When the fullness of time was come, God sent forth His Son into a nation that had been long downtrodden by Gentile tyrants. Stretching back to the times when the record of Scripture closed in the Old Testament, atheistic Greeks and polytheistic Romans had played their part in oppressing the Jewish nation to the point where it yearned for a deliverer. God in his infinite foreknowledge recognized that under those conditions His people would find a suffering Saviour who would endure the ignominy of a cross difficult to accept.

In order that His people might be ready for the Messiah to come, Yahweh makes an earnest appeal to them through the visions recorded in Zechariah 9–11, to remind both them and us of what truly matters in a king, namely righteousness, humility, and above all the power to offer salvation to all mankind through his sacrifice; a shepherd who would give his life for the sheep. Truly, the greatest of all is not he who conquers the world, but he who conquers himself.

Sadly, we know that this appeal was unsuccessful. Most of the nation rejected Christ, not knowing the time of their visitation (Luke 19:41-44), and on no occasion was this more apparent than when the Lord rode into Jerusalem for the final time in fulfillment of the words of Zechariah 9:9. The people eagerly went forth with palm branches (like they apparently did many years before when Alexander approached the city) believing this was the moment when the kingdom would be restored to Israel (Mark 11:10).

Palm branches are associated with the feast of tabernacles (Lev 23:40) and are therefore typical of the kingdom age (Zech 14:16), but before the celebration of the kingdom can be realised, there must first come the passover of death, personal sacrifice and the crucifixion of personal desire.

Exaltation does not precede probation: “Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high” (Isa 52:13). To be exalted in the kingdom age requires that one must first assume the roles of service and sacrifice in this dispensation. Hence, the Lord was not to be the conquering king they had longed for at his first advent as Zechariah had told them. A tremendous price would be exacted upon Jewry (Zech 11:15-17) for the brutal death they imposed on the Lord Jesus Christ. It is interesting to note that some suggest that crucifixion was first introduced by Alexander himself (Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol 255, p 1458).

How ironic it was that whilst God’s own people were looking to fall in line behind another Alexander, it was a handful of Greeks who desired a meeting with Jesus (John 12:20) and they sought Philip and Andrew, the only disciples with Greek names, to secure this (John 12:21-22).

Which king?

The prophet Zechariah provokes us to examine ourselves. Which king will we serve—our Lord, or the power of man exemplified by Alexander? Will we choose the path of service and humility, or of ambition and pride?

No sooner had the dust settled at the Lord’s final entry into the city than he proclaimed the lesson of the contrast between Alexander and himself: “He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour” (John 12:25-26).

Here the Lord paints a picture of two different men: one a man who loves the present, clings to it and loses all; another, prepared to sacrifice the present life, finds life complete and finds a place in the coming age. It is a paradox of the new covenant that destruction is the very means of preservation.

A servant is one who does the will of another and not his own will. As Yahweh’s servants, we must completely sacrifice the interests of self, just as the Lord “humbled himself” (Phil 2:8) and in the words of Isaiah “poured out his soul unto death” (Isa 53:12). How different was he to the vain and ambitious men who procured his death and were only filled with self-importance!

This is true greatness, to which Alexander could never attain. The only begotten son of God chose a path of lowly suffering with eternal fruits rather than snatching at immediate riches, honour, and equality with God (Phil 2:6). Jesus contrasts with the ‘first Adam,’ who broke the law of God in an endeavour to grasp hold of the enticing proposal of the serpent, “to be as the gods [elohim], knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:5). At his temptation Jesus resisted the challenge to demonstrate that he was the “Son of God” by becoming subservient to the will of God (Matt 4:3,6), rejecting the immediate prize of the glory and rulership of the world without first suffering (Matt 4:8).

This is the example we are called upon to imitate. Which king do we fall in line behind? This kind of humility is certainly not an easy virtue to manifest, particularly in the age of self-esteem and self-aggrandizement, but can any brother or sister looking at the portrait of man in Romans 3:9-18 be satisfied with self? It is a full-length portrait of the natural man. It begins with the condemnation that “there is none righteous, no, not one” and ends with the lawlessness of the ungodly where “there is no fear of God before their eyes.” Natural man displays no humility. It can only be learnt by following the king of meekness (Matt 11:28-29).

If we can humble ourselves to become meek, think what that change could mean in our lives. It would drive us to be willing to be anywhere where God wants us to be; to be willing to do anything God wants us to do; to rejoice in silence rather than to utter proud words; to be satisfied in being forgotten if to be remembered feeds our self-esteem; to be glad to help others at the sacrifice of our own reputation; to be anxious to serve for love’s sake not minding how small it may seem; to be able to do important things without becoming self-important.

The true disciple ought to be too committed to the Truth to worry about reputation and pride. Our calling is to serve and follow (John 12:26). In depicting another contrast between himself and the rulers of the Gentiles, the Lord said, “Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all” (Mark 10:42-44).

It is important to recognize that our Lord was not proclaiming that performing service and menial tasks (Gk minister, deacon) in ecclesial life leads to greatness, but rather that service to others is greatness.

This is verified by the next phrase employed by Mark, “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). The title “Son of man” is not a representation of his humanity, but of divinely delegated authority and judgment (John 5:27). It is not a title of weakness, but of greatness in being the chosen representative to suffer for and serve mankind. Service to others in whatever capacity, if done in love and devotion, is true greatness which far excels the boastful accomplishments of men.

Which shepherd? Care or neglect?

