The First Sunday in Advent| December 3, 2017| 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
Lowly and humble rulers don’t rule. If you want to get power you must display power. People love strong rulers and they despise weak ones. And isn’t humility and lowliness a sign of weakness?
Once he came in blessing,
All our sins redressing;
Came in likeness lowly,
Son of God most holy;
Bore the cross to save us;
Hope and freedom gave us.
Weakness? By no means! He was in the form of God and he assumed the form of a servant. When humbling himself and becoming obedient even unto the death of the cross he never lost any of his power. Weak? He looked weak. Humility looks weak. But from his humble birth, his submission to his parents, his lowly life, his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, not displaying power and majesty, but coming in humility, riding on a donkey, his silence before his false accusers, his suffering on the cross, his bitter death, and burial in Joseph’s tomb – from when he was born until he died he was and remained the almighty God.
How did he know where the donkey would be tied? How did he know a colt would be with her? How did he know that the disciples would be questioned? St. Mark records that they were and that when they said what Jesus told them to say the people let them take the animals. How did Jesus know? He knows everything. This humble king who hides his divine power under the covering of meekness is and remains the almighty, and omniscient God.
Why does he come in humility? Why does he hide his power and glory? It is for the sake of the pure proclamation of the gospel.
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.”
If he didn’t cover up his glory under the robe of humility, the daughter of Zion could not bear to see him come, but would rather run away and hide. The daughter of Zion is the church. The church is the assembly or communion of the saints. God doesn’t turn sinners into saints by scaring the devil and sin out of them. He does so by coming to them humbly, meekly, without threatening them, offering them life as his gracious gift.
His meekness is despised. The power is hidden. We want to see in order to believe. But that’s the problem. You cannot see the power of Christ and believe. That power must be hidden. If Christ were to come displaying his divine power in its fullness, we could not believe. He must come to us in meekness in order to elicit faith in our hearts.
This account of Jesus riding a donkey into Jerusalem and receiving the praise of the crowds is the Gospel Lesson for the First Sunday in Advent and for Palm Sunday. A portion of it is sung in the Sanctus, as we prepare to receive Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. We sing, “Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!” The reason Christ’s humble entrance into the holy city is featured so prominently in our worship is because it illustrates so beautifully how our Savior come to us.
“Your king comes to you.” This is what the prophet Zechariah wrote and Jesus fulfilled this prophecy. “Your king comes to you.” He is your king. He rules over you. He exercises authority over you. He cares for you. How does he do all this? He does all this by dying for you. Pontius Pilate, a religious cynic as well as a cowardly politician, testified to the truth when he ordered that over Jesus head on the cross would be written the words, in Latin, Greek, and Aramaic, “Jesus of Nazareth: King of the Jews.” Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords and his kingdom, his royal reign, is founded on his authority to forgive sins. He doesn’t forgive by a mere declaration. His declaration of forgiveness is his giving what is his to give. He gained the authority to forgive sinners their sins by bearing those sins on the cross.
“Your king comes to you.” This is the king who comes. You want a Jesus who will rid the world of injustice, crime, war, corruption, and poverty, then you can go out and find him. But it won’t be the real Jesus. The real Jesus comes to sinners who need forgiveness and he comes to take their sin away by bearing it in his own body on the cross.
“Your king comes to you.” You don’t go out and find him. You can’t. If it were up to you to find Jesus you wouldn’t find him. You’d find some religious charlatan who would manipulate you, intimidate you, con you, and deceive you, but you wouldn’t find Jesus. He must come to you because he comes to save you from your sins. Sinners cannot find their Savior. Their Savior must find them.
“Yes, but don’t we have a free will? Isn’t it up to us to choose Jesus to be our personal Savior? Surely, God isn’t going to force us to believe, is he? We must take the first step. We must choose.”
Is that so? Well, we certainly have a free will when it comes to getting out of bed, getting dressed, preparing for church, and coming here to listen to God’s word. We could choose to stay at home and watch T.V. But tell me this, how can our so called free will break the bondage of sin? Or are we not sinners? And didn’t Jesus himself say, “Whosever sins is a slave to sin, but if the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed”? Free will doesn’t raise us up out of death to live. Free will doesn’t change the heart of stone into a heart that believes and trusts in every word that comes out of the mouth of God. Free will doesn’t put Jesus up on the cross to bear our burden and relieve us of it. We don’t go out to find our King; our King comes to us.
He comes to save us. He is righteous. He comes to clothe us in his righteousness. He has salvation. He comes to rescue us from the threatening perils of our sins. This is what we pray for in today’s Collect, and this is what he does. Hosanna! Save us, save us now, save us from our own sin.
The joy of the crowd that welcomes Jesus into the holy city was the joy of sinners meeting their Savior. He is omniscient. That means all-knowing. He knew where the donkey and the colt would be. He knows the details. He knows your details. He knows things about you that others don’t know and if they knew wouldn’t care. He knows and he cares. There isn’t a weakness you suffer with which he is unfamiliar. He knows you, he knows your sins, and he comes to you, not to judge you, not to punish you, not to lecture you, but to save you.
The donkey carried him into Jerusalem. Then Jesus went to purify the temple. He threw out the religious crooks that were turning God’s house into a den of thieves. He cleansed the temple in preparation of offering up his own body on the cross as the temple where God would meet his people and meet them in grace, not judgment. He came to suffer and die for the sin of the world.
He comes to you. Advent means coming. His coming at Christmas brought peace from heaven down to earth. It brought God’s goodwill, his favor, upon sinners. He comes to you. He comes humbly, meekly, not riding a donkey, but speaking to you through a preacher who is but a sinner like you; he comes to give you his life-giving body and blood through common bread and wine. He comes to you in a way that you can receive him, not in a way that makes you want to run away from him and hide.
How to prepare for Christmas? By getting all the shopping done? By sending out all the cards? By scheduling this and that and the other event? Here’s how to prepare for Christmas. There’s only one way. Repent. Confess your sins to your heavenly Father. Don’t make excuses. Make a sincere confession. Consider your life in the light of the Ten Commandments: You shall have no other gods; You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain; Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy; Honor your father and your mother; You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor; You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor. Consider your life in light of these commandments, and when the shoe fits, put it on. Admit to God that you have bound yourself to sin, embraced it, and are guilty of it.
Repenting is more than confessing to God your sin. It is believing God when he tells you that, for Christ’s sake, he forgives you all your sins. Now look at Jesus as he rides the donkey into the holy city to claim his kingdom. Watch him as he meekly accepts the praise of children. Watch him as he humbly bears the abuse, the pain, and the sorrow of crucifixion. What is he doing and for whom is he doing it? He is taking away your sin. He is not conforming to the expectations of the proud who want a ruler who displays his power. He is rather conforming to the prophecies of the Bible, fulfilling the promise God gives to sinners.
We are prepared to meet Jesus when we believe his words. He elicits faith, not by forcing himself on us, but by sending his Spirit into our hearts who persuades us that the gospel is true. The God who sees everything bad we ever did loves us with an almighty love that buries our sins in the depths of the sea. The humble King, riding on a donkey, receiving the praise of the church, comes to you. When you cry out, Hosanna, save us now, what does he do? He saves you. Amen.