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

The King of Kings Comes for You (Matthew 21:1-9)

Bethlehem Lutheran & Bethel Lutheran Churches, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR
First Sunday in Advent (Ad Te Levavi) + December 3, 2017
Text: Matthew 21:1-9

“Your King Comes to You”
This is the beginning of Advent, the season leading up to Christmas.  Advent comes to us from Latin, meaning “to come to” (ad + venire), That is, Christ comes, and comes to His people.  That being said, Advent is for meditating on Christ’s coming—when He came in meekness, and when He comes again in glory and power.
Today, we will focus on the Scripture that Zechariah made of this day:
“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.’ ”
Behold says Zechariah. Wake up! Pay attention! Why? Because your King is coming. He alone shall reign among you. Christ alone is your king, not Moses with his law. Sin, death, and the devil are not your master. Let none but Christ your Master be. All tyrants who have long plagued you lie at your feet, for Jesus is your king. Jesus alone is chosen, promised, and sent by God to you. He has purchased and won you. Heaven, earth, and all creatures cry out that Jesus is your king.
He came in this way because He is King.  King of the Jews, but so much more.  It would simply be a tragedy if Jesus came as the rightful King of the Jews, they didn’t receive Him and rather crucified Him.  But in fact by their rejection, God established His reign.
What sort of King He is
He is not an earthly ruler of an earthly kingdom.  He is a spiritual King whose Kingdom is one of faith (yet one day of sight).  The Jews had it wrong when they heard of God’s Messiah coming as King.  They heard terms like kingdom, land, and Zion, and they were confined to merely physical interpretations.  Right before His ascension, the disciples still asked Him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)  By which they meant, are you going to set up a nation state, establish a worldly government, choose people to be your “right hand man” and so forth.
But we are at a severe disadvantage to think of the Kingdom, of Zion, of Israel, and our King in merely earthly ways.  He is God, so His reign extends not borders found on a map but extends over the whole universe.  His Zion is not merely a special name for the earthly city Jerusalem, but for His dwelling in the midst of His holy people–“For the Lord has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his dwelling place: “This is my resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it.” (Ps. 132:13-14)  His Israel is not the blood descendants of the patriarch Jacob, for “All who receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13)
At Jesus’ entry into the city Jerusalem, it was expected that He was an earthly king, for He was riding in as Solomon, the natural son of David.  Yet, it was soon clear that His reign would not be a continuation of King Solomon.  God raised Him up, not to a glittering throne with fanfare.  The shouts of Hosanna quickly came to a close.  Instead of a gold-clad throne, He was raised up to reign from the tree of the cross.  The justice He established was the “temporal death and eternal punishment” that we “justly deserve.”[1]  The righteousness He established was the sinless, obedient heart and life that no son of Adam could do.  He was indeed righteous and having salvation, as Zechariah foretold (Zech. 9:9).  But what earthly King could do this for His subjects?  As the King of the Jews breathed His last and was laid in the tomb, it became all too clear that His reign had not yet come in power.
How He reigns
Among earthly rulers, you find power, politics, sway, and even corruption.  Not so with King Jesus.  He comes “humble and mounted on a donkey.”  He comes not to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28)  He comes not with threats of condemnation but with words of comfort for the broken, the sinful, the misguided.
That is how He still comes, in humble means, as a servant-King.  He reaches people not by coercion and ultimatums, but by His humble, yet powerful Word.  He doesn’t display His power in mighty acts of destruction, but in the peaceful fruit of sins forgiven and the hope of eternal life.  He nourishes His people, not with glorious power to overcome every obstacle, but with His crucified and risen Body and Blood.  All this so that His power might be perfected in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).
Indeed, the Day is coming when He will come in power, but now is the day for His Kingdom to grow.  We might grow impatient with His ways, but He who knows the hearts of all also knows what things truly “work” to extend His reign.  When we’re surrounded by businesses and churches-modeled-after-consumerism that seem to thrive we grow envious of their visible success.  But if we are to be faithful to our Lord, we too remain humble servants, waiting to be exalted by our God.
Why He Comes
Lastly, we consider why He comes.  It might occur to us that we get by just fine without a King.  But who is able to face the judgment day without fear?  King Jesus intercedes for you.  Who is able to face the spiritual warfare that would deceive us, make us complacent in our sins, and drag us ignorantly to hell?  King Jesus is able to loose our chains and fight for us.  Which one of us can do battle with death and overcome?  We might think we’re doing well to reach 90, but in fact the day comes for each of us to breathe our last.  King Jesus comes to give you His victory over the grave!
He did all this before even asking you if you’d like it.  He purchased and won you from sin, death, and the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death.  He knew your great spiritual need, and He has loved you from eternity.  This is the sort of King He is for you.
He did all this so that you would belong to Him and live with Him and serve Him in His Kingdom.  In this life, that Kingdom may not look like much—it might be hard, painful, take sacrifice, even cost you your life—but it is a Kingdom which endures beyond time, gives victory over death, and promises you eternal prosperity and blessing from God.
Behold, daughter of Zion, faithful of God in this place, your King is coming to you, and God grant you a heart to receive Him.  Amen!
[1] Lutheran Service Book, p 184