Fifty-eight percent. Fifty-eight percent of Christians [those are people who (1) have an established church home or (2) label themselves ‘Christian’] will attend Easter service. That’s according to a 2013 survey (https://lifewayresearch.com/2013/03/26/survey-one-in-five-americans-undecided-about-easter-church-attendance/). So, that means 42% percent of Christians will stay away from Easter worship. Remember, these are Christ-ians. People who make a place for the Word of Christ in their hearts! People who ponder the teachings of Christ! People who claim Christ is important to them! One out of every three Christ-ians will stay home Easter Sunday!
Now granted, some may want to worship Easter Sunday, but just cannot. Poor health keeps them homebound. Family emergencies pop up. Work keeps them on the road or in the business Sunday morning. Still, only a tiny fraction of Christians fall under those unique circumstances. One out of every three Christians will stay home Easter Sunday.
Do you know how many unchurched plan to attend? Forty-one percent, with an additional 20% who are undecided. That means, even among non-Christians, about one out of every three will stay home Easter Sunday.
So, what does a survey like this reveal? It is not that you thump your chest boasting about your superior worship attendance. It is not for the snarky little comment, “Well, those people hate Jesus. They’ll get what’s coming to them.” A survey like this asks: “What is the purpose for you coming to worship on Easter?”
The prophet Zechariah answers that question for you this morning. He prepares you for Easter by placing your attention on a King and on his work. See Your King Come! He enters in humility. He establishes a kingdom of peace.
Those two things do not seem to go together. A king and humility? Zechariah preaches: Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation… This is it! This is what the people want! A king! A respected ruler! An organized and strong government! But, gentle(?) and riding on a donkey(?) What kind of king rides a donkey? Donkeys are so short; a king cannot tower over a crowd. In fact, a donkey’s dull gray coat blends into the scenery. Not to mention, this animal is a lumpy beast of burden! There is no splendor, no symbol of power and might and respect here. A king flaunts power. He marches down main street on a majestic white stallion. Glistening golden plates hang off that stallion; a plume of feathers is strapped to its head. Its bulging muscles twitch with might. Its height holds the king up for all to see. What kind king would ride a donkey? King Jesus.
The disciple Mark tells you that Jesus is the fulfillment of this Old Testament prophecy. Jesus enters Jerusalem riding on a colt, the foal of a donkey (Matthew 21:1-11). A royal court of nobles, ambassadors, and soldiers do not surround him. Rather, twelve simple fishermen toddle behind. No city leader rolls out the red carpet with a grand announcement and strikes up the band for this triumphal parade. Rather, random crowds lay palm branches and cloaks [jackets] on the ground. They shout, “Hosanna! Save us, Lord! Blessed is he!” The donkey does not march to the steps of Herod’s palace or Pilate’s governor-house. Rather, the donkey carries Jesus one step closer to the cross.
You see, Jesus is a different kind of King. That’s important to remember. Do you want to know why one out of every three Christians will stay home this Easter Sunday? Because Jesus is not the King they want. So many crave a king who satisfies personal wishes. A king who makes life on earth better. A king who stops all hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and fires. A king who pours wealth into homes so that no one will ever worry about money again. A king who taps a sick body and grants instant healing. A king who silences enemies of Christianity. That’s the kind of king so many crave. You know that— because if it were not true, then more would be here on Easter worshipping the King who conquered Satan.
Jesus is a different kind of King. He may not be the King the world wants, but remains the King the world needs. A King you (and I) also need.
Zechariah’s words are meant for you also. He prepares our hearts for Easter by placing your attention on King Jesus and his work. Even though you intend to worship on Easter (and many more Sundays afterwards), you can still lose focus on the kind of King Jesus is. It happens when the mind wanders in worship because it considers this timeless message of forgiveness “stale” and “boring!” Eyelids close because “you’ve heard this all before.” Your mouth fights holding back a *sigh* during the shouts of “Alleluia!” Maybe your heart craves a message you want to hear. Like, “How to be a better parent.” “How to manage your money” (really, so that you can have more money). “How to silence people who insult your faith” (because you really just want to feel better about what you believe).
Your sinful nature (and mine) may not openly reject King Jesus. You still intend to worship on Easter. Yet, inside, even our hearts can dredge up discontentment. It considers the work of Jesus “stale” and “boring.” Soon, like one out of every three Christians, you will search for a king that makes you feel happy for your short life on this earth. You will stop following the King who rules eternally.
