Mar 25 - Deciding To Have A Joyful Heart

Deciding To Have A Joyful Heart

March 25, 2018

Zechariah 9:8-10

 

DECIDING TO HAVE A JOYFUL HEART

March 25th, 2018

Zechariah 9:8-10

 

When Jesus entered Jerusalem a few days before he was killed, he rode on a young donkey.  And the crowds that were at the city gates and along the road placed their outer clothes, their coats, and branches broken from trees, in front of the animal as Jesus rode along.

 

And they began to shout exuberantly,

"Hosanna! 

Hosanna in the highest!

Hosanna to the Son of David

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. 

Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David

Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.  Blessed is the king of Israel."[1]

 

Why were the crowds so exited?  What were they hoping for?  We are told in the gospels of John and Luke that one of the reasons why some of these people may have been so excited, was because they had witnessed Jesus raising Lazarus from the grave just a few kilometers away in Bethany.[2] 

 

But all of the Jewish adults surrounding Jesus were rejoicing and shouting because they recognized that Jesus’ choice of entering Jerusalem the way He did, was a conscious decision on Jesus’ part to fulfill the prophecy made long ago by the prophet Zechariah:[3]

 

Here God is addressing those who have returned from exile through the prophet (a word from YHWH 9:1)

 

I will defend my house against the marauding army that goes to war and returns home.  Never again will an oppressor attack my people, for now I keep watch with my own eyes.                                        Zechariah 9:8

 

Zechariah had seen the marauding armies of Babylon sweep through Judah and destroy Jerusalem.  This would never happen again once the messianic king comes.  God himself will make sure of it.   

 

But of course, Jerusalem was conquered and ransacked again, for example, by the Greek Seleucids[4] and, later, by the Romans, both before and after Jesus’ death.[5]  So Zechariah was looking forward to a time when the anointed one, the Messiah, the Davidic King would come to his people to rule over them, and not only over them, but over the whole world. 

 

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!  Shout joyfully, daughter of Jerusalem!  See, your King is coming to you, righteous and victorious, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.[6] 

 

Through the prophet, God tells the women of Jerusalem to rejoice and shout with joy because the King who would come into the city will be righteous (upright moral character) and victorious, despite being gentle and riding a young donkey. 

 

The picture of a conquering warrior king on a donkey is as incongruous as a soldier or noble man riding this rather humble beast of burden. A horse maybe, but not a donkey. It simply is counter-intuitive.

 

So Jesus choosing to ride a donkey is not something insignificant.  It is why the crowd knew that Jesus was in fact declaring himself to be the Messiah by doing so.[7] 

 

In our passage, God continues to speak through the prophet to the nation of Israel:

 

I will take away the war chariot from Ephraim[8] and the war horse from Jerusalem,[9] destroying the battle bow.  He[10] will proclaim peace to the nations.  His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the river Euphrates to the ends of the earth. 

 

Here both God and his anointed would bring peace.  The picture is again of the most feared part of the Babylonian army, their chariots and warriors on horseback, all of them armed with battle bows.  God himself and his messianic king will make sure that these will never be used again against the nation of Israel and its capital Jerusalem.

 

The king will rule from sea to sea, possibly in reference to the ends of the Mediterranean Sea, known as the Great Sea.  He will rule from the River Euphrates to the East, to the ends of the then-known world to the West, likely in reference to Tarshish, what today would be Spain. 

 

 

And so, as Jesus rode toward the city and entered it, the crowds did exactly as they were told to do in Zech 9:9.  They welcomed their king with shouts of joy.

 

And as they shouted, they gave Jesus the title "the Son of David", because the Messiah was to be a descendant of king David of old.  They shouted about the restoration of the Kingdom of David as promised in the OT.  They proclaimed Jesus to be the coming anointed one who would save God's people.

 

The crowd purposefully obeyed the call to rejoice greatly and to shout joyfully, as they are told to in Zechariah 9:9.  And they did so by quoting from Psalm 118. 

 

In Hebrew they shouted out two words that sounded like Hosanna.  "Hoschiya Na", an expression found only once in the OT.

 

O LORD, save now (hoschiya na); O LORD, prosper now.  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. ... With [branches] in hand, join the festal procession to the horns of the altar.[11]                   Psalm 118:25-27[12]

 

... the crowd heard that Jesus was entering Jerusalem.  So they took palm branches[13] in order to greet him and shouted, “Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel!”      John 12:12-13

 

The crowd knew the prophecy in Zechariah, as it was read and taught on in the synagogue.  And they made sure that they fulfilled their part, with the anticipation that Jesus would fulfill the Messiah’s part in the prophecy.  In particular, Jesus was expected to call together the Israelites into an army that would defeat all of their enemies, would throw off the cruel Roman occupation, re-unite the northern and southern kingdoms under his rule, and usher in an unprecedented time of peace and prosperity. 

