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)
The Advent wreath is up. That means we are expecting something! No, not someTHING but SOMEONE! Someone very, very, very important. Someone royal. Yes, and more. Someone divine!
The Lord Jesus, of course! True man and true God! The Word made flesh. Blessed is Jesus who comes in the Name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest! Yes, as Jesus came to Bethlehem, and the angelic choir sang the Gloria in Excelis: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased! (Luke. 2:14), so now He comes into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. And today, He comes in His Word and in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And finally, on the Last Day He will come in glory to judge the living and the dead.
Blessed is Jesus who comes in the Name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest! Glory and peace. Heaven’s glory! Heaven’s peace! The pure gift of salvation from the Lord Jesus to His sinners that He has come to redeem. All this is ours on this First Sunday in Advent.
On Palm Sunday, Glory and Peace, the divine and royal Jesus rides into Jerusalem. On a colt. On a young donkey. To bring to fulfillment all the salvific promises of the Old Testament that go all the way back to Eden. He rides into Jerusalem to overturn the fall of Adam and Eve. He rides the donkey to do a Good Friday Salvation Job! FOR YOU! For all! For every sinner. For every sin.
There is a lot of eager anticipation as Jesus approached Jerusalem. Crowds were there to meet Him. Palm branches in hand. Praise on their lips Their overcoats to pave the highway for this royal arrival. Quite a commotion, with lots of excitement, enthusiasm, exhilaration, and delight. For now.
But soon this Palm Sunday crowd will be replaced with another mob. A rabble that will cry out for His Blood. Shouting: Crucify Him! Crucify Him! We have no king but Caesar!
Now, what the rabble meant for evil, God uses for good. Your salvational good! Jesus truly is the King. The Messiah. The Saviour. He comes to take all your sin and all its damnation to the cross. If He does not do this, then you are not saved. If He does not bear all your sin and all its condemnation in His Body on the cross, then you would have to suffer it, die with it and be damned with it.
Jesus rides a donkey and dies on a cross. His actions look so foolish, so worthless, a waste. Backwards. Of course, from our human perspective, it is foolish. However, donkey riding and cross dying—this is God’s wisdom. His power, might, glory, and peace. FOR YOU!
This is why the divine and royal Jesus came to Bethlehem and also to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. He came to do His Good Friday salvational work, achieving salvation for you. It’s done—it is finished. Your salvation as a pure gift from Him to you.
In the Divine Service, Jesus comes in the Word speaking and giving the very salvation He won on the cross. The Lord Jesus has sent me here to speak His word of forgiveness won for you on the Good Friday cross. YOU ARE FORGIVEN! JESUS DIED FOR YOU! YOU ARE SAVED! JESUS IS YOUR RIGHTEOUSNESS BEFORE GOD! JESUS MAKES YOU RIGHT BEFORE GOD! In the Lord’s Supper we sing the Sanctus: Blessed is He that cometh in the name of Lord. Hosanna in the highest. Yes, we sing the words of the Palm Sunday crowd because Jesus comes to us salvationally, giving us in the bread and wine His Good Friday Body and Blood, the gift of forgiveness, life and salvation.
On the Last Day Jesus will return in glory for all to see. He will judge the living and the dead. Until then is the time for holy living. The Epistle speaks of this today. St. Paul gives this admonition: salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 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. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Today, Jesus serves you graciously with His Good Friday forgiveness in the absolution, the preached gospel, and the Lord’s Supper. And He not only forgives you, but He also fills you afresh with the Holy Spirt. And you need to be renewed in the Holy Spirit, whom you first received in Holy Baptism. For although the work of winning your salvation was finished by your Saviour Jesus on Good Friday, the living out of your salvation is a work in progress as long as you live in this time between your first becoming God’s child in Baptism and your being received safely into heaven when you die or should the Lord return in your lifetime.
In this in-between time, as we live out our baptism, we are commanded by our Lord to live in this present, fallen world as citizens of a future world, yet unseen—of heaven itself. And so we strive to keep God’s law, but not in order to earn God’s favour or to secure our membership in His Church or to achieve some special status. Rather, our casting off the works of darkness and putting on the armor of light is simply our response to God’s mercy and love in Christ Jesus. Putting on the Lord Jesus Christ and making no provision for the flesh is simply how we reflect God’s own character to those around us. Putting on Jesus and not gratifying our sinful desires—that’s repentance talk, that’s baptism talk. And this is what God gives to us as pure gift. Yes, in this in-between time of struggles and sorrows, God gifts us with our identity as His children, who are clothed in the holiness of Jesus and who live out our baptism until the day we stand before the judgment seat of Christ on the Last Day.
Do you see the deep connection between Jesus riding into Jerusalem and your living now as a citizen of heaven? Jesus rode on a donkey and died on the cross in order to give you the glory of heaven and the peace of forgiveness. And now, He gives you His Holy Spirit. And with the Holy Spirit comes a new way of life. A life of faith in Jesus, God’s Son, a faith that eagerly and gladly receives the Lord’s Holy Word and Supper for salvation. And flowing from our faith in Jesus comes also a different kind of living in the here and now. A life of living as citizens of heaven. A life of holy living, a life of sacrificial love for others because you want to help people. This is what Christians do. And this new life of casting off the works of darkness and of putting on the armor of light so that you live in faith toward God and love toward others, this new life is done according to God’s Word and by God’s grace. And so it is indeed a holy life, a life of faith and love lived out by those who have put on Christ and His holiness in the baptismal waters. Do you see? Jesus uses you, His holy ones, to do holy work. Helping people, loving people, according to His Holy Word and in His Holy Name.
This season of Advent is a season for asking God to strengthen us in the new way of life Baptism brings. The new way of living for and loving others in Jesus’ Name. This life of sacrificial love and service to others includes being a faithful husband or wife. Father or mother. Child. Brother or sister. Employer or employee. Citizen. Member of Trinity. Participant in your community. Yes, this new way of living in the light of Christ is the way of dying to your sin, believing in Jesus, and serving others. The Ten Commandments speak of these things. And this is what you gladly want to do as Christ’s holy people. Let us call it Advent living. The word “Advent” means “coming”, and this new way of living in faith in God and in fervent love for others—this is the life we are called to live and which the Holy Spirit empowers us to live as we wait for the coming of our Saviour at our death or on the Last Day. And as, by God’s grace, we live advent-ly in faith and love, we eagerly pray: “Come Lord Jesus! Abide with us. Come in the divine service today. Bless us. Remain with us on the day of our death and bless us with heaven. Then, come on the Last Day and give us, bless us with the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. We trust in You, O Jesus.” Amen.