Peace Haven Baptist Church in Winston-Salem was kind enough to invite students from the Wake Forest University School of Divinity to preach each night during the church’s Holy Week services leading up to Easter. I was up first, on Monday night.
Preaching had not become easier since my first sermon. I am in Wake Div’s Preaching 101 class and am learning a lot, though.
The point of my second sermon was that Jesus communicated loudly and clearly that he is the messiah, not only through his words, but also through his actions.
I highlighted one of those actions, noting that it spoke louder than words at the time.
To understand the point, one first has to understand a little history.
Let’s go back in time to about 500 years before Jesus was born.
Zechariah was a priest and prophet then.
There is a book in the Old Testament named after him that includes some of his prophecies.
Chapter 9 of Zechariah provides a prophesy of a messiah, a king that is coming, including:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
Scholars disagree on whether Zechariah himself wrote this prophesy. Jesus attributed part of the book named after Zechariah to the prophet Jeremiah. It does not matter who wrote it for the point of this post.
Scholars say this prophesy in chapter 9 of Zechariah was written between 330 and 530 years before Jesus was born.
It was a bold prophecy. No king of Jerusalem—much less a triumphant and victorious one—was likely to arise at the time the prophecy was written. Jerusalem was under control of the powerful Persian Empire and had been without a king for a long time.
And it was a paradoxical prophecy. A triumphant king on a donkey? A victorious king that is humble?
What kind of king is that?
Hundreds of years went by after this prophecy. No messiah, no king showed up.
Now, fast forward to Jesus’s time.
The Jewish people were looking for a messiah. Is Jesus the messiah?
Jesus traveled around Israel, providing profound teaching—
- Love your neighbor
- Blessed are the meek
- Take care of the oppressed, the poor, the widowed
- Before you judge another, you must remove the plank from your own eye
And engaging in amazing healing—
- Giving the blind their sight
- Curing the sick
- Healing the lame
- Bringing the dead back to life
And he had been tempted by Satan and avoided sin. He was spotless.
Excitement about Jesus filled the air.
But is he the messiah, they asked? He is amazing, but is he the messiah?
How did Jesus answer? He spoke in a manner louder than words, he spoke with action.
Outside Jerusalem, he mounted a donkey.
This humble man, who was offered the world but turned it down; who taught us to turn the other cheek; who taught us to love our enemy; who taught us to feed the poor; who taught us to be kind; ….
This humble man, who washed his disciples’ feet; who told us to love our neighbor and, guess what, our neighbor includes everyone, whether they are like us or not, of the same religion as us or not, of the same country as us or not ….
This humble man, Jesus, rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, knowing full well that people would interpret his action as a clear communication that said, “Yes, I am the messiah.”
His action, corresponding to the prophecy in Zechariah, spoke louder than words.
His action spoke louder than shouting. Louder than a bullhorn.
His action spoke with the tremendous volume of built-up expectations.
Did the people understand Jesus’s message? How did they react?
Many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches. People were shouting,
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!
Hosanna means “Save us!”
So, the people shouted to Jesus: “Save us!” “Save us in the highest heaven!”
Humble, triumphant and victorious over sin, and soon to be triumphant and victorious over death, he came to Jerusalem on a donkey.
The people understood what Jesus intended to communicate to them with his actions.
Conclusion: A Question
My second sermon suggested that we should listen to Jesus’s words, but we should also carefully evaluate Jesus’s non-verbal communication because his actions, like the particular one focused on here, often speak louder than his words.
What did Jesus intend to communicate to you with his actions?
(The picture is the top is one taken outside Jerusalem in January. To my right, outside the picture, is the traditional path down which Jesus rode the donkey into Jerusalem.)
Sources and Notes
The quoted prophecy is Zechariah 9:9 (NRSV).
Mark 11:1-11 describes Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem on the donkey. The quoted part is Mark 11:9-10 (NRSV).
Jesus attributed something written in the book of Zechariah to Jeremiah in Matthew 27:9.
The Jewish Study Bible 2d ed. (New York: University Press, 2014).
John J. Collins, Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, 2d ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014).
Michael D. Coogan, ed., The New Oxford Annotated Bible, 4th ed (NRSV) (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).