Monday, July 7, 2008

Restoring Double to the Prisoners of Hope

Eighth Sunday in Pentecost
Zechariah 9: 9-12
Bror Erickson

[9] Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey. Zech. 9:9 (ESV)

I’m used to hearing this verse in the context of Advent as we wait for the Lord to visit us in the manger, and in the context of Palm Sunday, when Jesus literally fulfilled this prophecy riding into Jerusalem as her king saddled on a donkey a week before his death and resurrection. In light of those events we can easily see that Zechariah was foretelling the coming of Christ. But he was doing something else too, something that applies to us during Pentecost, the time of the church, the time of waiting and the time between his coming and second coming. He was restoring the hope, faith and confidence of the people in their God.
So he continues to speak of peace, and how Jesus would rule from sea to sea. He describes Christ’s rule, His reign as king, as one that would know no borders and encompass the entire world, from the River to the ends of the Earth. One may get the crazy idea that this is a prophecy that will only find fulfillment in the future sometime. We could think like the millennialists, with their “Left Behind” books, that this will be and earthly kingdom, that it will come to past when the temple is rebuilt, when the antichrist and others are defeated in the battle of Armageddon, as it is played out in the sick fantasies of the “Left Behind” series. These books, and books like them, are nothing more than Satan’s instruments to bring fear and torture to the souls of Christians, by giving them a false sense of hope that they would be spared any hardship in this world if they believe enough in God. Then they begin to question their faith, and God’s love the moment they face hardship. They thought “pick up your cross and follow me” meant to live by the law, give ten percent to the church, don’t play cards, and give to the homeless. So they don’t understand when there is suffering in the Christian’s life, a job is lost, divorce, death of a spouse, or another loved one. We don’t choose our crosses. The sinful world we live in, lays them on us, as it did Christ. But there in suffering we find God, we find Christ, who suffers with us, even as He suffered for us on the cross. And in Him we find the peace and comfort He gives wherever He reigns from sea to sea, speaking peace to the nations, peace not only to the Jews, but also to us gentiles, who were not originally part of the blood covenant of which He speaks later.
You see, this rule is not an earthly rule that will come at the expense of war, and famine, and other fantastical interpretations of select scripture and purposeful ignorance and exclusion of others, nor is it merely speaking of our life in heaven after the second coming for which we long and wait, but it is an eternal reign that rules even now in the hearts and minds of Christians from sea to sea, from the River to the ends of the earth, wherever men and women turn their gaze to the cross, in which they find salvation. For it is there that God incorporated us into the blood of His covenant with Israel, turning it from a covenant to a testament, with His very own blood on the cross. He fulfilled the covenant as Israel’s king, and replaced it with a testament through which we inherit the forgiveness of sins, and are set free from the waterless pit, so that we can return to God, our stronghold, and become prisoners, not of sin, death, and the devil, to be held captive in the waterless pit of hell, but prisoners of hope. Prisoners of Hope! That is what we are, for we may still be trapped in the prison of this world, but we have forgiveness, therefore, we have hope.
The prison of this world, how often is it not a waterless pit? The imagery is powerful isn’t it? In the hills on the edge of the Kalahari, just outside of the town where I lived as a kid in Botswanna, Paul, the Peace Corps worker my parents had hired to tutor me, took me on a hike. It was quite barren land as you can imagine. It didn’t rain there much, the trees looked dead even when they were green. The hills were full of old tin mines. I remember cautiously inching forward to look down one of the shafts, a big dark gaping hole in the ground on a desert hill. I never did look in. The wind took my hat and deposited it there, as the hot sun rose to its afternoon peak, that seemed to bake the sand red all around, a waterless pit, not a place I wanted to spend ten minutes, much less the last of my days, dehydrated, chapped and burnt.
O but doesn’t life sometimes seem to be a waterless pit, a pit dry of meaning, hope, and everything we know life should be if it were perfect. We try so hard to live a good life, In the moral sense, but also meaning an enjoyable life. Yet we fail do we not? On both accounts? How often are we given a choice, neither of which are good, a choice between sin and sin? Maybe an innocent lie to cover for a friend, not my business anyway now is it? Or maybe we are trying to cover ourselves from greater evil happening to us then we think we deserve, a rock and a hard place. We like to think we chose the better of the two, the lesser of two evils, but we chose evil. And deep down inside we know we would have chosen evil, even if the other choice was moral and upright. We are confronted with our own weakness. We are confronted with despair. We ask ourselves with brutal honesty, why can’t we be good? You ask yourself, “Why can’t I be good?”
Or maybe it is the good life we strived to attain that comes crashing down around us. Oh, we like to watch it happen to others. We make jokes about it, and sick the paparazzi on them like rabid dogs, when it is a celebrity like Britney Spears. We like to think it serves them right, what a bunch of immoral people anyway. Right? A life full of drugs, women, and money for nothing. Ah but I remember wanting that life when I was a kid. Songs about making it hit the top of the charts all the time, “hey, hey I want to be a rock star.” Are we any different, than them? Oh we too find ample time to enjoy the good life. I do anyway. Sometimes I think God has been much too nice to me, for the wretch I know I am. Maybe it is my imagination, but I think I have had a fairly rich life. Not much to complain about, traveled the world, fishing, hunting, wine, beer and scotch, more than one or two Cuban cigars, to celebrate. What a life. I suppose we here all have had some pretty good times in life. But those ups don‘t always seem to match the downs, do they? The painful times in life, fights with parents, death, divorce, children that won‘t talk to you, you can fill in the blank. It‘s times like that, when everything we have worked for comes crashing down around us, we know this waterless pit of life, then the highs don‘t match the lows. We wake up from our dehydrated deliriousness, for a moment of truth. But then we know that this world doesn‘t get the final say. We know that there is more to life to come. For we may still live in this waterless pit, but we are no longer prisoners of it. We have been set free. We are now prisoners of hope, waiting transfer to heaven. For our sins have been forgiven, our trespasses pardoned. And Christ who suffered here with us, taking our sins to the cross, has risen from the grave. Now He rules from sea to sea, while sitting at the right hand of God, and from thence He speaks peace to the hearts of us gentiles and promises to restore even to us double. Restore to you double! Oh you think you have had some of the good life here, wait. Oh we have a hope, not a silly birthday wish, but a hope confirmed in the resurrection, that our Lord will return with glory to judge the living and the dead. And on that day we will be restored double, and enter heaven where there won’t be any lows, and the highs will far out exceed the lows of this waterless pit. This is our hope, a life that is in us even now as we are in Christ.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, Amen.


Anonymous said...

Well written Pastor. Parts of what you write reminds me of what I read yesterday in Romans 7:7-25, and at "21So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22For in my inner being I delight in God's law; 23but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! "

Bror Erickson said...

We had the same reading, and I actually did incorporate it into the delivery of the sermon.

steve martin said...


Terrific post! I was right there with you as you laid out the crushing effects of the law in our lives. And I was right there with you when the pure sweet gospel language of hope, of love, and forgiveness washed over us like a cool rain on a torrid day. And Christ is right there with both of us... with all of us, as we labor to make it through this life of joy and tears.

He does rule now. He is with us. And His promise is sure.

Thanks Bror!

- Steve