Hope is at a premium these days. The political season breeds cynicism and anger, neither of which make fertile soil for hope to grow. It is clear that our leaders have failed us. As a result, we have become pragmatists because it is impossible to trust in their character any longer. This pragmatism is not isolated to politics and their ilk. In business or education or (and especially) the church, we want leaders who can show profits, advance a vision, solve problems, or just get things done where others can’t. But such a leader might make us money or satisfy our thirst for justice, but without character they can never produce authentic hope.
The prophet Zechariah’s message to the remnant of Israel was that their only true hope was in the leadership of God himself. This was the only way they would become reconciled to the land, to each other, and to their calling as a light to the Nations. Israel and its leaders had become masters of exterior religion:
"Ask all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted? And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves?” - Zechariah 7:5-6
God rejected these empty acts and instead pointed them towards true religion that breeds hope and transforms society:
"This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.” - Zechariah 7:9-10
Their refusal to embody authentic hope cost them their land for 70 years and almost cost them their identity as a people. But Zechariah prophesies a pure injection of hope in the form of a Humble King riding into Jerusalem on a donkey.
"Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
- Zechariah 9:9
This is, of course, a clear foreshadowing of what we Christians celebrated today, Palm Sunday. The prophecy continues that he will restore peace to Jerusalem and to the Nations. He will lead them away from their weapons of war and establish his rule. But it is the next promise that would have screamed the loudest to the Israelites:
As for you, because of the blood of my covenant with you,
I will free your prisoners from the waterless pit.
Return to your fortress, you prisoners of hope;
even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you."
- Zechariah 9:11-12
This is a beautiful promise that rings loud and clear thousands of years later. At this point in their history, the reality of God’s covenant was a memory trying to be revived. But for those who had been imprisoned for two generations, all they had left was the hope that God would remember his end of the bargain. In light of their disobedience and exile, that was all they had left. They were “prisoners of hope” and they were about to be set free - and receive a double portion!
Today, as followers of Jesus, it is easy to get discouraged. The lack of authentic leadership in our government, work places, and churches is stunning. The absence of character, loss of community, and pervasive religiosity is so disheartening that it would be easy to lose hope. But in spite of what we see - and in spite of our own sins and insecurities - we cannot lose hope. For you see, like the Israelites, we are prisoners of hope and God will restore what the enemy has stolen.
Choose hope. Do not become part of the hopeless masses that trust in the small ideas of egotistical leaders. Trust in the big idea of God’s kingdom, that he wants to bless, restore, and renew. Be a part of his transformation project. Be a prisoner of hope.