 

 

Hoschiya na!  In the Psalm, it is the cry that someone would make when they fell off the ferry into the Strait of Georgia: "Help, help, save me!” 

 

But by the time of Jesus, the phrase "Hoschiya Na" could also mean "Salvation!  Salvation is here".   It's the cry of joy when the person who had fallen off the ferry sees the Search and Rescue Boat coming toward her.  It is the joyful bubbling over of a heart that sees salvation on the way, and can't keep it in.

 

So when the crowd shouted Hosanna, they were saying, "Hooray for salvation!  It's finally arrived".

 

When they shouted "Hosanna to the Son of David", they meant, "The Son of David will be our salvation, salvation belongs to the King, the Messiah".

 

When they shouted "Hosanna in the highest", they meant, "Let all the angels in heaven join in as we rejoice over God's salvation."

 

Hosanna went from plea to praise.  From a cry for help to a shout of confidence.

 

Have you ever been at a deciding game?  Maybe where the winner goes on in the play-offs.  Or better yet, it’s a cup final.  Imagine such a game going into sudden death overtime.  And I’m assuming that you’re a real fan here.  And your team scores.  The crowd goes absolutely bonkers.  How would you feel?  Content, happy, elated, euphoric even? 

 

I wonder if that was the kind of exuberance and joy and shouting that was taking place when Jesus rode that donkey into Jerusalem.  If so, it is no wonder that Jesus was told by the Pharisees to tell the crowd to be quiet.

 

When I read the account of the crowd, I had to ask myself, “Do I have that kind of joy?”  Can I decide to rejoice so enthusiastically?  Do I have something to cheer about?  Do I have any reason to be glad?  Has my team won?  Do I anticipate that it will?”

 

Now those who were cheering on Jesus that Palm Sunday when he rode into Jerusalem hailed him as their Saviour, their Messiah.  But they didn't fully understand what Jesus was saving them from.  They didn't fully understand the victory and the freedom that Jesus was bringing. 

 

We live in a place where there is normally an abundance of rainfall.  And yet, with all the rain we do get, we have to ration our water use when we get weather that you and I like. 

 

Imagine for a moment that you are in a place where there is very little rainfall and the climate is a lot hotter than here.  Rivers stop running.  Wells run dry.  There isn't enough water to irrigate the fields.  The crops die.

 

Imagine that, to make things worse, there is a war and the enemy soldiers take you prisoner and throw you into a deep, dried-out well, into a waterless pit, much like the brothers of Joseph did to him. 

 

You would be condemned to die a miserable death in that dry well, a parched, hot, cramped prison where you would never be able to get yourself out of without outside help.

 

So God continues to speak to those who returned to the land through the prophet Zechariah:

 

As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit.

                                                          Zechariah 9:11

 

Notice how Jesus’ words at the Last Supper closely mirror this verse from Zechariah. 

 

This cup is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Matthew 26:28[14]

 

In Zechariah, God says to the Israelites – even though you have returned from exile, you are still in a waterless pit.  But when the messianic king comes, I will pull you out of that dry well.  And it is because he, the Messiah, will renew the covenant between us, the one that is sealed with blood

 

What blood is not specified here, but both God’s covenant with Abraham and with the nation of Israel at the time of Moses were made with animal blood ... in fact the latter is called “the blood of the covenant.”[15]  On the Day of Atonement, the sacrifices are to bring about the forgiveness of sin (which Heb points out is just a shadow of what was to come through Jesus’ sacrifice).

 

So the people of Israel and Judah should shout for joy.  God will not only bring peace, but he will rescue them from the pit. 

 

Now you may be able to understand why some of very people who were shouting in joy at Jesus, only a week later were so deeply disappointed in him - to the point that they may have been part of those who, at the trial before Jesus, shouted, “crucify him”,[16] or why they mocked him and hurled insults at him as he hung on the cross.[17] 

 

Where is the warrior Messiah that Jesus seemed to have proclaimed himself to be when he rode on a donkey?  Here he is, arrested, defeated, disgraced, at the mercy of the very oppressors that he was to kick out of Jerusalem.  No wonder they shouted at him as he hung on the cross, “Hey, let’s see you come down from the cross.  Let’s see you save yourself, you who proclaimed yourself to be the Saviour of the nation.

