2. ↩
A sermon on Zechariah 9:9.
Mar 30, 2020