Zechariah 9:9 aRejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! bBehold, cyour king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, dhumble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. 10aI will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and bthe war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and che shall speak peace to the nations; dhis rule shall be from sea to sea, and from ethe River to the ends of the earth. 11 As for you also, because of athe blood of my covenant with you, bI will set your prisoners free from cthe waterless pit. 12 Return to your stronghold, O aprisoners of hope; today I declare that bI will restore to you double.
Legend tells us that once upon a time, a long time ago, there was a city named Troy. Troy was located on the coast of Asia, across the sea from the Greek city-state of Sparta. In those days, people used to build walls around their city to help protect them. The people built gates in the wall. The gates could be opened to let people enter the city. But in times of war, the gates could be closed and locked to stop intruders from entering.
The walls around Troy were very high and very strong. According to the legend, for ten long years, the Greeks had been trying to get over the wall around the city of Troy, but they never could. And the Trojans could not drive the Greeks away. Year after year, they fought. And year after year, neither side won.
One day, a Greek general, Odysseus, had an idea. “Let’s pretend to sail away,” he suggested. “We’ll leave a gift for Troy, a gift to announce the end of the war, a large wooden horse.” That was the way things were done then. When you admitted defeat, you supplied a gift. It could be a gift of money, art, slaves, anything really. It made sense to leave a gift of art, for the Greeks were famous for their art.
Could this finally trick the Trojans? The Greeks thought it was a brilliant idea. They had their best artists build a magnificent horse. When it was ready, the Greeks brought the huge wooden horse as close to Troy’s city gates as they could without being shot full of arrows. Then, the Greeks pretended to sail away.
When the Trojan archers saw the Greeks leaving, they could not believe their eyes. Were the Greeks giving up at last? Had the Trojans won the war? It certainly appeared so! The Trojans dragged the horse inside their city, closed the gates, and celebrated!
But the horse had a little surprise for the Trojans! Hidden away inside were thirty Greek soldiers, and later that night, while the Trojan people slept soundly, exhausted from their celebrations, the thirty Greeks hidden inside the wooden horse climbed out, opened the gates of Troy, and let the Greek army inside. That was the end of Troy.
Palm Sunday is the Trojan horse of the Church Year. A Humble Donkey Bears a Rabbi from Nazareth into the City of Jerusalem, but Once Inside, He Conquers Sin, Death, and Satan to Set Us Free.
Like the Greeks and the Trojans, we have all been engaged in prolonged battle. Since the time of Adam and Eve, sin has seized control of the human race. It is not a misdeed here or there or a misjudgment we’ve made; rather, sin is a force that controls our entire lives. Death came into the world through one man and brought death, so today death has spread to all men because all men sin. (Rom 5:12). Sin has infected the heart of man and we have become corrupted. From a corrupt heart comes sinful thoughts and deeds. Since sin is a corrupt heart it controls our entire lives. No matter how hard you try not to sin, to be righteous, it is still there. We still sin. No matter how many self-help books we read, how many 10 step programs we go through, how many levels we go up on the road to true spirituality, we still never rid ourselves of those sinful thoughts and desires, those words and deeds. It is sort of like being a drug addict or alcoholic. Sin controls our lives.
Though we are thousands of years removed from the “chariots of Ephraim” and the “war horse of Jerusalem,” we know about the consequences of sin in the brokenness of our lives. We know about and perhaps have experienced brokenness of family, divorce, children estranged from their parents. We have seen the devastation that comes from alcohol, drugs and gambling. Even the most innocent of people can have their lives destroyed by sin, as unborn babies are slaughtered every day, and innocent children are abused or molested. Sin reaches into the lives of even the sweetest, most loving grandmother as she passes away in her nursing home bed. There is no escape from sin and its consequence—death.
As with the Greeks—and God’s people of Zechariah’s time—it seems as if our battle is lost. Like the exiles in Babylon who could not free themselves, and like the people of Judah who first returned from captivity, we are unable to defeat our enemy of sin. We are slaves to sin. In Romans 6 God tells us: “… you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death or of obedience, which leads to righteousness.” And “When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.”
There is no health in us, and the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). We are prisoners in the waterless pit, trapped in the grave of despair. Trapped in the desires of our sinful flesh. Trapped in the hopelessness of death.
But God has a plan to set us free. As the Greeks sent a wooden horse into the city of Troy, so God sends His humble King riding a donkey into Jerusalem. The city welcomes him with wild celebration (v 9). But then, the city (and all it stands for) is besieged from within as the King does battle with sin. Right in the temple courts he turns over the tables of the money changers and drove out those who sold and those who bought. He confounds the scribes and lawyers with his questions, and denounces the Pharisees. He foretells the destruction of the temple and curses the fig tree.
Jerusalem will fight back, and by the end of the week, as a Trojan horse, he is led to Calvary, the humble King will hang in shame on a cross. For a time, it will seem as if evil has won. But this is also part of the plan! Just as the crowds think he has been defeated and crushed, he defeats sin and death and rises again on the third day.
??Satan is duped! Before he knows it, the King will appear in power—alive!—in Satan’s own fortress. The King only appears weak and helpless. His humility is actually his most powerful weapon, like the apparent defeat of the Greeks with their offering of a horse to Troy. Jesus never exalts himself. He remains truly innocent. His weapon in the war against sin is his own active righteousness—his perfect obedience to God’s plan, which is credited to us.
Salvation comes when this active righteousness in our place is completed with his passive righteousness—taking our punishment on himself. He sheds his blood and he dies, all according to God’s covenant with us.
And then he will rise again and present himself in hell as victor over Satan when he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison according to St. Pater. (1 Pet 3:18–19).
All this—all according to God’s plan, that blood covenant he made with his people long ago—does cut off the power of the enemy, Satan, and sets us free just as he tells us in our text: “…because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope. I will restore to you double.” (vv 10–12).
We rejoice and shout aloud, for we are restored as God’s children and given the victory we could never win for ourselves. Yes, we were slaves to sin and death and there was no way for us to escape the control that sin had over our lives, our thoughts, our desires and our deeds. But now we have been set free by the blood of the New Covenant poured out for us on the cross. In his Word and at his Table, we are renewed in that blood covenant as we receive the fruits of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice for us.
So rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion, shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem, for “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” This humble King who rides into Jerusalem is truly the Son of God! And once he enters the city—much to the horror of his enemies—there’s no stopping him. He sets us free, that we may follow the example of his great humility and patience and be made partakers of his resurrection. Amen.