Behold, your King comes to you!

The First Sunday in Advent  (Ad Te Levavi)–28 November 2021

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)

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Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!

Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!

Behold, your king is coming to you;

righteous and having salvation is he,

humble and mounted on a donkey,

on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

(Zechariah 9:9)

Yes indeed, Jesus will be a king, but a poor and wretched king who does not at all look like a king—if he is judged by the outward might and splendour in which earthly rulers like to array themselves.

Jesus leaves to other kings the castles, palaces, gold, and wealth, and He lets them eat and drink, dress and build more daintily than other folks. But what Christ the poor beggar-king knows, earthly kings do not know. Jesus comes not to establish an earthly kingdom of passing glory; rather Jesus comes to help against sin. Jesus helps not against one sin only but against all my sin; and not against my sin only, but against the whole world’s sin. Jesus comes to take away not sickness only, but death; and not my death only, but the whole world’s death. The prophet said: Tell the daughter of Zion that she should be not offended at her Lord’s humble advent but should shut her eyes and open her ears and perceive not how he rides there so beggarly but listen to what is said and preached about this poor king. His wretchedness and poverty are manifest, for He comes riding on a donkey like a beggar. But that Jesus will take from us sin, overcome death, and endow us with eternal bliss and eternal life—this cannot be seen. Therefore you must hear and believe. (Adapted from Luther’s sermon for the First Sunday in Advent, 1533. WA 37:201f.).

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When the angel Gabriel came to the Virgin Mary to announce that she would conceive and give birth to God’s Son, Gabriel declared this wondrous Good News about the Christ Child: 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 1:32-33).

Did you hear that? Of His kingdom there will be no end. Jesus is your King, the King promised to you, whose own you are. He and no other shall rule over you. Jesus rules over you not in the manner of worldly rule but in the way of God’s grace and mercy. This Jesus is He for whom God’s people have longed from the beginning. Yes, this is He for whom God’s people were yearning and crying with heartfelt desire. From all the things that until now have burdened, oppressed, and imprisoned you, Jesus has come to redeem you and set you free.

Oh, what comforting words for a believing heart, for apart from Christ we are thrown under the heel of many furious tyrants, who are not kings but murderers, under whom we suffer great pain and fear. Such are the devil, the flesh, the world, sin and the law, and death and hell, by which the wretched conscience is oppressed and held in harsh confinement, leading a bitter and fearful life.

But when we with strong faith receive King Jesus into our inmost hearts, we are saved. Sin, death, hell, and all distress we dread no longer, for we know well, and do not doubt, that King Jesus is the Master over death and life, over sin and grace, over hell and heaven, and that all things are in His hands. What great things are contained in these few words: Behold, your King is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is He. Such superabundant great blessings does the poor donkey rider and disdained king bestow. These things neither reason nor nature can comprehend, but faith alone. (Adapted from Luther’s sermon for the First Sunday in Advent, 1522. WA 10/1(ii):27f.)

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God’s Son coming as a poor beggar-king riding on a donkey reminds me of one of this morning’s communion hymns: 

Once He came in blessing, / All our sins redressing;

Came in likeness lowly, / Son of God most holy;

Bore the cross to save us; / Hope and freedom gave us.

Lowly King Jesus came in humble poverty to work for us such a glorious and rich salvation that we must all ponder the question raised by today’s closing hymn: 

O Lord, how shall I meet You,

How welcome You aright?

How indeed shall we welcome King Jesus aright? The Palm Sunday crowd spread their cloaks and palm branches on the road, but such actions just won’t do for us today. How shall we greet aright the King who laid down His life to save us from our sins and from the devil and hell itself? How shall we welcome the poor beggar King, who gave His all in order to give us all of God’s love for all eternity? The answer, in a single word, is repentance.

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Today, repentance is the only way we have of spreading cloaks and palm branches before King Jesus. Repentance is the way we welcome aright the King who came to save us.

Repentance is never just sorrow or self-indulgent regret over our sinful actions. Yes, repentance is a godly sorrow over sin, but that sorrow takes responsibility and wants to do better. By the power of the Holy Spirit, true repentance results in the amendment of one’s life. Repentance looks not only to the past but also to the future. Repentance is regret but it is not despair. True repentance has hope. It turns away from sin and turns toward God. So it is that when Our Lord Jesus Christ said, “repent,” He willed that the whole life of the believer be one of repentance, which is to say, one of hope. For with repentance, we hope and trust that Jesus is not only a lowly King but also a gracious King, who comes to save us. 

Repentance is not a singular moment in time. Repentance is a way of life and a way of dying. It is a life of daily contrition and repentance, a drowning death and killing the old man so that a new man can arise. True repentance is confident that God is good and forgiving, for the sake of Christ Jesus. True repentance looks to Christ for mercy and salvation. It seeks power against temptation not in human strength and willpower but in God’s gifts of Word and Sacraments. 

That which drives our preparation, our repentance, this morning is the Lord’s entry into Jerusalem six days before He was murdered in a miscarriage of justice with the ironically true charge “King of the Jews” hanging over His head and mysteriously in perfect accordance with His Father’s will. Justice was done even though the perpetrators meant it for evil. Before we ponder Christmas and the Incarnation, before we hear angels on high, the Church would have us contemplate the purpose of Our Lord’s ride into Jerusalem and His gracious answer to the plea “Hosanna, Son of David” in His Body given to the cross. 

Every Lord’s Day, shortly before feasting on the Lord’s Supper, we sing these words in the Sanctus: Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He the cometh in the name of the Lord. The word Hosanna means “O Lord, save us” and is used in Psalm 118, where we read: Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We bless you from the house of the LORD (vv. 25 and 26). How fitting it is that we should pray Hosanna just before receiving the Lord’s true Body and Blood. Yes, indeed, the word Hosanna flows freely and frequently from the hearts of those who repent in the firm hope that King Jesus comes in mercy to redeem sinners.

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The purpose of Our Lord’s ride into Jerusalem was proclaimed by the prophets and foretold by Jesus Himself. It was necessary for the Son of Man to be betrayed, to be tortured and crucified, and on the third day to rise again. This is how the government was placed upon His shoulders, how He sought the one sheep of a hundred that had strayed, how He made atonement for His Bride and sent angels to say, “Do not be afraid.” The purpose of that ride, even as the purpose of His birth, was our salvation. 

So King Jesus came to us. He was born for us. He rode to Jerusalem for us. He was crucified and is risen for us. And now, today, He calls us again by the Gospel. He answers the cry: Hosanna to the Son of the David

Our King and Saviour Jesus came as the Babe of Peace in Bethlehem in order to be the Man of Sorrows who rode to His death in Jerusalem. There, outside the city gates, with our sins upon Him, Jesus was lifted up from the earth and out of the grave. And now He comes to us. All the riches and glory of the world pale in comparison to what King Jesus gives you as He comes to you in His Holy Word and Supper. For all that is needed for your salvation is here. Jesus has come for this, for you, to make you His, to keep you His, to purify and cleanse you with His Word of forgiveness and with His risen Body and Blood, born of Mary, carried to Jerusalem on the foal of a beast of burden, nailed to a cross, and risen from the grave.

As people of Advent preparing for the staggering joy of Christmas, we pray the words of Psalm 118: Hosanna! Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success! And oh, what a great and mighty wonder!—that King Jesus has indeed saved us for eternal life and glory, that King Jesus has indeed succeeded in defeating sin, death, the devil, and hell, and in winning for us an everlasting victory! Amen.