Sermon for Ad Te Levavi – Advent 1
Jeremiah 33:14-18 + Romans 13:11-14 + Matthew 21:1-9
Advent means coming, arrival. And God must surely come. As we’ll hear next week in our Gospel, Christ must come for judgment, because this world stands judged for all of its evil. Christ must come in glory, because He is the Lord, the King of glory. He has a Church to come back and rescue from this decaying world, and He has promised, “Behold, I am coming soon!”
But before His coming for judgment, before His Advent in glory, the King had to come in humility. The King had to come with salvation so that there could be a Church—a Zion—waiting for Him when He comes again. The two Advents of our King are painted for us with these two images: King Jesus riding into Jerusalem humbly, on a donkey; and King Jesus riding again into this world gloriously, on a cloud.
Today we take just a few moments to view the first image again. Christ’s Advent in humility paves the way for His Advent in glory.
There He is with His disciples on the Mt. of Olives, just across the Kidron Valley from Jerusalem’s eastern gate. His earthly ministry is nearing completion. Jesus is ready to face His greatest humiliation—rejection by Jerusalem and death on a cross. It’s Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week.
But first, He needs to send Jerusalem a message, a heartfelt and urgent message. “Behold, your King is coming to you.” But Jesus is too lowly, too humble to make such a proclamation about Himself. He lets the prophet Zechariah do it for Him. 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.’ How should Jerusalem recognize Jesus as her King? By following the pointing finger of the prophet Zechariah. There He is! Coming to you, riding to you on a donkey.
So Jesus needed a donkey, and just a tiny bit of His true glory shines through as He again reveals His divine attribute of omniscience to His disciples—that He knows all things, including where the donkey would be tied up. And He reveals just a bit of His divine attribute of omnipotence, too—His power over all things, because Jesus didn’t just know how things would go with getting the donkey, and that the owner would be OK with it. He made it so. And He had no trouble mounting this donkey that had never been ridden before. It’s as if He were the donkey’s true master, which, of course, He was.
Why this humble Advent? Because no one can see the face of God and live. To see God in His glory, to see Him in His majesty—every sinner has to die. God’s wrath against sin and rebellion are too great. The guilt in every man’s conscience would rise up like a flood and drown everyone in despair. People get away with denying their sins and convincing themselves everything will be just fine, regardless of their wickedness, as long as God’s face remains hidden. But there can be no living in denial for the sinner who is confronted with the majesty of the Righteous God.
But in Christ, God reveals that He doesn’t wish to destroy us. He wishes to save us from our sins. He wishes to forgive us and rescue us out of Satan’s kingdom, to redeem us from sin, death and the devil. So He hides His glory in human flesh—humble flesh. He rides on a donkey so that everyone in Jerusalem could know from the words of the Prophet, this is your King! This is Savior! Behold, your God!
This is the Branch about whom the prophet Jeremiah spoke: In those days and at that time I will cause to grow up to David A Branch of righteousness; He shall execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. In those days Judah will be saved, And Jerusalem will dwell safely. And this is the name by which she will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.
Since you have no righteousness of your own to offer God, no goodness to shield you from His wrath, no uprightness to plead in His divine courtroom of justice, God Himself rode into Jerusalem in human flesh—human, because human beings are the sinful ones, so it took God in human flesh to become the Righteousness that avails before God for mankind.
The first Advent of Christ in humility was to earn for us the righteousness that allows sinners to stand before God—the righteousness of faith in Christ. The first Advent of Christ in humility was for the Son of God to die a criminal’s death so that the criminals—you and I—might go free.
Here He comes, riding down from the Mt. of Olives, crossing the Kidron valley on the winding path up to Jerusalem’s gate. He lets the prophets do all the talking and explaining. He lets the prophets call the people to repentance and faith in this humble King. He just rides on in silence, in righteousness, in humility.
It won’t always be this way. The Jews were waiting for this Advent in humility. We are not. We are waiting for Christ’s Advent in glory. But we will only be prepared for that Advent if we receive Christ in His first Advent, if we receive Him now as our crucified and risen Savior who rode humbly into Jerusalem to save His people from their sins.
And notice, He wants to consider all people “His people.” His invitation to believe in Him and be saved is for everyone. Tell the daughter of Zion, Behold, your King is coming to you! He wants, not the righteous people in Zion to be saved by Him. No, He comes—the LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS—to be the righteousness of everyone, so that every sinner can become a citizen of Zion and call Him King. He comes to shed His blood for everyone. He comes in humility for everyone, to call all men to repentance now, in humility, before the time is up and He comes in glory with a rod of iron to dash every sinner to pieces.
As long as Christ delays His Second Advent, it’s still the day of salvation. It’s still the time of Christ’s Advent in humility. God is still willing to deal with us in grace, in humility, in forgiveness. Repent now, call on Him now, while He may still be found. Because at His Second Advent, it will be too late to enter His kingdom. Only those who enter His kingdom now, by faith, will have a part in His glorious kingdom.
What are we left with between these two Advents? We’re left with two things. First, we’re left with the Means of Grace. It’s still the time of Christ’s Advent in humility. He still doesn’t come to us with bright lights and outward signs, but with the spiritual light of His Word and with the humble signs of water, bread and wine. For now, we’re left with these things—the Gospel in Word and Sacrament—as our connection to our King. And we don’t look for Him to come in glory until that day when He actually comes in glory.
The second thing we’re left with is our Hosanna—Zion’s perpetual song of praise. Just as the crowds welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem at His First Advent, so we, too, continue to receive our now-humble King with rejoicing. Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest! We sing, we praise, we believe in Him and look to Him for salvation and help in all our needs until He comes in His Second Advent. We hear and learn His Word, and we invite others to hear and learn it, too, so that they, too, can learn to sing Hosanna.
Then, when Christ comes in glory, we who have learned to know Him in His first Advent in humility will be ready to receive Him with the same song, with the same Hosanna, at His Advent in glory. The Advent in humility paves the Way for the Advent in Glory. So sing, Zion! You who have believed in this King in His humility will see Him in His glory, and you will not die or be destroyed when you see Him. Because He is your King. He has called you by name in baptismal waters. He feeds you now with Himself through bread and wine. See your King riding into Jerusalem lowly and humble, bringing salvation to you. With that image burned into your heart, you will be ready to receive Him in glory. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Amen.