The First Sunday in Advent| November 29, 2009| Rev. Rolf Preus|
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!” St. Matthew 21, 1-9
We don’t have kings these days. I saw the king of Norway when I was a boy. It was a pretty big deal. But it’s not as if he had any real power. He was just a celebrity. Royal monarchs are a thing of the past.
But authority is something everyone understands. The man says do it and you must do it. That’s authority. If you don’t do what he says something is going to happen to you and you won’t like it. Nowadays authority is much less personal than it used to be. Half the time you can’t even find out who made the rule or who can change the rule. I think most of us would probably rather have a king than an impersonal bureaucracy that will fine you because you didn’t do what you didn’t know you had to do.
We confess that Jesus is our king. We are the daughter of Zion. We are the true Israel. Jesus is the Son of David and the true king of Israel. He is the Christ: the final prophet, priest, and king. He is the prophet. His word is the final word from God. Indeed, he is the Word made flesh. He is the priest. He offers himself as the sacrifice to God to reconcile the holy God to this sinful world by taking away the world’s sin. He is the king. As king he governs with full authority. He rules. What he says goes.
But his authority is different than other rulers. He is different. He is God in the flesh. He knows what a mere man would not know. He knows where the donkey and the colt will be. He knows that his disciples will have no trouble finding them. He knows that everyone will cooperate with their efforts. After all, he is the one who inspired Zechariah the prophet to write:
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. (Zechariah 9, 9)
He is the one who will see to it that the prophecy is fulfilled. His authority is divine. He is the Lord Jesus. His authority is biblical. He comes to fulfill what was written of him. Think of how often the New Testament writers say that something happened to fulfill what was written by the prophet. Our King’s authority is divine. It is biblical. It is evangelical.
Now that’s a word tossed around quite a bit in the church: evangelical. We know that evangelical is good. But what does it mean?
It’s an adjective. It modifies a noun. Jesus has evangelical authority. He is an evangelical king. His church or kingdom is evangelical. Evangelical comes from the word evangel which means gospel or good news. The good news is that Jesus has lived and died for us and has taken away our sins by his vicarious obedience. He has obeyed the law in our place. He has suffered for our disobedience to the law. In so doing he has set us free from the judgment of the law. He has saved us or rescued us from our sins and from the death we deserved. He has destroyed the power of the devil over us and has set us free.
The Bible uses many words to express the truth of the gospel: redemption, forgiveness, justification, salvation. The gospel makes no demands of us. It is the good news that tells us what Christ has done and is doing to rescue us from our sins.
The reason we know we need a Savior from sin is because we know God’s law. God’s law tells us what we must do and not do. God’s law teaches us to love.
God’s law teaches us to love God above all things. It teaches us to use God’s name reverently and faithfully in prayer and to confess his truth. It teaches us to love his holy word and to seek out instruction from him. It teaches us that we must love God and what he says more than we love ourselves or anyone else in the world.
God’s law teaches us to love our neighbors. We are to love them as much as we love ourselves. The law doesn’t tell us to love ourselves. We naturally do that. The notion that people need more self-esteem is one of the biggest spiritual cons of our generation. We don’t need more self-esteem. We need the very opposite. We need to humble ourselves before others, placing the needs of others before our own. We need to set aside our own desires for the sake of honoring our parents and others responsible for us. We need to care as much about our neighbor’s wellbeing, marriage, property, family, reputation, and future as we care about ourselves.
God’s law tells us to love God above all things and to love our neighbors as ourselves. God’s law teaches us to love. God’s law condemns us for our failure to love.
And then comes our king. He loves. He meets the demands of love. He meets the demands we didn’t meet. He shows us how it is done. But much more than that, he loves in order to fulfill the demands that love placed on us. He loves as our substitute, as our representative. He meets the demands that divine loved placed on us all.
Look at Jesus and you will see love. He has all authority in heaven and on earth and yet he comes to his people in humility. Look at how he exercises power. Look at how he chooses to appear to his people. He is lowly. He is humble. He comes to his people riding on a donkey. He doesn’t come to strike terror in the heart. He doesn’t come to judge. He doesn’t come to lay down the law. He comes in humility to save his people from their sins.
This is the key to understanding his kingship and his kingdom. It’s a question of authority. It is evangelical authority. It’s the authority of the gospel. St. John writes of him:
And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (St. John 1, 16-17)
Legal authority can only do so much. It can show us what is right and wrong. It can teach us what to do. It can teach us what to avoid doing. It can urge, threaten, judge, and punish. But it cannot make us obey. The law is powerless to empower anyone to do anything. The law is power. But it is power only to destroy. It cannot deliver us from our own sins.
We need a king with evangelical authority. Jesus is that king. He has the authority to forgive us our sins. He has the authority to fill us with his Spirit who changes us on the inside and moves us to obey God. Jesus doesn’t threaten us. He doesn’t judge us. He doesn’t punish us. He comes in humility. He is the almighty God. He is the one before whom everyone in heaven and on earth will bend the knee and confess him to be the Lord God. But he comes to us in a way that we can receive him. He hides the majesty of his glory underneath deep condescension. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Advent is a forgotten season of the church year. It used to be a time of repentance. The Church would eliminate the Gloria in Excelsis and the Hallelujahs from the Divine Service. She would focus on preparing to celebrate the birth of the Savior. First we need to confess our sin. Then we need to hear the gospel. There is no evangelical authority – there is no authority to forgive sinners – except where the law has done its work. We must acknowledge our sin. We must confess it. The gospel of the forgiveness of sins is for sinners who want to be set free.
Nowadays Advent is largely ignored. The Christmas season begins with the Thanksgiving holiday. It’s a busy time of the year. It’s a sentimental time of the year. It’s an expensive time of the year. It’s as if we can achieve peace and goodwill by spending money. But we cannot. The peace of Christmas is for those who are brokenhearted. They have exiled themselves from God by their sin. They know it. They can’t deny it. They need a king with evangelical authority. Jesus comes to them, claiming the authority to forgive sins. And he does.
The Church sings. Jesus enters. “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” And so he comes. Not with vengeance. Not with judgment. Not with punishment. He comes to us in his very body and blood. He invites us to eat and to drink. He forgives us all our sins.
Your king is coming to you. He is coming to rule over you. He will do so by taking off of you the burden of guilt that you carry with you. He carries it himself. He takes it to the cross and there he sheds his blood to wash it way forever. Your king is coming to you. He is coming to rule over you. After taking your burden of sin off of you he fills you with his love.
We are his holy Church. As such, we bear his own name and that is the LORD, our righteousness. By making his righteousness our own he identifies us as his. He lays claim to genuine evangelical authority over us. We live under grace. That is the abundant life. It’s the only life worth living. Amen