Prisoners of hope

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Zechariah 1-2; 9:9-17

We’ve all met people who are prisoners of despair.  Perhaps we feel this way ourselves. Depression could be described in these terms: as a helpless and hopeless condition, with no prospect of release.  We don’t want to collapse in despair, but feel impelled to do so.   But Zechariah (a contemporary of Haggai) speaks of something incredible – not prisoners of despair but prisoners of hope.  In fact he describes the people of God in exactly those terms.  They are bound to hope.  They may not even want to hope, but they can do no other – they are prisoners!

Zechariah is speaking to a people who have been battered by the superpowers of their day.  They were uprooted from their homeland and carried away to strange lands and stranger peoples.  Now, after 70 years of exile, they are back in Canaan, desperately impoverished and under constant military threat.

But Zechariah doesn’t describe them as prisoners of Babylon, or Persia or Greece.  He doesn’t call them prisoners of circumstance or fate.  They aren’t prisoners of economic or political conditions.  Something even stronger has taken hold of the people of God and made them “prisoners of hope”.  Left to their own devices they would plunge into world-weariness, fear, cynicism and melancholy.  Instead, something has arrested them and halted their despair.  What – or rather, who, is it?

It’s a lowly man, riding on a donkey:

9Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.  10And I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem, and the battle bow shall be cut off: and he shall speak peace unto the heathen: and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth.  11As for thee also, by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water.  12Turn you to the strong hold, ye prisoners of hope: even to day do I declare that I will render double unto thee;

Zechariah holds up this picture of the Messiah to a bruised people.  He is not a Mighty Warrior on a white stallion but a gentle King riding on a donkey.  The Messiah will not meet the powers of this world with more worldly power.  Instead, he conquers them with simple justice, lowliness and words of peace.

This is the revolution that will bring in a global kingdom of righteousness – from sea to sea and to the ends of the earth. It’s a revolution that even prisoners can believe in.

In fact, such prisoners can look to Christ, their Stronghold, and identify with a verydifferent story.  The lowly King will die – shedding that precious “blood of the covenant” which redeems lost sinners.  And He will rise again to bring a future more glorious than the paradise we have lost.  Through Jesus we will be rendered double.

The waterless pit of our circumstances seems to demand despair.  But we have a gentle King who knows our sufferings.  And His redemption will satisfy all our longings.

Have you lost your dreams, your health, your dignity, your innocence, your peace, your children, your marriage, your youth, your job, your reputation?  With any other king, this lowliness would keep you from him.  But look to the Lowly One riding on a donkey.  Not even your deepest sins or sufferings could separate you from Him, for He knows and has felt it all.  He is your King and He will render double unto thee.  Nothing can separate you from the love of Christ.  With this King you are bound to hope.

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