The First Sunday in Advent (Ad Te Levavi)—6 December 2020
The Reading from Holy Scripture: Matthew 21:1–9 (ESV)
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!”
Centuries before Christ was born in Bethlehem, God had made this promise to King David: When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom.…I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son (2 Samuel 7:12-14). Now, for nearly four hundred years, David did have sons—descendants—who sat on his throne. But after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC at the hands of the Babylonians, the enthronement and reign of earthly Davidic kings came to an end. God obviously had in mind something far grander than a perpetual earthly dynasty. He had in mind Jesus, who would be both David’s Son and David’s Lord. And so, when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons (Galatians 4:4-5).
The ancient prophecy spoke of God establishing an eternal kingdom through one of David’s sons. The angel Gabriel proclaimed the fulfillment of this prophecy when he announced to the Virgin Mary: behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end (Luke 1:31-32). And months later, another angel announced to shepherds out in [a Bethlehem] field, keeping watch over their flock by night[:]…Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:8, 10-11).
Soon, we will celebrate the birth of Jesus. Today, we reflect upon Jesus entering Jerusalem as a King. To help us grasp what is going on, I invite you to see Palm Sunday through the eyes of two men. St. Matthew does not give us their names, but he does tell us that just a few hours before Jesus rode into Jerusalem, these two men could see nothing; they were just two blind men sitting on the side of the road leading from Jericho to Jerusalem. The road would be packed with people going up to celebrate the Passover. Among the throng was Jesus—on His way to be condemned, mocked, flogged, and crucified. The beautiful irony is that in these events of great sin and evil that lead to Jesus’ rejection and death, God keeps His promise to King David by establishing the eternal reign of David’s Son and David’s Lord!
Jesus is walking the Jericho road to Jerusalem on His way to be lifted up on the cross and thus enthroned as King. Suddenly, He stops to show what kind of King He will be. Two blind men cry out: Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David! (20:30). Now, theirs is not a fully formed faith of disciples living after Good Friday and Easter. Nonetheless, these two men do have a faith that is genuine and correct, for they repeatedly call out for help to Jesus as Lord, …Son of David. The crowd following Jesus tells the men to shut up. But Jesus stops, calls them and says: “What do you want me to do for you?”.…“Lord, let our eyes be opened.” And Jesus in pity touche[s] their eyes, and immediately they recover their sight and follow [Jesus] (Matthew 20:32-34).
Psalm 72 gives this description of an ideal king: He will deliver the needy who is crying for help, and the afflicted who has no helper. He will take pity on the helpless and needy, and the lives of the needy he will save (vv. 12-13). This description of an ideal king finds its perfect fulfillment in Jesus, God’s Son, who delivers two needy blind men when they call out to Him for mercy. And now, these two man put their seeing eyes to the best use possible. They see Jesus, they see where He is headed, and they follow Jesus all the way to Jerusalem.
These men are anonymous witnesses who take to heart all that happens on Palm Sunday. Who knows? They may even have been the two disciples whom Jesus sent to bring the donkey and her colt to Him. At the very least, their following Jesus shows that they are now His disciples, His disciples who, once blind, now see. And what is it that they see?
They see Jesus doing something new. On all His past visits, Jesus would have walked into Jerusalem like any other pilgrim. But with this visit, Jesus knows that the time for His Good Friday coronation is drawing near. And so, after walking the twenty-some kilometres from Jericho, He now changes His mode of transportation to emphasize His kingship. Normally, a king who wanted to emphasize his power would ride into a city on a war horse or a chariot. But King Jesus is lowly; He rides on a beast of burden to show His humility. This King does not come to conquer, at least not in the way earthly kings fight battles; rather, King Jesus comes to rule by means of self-sacrifice and to give His life as a ransom payment for sinners. The two men had already encountered the mercy of Jesus in His healing; now, they see His humility in His riding into Jerusalem on a donkey.
