The First Sunday in Advent
December 2, 2012
St. Matthew 21:1-9
Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them "Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Loose them and bring them to Me. And if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, `The Lord has need of them,' and immediately he will send them." All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: "Tell the daughter of Zion, `Behold, your King is coming to you, lowly, and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.'" So the disciples went and did as Jesus commanded them. They brought the donkey and the colt, laid their clothes on them, and set Him on them. And a very great multitude spread their garments on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: "Hosanna to the Son of David! `Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!' Hosanna in the highest!" Matthew 21:1-9
This account of our Lord’s triumphant entrance into Jerusalem is the Gospel Lesson for both the First Sunday in Advent and Palm Sunday in the historic lectionary. It also contains a portion of the ordinary of the Sunday liturgy that we sing in the Sanctus, just before celebrating Christ’s coming to us in the Sacrament of his body and blood. He who came to his Church lowly and sitting on a donkey now comes to us in his body and blood, given and shed for us for the forgiveness of sins. It is appropriate that this event plays so prominently in the worship of the Church, inasmuch as it shows us what worship is all about.
I use the word worship, but worship is only a part of what happens when the Church gathers together in Christ’s name. What happens among us every Sunday is better described as Divine Service. On the basis of today’s Gospel Lesson let us consider four essential features of the Divine Service. First, the Lord Jesus is in charge of it. Second, it is according to the Holy Scriptures. Third, in the Divine Service it is Christ who is doing the serving. Fourth, Christ’s Divine Service is the source of our worship as God’s people.
The Lord Jesus is in charge of the Divine Service. It was Jesus who decided to go to Jerusalem. He knew what awaited him there. He knew that the cries of hosanna would, in a few short days, give way to the cries of “crucify him! Crucify him!” But he set his face toward Jerusalem because he was the heir of David’s throne and it would be there in the holy city that he would claim his throne.
Jesus is in charge of the Divine Service. When he and his disciples arrived in Bethphage, not far from Jerusalem, Jesus told them to go into the little town and find a donkey and a colt tied next to her. Jesus set down clear instructions and they were to follow them. He was in charge. Should anyone ask them why they were taking the animals they were to say that the Lord needed them and that would be sufficient. Jesus is in charge. Not the minister, not a church hierarchy, not the throng of enthusiastic followers, not the religious seekers in the community, not the church growth experts who have done their church marketing research to ascertain what will get the people involved, but Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Church. He’s the boss. He’s running the Divine Service from beginning to end.
Second, the Divine Service is according to the Scriptures. The Lord Jesus does not come up with a brand new message or way of worship. He fulfills what is written in the Holy Scriptures. How often Jesus appeals to the written Word of God! How often the writers of the New Testament Scriptures point back to the written Word of God. What is written in the Bible determines for the Church of all ages how she shall worship. St. Matthew refers to what is written in the book of the prophet Zechariah
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your King is coming to you;
He is just and having salvation,
Lowly and riding on a donkey,
A colt, the foal of a donkey.
The Bible is not just a collection of tales that religious people compiled to express their faith and hope. The Bible is the written Word of God. Everything Jesus did was foretold by God through the prophets who had gone before. We see this especially during the most holy seasons of the Church year: Advent and Lent. Christ miraculous conception and birth from the Virgin Mary, the place of his birth in Bethlehem, the nature of his rule, his miracles, his suffering, his sacrificial and vicarious death, his resurrection from the dead, his reign over the Church, and his imminent return were all foretold by God through the Old Testament prophets.
The Divine Service is according to the Scriptures. The liturgy we follow week after week is taken right out of the Bible. We don’t make it up as we go along. We worship as the Church has always worshipped, hearing the same words, singing the same psalms, directed by the Holy Scriptures.
Third, in the Divine Service it is Christ who is doing the serving. Consider the words of the prophet that were fulfilled in Christ: “Behold, your king is coming to you.” These words are addressed to the daughter of Zion, that is, to the Christians, to those who bear the name of God in Holy Baptism. Christ comes to his Church.
