SERMON FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT, 12-1-2019
LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL
Pastor Michael Larson
Old Testament: Jeremiah 23:5–8
Gradual: Psalm 25:3-4
Epistle: Romans 13:8–14
Verse: Psalm 85:7
Holy Gospel: Matthew 21:1–9
Today Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey as the prophets of old preached. The crowds welcome Him with shouts, crying out loudly, “Hosanna in the highest.” The Savior predicted since the foundation of the world is now here. He rides into Jerusalem on a donkey – a beast of burden. This king born in Bethlehem in a feed trough, to poor parents. And this child is God. But today His work is getting closer to its completion, because this King rides into town to do what no other king has done. To die for His own subjects.
Today’s reading in some ways is the center of human history. The Lord rides into Jerusalem as a poor king to save this whole dying world from sin, death, and hell itself. But it’s easy to miss it, especially this week, after Thanksgiving, black Friday, and a full weekend of football. Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey is bigger than all this, but it’s easy to miss if you’re not paying attention. Because our Lord is not making a show of it – He’s in a parade of sorts – but it’s not like the Macy’s parade on Thanksgiving Day. Because there are no Clydesdale horses, no trumpets, no marching bands, or much fanfare.
The folks around Jesus in some ways recognize who He is. He’s the Lamb of God – the Savior of the world – the Messiah. They cry out, saying, “Hosanna,” which literally means “save us now” or “save us quickly.” And this is fitting because Jesus’ name in Hebrew simply means “The Lord saves.” And here He is.
But not everyone’s rejoicing, because the Pharisees and the Jews are watching Him with slit eyes, and they don’t like what they see. This Jesus has been preaching about the severity of sin, repentance, the coming judgment - about dying and rising and the coming kingdom of God. And they don’t like it. For some, for most, this is a message that falls on deaf ears, because even then, as now, most observers are rather secure in their sins. They weren’t really lamenting their sins or considering God’s righteous wrath and judgment, and so neither were they watching for the coming Savior or looking for Him. The last couple Sundays in the church year taught us about this – falling asleep – nodding off about the one thing needful: to prepare and order our lives to receive this Savior when He comes. So many then as now did not consider themselves lost or damned by their sins – not needing to be saved or rescued at all. How wrong they are.
We know things are different, because without Him, without this Jesus riding into Jerusalem, God’s word tells us we are all on one giant funeral procession into eternal death. The Scriptures say that we are dead in our trespasses and sins. The Scriptures say that apart from Him we can do nothing. Nothing at all. But we still have a tendency to puff ourselves up and parade around as if we needed no help from God or anyone at all.
But we all know the truth. Since that crunch of that fruit in Paradise, we’ve all been carrying around a heavy weight. We carry around on our hearts a lot of guilt. We know we don’t measure up to what God demands – and He demands perfection. He demands holiness. But we can’t even begin! Within us, in our flesh, dwells nothing good! Rebellion, corruption, and shame – sin, from which we cannot free ourselves. Sin which kills us and condemns us, for all sin is deadly.
Let us not be like those Pharisees who are suspicious about Jesus’ preaching. Because He is preaching and riding into Jerusalem for the likes of us. He’s the Savior that we so desperately need.
Jesus rides in on a donkey because donkeys are good for one thing. They are beasts of burden – they carry baggage – a heavy load is thrown upon their back – and they schlep it all away. That is why the crowds singing Hosanna and greeting Him are throwing their clothes at His feet. Because it is their prayer that Jesus will carry their garments of shame all the way to the cross. They need a Savior who comes down from heaven to do something truly wonderful – to be a beast of burden – to carry a heavy load that no one could ever lift. To carry all our anger, all our mistrust, all our rebellion, adultery, gossip, and deceit. To be weighed down with it all – to be pummeled and stuffed with our sins, dressed up in our shame – and roasted for the sins of the world.
Behold your God. He rides into Jerusalem this morning to be your Savior. To carry every weight that bears you down. To be crucified for your life and salvation. To tread down death itself under His feet. When He walks out of the dusty tomb on Easter morning, He gives proof to the whole world that your sins were no match for the power of His love.
So this morning give it all over to Him. You wanna do something for God!? You want to please Him? You start by giving your sins to Jesus. That’s the best thing you can bring Him! Be like the crowds greeting Jesus this morning. Sing Hosanna. That’s a good prayer. It means “Save us now.” And lay everything you’ve got at Jesus’ feet. All your hurt. All your pain. Everything you’ve got. Lay down all your sins and let Him carry them all to the cross. Because there’s nothing – no sin – no weight – no burden He can’t handle. He’s got this.
He marched through hell itself to bring you to where He is in heaven. And it is done. It is finished. The funeral procession has ended and the parade to heaven has commenced. So hold your head high and follow cheerfully in His train.
Jeremiah in our first reading had it right. The Lord is your righteousness. Though your sins were as scarlet they are now whiter than snow. You are forgiven and loved by God. You are pleasing to your Father in heaven because you are washed in His atoning blood.
So come, dearly beloved. The Lord sets a table before you this morning much better than any Thanksgiving meal. All of God’s family is here. His very body and blood given and shed for the life of the world. He gives you everything that belongs to Him – His righteousness, innocence, and blessedness – for you.
Like a donkey, the Lord comes in humble ways. He rides into His church in ways you might not expect, or think much of, so don’t miss it! Welcome this gracious King as He rides in humbly in and under a preacher’s voice. Through water and word – by a taste of bread and a sip of wine. A lavish feast of rescue for poor and needy sinners.
This is a thanksgiving feast, a eucharist, a meal truly to give thanks for. Because this King who rides into Jerusalem is a king like none other. A crucified King who lays down His life for His own subjects that we would have royal status and be heirs of His gracious kingdom. And in this kingdom to which you’ve been called, you’re more than guests. You’re just that – His royal family – each having a spot at the family table. Royal sons and royal daughters in whom He delights. In the name of Jesus. Amen.