And the two men also see the crowd imitating our Lord’s disciples. Some of the disciples had removed their cloaks and put them over the donkey and her colt to show honour to this King who comes in lowliness and humility. But then the crowd takes the disciples’ act of quiet reverence for Jesus and turns it inside out.
With great exuberance and excitement, the crowd flings off their cloaks and even cuts down branches to spread on the road. But mere exuberance is not in itself a sign of true faith. In this case, the crowd gets it all wrong. At first, the pilgrim crowd seems to understand Jesus’ true significance, for they quote the right words from Psalm 118—Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest! But by the end of the Palm Sunday procession, it is clear that the crowd falls woefully short of knowing who Jesus truly is. For St. Matthew tells us that when [Jesus] entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds [kept saying], “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” (21:10-11).
In spite of their exuberance, the crowd fails to confess Jesus as the promised King, David’s Son and David’s Lord. The crowd confesses Jesus as only a prophet. Without hesitation, Jesus shows them that if they want Him only as a prophet, then He will be a prophet of judgment. For the first act Jesus does upon entering Jerusalem is to confront the sin and the unbelief of all who sold and bought in the temple,…[saying] to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” (21:12-13).
The crowd is a negative example, warning us that mere exuberance is not a sign of true faith. It is possible to imitate the devotion of the Lord’s true disciples and even to quote Scripture, and still not have a right confession. In a recent survey in the states, a majority of Americans, 52 percent, agreed with the statement “Jesus was a great teacher, but he was not God.” That is not surprising. What is surprising is that nearly one-in-three (thirty percent) of evangelical Christians also agreed in rejecting the deity of Jesus. They may pride themselves in their exuberance of worship, but what does it profit them without a true confession of Jesus Christ as God-come-in-the-flesh-to-save-sinners?
If you want Jesus to be only a teacher, a prophet, then He will be to you a teacher, a prophet of judgment and condemnation. But that is not why He was born of the Virgin Mary; that is not why He rode a donkey into Jerusalem. Rather, He came as God’s Son to be enthroned upon the cross to rescue sinners. That is why Jesus enters Jerusalem riding a donkey. In Scripture, one of the Greek words for donkey is literally one under the yoke, describing the donkey’s common role as a beast of burden. How appropriate! For Jesus entered Jerusalem to bear a burden—the burden of your sins and mine. Like a donkey harnessed to a yoke, Jesus would be harnessed to our sins, which He would carry in deep humiliation to the cross. But the seeming defeat of Jesus’ death on the cross is really His victory over sin, death, the devil, and hell. Yes, Jesus’ dying is really His enthronement as the King of an eternal kingdom.
Your Saviour Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise to King David, the promise that God would establish an eternal kingdom through one of David’s sons. And now, you belong to that kingdom. We were conceived and born as blind beggars sitting on the curbside of sin and eternal death and condemnation. But behold, King Jesus came for us, to heal us of our sins and to give us the sight of salvation. And in the baptismal waters, He made us holy children of God, so that, as the two men—healed of their blindness— got up and followed Jesus, we too now follow Jesus and confess Him as the King through whom the Father has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:13-14).
If the Palm Sunday crowd thought of Jesus at all in messianic terms, they most likely thought that the Messiah would bring about a new creation with power and put all things right immediately. But that is not how Jesus works. Oh, He will change everything and He will begin to change the world—but He will do so by suffering and dying and rising from the dead in victory. This kind of Messiah they did not expect. But Jesus is the lowly King who truly fulfills God’s eternal plan to save sinners.
And King Jesus is now at work in our lives. He does not put all things right immediately. Rather, He calls us daily to die to sin and to rise afresh as His new creation. In this world, we still feebly struggle with all sorts of temptations and afflictions. But in all our troubles, let us remember the kind of King Jesus is—the King who, on His way to save the world, shows pity to two blind men; the King who in pity embraced a whole world of sinners from His throne on the cross; the King who now shows pity to us as we journey through the dark and deathly valley of this fallen world on our way to the fullness of His Kingdom to which we were first brought into at our baptism. Amen.