 

Jesus’ words to Pilate would have seemed utter nonsense, “My kingdom is not of this world … My kingdom is not of this realm” (John 18:36)?[18]  Where else would the kingdom of the Davidic king be located but on earth? 

 

The Messiah, arrested, scourged and crucified by the hated Romans is

like Ronan the Accuser annihilating the Guardians of the Galaxy,

like Lex Luthor killing Superman,

like the Joker destroying Batman,

like Syndrome wiping out the Incredibles,

like Red Skull smashing Captain America,

like the Borg permanently assimilating the crew of the Enterprise,

like Darth Vader killing Luke Skywalker,

 

like Dr. Octopus obliterating Spiderman ... you get the idea. 

 

The apparent super-hero is permanently eliminated by the super-villain.   What a disappointment.  What a disaster.  No more sequels ... the show is over.  That is what the people thought in Jesus’ day.  The show is over!

 

So, how does this relate to us 2,000 years after Jesus rode down from Bethany and into Jerusalem?  Has our joyful shouting when we first turned to Jesus been quietened by the hardships and troubles we have faced since?  Have our cheers of joy, our great rejoicing been muted by our disappointments in God, all the things he has failed to do for us or those who we love? 

 

We want victory, don’t we?  We want God to intercede on our behalf.  We want him to provide success, accolades, comforts, the good life, ... and take from us pain, difficulty, suffering and physical death – and not just for ourselves but also our loved ones.  Permanent health, wealth, and happiness.  Isn’t that what a good God should provide?

 

But that’s not how we experience life.  What do you mean, “my kingdom is not of this world”?  Sounds a lot like pie in the sky in the by and by. 

 

My joy is lacking or destroyed because …

 

The expectation that Palm Sunday 2000 years ago, was for Jesus to save the Jews from the Roman overlords.  But he didn’t.  It seems as if the enemy has won.  Are my “enemies” still winning?  The gut wrenching divorce.  The failure of my business.  The potentially fatal disease.  The horrible car accident.  The addiction.  The constant conflict at home.  The child or grandchild making terrible choices.  The loss of a job.  The chronic debilitation. 

 

I’m reminded of the man who just had his annual physical examination and the doctor tells him that he can live a completely normal life as long as he doesn’t try to enjoy it. 

 

Sometimes it seems as if we’re still imprisoned in that dry well, parched for some relief, stuck with no way out. 

 

I am reminded of the Samaritan woman at the well outside the village of Sychar.  She was ostracized in town because of her many failed relationships and because of her present lifestyle.  And in such a small place, everyone would know what she was doing.

 

As a result she had to come to draw that precious commodity, water, at midday, in the searing heat when no-one else would be there to point their fingers or whisper to each other. 

 

She has not had an easy time of it.  Being shunned by the other women was painful.  Looked down upon as corrupt and a bad person destroyed her self-worth.  Possibly she had a tough childhood and was married off by her father while still in her early teens.  There is no indication that she had children who would have got her water and given her the security of being looked after in her old age.  These are just some of the reasons why all of her relationships are fractious and full of conflict.  Life was hard and painful.

 

The woman was incredulous that Jesus could offer her water when he did not have a bucket and rope, no means to draw from the well.  Yet Jesus said to her:

 

If you drink the water from this well you'll just be thirsty again in a little while.  But if you drink from the water that I am offering you, you will never be thirsty again.  And that water will become in you a spring that will well up to eternal life."                                           John 4:13-14

 

Jesus knew that there is a thirst in the woman’s hearts for God, and for meaning, and for peace ... and nothing she had filled her life with had brought it to her.  She misunderstood.  “Yes, give me that water so that I don’t have to come out here in the heat of the day.

 

She only thought in terms of her present circumstances.  Jesus knew that her need ran deeper.  That she needed something a lot more important than indoor plumbing.   Because that is not really where joy comes from. 

 

In essence, joy is not the event itself, but it is discovering the secret of being content in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, good and bad. 

 

My joy is lacking or destroyed because …

 

We fill our lives with all kinds of activities, toys, things, people, none of which are bad in themselves, but we do so because we think they are all necessary prerequisites to our happiness.  Only then we will be, as the Psalmist says, be “like trees planted by streams of water” (Ps 1:3).  Only then we will escape being stuck in a dry, dusty and stifling well.  

 

Many people go through life looking for a secret combination that will unlock joy for them: 

I need to buy these things.

I need to own these things.

I need others to see me a certain way.

I need them to treat me courteously and respectful.

I need to be able to go places and experience things.

If all of these needs are fulfilled, then I will experience joy. 

 

I was listening to a comedian online the other day.  He said that money can indeed buy happiness

 

He made the point that you never see someone frowning on a jet ski. 

