Welcoming the King!
v.5 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."
Dear friends in Christ, blessed New Year to you all! Indeed, this is the first Sunday of Advent, the season prior to Christmas in which we prepare our hearts and minds to receive with great joy the Saviour of the world, who is Christ the Lord. The Lord Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords, and it is fitting and right that we welcome His as our King and Lord, for He is the One who has laid down His life for the sins of the world and taken it up again for our justification and salvation. So, how do we do that? How best do we welcome Him who has come, and has promised to come again in glory and power and majesty?
Well, already the world is decorating for the Christmas season, isn't it? The sales are in full swing and people are out in droves searching for gifts and enjoying holiday cheer. Homes and businesses are decorated both inside and out. Even the streets of our town are festive for this season of joy and gladness. Of course, not all of these decorations have anything to do with the real reason for the season, do they? Many decorations focus on tales of snowmen coming to life, or fat man with reindeer who drop down our chimneys at night. Yet we are blessed to see scenes of mangers and shepherds with baby Jesus snug in the hay.
Yet even so, you and I both know that though there are many decorations to be found, nonetheless the true nature of Christmas (and especially this preparatory season of Advent) is far from peoples' hearts and minds. We are more focused on preparing to meet the man who slides down chimneys, or our visiting friends and relatives, than we are on welcoming the coming King of kings.
In our text for today, we see the reaction of the crowds of Passover pilgrims to Jesus as He enters Jerusalem for the last time. This is what we now know as Palm Sunday. And it seems that these crowds seem to have a better grasp on welcoming Jesus than we do today. Jesus has just come from Jericho where He healed two blind men. The men had called out to Jesus as He passed by, "Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!" In pity, Jesus had touched their eyes and healed them. These two men then joined the throng of people gathered with Jesus on His way to Jerusalem.
However, as they crest the hill of the Mount of Olives, Jesus suddenly decides to change His mode of travel. He who had walked everywhere He went, now, in the last few miles to Jerusalem, directs His disciples to go into the little village of Bethphage and bring Him a donkey and colt to ride. While, we do not know if anyone in the crowds that day recognized the significance of this act, St. Matthew makes sure that we, his readers, understand that this is in fulfillment of the Word of God. For Zechariah had long ago prophesied, "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.'"
Jesus directs His disciples to act so as to fulfill Old Testament prophecy concerning Himself, the Messianic Son of David, Israel's greatest king. It is He who has come as our King to be the Lord our Righteousness. It is He who has come to undo the works of the devil—to destroy the power of death and hell—to forgive the people of their sins. But He will do so in a way that the disciples, nor anyone else, expects. For He has not come as a conquering king riding a warhorse or chariot, but lowly and humble, mounted on a donkey's colt. He has come to lay down His life as a ransom by giving Himself up into death on the cross for the sins of the world.
At first, it seems as though the crowds gathered around Jesus seem to rejoice in this—they almost seem to get it. For they shout after Him, perhaps in echo of the healed blind men's words, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest." But the next words of Matthew's Gospel are telling, "And when [Jesus] entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up saying, 'Who is this?' And the crowds said, 'This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.'"
They shout Jesus' praises as He enters the city, but they still do not fully understand who He is or what He has come to do. Much like people today, dear friends. Our focus for our Midweek Advent services, as well as our Advent devotions, is the beautiful Christmas anthem, "What Child is This?" that answers that very question. Who is this Jesus of Nazareth? Who is this child born in Bethlehem's manger? Is He a prophet of God? Yes, but so much more. He is the One come from God to save people from their sin. He is the child born to live the perfect life of keeping all of God's holy Law that we do not. He is the child born to suffer and die on Calvary's cross in Jerusalem. He is the child born to be raised again on the Third Day for our rescue and salvation. He is Emmanuel—God with us.
This city, Jerusalem, which is perplexed and confused at Jesus' arrival on a donkey, will not long be shouting His praises and adulation. In five days' time, Jesus will be turned over to Pontius Pilate to face death and execution by crucifixion, to the murderous cries of "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" Recall, that on that day, Pilate will ask the assembled people, "Shall I crucify your king?" and the chief priests will respond, "We have no king, but Caesar."
Dear friends, how often do we live our lives this same way? Forgetting that God is our ultimate King and Judge, we look to our own government rulers—seeking to sway them and appease them by any means possible—so that we might live in peace. But can there be peace in our hearts apart from the Son of David? No, indeed, you know that there cannot. For without Jesus we are still dead in our trespasses and sins. Without Jesus, guilt and shame continually weigh heavily upon our hearts. Without Jesus, death is our end reward, along with suffering and torment in hell. We NEED Jesus. EVERYONE needs Jesus: from our family and friends, to the department store clerk, to the waitress at the restaurant. We NEED Jesus to come to us and FOR us.
Thanks be to God Jesus has come. He has come to wash away our sin by His own shed blood on the cross. Jesus has come to bring us light and life eternal. Jesus has come to usher us, undeserving, sinful people, into His everlasting Kingdom of joy and blessedness. This happens only when we humbly receive Him by faith. This happens only when we cling to the Word that He has spoken concerning Himself. That He has come in humility to offer up Himself as the necessary sacrifice for sin—so that you and I might be saved!
We remember and proclaim this each week with joy and thanksgiving as we prepare to receive Jesus' own body and blood in the Holy Supper. We echo the words of the crowds in our communion liturgy when we sing the Sanctus, "Holy, holy, holy Lord God of pow'r and might: Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna. Hosanna. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest."
Jesus comes. He comes in humility, in ways that we do not expect—humbly through His Word and Sacrament. But He comes to us. To forgive. To save. How can we NOT take every opportunity this Advent season to proclaim the coming King of kings to all whom we meet? For we need Jesus. And He has come—in His dying and rising—in His Word connected with water, bread, and wine. King Jesus has come—and He will come again—to bring all who believe into His kingdom. And we welcome Him best by humbly receiving His coming to us in His Word and Sacraments. What a gracious and merciful King! What a generous Lord! Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus. Amen.