First Sunday of Advent (Matthew 21:1-9)

Bethlehem Lutheran & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR

First Sunday of Advent + December 2, 2018

Text: Matthew 21:1-9

By coming into Jerusalem, Jesus sets a precedent.  On the one hand, He shows what kind of King He is going to be.  On the other, He shows what His subjects can expect.

Contrast this with what people were hoping Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem meant.  They were weary from diseases, left empty by death, harassed by demons and false shepherds, and they were children of Abraham living under foreign rule.  They longed for relief because God had promised them this land, He had promise them salvation.  But what most of them were hoping for was not what Jesus had come to bring.

But Jesus is no Caesar Augustus (reigned 27 BC—14 AD), here to establish the Pax Romana.  He does not come to bring peace on the earth, but a sword which will divide even members of the same family.[1]  If you’re looking for a king who will rule over a geographical location, look elsewhere, because He says, “My kingdom is not of this world.”[2]  But if you want rest, He is your King.  If you’re looking for rest from the enemies of guilt and death, this is the King you’ve been waiting for!

“Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”

So often we think we know our needs so well, but God sees better than we do.  The people gathered that Palm Sunday didn’t need a rehash of the Kingdom under David.  While their was outward peace, there was turmoil and sin always waiting at the door.  God saw their need and ours that this was David’s Son who came, “not to be served, but to serve, and give His life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28).  He rides into Jerusalem on a beast of burden, to serve a broken world full of sinners in their greatest need: One who can take away the sins of the world and lift the shroud of death that haunts all people.

This service He does in humility: A King mounted on a donkey, God dwelling in human weakness, a Man laying down His life to save.[3]  He served their greatest need in humility and weakness.  Who would have thought that Jesus could save by hanging on a cross?  They taunted Him as He hung there saying that He ought to save himself and the two criminals with him.[4]  But it was exactly under this weakness, this humble service, that He established His Kingdom.  He was crowned with thorns and anointed with a bloody death.  Because of such a coronation, God raised His righteous King from the dead to reign triumphant over His enemies.  He trampled Satan under His feet, overturned the curse of death, and removed our sins as far as the east is from the west.[5]

All this was Jesus’ first Advent.  His first coming was in weakness, but His Second coming will be with power.  Every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.  Every eye will see Him coming on the clouds of heaven, separating the righteous from the wicked.  The trouble was the people on Palm Sunday were a little ahead of schedule if they thought Jesus was already establishing His Kingdom in visible power.

But then where does that leave us?  We who follow Jesus are in the same place He was then.  We are found in weakness.  Though we are children of God, we lose our health or robbed of our property. We are slandered and taken advantage of.  Compared to other people who seem to transcend barriers of gender and human limitation, we are conscience bound as servants of our Creator.  It is not our share to have power, glory, and success now, but to endure disgrace, disappointment, and shame even while we live under our King, risen and ascended.

This life as a Christian is not much to look at.  You could try to sugar-coat it, call it victorious, but there comes a point where that notion sounds ridiculous.  Are you going to go to someone in the ICU and tell them they’re living the victorious life?  Of course not!  This life is nice at times, but death is always on the horizon.  The Christian life is lived by faith, not by sight.  Now is the time for people to be saved by God’s work, not one’s wise decision—“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”[6]  So, if a person believes in Jesus today, it’s not because he saw a powerful miracle or claimed he saw an angel, or was instantly healed of his disease.  A person comes to know Jesus by hearing His voice and believing what He says.

The next time Jesus comes, nobody is going to mistake His coming.  You won’t miss it because you were off Facebook that week, or cut the cord on your cable service.  This will be His Second Advent, where He comes with power. As a man of war, He will execute judgement upon His enemies, and gather His faithful into His courts to enjoy eternal peace, power, and rest from all enemies.

Where does that leave us?  Just as we now follow Him in weakness, we will be with Him in power.  St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15, “What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.” (1 Cor. 15:42-43)  The difference between our King’s first Advent and His second will turn everything around, because His Kingdom will be revealed in all its power and authority.  Justice will be done by the God who knows the hearts of all.  The proud and powerful will never again take advantage of the weak, and every lie will be clearly seen in the light of God’s truth.

So, today, we welcome our King who has come in weakness and gained for Himself a glorious Kingdom—one where even we belong because in it we find the very healing and hope we need.  But we also look forward to when we will “meet the Lord in the air”[7] and sing our Hosanna’s to our Christ who comes in glory.

And no better place do we see these two realities than in the Lord’s Supper.  Think about what we sing in the Sanctus: From Isaiah 6: “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabaoth (angel armies), the whole earth is full of His glory”—We praise our almighty and glorious King who is over all.  “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest.”—we welcome our King who came in the weakness of flesh and blood.  And yet, the same Jesus, glorious almighty God and humble servant for our salvation, is who serves us at this altar.

Israel of God, this is the King whom you have—One who is humble and lowly, and yet also almighty and powerful to save from every evil of body and soul.  Though you can’t see heaven’s halberd in His hand, He has died for you and He fights for you so that you will live under Him in His Kingdom forever. Amen.

[1] Matthew 10:34-36

[2] John 18:36

[3] John 15:13

[4] Luke 23:35-39

[5] Psalm 103:12

[6] John 20:29

[7] 1 Thessalonians 4:17