We invite you to return every day during Advent for this devotional series
Listen to today’s accompanying audio track:
Rejoice Greatly, O Daughter Of Zion
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, thy King cometh unto thee; He is the righteous Saviour, and He shall speak peace unto the heathen.”
I grew up on a farm where every morning l looked out of my window at a range of mountains. It was not until I hiked those mountains I discovered that what had looked to me as one mountain was really two, with a valley between. I often think of that experience as I read the Old Testament prophets and their prophecies about Messiah. As the prophets looked out across the many centuries they saw Messiah’s first and second comings as one. The Spirit did not grant them to see the span of time, the valley, between Christ’s two comings. Thus, they speak of Bethlehem’s babe coming as a conquering King.
In today’s text the prophet Zechariah, like his fellow prophets, compresses Messiah’s two comings into one. We see Him coming as the humble Savior who will yet bring peace to the whole world. This was a prophecy the Jewish nation understood as foretelling Messiah, and the New Testament saw as fulfilled in Jesus.
All four Gospels identify Jesus riding on a donkey into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday as the fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy (Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-38; John 12:12-15). The crowds hailed Jesus as Messiah: “Saying, Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest” (Luke 19:38). The people shouted, “Hosanna”, that is, “Save us!” But they wanted Jesus merely to save them from the Romans, and not from their sins and eternal death.
There is something most unusual about this King who presents Himself. In words not included in Messiah, Zechariah specifies that the Christ comes “lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt, the foal of an ass”(Zechariah 9:9b). In the ancient world kings customarily rode donkeys if they came in peace (Judges. 5:10; 10:4; 12:14; II Samuel 16:2; I Kings 1:33), but horses if they rode into battle.
King Jesus comes humbly, declaring God’s shalom, “speaking peace unto the heathen”. In the days of the King James Bible, the word “heathen” did not have the derogatory meaning associated with it today, or with the word of the Hebrew text. “Heathen” originally referred to the people who lived in the “heaths”, in the wild, uncultivated outback. In other words, the Messiah speaks peace to all people. Is it any wonder, then, Zechariah calls for people to break out singing! “Rejoice greatly…shout…thy king cometh unto thee.”
For many, the thought of God coming is neither a happy thought, nor something to celebrate; rather, it’s frightening. But Messiah is “the righteous Saviour”, who by His Cross brings us peace. This is the shalom, the very peace first promised in “Comfort ye”.
We are living in that valley between the mountain peaks of Messiah’s two comings. We know the glory of His first coming, bringing us peace through His Cross. Now in these difficult days we look expectantly to His coming again, when “The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 11:15).
The Baroque French overture which began Messiah expressed the pomp and ceremony of royalty. It alerted us from the begining that the King of Kings would make His appearance. Today’s text and music celebrate the King’s appearance: “thy King cometh unto thee”.
The solo is ornate and flowery, expressing exuberant, almost breathless joy: the King has come! The solo divides into three sections: the key word in the first is “rejoice”; the key word in the second is “peace”; and with the third we return to “rejoice”.
The first section begins with the commanding “Rejoice! Rejoice!” The music line rises with each command to rejoice, suggesting hopes rising at the King’s appearance. The line “Behold, thy king cometh unto thee” is repeated, coming down in two steps “as if we are being bid to bow our knees to the ground before the king” (Roger Bullard). The command “shout”, fairly shouts, loud enough for all Jerusalem to hear.
The second section mellows, becoming calm, less flowery, as befitting the repeated, sustained “peace” of Messiah. The music becomes more solemn, with the reverent declaration: “He is the righteous Saviour, and he shall speak peace to the heathen”. As the Savior speaks “peace” the music expands wide enough for the whole world to hear.
With the third section the music returns to the exuberance and joy of the first, with repeated shouts to “rejoice” at the King’s coming.
- What do you sense that God might be saying to you in today’s Scripture text and music from Messiah?
- What do you want to say to God?
- Now take a few moments to be still in God’s presence.