Your King Comes to You!
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The text for today is Matthew 21:5: “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.’”
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
“Your king is coming to you.” Those words can either warm your heart with comfort and joy, or bring the deep chill of fear and trepidation. It all depends on your perspective. It all depends on who the king is, and what your relationship is to him. Take, for instance, King Herod and the Magi.
Seeing the special star in the east, the Magi head to Jerusalem. It is only natural for them to assume that a newborn king of the Jews would enter this world in the royal palace. But wise as they are, their inquiry before King Herod shows little tact and even less understanding of who this man is. For with this innocent question the paranoid king immediately suspects a potential rival to his throne. Herod feigns interest and ferrets out whatever information he can from them. Then, he assembles his priests to tell him where the Messiah-king is expected to be born. On the basis of an Old Testament prophecy, the scholars are able to pinpoint Bethlehem. Pretending to welcome this new king, Herod directs his guests to David’s city: “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found Him, bring me word so that I may go and worship Him…”
And the Wise Men would have done just that but for the warning from God’s angel. They worship the newborn king and hightail it out of there. Herod takes that snub with all the rage of the deluded and suspicious old paranoid he has become. Ordering the ruthless massacre of all male babies two years old and under in Bethlehem, he hopes that the infant “king” will be among the victims. It certainly is no way to meet a coming king, to welcome Him aright.
Thirty-three years pass between that first Christmas and Palm Sunday, and during that interval Matthew does not record a single time that Jesus is called a king. He is called “Son of David,” and that messianic title certainly has royal overtones, but it is not until the Palm Sunday parade that Jesus is proclaimed to be a king. And once again we are told that the whole city of Jerusalem is stirred.
When Jesus was 12 years old, He went up to Jerusalem with Mary and Joseph to celebrate the Feast of the Passover. This was something pious Jews did every year. So we can assume that Jesus made many trips to Jerusalem to observe the Passover. But this time is different. Jesus is very much aware that He is going up to Jerusalem to die. Along the way, He tells His disciples at least three times that He is going to be handed over to the chief priests and condemned to death, but that on the third day He will rise again.
As Jesus is about to enter Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover for the last time, He wants the attention of all the people to be focused on Him. That is why He makes special preparations, sending two of His disciples ahead to Bethphage to get the donkey He will ride. Matthew tells us this takes place to fulfill prophecy. Through Zechariah, God has told His people that their King will come to them “humble and mounted on a donkey” so they can recognize Him when He comes.
The animals brought to the Lord are not saddled. But the disciples quickly fix that. They take off their outer garments and pile them on the back of the colt, to make a seat for their Master. Their example is infectious. A large number of the people take their cloaks and spread them out on the road.
It is a strange way for Jesus to be acknowledged as the King of Israel. He rides upon an ordinary, lowly beast of burden rather than a magnificent white stallion. Jesus does not wear a kingly robe or a royal crown. There is no scepter in His hand. His attendants are mostly Galilean fishermen. It does not look like a royal procession, yet there was an obvious and undeniable majesty about Him.
The excitement spreads. Some of the crowd cut branches from the trees along the way and cast them down to make a leafy carpet before Him. But the climax of the exultation is reached at the Mount of Olives. Here, the ranks of the singers are swelled by newcomers; some march ahead and others follow behind the Lord. All of them sing: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” We sing the same song in the Communion liturgy. The familiar words of the Sanctus remind us that the same Jesus who humbly rode into Jerusalem on a donkey comes to us in the Lord’s Supper.
In both cases—then and now—there is much more going on than meets the eye. We would never guess that we are receiving the true body and blood of our Savior in the Sacrament, but Jesus says, “This is My body… This is My blood.” Through the eyes of faith we see much more than bread and wine. Because our ears have heard what Jesus said, we see our righteousness and salvation.
And so it is with the original Palm Sunday parade; the words of the Old Testament prophets tell the people what to look for, and their eyes are opened so that they can really see. They openly proclaim Him as the Son of David, as the true Messiah. They wish Him blessing and salvation from above. They gladly sacrifice their holiday garments. They bring the palm branches and wave the green fronds of early spring to give full expression to their joy, to their confession of their Lord, the Messiah who has come as King.
Unfortunately this exultation is only temporary, and quickly forgotten by the people in attendance. And yet the Spirit of the Lord—for a short while at least—takes hold of the people. God wants this display to give testimony in behalf of His Son, before the shame and horror of the cross will be laid upon Him. It is also a memory that has been passed down in history to this very day. And what is more, it is prophetic of the time when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father—the Last Day.
