Text: John 12:12-19
“And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, ‘Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!’” (John 12:14-15 English Standard Version) We hear these words every year, twice if we count the First Sunday in Advent, because they are of great comfort. These words were originally delivered by the prophet Zechariah to the Judeans returning to their home in Jerusalem, finding it a ruin, and beginning to rebuild. The witness of Scripture is that the rebuilding of Jerusalem after the fall was quite a task and heavily opposed. The people had much to fear. The Lord sent Zechariah to comfort them with the promise of their coming king, the Messiah, who would do away with all their fears. This promise was fulfilled, of course, in Christ.
We, too, have fear. Rather than get better, it seems of late as if each succeeding year is worse than the one before it. Perhaps that is true. We have reason to be afraid, too, because the devil is going around like a roaring lion, and he seeks to devour us. And, even apart from the devil and the world, there is our own sinfulness that we must, at times, contend with. When we consider how we have behaved as God’s beloved children, we might well be afraid. Jesus says to us today, “Fear not.” Because Jesus rode into Jerusalem to suffer and die for us, and because He rose again from the dead for us, we need not fear – not sin, not death, nor even the devil.
What does it mean, though, that we fear sin or that, properly understood, maybe we should? Let’s consider for a moment our situation in life. We are here today because we are Christians. That is to say, we are here because the Holy Spirit has worked on our hearts and brought us here to receive God’s Holy Word and Sacrament, and to have fellowship with one another. Well before today, we were first brought to faith through the washing of Holy Baptism. As we grew up in the faith, we learned the Ten Commandments. We all learned how they are good and holy. The Commandments teach us what behavior is pleasing to God, what is good for us and for our neighbor. When we learned the Commandments, we also learned how seriously God intends us to think of them. Remember these words,
I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love Me and keep My commandments?Exodus 20:5-6
God intends for us (and all people) to keep His Commandments; therefore, He punishes those who break them. God punishes those who sin against Him with both temporal and eternal punishment. The most visible punishment that we see is death. All people die because they are sinners. Because we are sinners, we also will die. At times, this causes us to be afraid. None of us have died before; some have gotten close and lived to tell the tale. But, for most people, the prospect of dying is a scary thing. Unless we are taken by surprise, it will likely be painful. Sometimes we fear death because we don’t know what will happen to those who remain. Some often wonder what happens when the breadwinner of the family dies. These and other things might cause us to be afraid, when we consider death from a human perspective.
There is something else, or someone else, that might also cause us to be afraid. The devil, as St. Peter says, prowls around like roaring lion seeking to devour people in body and soul. He inflames the world to violence, hatred and lies. He constantly sends out temptation after temptation through all sorts of means. He tempts us to doubt God’s goodness and think more highly of ourselves than we should. He is the one that leads us away from regular church attendance and study of the Word. And all this he does, even disguised as an angel of light. If the devil were not held in check, he would even devour us. This, also, might cause us to fear. When we consider the world, ourselves, and the devil, we might very well (and understandably) be afraid.
This is what Jesus says to us today, “Fear not, daughter of Zion.” “Daughter of Zion,” means the Church; it means us. Why should we not be afraid? Because of what happened this week, some 2,000 years ago. This is the day that our Lord, the eternal Son of God made flesh, approached Jerusalem for the final time. Although He is the king of creation and deserves homage to be made, He rode in not even on a donkey, but on a baby one. Yes, the people did praise Him, but they did not fully understand what was about to happen. Surely, Jesus deserved to be worshipped by people who truly knew and believed in Him. But still, that didn’t stop Him. He went on, anyway. When He got into Jerusalem, He cleansed the temple and continued to teach the true Word of God in it. But all the week, those who hated Him continued seeking ways to kill Him. Finally, they succeeded.
On Thursday, our Lord was betrayed by His own disciple and God the Father handed Him over into the hands of sinful men. Those sinful men did sinful things to our Lord. They mocked Him, spit on Him, hit Him, flogged Him. They stripped Him naked and nailed Him to a cross. Though the devil thought he was winning through all this, however, it was all part of God’s plan. What was a mystery hidden from before the foundation of the world was now being revealed: God would do away with sin by the sacrifice of Himself. That is why Jesus died. He came and died to keep His promise that we should be delivered from sin, death, and the devil, and be granted entrance into His eternal life. This, by the way, is also what Zechariah (a different one) sang about after John the Baptist’s birth.
After Zechariah consented that his son should be named John, Zechariah’s mouth was opened, and the Holy Spirit caused him to sing. He said,
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David, as He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets…that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear.Luke 1:68-70, 74
Zechariah saw in the Spirit and prophesied about what happened this week. Although the world may be ever growing worse, and our own sin, the prospect of death, and the devil makes it all worse, Jesus says to us, again, and always, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold your king is coming.” Because He did come, because He did die and rise, we need not fear – not sin, not death, not the devil nor hell. Thanks be to God. Amen.