In his famous discourse on the Good Shepherd, the Lord hearkened back to the words of Zechariah to contrast himself with the idol shepherd (the Pope) who would oversee the Jewish people in their time of dispersion and would “leave the flock” (Zech 11:17; John 10:12) being oblivious to their spiritual welfare, “car[ing] not” (John 10:13) for the sheep. By stark contrast, the Lord gave his life for the sheep, loving them to the uttermost (John 13:1)—here was a true shepherd.

We live in an age of individuality that does not want to engage in the plights of others. Even in the Truth we sometimes can be so consumed with our own lives and troubles that we can go for long stretches of time without giving others in the meeting a moment’s thought. The commandments of Christ mean going further than the conventional standard of helpfulness. A polite enquiry and a quick getaway on a Sunday morning is not what the Lord expects of us regarding concern for others.

It was affirmed by Paul of Timothy: “For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state. For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s” (Phil 2:20-21). The Greek word “care” signifies to have anxious care; the RSV reads “I have no one like him, who will be genuinely anxious for your welfare.” It is the same word which the Lord repeatedly used when he counselled us not to have thought for the things of this life (food, raiment etc, Matt 6:25,27,28,31,34). Whilst we are not to worry about those items which the Father knows we have need of and will surely provide, this ought not to be our attitude to our work in the ecclesia.

The same Greek word for care occurs in 1 Corinthians 12:25: “That there be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care for one another.” We ought to be prepared to spend and be spent in the service of others, sacrificing personal pleasures and comforts to build up the ecclesia. Let’s ask ourselves the question: Are we more self-centred or less self-centred than we were five years ago? Is our life more centred now on others or on self? Are we glad and willing to serve Christ’s cause even though it restricts our own lifestyle and involves self-denial?

Consider the praise given to the elders of the ecclesia at Jerusalem: “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls” (Heb 13:17). The Greek for “watch” signifies to be sleepless. Here were brethren driven by a deep and abiding care for the flock entrusted to them manifesting a selfless devotion of themselves so that others may have a better life in the Truth. The roles we occupy in the ecclesia may vary, but care and concern for each other ought to be a dominant characteristic of us all.

Which value? 300 pence or 30 pieces of silver?

Zechariah 11 casts a shadow forwards into the final hours of our Lord’s life wherein the words and experience of the young man Zechariah were prominent in his mind (Matt 26:15,31). The Lord would have felt a connection with Zechariah in that he too was despised and rejected, misunderstood and neglected by those he came to save. Ultimately, the spirit of the whole nation was encapsulated in one man who betrayed Christ for a meagre thirty pieces of silver, the compensation due to a slave who had been gored by an ox (Exod 21:32).

How appropriate it is in the parable of Hosea and his family, that Gomer, the unfaithful wife of Hosea and typical of the nation of Israel, was put out of the house for her lack of chastity (Hos 2:2; 3:4-5), is ultimately redeemed by the prophet for the approximate value of 30 pieces of silver (Hos 3:2). Fifteen pieces of silver were paid for her plus a homer and a half of barley which is roughly equivalent to the same value, thereby totalling 30 (Keil & Delitzsch).

But perhaps the most striking question emerging from this consideration is to ask ourselves what the Lord’s sacrifice means to us. Progress that is made in the Truth rarely comes without self-examination and making an honest assessment of our motives before God. Doubtless few of us would admit to putting an evaluation of 30 pieces of silver upon the Lord. But the answer we provide to this question is not determined by what we profess, but by the amount of time and energy expended daily in the Lord’s service.

There can be no wavering or indifference. There are essentially only two choices so far as Christ is concerned: complete commitment—or none at all. Where do our affections lie? With the world and its interests, or with Christ, the Truth and his brethren?

On the other hand, if we go through the motions of the Truth, sitting through the Memorial meeting and receiving the emblems without any reflective contemplation of what has been done for us, are we not placing the same paltry value on our Lord as the leaders of Jewry?

This lesson was accentuated by Matthew and Mark who lifted the example of Mary’s devotion for Christ (Mark 14:3) forward by several chapters (cp John 12:12 with Mark 11:9-11) to place it alongside that of Judas and his vicious betrayal. Mary’s anointing of Jesus’ head (Mark 14:3), body (Mark 14:8) and feet (John 12:3) with an ointment valued at 300 pence or roughly a year’s wages (Matt 20:2) was an act of faithfulness to be celebrated as a “memorial [cp 1 Cor 11:24] of her.”

Judas’ betrayal for 30 pieces of silver (Matt 26:14-16) in fulfillment of Zechariah 11:12, by way of contrast, was a miserable assessment of the Lord and his true value. We are capable of being Mary or Judas. If we view life in terms of practicality and economics, we may never come to grips with the breadth and length and depth and height of the love of the Son of God. Do we shirk our responsibilities fearing that it may cost too much of our time and effort?

Our devotion to the Lord should be as lavish as Mary’s, knowing no bounds. There is no price or offering which we could pay which he is not deserving of. As the days of opportunity are running out, let us like Mary allow our love for the Truth to inspire us to go to any means necessary to pay proper homage to him.

The unsearchable riches of Christ

As Zechariah walked the streets of Jerusalem bearing the two staves, Beauty and Bands (Zech 11:7), depicting the grace and unity (Rotherham) which he extended to the “poor of the flock” (v11), we see in this a beautiful connection to the character of our Lord. Herein lies the power of the words we have considered. It ought to lead us to a closer awareness of what being brethren of the Lord Jesus Christ should mean in our daily lives. We must learn to take this impression with us as we tread our sometimes-weary course through the winding vicissitudes of life.

Our Lord is a man of passionate zeal and yet of abounding humility; a man of great mercy and yet of excellent truth; a man of decisive judgment, and yet of abiding love; a man of complete action and yet of gentle patience. He is the altogether lovely one and everything that we should aspire to be!