Sadly, people often misunderstand Jesus’ role and purpose. They miss out on the real reason for His advent. His primary purpose in coming to earth is not to usher in an earthly kingdom, but a heavenly one. Jesus makes this clear when Pilate asks Him if He is the King of the Jews: “My kingdom is not of this world.”
Jesus does not come to earth, as some would assert, to help us live our “best life now.” Neither did Jesus come primarily to be our example or teach us how to be moral people or to teach us how to find our purpose in life. Nor did Jesus come to encourage us to seek social justice or establish a Christian nation. Jesus’ primary purpose in coming to earth is to die on a cross for the sins of all people so that we could receive God’s free gifts of forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
The manner in which Jesus enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday plainly shows that He has no intentions of setting Himself up as an earthly king. The throne to which He will ascend is a crude wooden cross. His kingly court will be comprised of two criminals, one on His right and the other on His left. The crown He will wear will be crudely fashioned from twisted thorns. His hands won’t hold a scepter, but will have nails driven through them. And though they will dress Him in a purple robe long enough to mock Him, He will hang naked on His cross.
Yet, through His lowliness and humiliation, through His innocent suffering and death, Jesus will establish a kingdom of greater glory and majesty than any earthly kingdom before or since. Jesus’ eternal kingdom will be established, not by shedding the blood of His enemies, but by shedding His own blood. His blood will be the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world, even for those very enemies who openly reject Him and seek His death!
When the crowds welcome Jesus with shouts of “Hosanna,” we cannot say for sure how well they understand the significance of their own words. Surely they do not understand the true nature of Jesus’ kingdom. We’re told later that even His own disciples did not grasp the significance of these events as they happened. Even forty days after His resurrection, they were still asking Jesus if He was ready to establish His kingdom at this time. Yet, the fact remains that the Palm Sunday crowds proclaimed the truth. And to this day, their words point to Jesus of Nazareth as the Savior of the world.
Things haven’t really changed. Each year, as we observe the season of Advent, the multitudes love to hear and sing the carols that proclaim, “Glory to the newborn King,” and plead, “Let earth receive her King.” And in shopping malls and concert halls, the familiar strains of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” proclaim, “And He shall reign for ever and ever.”
Many people do not really hear what the words are saying. Others hear the words but do not believe them. That is why they quickly lose interest after the holidays are over. Yet, the fact remains that many of the best-loved Christmas carols proclaim the truth of the Gospel. Unfortunately, far too many miss the real blessing of Advent and Christmas. They do not understand. They do not believe. They are not ready to meet the coming King. What about you?
Your king has come to you! He has washed you with water and placed on you His very own name. He has given you new birth by water and the Spirit, and He has forgiven all of your sins. He has brought you into His kingdom, the Church, and here He defends you by His Word from all the flaming arrows of the evil one. He feeds you His very body and blood for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of your faith. Through His means of grace, your King comes to you week after week, day after day, getting you ready for His final advent, His coming again in glory to judge the living and the dead.
And do you know why, dear Christian friends, your King comes? He comes because He loves you. He comes because He cannot bear to have a kingdom that is not filled with you, the one He has loved since before the very foundation of the world.
But a sad thing happens when the Son of God enters the world and takes on human flesh to redeem His fallen creation. We curse Him. We mock Him. We plot evil against Him. Then we crucify Him. We can’t handle having God among us as our King, and so we condemn Him with a shameful death.
That’s why Advent is a season of repentance. Yes, we long for the wonderful celebration of Christmas. We love to celebrate the Lord’s birth, His coming to earth in human flesh to be our Savior. But while we know that His salvation is free, it did not happen without great cost. Because of sin, yours and mine, the Lord’s incarnation led to His bloody and painful death.
So before Christmas we take a few weeks to repent of our evil ways and beg the Lord to have mercy. But our repentance is not a sorrow that leads us into despair. We do not repent hoping that maybe if we’re sorry enough the Lord will forgive us. No, we repent confident of the Lord’s mercy. We repent with our eyes turned toward Bethlehem where the Lord was born… and toward Jerusalem where He won salvation for the whole world, and established His eternal kingdom.
So, repent! Repent as you wait with trembling and joy for His second advent. But do not wait for Him in despair. Do not wait in terror. Your King comes! Righteous and having salvation. Look for Him with expectant joy and eager anticipation. He loves you. When He comes for you in His final advent, He will be rejoicing over you. He will be raising you from the grave to give you and all His children life in His kingdom that never ends.
How can you be sure! He already died and rose for you. He ascended to the Father’s right hand where He intercedes continuously for you. And week after week, He continues come to you in His gifts of love—His Word and Sacrament. In these means of grace, He speaks this Good News: “I forgive you for all of your sins.”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.