That is why Zechariah preaches these words. He shows you the King God chooses to send. A King who comes to you, righteous and having salvation… You see, Jesus does not come for political control or earthly wealth or popularity. He is King unlike any other king this world has ever seen. He comes to fight the prince of this world— the devil— and to fight for your freedom (and mine).
That’s what verse 10 says: I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war-horses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. Now, a few Old Testament references appear here. Ephraim is a tribe of Israel, but they are feisty nation, quick-tempered, and managed a powerful military. If you upset them, that army would march out either to intimidate or fight you. The thought that a nation next-door could fight you, end your life, enslave you, or take away your property makes you feel nervous. Powerful, snorting war-horses, watch them pound down your city street and you may feel a little uneasy. If you watch tanks roll down the streets, yes, you would feel safe, but you are also reminded that your nation has enemies. Enemies can attack, capture you, enslave you, kill you. Jesus comes to bring this unrest to an end.
He marches into Jerusalem, humble. He lays aside the power and prestige he has as God; he makes himself nothing. Instead, he takes on human flesh and submits to the will of God. For his thirty-three-years of life, Jesus fights your battles. He refuses to worship Satan for the fame, kingdoms, and glory of this world (Matthew 4:8-11). When Peter fights to free Jesus from his captors, Jesus orders, “Put the sword away! I have not come for a kingdom” (John 18:10-11). Even Pilate asks Jesus, “Where is your kingdom?” Jesus explains, “In heaven” (John 18:36-37). Jesus lays aside the things our world considers important and puts on the suffering and pain the world considers shameful. Yet, in God’s eyes, the pride and power of this world are shameful— because arrogant pride worships yourself, not God.
See Your King Come! He enters humbly into Jerusalem. See Your King Come to die for those who fight against him. Yes, that includes the soldiers who stretch him out on the cross. That includes those who mock him. That includes the disciples who run away to save their lives. That includes you (and me) for the times we find Jesus to be “boring” and “stale.” Jesus fights to save your life.
See Your King step out of the tomb on Easter Sunday. See Your King Come to put his righteous and blameless life on you. See Your King Come, holding the keys to free you from death and hell. The King who humbly submitted to death on a cross has not become the King who establishes a kingdom of peace.
Zechariah continues: He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. You see, the peace Jesus brings is not earthly peace where every war stops, hunger ends, and every nation unites together. Jesus comes to bring peace into your heart.
Peace enters your life through the Word of God. [Jesus] proclaims peace to the nations, to people. He rises from the dead, appears to his disciples, and breathes: Peace be with you (John 20:21). Jesus breaks the hostility between you and God. That means you have peace knowing your sins are forgiven.
In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus gives you his body and blood, assuring you that he paid the price for your forgiveness. So, you can depart in peace. Why? Your sins are forgiven; you have peace with God. Live unburdened, knowing that God will remember your sins no more. He will not bring them up again when you enter heaven. You can stand before God and he will examine you head to toe, but you do not need to be worried. Jesus has removed that stain and God will find nothing on you.
The Song of Simeon praises God for the peace he brings. Simeon waited years to see the Savior. By the time he holds baby Jesus in the temple, he is an old man. Yet, once he sees Jesus, he confesses: “God, I can leave this life in peace because you kept your promise of sending Jesus. When I die I will open my eyes and see you in heaven.”
So, after receiving Holy Communion, you sing that same song: Lord, now you let your servant depart in peace, according to your Word. For my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared for all people… You are confessing: “God, we have seen and have tasted the promise that you did keep a promise of a Savior. So, we can leave in peace. We can leave this house of worship knowing that you are with us, that you love us, that you will be with us. Should it come, we can depart this life in peace.”
His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth. His peace has come down from Calvary, spread throughout the middle East, through Europe, across an ocean, and has reached your heart here in central Michigan.
Pay attention to the work of your King. See him fill you with the most priceless treasure this world will ever hold. See him offer and give you something no other king can ever give: Peace from guilt. Peace of eternal life. Peace of knowing God lives with you now.
Zechariah points to a King unlike any other king this world has ever seen. He points past the worldly king one out of every three Christians search for. He holds up the King God sends you. A King who fights for his subjects. A King who suffers shame and humiliation willingly for his subjects. Zechariah points you to a King who chooses to make enemies citizens. A King who brings peace into your heart.
“What is the purpose for you coming to worship on Easter? Stand ready for Easter by placing your attention on a King and on his work. See Your King Come! He enters in humility. He establishes a kingdom of peace.