Matthew 21:1-9 NKJV
Sermon by Pastor Edward Brockwell, Jyväskylä, Finland
The Confessional Lutheran Church of Finland
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Now when they drew near Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, "Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Loose them and bring them to Me. "And if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, 'The Lord has need of them,' and immediately he will send them." All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: "Tell the daughter of Zion, 'Behold, your King is coming to you, Lowly, and sitting on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey.'" So the disciples went and did as Jesus commanded them. They brought the donkey and the colt, laid their clothes on them, and set Him on them. And a very great multitude spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying: "Hosanna to the Son of David! 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!' Hosanna in the highest!" Matthew 21:1-9 NKJV
"Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." Ephesians 1:2 NKJV
DEAR FRIENDS IN CHRIST!
Last Sunday the Christian church observed the beginning of a new Church Year with the first Sunday of the Advent season. The word, "Advent" comes from two Latin words: Ad Venire, which means: "to come," "to arrive." The Advent season focuses on Christ's threefold coming -- past, present, and future.
Firstly, Advent is a past event. God came into the world and into our humanity in the Person of Jesus Christ. He is "Very God of very God… Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary and was made man." The Advent, or birth, of Jesus Christ is the ultimate fulfilment of prophecy. The Old Testament prophets pointed to the One who would come to bring salvation, peace, joy, and the Kingdom of God. The birth of Jesus Christ fulfilled God's promise through the prophets of the Messiah and Anointed One. In our text we see the crowds welcoming Jesus during His first advent. "Hosanna to the Son of David! 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!' Hosanna in the highest!"
The advent of our Lord, His coming into our world with salvation, Jesus' birth is a pure manifestation and proof of God's love for man, of God's love for you. Such love moved great hymn writers, like Paul Gerhard, to write such words:
Love caused Your incarnation;
Love brought You down to me.
Your thirst for my salvation
Procured my liberty.
Oh, love beyond all telling,
That led You to embrace
In love, all love's excelling,
Our lost and fallen race.
In many ways, Advent is a present event. Jesus comes to us, the Church, His true Jerusalem today. The very same Jesus, fully God and fully man, comes to us through the preaching of the Word, and in the sacraments of holy baptism and the Lord's Supper. Thus, Advent is a time when we give thanks for His present and continual coming to us through Word and Sacrament.
Jesus "continues to advent" into our hearts and lives, that is, He continues to come to us bringing us His salvation, peace, joy, and the Kingdom of God that we so desperately need in our lives. The world, on the other hand, is busy preparing for Christmas. But sadly, Christmas is a celebration without the Lord’s Christ. People fix their attention on buying gifts, whereas Advent offers God's gift to us. During advent, people await time off from work and school, whereas in the Divine Service, Advent helps us to see our need for time with God. It prepares our hearts for Christmas, the gift of God’s only-begotten Son. By the time December 25th arrives, the world begins to see Christmas as anticlimactic, a sense of "isn't there something more to life?" Advent prepares the hearts of the Christian faithful, so that we come to know Jesus our Lord and joyfully cry out, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!' Hosanna in the highest!"
In Advent, we look forward with hope and longing to Jesus' second coming in glory to judge the living and the dead on the Last Day. Thus, while we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, God's Son, who came into the world in order to redeem us from our sins, we anticipate the day when Jesus will return to Earth and bring an end to this fallen world, with all of its sin and brokenness. The day of the Lord's return will be a dreadful day, indeed. However, Advent is meant to help us look forward to that day with hope because through faith in Jesus, the end of this world will mean the beginning of a new life with Christ for all eternity.
Advent, then, is a time for us to repent. It is a time for believing. Knowing that Jesus was born to forgive our sins we repent, that is we truthfully acknowledge our sins and our failures. We believe that we are forgiven. We believe that God in Christ has had compassion upon us, that in His bitter suffering and death, Jesus subdued our iniquities, and cast "all our sins into the depths of the sea" (Micah 7:19). Yes, in Christ, Jesus hurled our sins away from our heavenly Father’s eyes. They lay in the depths of divine forgiveness and forgetfulness. Imagine a sign at the shore of this sea that reads, "No fishing!" Advent is a time of repentance and believing. It is a time to leave the past behind, to embrace the present and future with hope, with faith, and WITH CHRIST!
In his Advent sermon, based on our Gospel lesson for today, C.F.W. Walther remarked that, when Jesus entered Jerusalem, "He visited His spiritual, believing Zion, but He also came to all who had entered the city, even the most miserable and lost sinners. And so it is today. Jesus comes, first, to His Church, His true believers, but He also visits all who cling to His Church, even if they are still miserable and lost sinners. Jesus comes even to struggling Christians, those who fear that He will not come to them because they are not certain they belong to the daughter of Zion as true believers and true members of His Church.
"But where is Christ’s Church? Christ's Church is wherever His Word is proclaimed and His precious Sacraments are administered. Where these means of grace are absent, His Church is also absent. In such a place, there is no Christ, no salvation, and no blessedness. Those who do not want to keep God's Word and Sacraments hope in vain for Christ's coming. Only the daughter of Zion, who has His Word and Sacraments, will hear these words: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you . . . humble" (Zechariah 9:9)."
"For this reason," Walther writes, "it is well with all who are determined to listen diligently to the precious Word of God in the new Church Year. If they do not yet belong to the daughter of Zion, if they cannot yet be numbered among the citizens of the true spiritual Jerusalem, they are still like those Israelites who witnessed Jesus' entrance into the visible Jerusalem so many years ago. This joyful message applies to all who allow themselves to be found among those who hear Christ's Word. Jesus also comes to them in this new Church Year. There are those who, in the year just past, did not completely forget, forsake, and lose the Lord Jesus, but they were often unfaithful to Him. They did not keep much of the vow they had made to Him; they were overcome by many sins and, in many respects, they went more backward than forward. Yet they should not despair. A new Church Year begins, and Jesus, the King, comes again with new grace." (Walther).
My dear friends, in one way or another, "each of us during the old Church Year has been outwitted by his flesh, the world, and even by Satan. Perhaps you may have spent the last year without peace and rest, without light and comfort, and without power and hope, oppressed by the feeling of God’s displeasure. Dear friends, a new year has dawned, and Jesus is returning, bringing with Him a fresh supply of grace."
"Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation." (Zech. 9:9). Jesus comes to each of us as our King of grace! But perhaps as you look back at the past church year, you see how you have wandered about in fleshly security, without caring for the salvation of your immortal soul? You see that you have sought, above all else, money and goods, quiet days and a comfortable life, caring not at all for Jesus from your heart, or of the many who don’t know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour? We wrestle with sin and unbelief. Perhaps there is even such a one that looks back at the past year and indeed his entire life and sees how he has even been His bitter enemy. If you have recognized that you cannot be saved on this path you have trodden upon, and if you are now anxiously asking: "What must I do to be saved?” God wants to extend to you, too, the new grace of the new Church Year. You may be bound with a thousand bands of sin, but if, with a heart full of repentance, you grasp in faith the hand of grace He is extending to you, He will speak to you as before: "Loose him and lead him to Me." And you will indeed be free. "Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36).
A most blessed Advent, dear friends. Behold, YOUR King comes to YOU! A blessed new church year unto all of you. Amen.