 

However, he then contradicted himself because he said that he’d seen people in the third world who seemed to be happy despite the fact that they were impoverished, something he found really annoying.

 

The joy we receive from buying or owning something; the joy we receive when we’re treated nice; the joy we receive in our holidays … these are, more or less, short lived.  They cannot carry us along permanently. 

 

If those are the source of our joy, then what happens, is that we need to buy more stuff or own more stuff or upgrade our stuff, or have others treat us even better, or go on another vacation, all in the attempt to maintain our happiness.

 

But ultimately, joy does not come from outside things.   Outside stuff can enrich life and make it more enjoyable.  However, lasting joy comes from within. 

 

I’ve seen this in my own life.  I’ve known a number of men who were incredibly rich, able to buy whatever their hearts desired, do whatever they wanted, experience whatever they decided on … but by and large were miserable and cantankerous, making life hard and unpleasant for their employees, friends and family members.[19]  They always seem to find a reason to be upset, disappointed, worried, or angry.  And they seem oblivious to the fact that, despite all they owned and enjoyed, they were still imprisoned by their attitude. 

 

Maybe they’ve gotten used to being irritable.

Maybe they always expect the worse.

Maybe they’ve developed the habit of responding to life's normal disappointments and challenges as if it is the end of the world.

Maybe they are deflecting, blaming their miserable mood on someone else, on circumstances, on bad luck, on God. 

 

A famous psychologist once said that he considers only one kind of person who comes to him to be beyond help - and that is the person who blames others for his or her problems. 

 

Of course, the same can be true of poor people.  Poverty does not engender joy either.  Again, it is something within a person that determines to a large degree how they experience life. 

 

I believe that joy is the result of an underlying attitude that a person has.  It has to do with a conscious choice to rejoice and be joyful.  In essence, joy comes down to learning the secret of contentment regardless of the circumstances, to find happiness during good times and bad times.   

 

The people who surrounded Jesus saw themselves in a dry place because the nation was under Roman occupation.  They thought that reversing their unhappiness, dealing with their discontent, meant having their outward circumstances changed.  Jesus will battle and overthrow the Romans and get rid of the corrupt high priestly family.  Then things will get better.  No more overbearing taxes that bled them dry.   Hosanna! 

 

But Jesus saw his mission differently.  He realized that the real drought, the real prison, the real problem, lies in the hearts of people.  It is in their hearts that they are imprisoned and it is there that they need to be set free –

free from the guilt of the past,

free from the malaise of the present, free from themselves, free to live for God, free to do the right things, and

free from the fear about the future, including death.

 

That is why Christians, of all people, should be the most joyful, the most positive, the most exuberant of all people.  They should be filled with happiness and joy. 

 

The prerequisite for joy is not experiencing a problem and worry free life.  The prerequisite for joy is not being independently wealthy.  The prerequisite for joy is a mindset, it is a general outlook. 

 

Does that mean that Christians run around with silly grins on their faces?  Or does it mean that Christians don't deal with down times or times when they are sad?  Does it mean we can't experience the February blues or the November doldrums? Does it mean that Christians can't struggle with depression?  Does it mean that I have to feel guilty when I don't feel on top of the world?  Of course it doesn't! 

 

My joy is lacking or destroyed because …

 

Being aware of the incredible ways that God blesses us, does not make us immune to feeling down.  Some believers think that they should be perfect.  That nothing should rattle them.  That nothing should be able to rob them of their sense of peace.  That the disappointments and challenges in life should simply roll off their backs like water off a duck’s back.  That they should never feel stressed or overwhelmed or depressed.  That they should never need help, counsel, or outside help.

 

Whatever life throws at them, they believe that they should be able to maintain a stiff upper lip, to be able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, to be able to buck up, or whatever other idiom they can think of, otherwise there is something seriously wrong with them or their faith. 

 

That’s simply unrealistic.  At times, we simply need help, even if Jesus is in our lives.

 

We need to accept ourselves for who we are.  We need to accept our bodies, our minds, our mistakes, our personalities and our emotions and feelings.  We need to genuinely like ourselves.

 

That doesn't mean that we simply stop trying to improve ourselves, that, with the help of God and others, we do all we can to improve our health, our thinking, our personalities and our emotions.  What it does mean is that we don't have to wear masks of perfection.  And it means we will go easier on ourselves.  We will be able to laugh at ourselves.

 

Some people don’t want to change.  They prefer being miserable, negative, grumpy … maybe it’s a coping mechanism that’s is meant to protect them emotionally against life and against others.   Maybe there’s a certain satisfaction with feeling sorry for themselves.  Or it’s a way of drawing attention to themselves. 

