Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “REjoice Greatly!” based on Zechariah 9:9 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered: Palm Sunday, March 25, 2018
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion. I was a little surprised when I looked up the word that is translated “rejoice” in my Hebrew dictionary and saw that the word can also mean to run around in a circle. If you get the picture, right now, you’re maybe thinking about a kid on Christmas, so deliriously overjoyed over the present they’ve just unwrapped that they’re literally running around the living room in wild-eyed celebration. Or if you’re still having trouble making the connection between delirious joy and running around in circles, check out this clip….
That. That right there is the Hebrew word—gil—or rejoice and it is the Holy Spirit’s kid on Christmas, just won the championship on a buzzer beater encouragement for us this Palm Sunday. Hundreds of years before Jesus rode into Jerusalem, the prophet Zechariah wrote about what would happen in Jerusalem. And his exuberant imperative still rings true for us hundreds of years later. Rejoice Greatly, dear friends. Because here comes Jesus!
I don’t want you to think I’m naive. I know that just telling someone to rejoice when they’re weighed down doesn’t necessarily help them a whole lot. In fact, that might even make things worse. “You say I should be rejoicing but I’m still struggling. So now I feel both sad AND guilty!”
The Bible writers understood that too. When they tell us to rejoice, they also tell us why. Paul wrote the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again rejoice.” Zechariah writes in our text, “Rejoice greatly O daughter of Zion, shout O Daughter of Jerusalem, see your king comes to you.” In the Scriptures, a believer’s rejoicing is inseparably intertwined with the presence of Jesus. When believers see Jesus, rejoicing is the inevitable response. Maybe it’s because he never seems to show up empty handed!
Do you see what he brings in our text? See your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation. He comes with the key to release you from Satan’s prison. He comes bearing a checkbook with more than enough financial clout to pay your debt of sin. Of course, those are just metaphors. In reality, Jesus rides into Jerusalem with nothing in literally in his hands, so poor that he had to borrow a donkey for the occasion. And yet inside of him, he was carrying gifts of immeasurable worth.
His perfection and his blood. The one to give God what he demands. The other to pay what we owe. If he was only perfect, yet unwilling to shed his blood. That would do us no good. If he was only willing to shed his blood, but was not perfect. That would do us no good. But he has both, and so he is, as the writer to the Hebrews says, the author and perfecter of our faith.
To put it even more bluntly, Jesus had one job before him—save you from hell and when he shows up amidst the palm branches, you know that He’s come to do just that. The Promised One who would come to crush the serpent’s head is now lacing up his boots.
Your king comes, bringing salvation. The perfection which will count for you, the blood that will cover you. The things that will benefit you for eternity. He doesn’t necessarily bring a lifetime guarantee of happiness, universal acceptance by society at large, or an accident free, injustice free world. Our rejoicing gets dampened some times because perhaps we unrealistically expect him to provide those things, things he has not promised. Don’t stop rejoicing because of what he doesn’t bring. Rejoice at what he does bring. Rejoice your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation.
Rejoice because he still comes to us today. When we hear his Word preached, our King comes to us. There he teaches us about his kingship in this world and in our hearts and in the world to comes. When we gather at his table, our King comes to us. There he gives his royal command for our sins to be banished from his sight, our slate to be washed clean. Is any wonder that right before we approach his table, we echo the song from Palm Sunday? “Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!” Where Jesus is, rejoicing follows.
But even after all that, you might say, what if I still don’t feel like rejoicing? We started off with that picture of wild euphoria in our introduction. That’s the picture that our text uses, too. But rejoicing doesn’t always have to look like that.
In fact, we’re going to see in just a few days, Jesus on his knees in the Garden of Gethsemane, sweating drops of blood, overwhelmed with sorrow. His soul was overwhelmed to the point of death, and yet, “for the joy set before him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of God.” There was no euphoria in the Garden of Gethsemane. But at the same time, the picture and prospect of the good things to come never left his mind. As one writer put it, Jesus looked to a joyful future and that sustained him in a joyless present.
There’s a parallel to our lives. A Christian is always rejoicing, it’s a just a matter of volume. Some times it’s louder than the brass choir on Easter, sometimes it’s barely audible. To put it another way, even without running around in circles in delirium, you can still say, “God, you are good.” Even with a heart that is heavy and eyes that are tear stained, you can still say, “I put my trust in You.” Even when there’s nothing to smile about, you can still look forward to heaven and say, “Thank you for what’s still to come.”
It’s a daily struggle for me and maybe for you too. There are so many things in this world that want to take away our rejoicing. The kitchen floor that sparkles because we worked with mop and bucket soon turns back into the dust bunny trap and the crumb collector. The euphoria of payday Friday gradually turns to the gnawing worry of “please don’t cash that check” Thursday. The news websites refresh every hour with word a different discord and deeper depravities. Marriages and families require a lot of hard work, often with few tangible results. Our faith can often feel like its limping along, our consistency nonexistent, our obedience up and down like a roller coaster. It’s all so frustrating, it’s all so exhausting, it’s all so disheartening, yet through it all, there still is reason for rejoicing!
Our feelings don’t change God’s facts. And that’s a good thing! High or low, happy heart or heavy heart, our God stays the same, his work in Christ unchanged, his love for you undiminished, his Word still true. Your King still comes to you, righteous and having salvation. On Palm Sunday, your King comes to you. In Word and Sacrament, your King still comes to you. And therefore we have reason to rejoice. And rejoice greatly. Amen.