Monday, November 28, 2016

Sermon on Matthew 21:1-9, for the 1st Sunday in Advent, "Successful Journeys and Clear Destinations"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Today the cycle of the church year begins anew, with the First Sunday in Advent. We renew a journey of sorts, a journey that lasts us one year—a journey along the places and paths that Jesus followed, from the time He was anticipated as Savior, to His birth in Bethlehem, through His ministry, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. This first half of the church year, we call the “Festival Season.” It wraps up with Pentecost, when Jesus sent the Holy Spirit, and follows with the part of the church year that we just finished, is the long “non-festival” season of the church year, or “ordinary time”. Sundays that review the rest of Jesus’ teachings, leading up again to the anticipation of His return. Along the journey, we get to know Jesus better and better, not as a friend who joins us occasionally, but as our constant companion who leads us and has finished the journey before us. Each year, this cycle and journey renews, as we renew our watch and waiting for the Lord’s return. Advent is a time of waiting.
Since Advent is the time of waiting and hope as we prepare for Christmas, it always strikes us odd that the first Gospel reading of the year is from Palm Sunday. Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. But for many centuries, Christians began Advent with this reading. It reminds us that successful journeys most often have an intended destination in mind. In Jesus’ case, the destination is clear—it’s not Bethlehem (that’s just the start!), but it’s Jerusalem, and ultimately the cross. Our reading gives us a preview, a glimpse ahead, of where Jesus’ journey will take Him. Advent and Christmas reminds us that He is the King born among men, the Prince of Peace—but the Palm Sunday entrance reminds us that He is the King who was born to suffer for our sins on the cross. Though the journey took Jesus on many paths unexpected to us—Jesus always had a clear sense of His purpose and final goal. He was on earth to bear witness to the truth and to obey His Father’s will to go to the cross for us.
The way that Jesus entered the city was clearly meant to communicate something very important to the crowds (and to us). Riding in on the donkey was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet: “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 riding on the donkey communicated loud and clear, that this prophecy from Zechariah 9, was coming true in Him. And they understood it—at least as far as recognizing Him as a King. They showed this by the correct “royal treatment” of spreading cloaks and palm branches on the road before Him, and raising shouts of acclamation to the Son of David. They saw their King coming to them, all right, and the actions played out that day by both Jesus and the crowd echoed the crowning of other kings from Israel’s history. Here was their new leader, a man descended from the royal line of King David, a popular leader and teacher, and One whom they hoped would take the throne and give the kingdom back to Israel!
Everything seemed to be shaping up as they might have expected…until the events that followed that week. The betrayal and arrest of Jesus on Thursday. His trial before the priests and Pontius Pilate that night and Good Friday morning. His crowning with thorns and a mocking purple robe, and being lifted up on a cross that noon on Good Friday. No! This wasn’t the way that His coronation as king was supposed to end! Not as a man falsely accused of revolution and executed by the Romans! But while the crowds had their own ideas about what kind of King Jesus should be, Jesus, as I said, always had a clear sense of His purpose and goal. This was not an accident or detour, but He was going on the correct path to His destination. Going to His true enthronement, first on the cross in contrasting humility and divine glory, but ultimately enthroned at God’s right hand, after rising from the dead and ascending into heaven. Jesus was ascending to a much higher throne and authority. His sacrifice on the cross, and His rising from the dead, would result in God giving to Him “all authority in heaven and on earth.”
All of it was part of God’s plan, and here at the start of the year, we get to glimpse the long range plan before diving into the story. We get to see down the road toward the finish line, where Jesus’ purpose and goal on earth would take Him. Knowing all along the way what He was aiming for, knowing what He must suffer and do. Listen again to the words of that prophecy: “Say to the daughter of Zion, behold your king is coming to you…”. Daughter of Zion, people of God. Your king is coming to you. So much is wrapped up in those words. God sent His Son as King to the earth. The King, not only for His people, for that would be too light a task—but a king for all nations. Luther said this shows that we did not seek the king…He sought us. We did not find the king…He found us. This shows us how completely God’s kingdom comes to us by grace. We did not work for it or engineer it ourselves—we did not bring it into existence and seek Christ to be the King. He came down to earth to us, to be our King.
You could search the whole earth, and down through all of human history, and you’d never find a king to compare with Jesus. Never a King so perfect and just, a King who bears the titles: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness. His government and peace spreads through all nations by His great commission—making disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them. His kingdom is incomparable. Consider the description of historian Philip Schaff:
Jesus of Nazareth, without money and arms, conquered more millions than Alexander the Great, Caesar, Mohammed, and Napoleon; without science and learning, he shed more light on things human and divine than all philosophers and scholars combined; without the eloquence of school, he spoke such words of life as were never spoken before or since, and produced effects which lie beyond the reach of orator or poet; without writing a single line, he set more pens in motion, and furnished themes for more sermons, orations, discussions, learned volumes, works of art, and songs of praise than the whole army of great men of ancient and modern times.

The King with all the might and glory of an everlasting Kingdom—because it is ruled by the Son of God. The King whose kingdom is ever increasing and expanding, and will one day establish perfect and eternal peace. The King who rules with truth, justice, and righteousness. And this is the King who comes to you. Righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. The mighty, yet humble King? Yes, He dies on the cross. Who fights His enemies by laying down His life—so that He might consume sin and death forever. The King who has salvation? Yes, whose rescue for us is more than political or military victories—whose rescue is more than problem solving our national crises (a wish that the Jews and we might have in common)—but the King whose rescue is an eternal salvation. The rescue from sin and its power, from death and the grave. The salvation that envelops us even now in the Kingdom of Jesus, making us new day by day through repentance and the forgiveness of our sins. The salvation that He brings to us.
Your King comes to you…we were lost. We didn’t know or understand the journey…we’d fallen and gotten trapped along the way. But He found us, He came to us. He comes to us even today. Jesus is still coming, by the way. Advent is not just a historical drama, about events 2,000 years ago in Judea, with little to do with us today. Rather, we are part of that ever expanding kingdom of Jesus. The kingdom that first came to us through the preaching of Jesus’ Word; through the waters of Holy Baptism, claiming us as His own. The kingdom that came because Your king is coming to you. He still comes to us today, through the Word of God, heard here. Through His Sacraments, as He feeds us with His body and blood. Through the fellowship of His church, His citizens.
And His Kingdom still is yet to come. There is a promised day, when your king will come to you again. Jesus will appear to us, in the body, in full glory like the sun, with every eye on earth transfixed by His sight. For some it will come as a day of fear and judgment, because they did not believe. But for we who believe, it will come as a day of joy and excitement! We’ll lift up our heads, because our redemption will be complete! And so our King is every coming to His people. He came of old at Bethlehem. He comes to us in His promised gifts, meant to sustain His kingdom till His return—gifts of Word and Sacrament. And He will come again one day, to judge the living and the dead.
Today we renew that journey—a journey that is still ongoing—but one that is promised to be successful, because we have a clear destination and purpose. And we have One who has gone before us leading us on. So let us run the race that is set before us, with our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and Perfecter of our faith! Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Though it seems out of place to begin the season of Advent, the church year historically begins with the reading of Jesus’ triumphal entry to Jerusalem, on Palm Sunday. Though we are anticipating Christmas, this reading focuses us on the destination of Jesus’ journey on earth. What was the ultimate purpose for Jesus’ coming?
  2. Advent is a time of waiting and expectation. What is the past, present, and future coming of Christ? How is Jesus’ kingship uniquely shown in Matthew 21:1-9?
  3. What did the prophecy from Zechariah 14:9-13 foretell about what kind of King Jesus would be? The world is looking for peace without a messiah. How does Christianity show us true peace, that comes through the Messiah? John 14:27; 16:33
  4. Why did people lay downs their cloaks and palm branches before Jesus?
  5. Hosanna” is a Hebrew word that means, “save us now.” They are singing the words from Psalm 118:25-26. What expectation did the crowds have of Jesus? What were they thinking He would save them from? What did Jesus actually come to save us from?
  6. Palm Sunday began the week on a triumphant note, but how did the week end on Good Friday? The following Sunday?
  7. In Matthew 21:5 the prophecy says, “Behold, your king is coming to you”. Why is it so wonderful that God came down to us, rather than requiring the reverse? (somehow?) What does this teach us about grace?

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