 

But as believers, we will need to praise and glorify and give thanks to God, to be filled with exuberance and joy, at all the good that is in our lives right now and at the hope we have for eternity. 

 

When we worship and praise God, when we give Him thanks – there is a shift from self-occupation to a focus on God.   When praise, rejoicing and thanksgiving become a way of life, then joy will follow us all the days of our lives.  It will become engrained in us despite the stress or strain we might face.  And that is spiritual and mental wholeness.

 

Praise, exaltation, thanksgiving opens us up to the power of God.  These are bridges to God that allows him to be active in our lives and our hearts.  Wherever there is adoration, reverence, worship, praise, and thanksgiving, God will work.

 

In some situations, it isn't easy to be jubilant.  At times we will feel far away from God.  At times the situation we find ourselves in will not be good.  So, at times, we won't feel like shouting for joy. 

 

But something can and does happen when we verbally sing and express our praise to God.

 

IS ANYTHING ROBBING ME OF THE JOY OF THE LORD?  IF SO, WHAT IS IT?

 

PRAYER:

 

Heavenly father, thank you that you love me so much.  Thank you that you are my stronghold, the one who will save me as I turn to you.  Thank you that salvation is now, it has arrived, it is here. 

 

And so, Lord, I give you my hurts and my grief and my despair.  I forgive the people who I believe have hurt me.  I release the past to you.  Give me the ability, right now to feel good about life, to see you smiling in approval of me, because of what Jesus has done.  I affirm my trust in you.  I believe you have a purpose behind all that has happened.  I am hopeful about the future.  Give me a sound mind, a joyful heart.  Amen

 


 

 

 

 

[1] Combination of Mark 11:9-10; Matt 21:9; Luke 19:38; John 12:13

[2] John 12:L17-18 - Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. Cf. Luke 19:37 - When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen.

[3] Zechariah spoke around 520 - 518 BC in Jerusalem (after the return from the Babylonian exile).  The book is broken into an earlier part (chapters. 1-8) and a later part (chapters 9-14).  The second part seems to point further into the eschatological future. 

[4] Under Antiochus the Great, c. 200 BC, Antiochus Epiphanes IV ransacked Jerusalem c. 175 BC,  Antiochus VII recaptured the city c. 134 BC, but a large payment keeps spares the city from destruction. 

[5] Pompey the Great conquers the city in 63 BC.  Roman legions take the city and destroy it in 70 AD.  They retake the city in 135 AD. 

[6] Quoted in John 12:15 and Matthew 21:5

[7] Strangely, we are told in John 12:16 states that his disciples did not recognize that he was in fact fulfilling this prophecy until after his glorification.

[8] I.e., The northern kingdom of Israel.

[9] The capital of the southern kingdom of Judah.

[10] I.e., The coming King.

[11] This may be why Jesus immediately went to the temple after the triumphal entry – see Mark 11:11 (he went to the temple, looked around, and left again for Bethany); In Matt 21:12-17, Jesus cleansed the temple and then healed the lame and the blind before leaving for Bethany.  Luke 19:45 also records the cleansing of the temple.  No visit to the temple is recorded in John’s account.

[12] LXX - Celebrate the feast with thick (branches); or:  stand together for a holiday with the ones making dense / or thick (pukazousin) unto the horns of the altar.  Comment: celebrate the feast with thick [branches, which bind the victims] even to the horns of the altar.  Still makes little sense to me.

[13] Gk. Baia ton phoinikon

[14] Luke 22:20 - This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.  1 Cor 11:25 - This cup is the new covenant in my bloodMatt 26:28 - This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Mark 14:24 - This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.

[15] In Gen 15:9-10, Abraham cuts animals in half.  In Gen 15:17, God passes between the parts.  Ancient treaties: “The parties involved would walk the path between the slaughtered animals so to say, “May this be done to me if I do not keep my part of the treaty.”  See also this practice referred to in Jer 34:18.  Heb 9:19-22 points out that the Mosaic covenant was also a blood covenant in order for God’s people to be forgiven.  See also Ex 24:7-8 - Then he took the book of the covenant and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, "All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient!"  So Moses took the blood and sprinkled it on the people, and said, "Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words."

[16] Mark 15:12-15 - So Pilate asked them again, “What then do you want me to do with the One you call the King of the Jews?” And they shouted back, “Crucify Him!”  “Why?” asked Pilate. “What has He done wrong?” But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify Him!”…

[17] Mark 15:29-30 - Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!”

[18] John 18:36 - Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place."

[19] Arzberger, Stadler