First Sunday in Advent (Ad Te Levavi)—3 December 2017

Palm Sunday

Our text is today’s Gospel (Matthew 21:1–9):  1 When they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples,  2 saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.”  4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, 5 “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’ ”

6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them.  7 They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them.  8 Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.  9 And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”  (ESV)

 

And also today’s Epistle (Romans 13:8-14):

8 Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.  9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. 

11 Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.  12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.  13 Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy.  14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.  (ESV)

 

This coming Saturday is the Christmas parade here in Niagara-on-the-Lake. People will arrive early to stake out their places along Queen Street so that they can have a good view of all the floats passing by. And you can tell that the parade is coming your way when the music starts and gets increasingly louder.

Today’s Gospel tells of another parade, the Palm Sunday parade of our Lord Jesus coming to Jerusalem. This holy parade continue today, as our Lord Jesus comes to us hidden in His Word and Supper. This holy parade will continue until the Last Day, when our Lord comes to raise our bodies from the grave. And like children who cannot contain their excitement for a parade to start, you and I lift up our heads so that we are ready and prepared for the Lord’s coming to us sinners.

That is why we observe Advent. Advent is a season of waiting, of anticipating, of preparing for Jesus to parade right by our spot to give us His blessings. Advent is a season for us to immerse ourselves, even more we usually do, into prayer and God’s Word. Advent is a season for taking our sins seriously, so that we see our own sin-filled darkness and confess our sins and receive the light of our Lord’s forgiveness. Devoting ourselves to prayer and God’s Word and true repentance is the way we, by God’s grace, live in readiness to receive Jesus as He parades past us, as He comes to us to bless us now and also on the Last Day.

In the Palm Sunday parade, we see Jesus affirming just what kind of Saviour He is to us poor, miserable sinners.

First, Jesus affirms His divinity in a very subtle way. He says to two disciples: go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, “The Lord needs them”. Here, Jesus calls Himself the Lord, not “your Lord” or “our Lord”, but the Lord—in other words, the Lord of all creation. Jesus is showing the disciples that He is the Lord of all things, and that He even know such a seemingly small and inconsequential detail of the future as to where to find a donkey and a colt, so as to fulfill the ancient prophecy about the King riding into Jerusalem.

In the days and weeks leading up to Palm Sunday, Jesus has been telling His disciples that He is not a victim of circumstances, but rather that He is in complete control of His destiny, as only God can be. Time and again, Jesus said to His disciples: See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day (Matthew 20:18-19). Jesus had always known that His mission was not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). Do you see? Jesus is not a victim of violence thrust upon Him; rather, He is the very Son of God. No one takes [His life] from [Him], but [He] lay[s] it down of [His] own accord. [He has] authority to lay it down, and [He has] authority to take it up again. This [is the] charge [He] received from [His] Father.(John 10:18).

In Ephesians, St. Paul proclaims that the Father of glory… raised [Christ Jesus] from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come (1:17, 20-21). Do you see? Our risen Lord Jesus, who was in complete control of His own destiny, now holds the world and its future in His hands.

And Jesus holds your future; He knows the future He has planned for you. To you He has made a bold promise: this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day (John 6:40). You may often be worn down by your suffering and the troubles and evils of this fallen world. But by God’s grace, you trust that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God, and you rejoice that Jesus holds your future in His loving hands. Yes, you rejoice that God’s Son has redeemed you with His precious blood and has made you to be numbered with His saints in glory everlasting! (adapted from the Te Deum).

In the Palm Sunday parade, we see Jesus affirming that He is true God, in complete control of what He is about to endure for the sake of sinners. And on Palm Sunday, Jesus also affirms another aspect of His being the Saviour of the world. Jesus affirms His compassion, and again, in a very subtle way. When He tells the two disciples to untie the donkey and her colt and bring them to Him, Jesus knows He is fulfilling Zechariah’s prophecy: Say to the daughter of Zion, “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden”. But Jesus is also showing compassion. And the object of His compassion is the foal, who is completely dependent upon his mother and who would suffer great anxiety in being separated from her. When I was a child, I read this text and I wondered how Jesus could straddle both the mother donkey and her foal. But now I know. It was Jesus’ compassion that arranged for the foal to tag alongside his mother as Jesus paraded into Jerusalem.

Now, if Jesus showed such compassion for a beast of burden, how much more compassion does He have for you? Is not His compassion for you deeper than the depths of the ocean and higher than the heights of the heavens? Yes, of course, it is!

