Monday, November 30, 2015
Sermon on Luke19:28-40, for the 1st Sunday in Advent, "Enter the King"
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. The city of Jerusalem has been a formidable stronghold for thousands of years. Even before King David captured it for the Israelites, over 3,000 years ago, it was an ancient fortress of the Jebusites. A city on a hill, it resisted the invasions and attacks of countless armies through history. Many kings mounted their forces against it and failed. Many also succeeded, as the city has fallen just as many times throughout history. It’s been a scene of warfare, of defense and offense, of siege, victory, and defeat, for thousands of years. Still today it’s contested land, and the Temple site that once was Jewish, is now covered by a Muslim mosque. But in the middle of all that tumultuous history, one king entered the city like none before or after Him. He came riding in on a borrowed donkey.
But it wasn’t the donkey that made His entrance unique. Kings had ridden into Jerusalem on royal mules before, to be crowned. Some kings had even had robes and garments laid down before them, to honor their royalty. These were royal actions, no doubt, but they were not unique to Jesus. But what made this King different was the goal and final outcome of His entrance into Jerusalem, and the kind of rule or reign He was coming to bring. It was marked by humility and lowliness. Jesus marched with no army, He carried no weapons, He planned no siege nor fight. In fact, it would be a short week until He would die on the cross. Jesus did not come for any political rule or goal, nor did He concern Himself with winning the popular vote. He was not there to please the people, nor to anger them. He was there on a mission to save them, and not from any earthly power, army, or threat, but from their sins and the power of death.
Today begins the season of Advent. It’s odd that the season begins with a reading from Palm Sunday. But in another way, it is fitting because it shows us the goal and purpose of Jesus’ coming to earth. To die on the cross. By coincidence, this time of year is also prime season for political campaigning. Our nation looks for a leader, who can fulfill the impossible, and please everyone, and bring together a divided nation. Our hopes are raised by earthly leaders, who are limited and can bring no real salvation. But here in the church, we wait for King Jesus. The same king who rode into Jerusalem on the borrowed donkey, the king with no weapons to fight, but who was crowned with thorns to die on the cross. Advent fills us with the expectation of Jesus our King—of His gracious and peaceful rule, that isn’t driven by the private interests of political parties, that isn’t concerned with territory or wealth, but a kingdom that expands and grows in the hearts of men, women, and children. In Advent we celebrate a kingdom that grows by believing in Jesus Christ, that humble, yet mighty King. The kingdom that began with the Prince of Peace, born in the straw bed of a manger in Bethlehem. A kingdom that was not wrapped in earthly power or glory, but heavenly glory.
The crowds sang and praised His arrival in Jerusalem: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” When He was born, the angels had sung, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” His kingdom was wrapped in a heavenly glory, sung by men and angles alike. And the peace of His kingdom extends from heaven to earth. We desperately need this kind of kingdom, and Jesus as our King. There is no end to the fighting and wars on this earth. Our sinfulness provokes us to wars, to power struggles, and perpetual discontentment. Earthly leaders cannot bring us true peace. But Jesus can. His peace transcends from heaven to earth, and it is a peace with God. The peace of sins forgiven. Jesus fought His battle against sin, not against earthly armies or rulers.
One of the hot buzzwords in the news these days is “dictator.” We’ve seen countless countries ruled by ruthless dictators, who rule by suppression, by keeping their people from the truth, by fear or tyranny. Politicians and armchair philosophers debate whether or not we should be involved—whether the present dictator is better or worse than whoever might rise to power after them. We look for earthly solutions. But there seems to be no shortage of wicked men, to sieze and abuse power across the earth.
But in every one of us, there is a little dictator of sin. A little tyrant, a little suppressor of the truth, one who uses power or manipulation to gain control. He goes by different names: the Old Adam, our old sinful nature, or the flesh. In each of us, there is a stubborn old donkey that kicks and fights against God’s will and His truth. And when human beings give that little dictator, or that old stubborn donkey free reign in our lives, then pretty soon we are at strife with each other. We will allow no peace unless we are in control.
Jesus could have come and toppled some tyrants and oppressive rulers. Some of the crowds looked to Him to do just that. But Jesus comes as our King. Righteous and having salvation is He. Humble, mount on a colt, on the foal of a donkey; coming in the name of the Lord. He comes, not to exert His power over people, nor to manipulate them. Rather He rides into what must have seemed very much like a trap. Betrayal, arrest, abuse, mock trial, and death. And He put up no resistance. He went peacefully, even forgiving His enemies. But in His death, unseen to us, He disarmed the real enemies. Colossians 2:13–15 tells us, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”
This passage tells us what Jesus was doing. He was forgiving our sins, and God was making us alive, from the death and tyranny of our sins. And Jesus nailed our debt to the cross and disarmed the rulers and authorities. Disarmed who? The Romans were fully armed when Jesus died. The centurion pierced Jesus’ side with a spear to confirm He was dead. The Jewish Temple guards never laid down their clubs and weapons, when they arrested Jesus. What enemies did Jesus disarm? Paul explains that the real enemies are the spiritual forces of darkness. These are the rulers and authorities Jesus disarmed. He didn’t fear the soldiers spear or the Roman cross when He went to His death, nor did He fear the forces of Satan, marshalled behind them. Jesus came as King, to stand against our real enemies, and disarm them. Take away the weapons of sin, to attack, to accuse, to condemn us. Jesus unseated the power of sin, and therefore took away the sting of death.
And so Jesus deposes the little dictator of our sinful flesh too. He comes to crucify our old sinful self, bringing sin down with Him to His grave. When the Holy Spirit works repentance in a person’s heart, Jesus puts our sinful nature to death, drowning it in baptismal waters, so that He can raise up a new person, a new nature, a spiritual person after His own image. He is the King we need so badly, because only by His rule of repentance and forgiveness, and humility and sacrifice, can we begin to be free of this tyrannical rule of sin. We know it affects us all. The whole human race is bound under that power of sin. But Jesus’ brings the reign that breaks the power of sin. He brings the rule that replaces sin with love and the fruits of the Spirit. He creates a kingdom and a people all His own, and establishes His people as a new city, a city on a hill.
The old city of Jerusalem embodies warfare and death, and the continued warring of sin. But Jesus spoke of a city on a hill. He said of His disciples, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden…In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Jesus’ disciples, His church, become a beacon to the world, a lighthouse reflecting His light out to the world, to glorify God the Father. The light that shines is the light of the Good News of Jesus Christ. It is the gospel of life and salvation. The church proclaims that message out to the world.
The kingdom of Jesus is His church, spread through every nation. And this city on a hill, is to show the new life of Christ, in forgiveness and in good works. Just as the power of Jesus’ kingdom was expressed through humility, self-sacrifice, and forgiveness, so also we, as disciples of that kingdom, are to practice the same. The kingdom to which we belong does not come by power or force or violence. It comes through love, service, and the free gift of the Gospel of Jesus. The saving news of His death on the cross and resurrection, and His eternal, just and true reign as King. The kingdom to which we belong comes through forgiveness, which we are to freely give and extend to all—the deserving and undeserving alike. For even our forgiveness came undeserved.
Truly Jesus’ entered Jerusalem unlike any other king or general before or after. His goal was to die on the cross and secure for us an eternal kingdom. As we enter the season of Advent, may we learn and love His humble kingship, and praise Him with the same unstoppable joy that His disciples had, when they welcomed Him to the streets of Jerusalem. Blessed is the King who comes in the Name of the Lord! Amen.