Cutting Off the Chariot
Palm Sunday – B LSB #680
Text – Zechariah 9:10
I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim & the war horse from Jerusalem; & the battle bow shall be cut off, & he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, & from the River to the ends of the earth.
CUTTING OFF THE CHARIOT
A Lexus mechanic was removing a cylinder head from the engine of a car when he spotted a well-known cardiologist in his shop. The doctor was there waiting for the service manager to come & take a look at his car. So the mechanic shouted across the garage, “Hey Doc, want to take a look at this?”
The cardiologist walked over to see what he wanted. The mechanic straightened up, wiped his hands on a rag & said, “Doc, look at this engine. I opened its heart, took the valves out & repaired or replaced anything that was damaged. Then I put everything back in, & when I finished, it worked just like new.
So how is it that I make $48,000 a year & you make $1.7 million, when you & I are doing basically the same work? The cardiologist paused a moment, then leaned over, & whispered to the mechanic, “Try doing it – with the engine running.”
That is a radical idea – trying to repair a car’s engine while it’s running. Most everyone would agree, you’d be crazy to try it. Still, it’s not nearly as obvious that the words of Zechariah in today’s OT reading are just as radical.
A lot of people “practice” some kind of religion, or spirituality, think they’ve got a handle on it, & feel like they’re good to go. They tell you that they “believe” in Jesus, but they have zero concept of what it means to follow Him, as Jesus called them to do. For example, listen again to verse 25 of today’s Gospel reading:
“…whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” If we spell that out,
Jesus is saying, “If you want to enter heaven you have to hate your life in this world.” That is not a comfortable message to hear. I doubt those words send you to your happy place, but in this life, Christianity is not the safe & easy road. It is not the way of power & influence. It is not a process by which, if you do the right things, you get the right stuff.
Instead, it is total & complete trust in our heavenly Father & whatever He chooses to place into our lives. That might be health. It might be illness. It might be riches. It might be poverty. Hating your life, in this world, means to be absolutely vulnerable except for God’s protection. It’s like entering a major world city by riding on a donkey.
Over 500 years earlier, God had set His people free from Babylon. They had refused to hate their lives in this world & loved the things of life, more than the Creator of life. So He disciplined them by sending them into exile under King Nebuchadnezzar. Once Yahweh released them, they were free to return to Jerusalem & rebuild the city & the temple of God.
It hadn’t gone so well. Not all the Jews wanted to leave Babylon. Those who did leave, instead of rebuilding the city & temple, had succumbed to infighting & self-centered pursuits. The city, the temple & the wall around the city eventually took shape, but the glory days of King David & Solomon never returned. Judah did not become the world power its people envisioned.
Thus the prophet Zechariah is called to proclaim the coming of Yahweh’s royal Messiah. This Chosen One would bring deliverance from Judah’s enemies, both the enemies outside & the enemy within. The context for the beginning of chapter nine is the promise of God’s judgment on the enemies of His people. Yet, this victory of Messiah would come with a twist:
“I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim & the war horse from Jerusalem; & the battle bow shall be cut off…” This victory, the ultimate victory of all history, will be won without the instruments of war. The chariot shall be cut off, & so the war horse, as well as the battle bow. In fact, this text is eerily similar to how Martin Luther King’s movement, here in the United States, brought about the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It was brought about through strictly non-violent protest. Since Dr. King was a pastor from a conservative theological understanding, I presume some of his thinking was based upon today’s sermon text.
Another OT text that clearly prophecies of Jesus’ coming work of salvation is found in Isaiah 53: “He was oppressed, & He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, & like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.” (V. 7 ESV)
The kingdom of the Messiah would unfold itself through lowliness & suffering to might & glory. However, the might & glory are yet to come. They arrive, along with Christ, on Judgment Day. All of which means that we are still in the lowliness & suffering stage Jesus inaugurated for mankind with His ride into Jerusalem, on a donkey, on Palm Sunday.
That was almost 2000 years ago. The true kingdom of God does not establish itself through instruments of war & that is one certain proof that the terrorists of ISIS are not of God, but rather, are children of the devil. That is an easy target. The same criteria apply to the evaluation of how we live our lives.
Do we try by means of force to persuade others? I’m not saying there’s no room for force of any kind. God has given government the right to bear arms in order to keep the peace. Government, however, is not realm of the Church. Spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the Church’s realm & it is to do so with gentleness & respect.
We are to win over those who support abortion with the love of Christ. We are to win over, with the love Christ, those who are advocating for the perversion of sexuality. We are to win over people who advocate for the evolution of mankind by demonstrating how God’s creation & salvation of mankind is a far more tolerant & loving understanding of life. The blood of Jesus, shed on the cross, not human evolutionary progress or achievement, is the sole immovable basis for our Creator’s merciful rescue of you & me. He has delivered us from the depths of sin, death & the power of the devil.
Jesus completely surrendered Himself to His Father, even to the point of being forsaken by Him. The only-begotten Son of God thus endured hell so that we will not. Jesus’ absolute trust of His Father was vindicated on Easter morning when He was raised from the dead.
That kind of surrender is a totally radical concept, very unlike the message preached in a lot of Christian churches today. Many churches are preaching that God’s glory is already for this life. Many churches are preaching that the wealth of God’s kingdom is already for this life. Many churches are preaching that suffering & weakness is for the ungodly.
Jesus Himself taught that suffering & humility are the normal circumstance for children of God. It is the character of His kingdom here on earth. The chariots & the warhorses & the bow are cut off by Christ so that His kingdom wins through suffering, death & love. Thus we ask people who are confirming their faith in Christ, among others, this question:
“Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, & in faith, word & deed to remain true to God, Father, Son & Holy Spirit, even to death?” Those who believe as we do, answer: I do, by the grace of God.
If you’re thinking the Gospel of Jesus Christ is an extremely radical approach to life – you are correct. Most of us truly have no clue how radical it is. Radical Islam looks like a bunch of punks compared to the radical nature of Jesus.
We are more like ISIS than we are like Christ, & that is why Jesus came, to suffer & to die & to rise again, because we desperately need to be rescued. His love for us extends that long, that deep & that wide. Zechariah’s prophecy was inaugurated on the day Jesus entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. The prophecy is still being fulfilled today as we endure humility & ridicule for the name of Christ.
Jesus’ death was necessary to reconcile the sinful world to God & restore the foundation of peace upon which His kingdom was to be built. With the spread of His kingdom over the earth – “…his rule shall be from sea to sea, & from the River to the ends of the earth.” – the fulfillment continues until the annihilation of all the ungodly powers, after which war will cease.
In the meantime, God’s Holy Spirit is transforming us, overhauling our engine so to speak, even while we are alive & the engine is running. Amen.
Thine the truly Thine the yes Thine the table we the guest Thine the mercy all from Thee Thine the glory yet to be Thine the ringing & the singing then the end of all the war Thine the living Thine the loving evermore evermore. Thine the kingdom Thine the prize Thine the wonderful surprise Thine the banquet then the praise then the justice of Thy ways Thine the glory Thine the story then the welcome to the least then the wonder all increasing at Thy feast at Thy feast. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet