Monday, November 30, 2009

Sermon on Luke 19:28-40, for the First Sunday in Advent, "Your King is Coming!"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Happy New Year! The new cycle of the church’s calendar begins this First Sunday in Advent, as the year begins with the expectation of Christ’s coming. Only we’re no longer awaiting the Christ child’s coming birth, as the prophets of Israel foretold, and has long ago been fulfilled. Rather we’re living in the expectation of His second coming to judge the living and the dead. In Advent we wait for our King, who’s coming to us, and we ready our hearts for His arrival. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

It may seem strange to you that the church year begins out-of-sync with the regular calendar, by beginning almost 1 month sooner. It may seem even more strange that we have a reading about Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday on the First Sunday in Advent! Why is Palm Sunday, from the week before Jesus’ death, brought into the season of Advent? Because this passage is about greeting our eternal king. Our King comes to us, righteous and having salvation (Zech. 9:9). Even Christmas focuses on the royalty of Jesus, as His mother Mary and her husband Joseph had to register in Bethlehem, because they were of the line of David, the King. After His birth, wise men also presented Him with gifts fit for a king.

The royal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem echoes many little details from the life and history of the ancient kings of Israel. It’s odd that Jesus would go to so much trouble to secure a donkey to ride into Jerusalem for a few short miles at the very end of His ministry, when He had spent almost all His teaching ministry walking from location to location on foot. But it was no accident. Jesus’ riding into the royal city of David on a donkey sounds very much like the coronation of Solomon, the son of King David. Solomon, whose name means “peace” foreshadowed Christ, who is the true Prince of Peace.

Briefly, what happened at Solomon’s coronation was this: King David was old and near death, and he’d not yet crowned one of his sons as his successor, though he’d promised the throne to his son Solomon. Adonijah, one of David’s older sons, tried to usurp the throne by gathering some of David’s royal officials and a priest, and throwing a feast of celebration for his self-proclaimed coronation. When the prophet Nathan, Queen Bathsheba, and those loyal to David heard of this, they called on King David to act quickly to name Solomon as his successor, and prevent Adonijah’s power-grab from becoming irreversible. So here’s the important part of the story—to confirm that Solomon was the real successor to the king, they had Solomon ride on the King David’s royal mule, as he was taken to be anointed as king (1 Kings 1).

After he rode the royal mule to be anointed, the crowds followed after with shouts of “Long live King Solomon!” and they blew the trumpets and played music on pipes and sang and rejoiced in the royal procession. Riding the royal mule, and then later being seated on David’s royal throne, were both acts that confirmed that David’s kingship was legitimately being transferred to Solomon, not Adonijah. A later story from the book of 2 Kings (9:13) showed people putting down their robes under the feet of another newly proclaimed king, as a sign of his royalty, much like the crowds laid their robes down on the road before Jesus.

These connections to Israel’s past kings were not lost on the Jews who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem that day. His entry on a donkey, the spreading of cloaks beneath Him, and palm branches waving—these all were acts for royalty. They had lived under foreign rule for hundreds of years, with no son of David to rule on the throne. Finally, it seemed, here was the one to reclaim the throne! Just as in the royal parade for Solomon, now nearly 1,000 years later the Jewish crowds in the same royal city raised their glad voices in the royal procession. They rejoiced and praised God for the mighty works Jesus had done, and said “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

Undoubtedly such a politically-charged rallying-cry would have tensed the ears of the Roman government. What sort of mischief or revolt might be brewing? Even the Pharisees grew red in the face when they heard these shouts, and told Jesus to rebuke His disciples. But there was no silencing the crowds. Nor could Jesus deny that He was this king whom the people proclaimed. If He silenced His disciples, even the stones would cry out this truth. But He wasn’t the political king the Romans might have feared and the Jews wished and prayed for. Rather, He was the king foretold by the prophet Zechariah (9:9), who would enter Jerusalem in just this way. Zechariah prophesied some 500 years earlier, when the Jews were returning from their exile in the land of Babylon and Persia. He wrote: “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. I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth” (Zech. 9:9-10).

Jesus came as a king of peace, and while His actions and the actions of the crowd that day were unmistakably kingly, He clearly was no ordinary king. He required no special anointing from the priests, for He had been anointed with the Holy Spirit in His baptism. He needed no officials to transfer authority, no borrowed mule from the previous king to establish His legitimacy. He wore no finery or royal robes, and marched with no other army than a small band of fisherman, and ordinary, common people who were His disciples. He carried no sword or tools of war. He lavished no gifts of money or worldly wealth on those whom He desired as His subjects. He made no political promises.

He truly was the King of Peace that Zechariah prophesied would ride in on the donkey, your king [who] is coming to you—righteous and having salvation. No king is without a kingdom, and no kingdom is without its subjects. The crowd that day seemed to be willing subjects to their newfound Davidic king. But they seemed to expect the political favors and promises of an earthly king. And so would we, if we had the hope and promise of being subjects of a great and powerful king who could bring bounty and wealth and independence to our homeland. We can sympathize with the people who wanted earthly assurances of independence and safety and material gain. Sometimes we put too much hope and trust in such things. But loyal subjects proved few when Jesus died on the cross the following Friday. Who understood what kingdom this King of Peace represented? Who knew what kind of subjects He desired? We can have the same selfish thoughts about our King Jesus, and expect that being a follower of Him should mean a life filled with riches or free from suffering. But Jesus made no such promises. Rather, the marks of His kingdom would be division in the family over Him, persecution for His name, bearing a cross of trial and suffering, and the possible loss of all our material things and even life.

Doesn’t sound like a kingdom for the faint-of-heart, does it? Seems that there’s a lot to be lost in this kingdom, by following this king. No surprise that the would-be subjects turned tail when He died. But believe it or not, His kingdom really is for the faint-of-heart and for the weak and the downtrodden. You don’t have to be a “super-Christian” to be part of His kingdom. As the prophet spoke: “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you’” (Is. 35:3-4). Jesus strengthens the weak and feeble and anxious, and He alone is able to deliver them. For this King doesn’t depend on an army to do His fighting, He wins the battle alone. His own arm is strong to save. He doesn’t break the bruised reed or put out the dimly burning wick (Is. 42:3). He doesn’t crush those who are near to breaking, and He doesn’t snuff out the dim embers of a weak faith. He gives courage and faith to all who follow Him, and brings salvation to bear for all who are troubled by sin and fearful of death. His kingdom is no place for those who put confidence in their own flesh and might (Phil. 3:3). The mighty in His kingdom are those who know their weakness and dependency on Him (Phil. 4:13; 2 Cor. 12:9-10).

We already know this King’s road to triumph. We’ve heard the proof of His battle record, as He rode on in lowly majesty to His death on the cross, but unfurled banners of victory in the dungeons of hell (Col. 2:14-15; 1 Pet. 3:18-19), before rising from the dead in conquering might. We know the battle pains He endured, and we know the battle scars He bears on His hands and feet and side. We know that our King is now seated at the right hand of God the Father, ruling from His Father’s throne with His authority, and awaiting the day when all His enemies will become a footstool under His feet (Acts 2:34-35). Our King has proven His worth and His glory, and there’s no greater honor than to be subjects in His kingdom, the church. His kingdom grows peacefully, not through warfare. Zechariah said He speaks peace to the nations and His rule is from sea to sea, from the River to the ends of the earth. The peaceful growth of His kingdom comes when we spread the message of Jesus’ dying and living love for us—the message of His kingdom of peace with God through the forgiveness of our sins. It’s His message that wins hearts and turns enemies of God into His friends and loyal subjects.

But even we, His loyal subjects can at times grow weak and weary from the battle strain of life. We can become self-seeking, and want His rule only for what it gains for us. We use a “cost-benefit analysis” to see whether it’s worth the sacrifice or cost, not realizing that the eternal gains are immeasurable by our standards. We can be quick to run from the challenges He gives us to face. But our king knows our frailty, He knows our weaknesses, and He’s always on the battlefield with His Word and Spirit, to heal and mend those who’ve fallen, and to strengthen the weak knees. With His Word and Spirit, He works repentance and His peace in your hearts. As we prepare for His second coming, when He will descend on the clouds of heaven, He calls us to be prepared to receive Him. This Advent, pray for the Holy Spirit to level the rough places in our hearts, to lay low all stubbornness and pride, and to lift us up from fearfulness or exhaustion. Proclaim Him as our King and worship Him with glad songs, blessing our King who comes in the name of the Lord. May we greet the coming of our King with shouts of loud Hosannas and a bold faith in the one who saved us by His strong arm. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
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1. What themes of Kingship are found in the story of Christ, from birth till death? How does the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem show themes of royalty? Read 1 Kings 1; 2 Kings 9:13; Zechariah 9:9-10; Psalm 118:25-26

2.Why was Israel especially waiting for and expecting a Messianic King? Since the time of the Davidic kings, they had alternately been ruled by the Assyrians (N. Kingdom only), Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, and then Romans. What would the Romans have feared about such a demonstration? What reason did the Pharisees fear it? John 12:19

3. What indications were there from prophesy and from Jesus’ own life, that He was a King of Peace, not a political king who would make warfare? See Zech. 9:10; Isaiah 9:2-7

4. What was the misunderstanding of Jesus’ would-be subjects? How do Christians today sometimes mistake the meaning and benefits of being part of God’s kingdom? What makes for a “worthy subject” in Christ’s kingdom? Do we have to be “super-Christians?” Phil. 3:3; 4:13; 2 Cor. 12:9-10

5. How does Christ the King fight for us on the battlefield? Isaiah 35:3-4; 42:3; Col. 2:14-15; 1 Pet. 3:18-19; Acts 2:34-35

6. How should we greet His coming, and prepare for His return? What does He accomplish in us through His Word and Spirit?

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