Why, then, do you complain when you suffer? Why do you doubt God’s love for you when life’s afflictions pile on and weigh you down? Does not the God who created the universe also know the wounds of your heart? Yes, He does! And He knows more. He knows your sins, all of them! But in compassion, He keeps no record of your sins; rather, He forgives you for the sake of Christ Jesus, who died in your place that you may live forever. How easily we forget that our whole life here on earth is just the prologue to the endless chapters of our life in heaven! Let us, then, take courage on this First Sunday in Advent and remember that our Lord and Saviour, who showed compassion to a foal, a beast of burden, has an even greater compassion for us. Indeed, He has promised to walk with us through this world’s dark valley of death. And He has given us His Word that His goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our life and that we shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

In the Palm Sunday parade, we see Jesus affirming that He is true God, in complete control of His destiny and our future. And we see that He is our compassionate Saviour. And then, we also see Jesus affirming His humility. Now, when the crowd called Jesus the Son of David, they most certainly did not know completely what they were saying. The crowd sees Jesus as the One who will finally restore the kingdom as it was in the days of David. And yes, Jesus is a great King who brings the coming kingdom of father David with Him. But what the crowd did not understand was that our Lord’s kingdom was more than an earthly, physical reign from Jerusalem. Jesus was not coming to overthrow the Romans, for His kingdom is not of this world. And so, in humility, Jesus rejects all human attempts to make Him King by force. Rather, He comes to sinners, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.

In the movie, “Wayne’s World”, two losers by the name of Wayne and Garth idolize rock star icons like Alice Cooper and Aerosmith. And when they meet their idols, they bow down and plead, ”We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!”. Wayne and Garth are trying to be humble, but that is not humility. For you see, God is worthy of all praise and honour and glory. And yet He is Himself humble.

On Palm Sunday, Jesus shows true humility. His focus is not on accruing honour for Himself, for He rejects the glory of ruling an earthly kingdom. And instead, He focuses upon the blessings He is about to pour out upon the world through His death and resurrection. In fact, His entire ministry was focused not on His being served but on His serving poor, crippled, lame, blind, and miserable sinners who cannot repay, who cannot save themselves. And St. Luke tells us that when the days drew near for [Jesus] to be taken up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem (9:51). Do you see? Jesus is set, determined to go to Jerusalem, where He will suffer and die for sinners. And nothing and no one can stop Him. Here, we see our Lord’s humility, His single-minded focus on the blessings of forgiveness, life, and salvation which He will accomplish on Good Friday.

Humility is near to the heart of God, so much so that Jesus, God’s Son, came humbly focused not of accruing honour for Himself but on winning for sinners the blessing of salvation. And now, our humble Saviour invites us to join Him in the way of humility. That is what today’s Epistle is all about. It is easy to interpret Paul’s words as merely a list of rules, and of course they are that. But Paul’s words are much more than rules. They are first of all about following Jesus in the way of humility.

You see, when, by God’s grace, we love God and our neighbour, then we are not focused on our own honour and glory; rather, we are focused on God’s blessing of salvation in Christ and on our being a blessing to others. But every time we sin, then our focus is turned inward upon ourselves and on our desire to be our own god and to be served rather than to serve. Our striving to keep the Ten Commandments is never only about keeping God’s rules; it is about following Jesus in the way of humility. Yes, as husbands and wives remain faithful to each other and as we all refuse to habour resentment toward our neighbour, we are not just refraining from adultery and murder; we are also following Jesus in the way of humble love.

As the Last Day approaches, the love of many will grow cold (Matthew 24:12). But not so for you and me. Rather, by God’s grace, we strive to follow Jesus in the way of humble love. For we know that our salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. And in all our struggles, our Lord Jesus comes to us humbly in His Holy Word and Supper to forgive us our sins and to renew us in the faith, so that we may cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light, so that we may put on the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. And because of our Lord’s great blessings to us, we will be ever ready for His return. On that Day, He will render judgment on the unbelieving world. But with you and me and with all the faithful, our Lord will share joy beyond comparing.

This blessing of eternal joy is yours and mine, all because Jesus is indeed God’s Son, the Saviour of the world. This Jesus overflows with compassion for sinners burdened by sin and He comes to us now to serve us in true humility. Yes, in the Divine Service this morning, He comes, focused on giving us the feast of salvation, that we may never be confounded by unbelief but may rather praise and worship Him as the King of glory, the everlasting Son of the Father. Amen.