He doesn’t come to the mosque. He doesn’t come to the state capitol. He doesn’t come to Wall Street. He doesn’t come to the United Nations. He comes to the daughter of Zion. He comes to his Church. “Your king comes to you.” He is yours because he gives himself to you. You don’t make him your king. He makes himself your king. He comes to you. You don’t go out and bring him in. He invites himself.
You don’t draw him by your will. By nature, our will is bound by the devil to demonic lies, trapped in the desires of the sinful flesh, and hopelessly enamored by the shallow wisdom of a dying world. It is not we who bring Jesus to us. Jesus comes of his own accord. He comes in the way God decides. He is lowly. He is humble. He comes under the cover of weakness. He comes in a manner that we can receive him.
If he came with his majesty uncovered we would try to run away and hide. If he came in a display of sovereign power we would cover up our faults, weaknesses, and sins in the desperate but futile attempt to evade judgment. He comes as he must come if he is to do what must be done. He comes according to what is written in the Holy Scriptures. This is why he comes in humility and meekness. He comes as a lowly king, riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
He is coming to save us. A Savior saves. You don’t make a Savior into a Savior. Were you to be able to do such a thing you wouldn’t need a Savior, would you? But you do! And this is why you need Divine Service where the Lord Jesus comes to you in the manner he decides. He decides to come in a lowly and humble manner because this is how he will take away your sin.
Frightening you won’t get rid of your sins. Bribing you, conning you, distracting you, entertaining you, or thrilling you with something new and exciting won’t do you any real good. But he comes to do you good. He comes to take your sin away.
This is how the Lord’s Divine Service is the source of our worship as God’s people. And this is why it is rather unfortunate that we have adopted the word “worship” to describe what happens on a Sunday morning when God’s people gather together. It’s not that we don’t gather together to worship. We do! It’s rather that the worship in which we are engaged is the fruit of the Divine Service we have received from our gracious King.
Listen to the worship of that crowd to see how this is so. They cry out to him,
Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!
Hosanna means save now. The greatest act of worship is to call out to Jesus for salvation. Jesus is the Son of David. That makes him the Christ, the King, the Savior of sinners. So we cry out to him to save us in full confidence that that’s why he has come. We don’t ask him to go against his will and do it our way. We embrace his will for us, and we know that it is his good and gracious will to come to where we are and to rescue us from the threatening perils of our sins.
People who think that the first purpose of the Sunday gathering is our worship may absent themselves from worship because they aren’t worthy. They’ve gone out and gotten drunk. They’ve been sexually immoral. They’ve said cruel words – lies, in fact – and have hurt people who are still hurting. They’ve done all sorts of things that render them unfit to come into the presence of God. So they won’t come. They won’t come to church. And then, after a while, they won’t come to church because they haven’t come to church and that’s a sin they don’t want to admit is a sin so they stay away imagining that they can find God on their own. Of course, they can’t.
But I have news for you. The first purpose of the Sunday gathering is not worship. That’s the second purpose. The first purpose is that your king will come to you. He knows your sins. He knows every sin you’ve ever committed. He knows your sins better than you do. If you’ve lied, cheated, broken a promise, lusted after another man’s wife, hated your brother, despised your coworkers, and spread mean-spirited gossip designed to tear down your neighbor – don’t you think that your God knows this? Nothing is hidden from his eyes.
Now look at him where he wants you to look at him. Look at him where he comes to you in humility, lowly, just and having salvation. Look at him riding on the donkey. See him a few days later picking up his cross. Watch him as he suffers and dies for you. The sin that keeps you away from God is the sin that he bore on the cross. There is no sin too great for him to forgive. He has already borne sin’s weight. And here he is, in his Church, coming to the daughter of Zion, coming to save her.
He comes today in his body and blood. This holy meal is for those who know their sins and cannot bear their burden. This Supper is not something we do. Remember who is in charge. Jesus says, “Take eat, take drink: this is my body, given for you, this is my blood, shed for you.” Then it must be what he says it is and since it is what he says it is it is our salvation. So we sing, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest.” Christ’s Divine Service evokes true worship in our hearts and God graciously accepts our praise. Amen