Text: Matthew 21:1-11
Listen to these words: “The day is surely drawing near/ When Jesus, God’s anointed,/ In all His power shall appear/ As judge whom God appointed.” Well, we see that today with Jesus entering Jerusalem. This is Advent, not Lent, and yet we don’t hear about a coming baby Jesus, but rather an adult Jesus beginning His journey to the cross. So here in Advent we’re not just getting ready to celebrate Christmas. At Advent, we’re preparing for the Coming of the Kingdom of God.
Here comes Jesus, into Jerusalem, with a purpose. Jesus is coming from Jericho on his final journey. As a person approaches Jerusalem from the east, the city is not visible, since it is hidden behind the Mount of Olives. Upon reaching the crest of the mount, however, the traveler suddenly finds the whole city spread out before him. It is not hard to imagine bands of weary pilgrims joining in a psalm of joyful thanksgiving at this point.
As Jesus nears Jerusalem, He is in need of something to make His journey complete – a donkey. While a donkey sounds strange, it is in keeping with Scripture: “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’” This is what is needed because it is in line with the prophecies of the coming Savior.
As the season of Advent begins, we must remember who it is that is coming. A baby is coming, but not just a baby. The baby is the long-promised Savior. This is their King, whether they know it or not, whether they want it to be true or not.
Notice the many double-sided issues in these few verses. Jerusalem is at once the holy city and “the city that kills the prophets.” Jesus sends two disciples to get two animals when He can clearly ride only one. Do events happen by previous planning or divine knowledge? In all of these, Matthew is seeking to convey the two natures of Christ—fully human and fully divine. Both aspects must be held in mind together if Jesus is to be comprehended in full. Jesus is “the Crucified Messiah, the Modest King, the Lowly Lord, the Human God.”
Once the animals are secured, the two disciples put their cloaks on both donkey and colt and Jesus sits on the garments. Some of those coming to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration join the procession as Jesus descends from the Mount of Olives. Though He rides on a donkey rather than a warhorse, thereby symbolizing peace rather than militarism, the crowd seems to catch the royal symbolism of the act and carpets His path with their cloaks and branches cut from trees. The donkey Jesus rides is a beast of the people, a working beast that identifies Jesus as being in solidarity with those familiar with the animal. It is humble and stubborn in the burden it is bearing, even as the one who rides it this day is humble and determined to fulfill His calling.
They people are seeing something occur that they don’t fully understand, but yet recognize as important. The people shout out, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” This underscores Jesus’ identity as being in accord with the great king whose city He is entering. The “Hosanna” can be understood as both a prayer and as an acclamation of praise. The shouts are nothing more than “save us” from the people. But save us from what? Do they have any idea why Jesus has come? Do they even care?
Is that not what you and I cry out on a daily basis – Hosanna, save us? That should be our daily cry because we need saving, but we don’t want to cry out because we don’t think we need saving? We don’t think we’re as bad as what people want to say we are or what the Church wants to say about us. But the fact of the matter is we are as bad as what people and the Church wants to say about us. That’s why God sends Jesus to us, because we do need God to save us, and save us He does.
He comes in Advent in order to be the sacrifice that is needed on Palm Sunday to be the answer to the people’s cries on Good Friday. But it wasn’t as simple as that. Matthew records, “the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?”” The “whole city” in its ignorance stands in contrast to “the crowds” who knew Jesus to be at least a prophet “from Nazareth in Galilee.” Both groups will be presented with the opportunity to learn that Jesus is more than a human prophet or human king in days to come. They will quickly find out on Good Friday, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
The people looked for a deliverer based on their trust in God’s promises borne to them by their prophetic sacred writings. But the given Messiah does not, as is often noted, fulfill popular expectations. Not only was that true then, it is true now. “Who is the Christ?” is the question behind this text, and the answer is of the both/and variety: both human and divine, both militant and nonviolent, both crucified and resurrected, both obedient and triumphant, both royal and humble, both empowering and not overpowering.
“Behold, your king is coming to you…” The humble King who rode into Jerusalem in humility comes to us. In a manner of true repentance, we meet our Savior. He comes into Jerusalem, the city of the temple – the place of sacrifice – to suffer and to die as God’s ultimate Passover Lamb. His sacrifice interrupts the monotonous routines of sin and death. Here is a King like no other, for this King comes not in royal splendor or with military might, but in the humility of the Servant who embraces the cross for you.
All of this, He did for you. He is the Blessed One, for in His saving death, He brings all the blessings of heaven – forgiveness of sins and peace with God – down to earth, down to you. It is no wonder that during the season of Advent, we especially hear that Jesus is indeed Immanuel, God with us. Even as God lives with us, He still comes to us. He comes to us as we read and hear His Word. He also continues to come to us in His flesh and blood as we eat and drink the bread and the wine of His Table.
There’s never been anything especially impressive about the ways that Jesus comes to His people, at least not by our worldly standards. But He never had our impressions in mind. He came to His people under the most humble circumstances and in the most humble ways to save them. He comes to you through His humble, chosen means. And He promises to be with you according to His humble grace and mercy until He comes again, only then it will be in power and might.
And we keep faith with the people of God throughout the ages and wait and watch for the advent of our King, a coming promised so long ago. But we wait with true faith, for we know who is coming, and what He has done, and we know what He has promised to do when He comes to bring us to eternal life, and destroy sin and death forever. And so, we watch and pray and wait faithfully, observing the promise of Advent all the year long: “Behold, your king is coming to you.” In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.