Sermon based on Mk 11:1-10 for the First Sunday of Advent
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
In some ways, the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday was not totally unique. In fact, it wasn’t that different in outward appearance from the entry of others kings before Him. Previous kings of Israel had similar entries into the city at their coronation, riding in on similar animals, such as a mule (1 Ki. 1:32 – 40). The people also laid down their cloaks underneath these kings in that day’s version of red carpet treatment (2 Ki. 9:12 – 13). Jesus had the royal privilege of riding on a donkey that had never before been ridden, and was received with loud shouts of people rejoicing and following Him, as people had received other kings of Israel. Palm branches also were regularly used at previous celebrations and times of rejoicing (Lev. 23:40, Neh. 8:13 – 17, 2 Macc. 10:5 – 8), and were now used to celebrate this triumphant King riding into Jerusalem.
One focus of the Season of Advent is the coming of Christ as King, thus it is fitting that our Gospel reading is the royal entry of Christ into Jerusalem. But even though Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday was similar to that of other kings, we need to step back and see that there’s more going on. This was no ordinary king riding into the royal city.
Our Old Testament reading starts with the words, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down.” This prayer from Isaiah was prayed in expectation of the Messiah’s arrival. They prayed that the Creator and Lord of heaven and earth would tear open the heavens and descend, delivering His people. Isaiah reminds us of God’s presence at Sinai, where He made the mountains and earth quake at His presence. The people trembled and were afraid. Nations tremble at His presence.
Isaiah also speaks of the sin of the people and God’s anger. He writes of the uncleanness of Israel because of sin; of the fact that their righteous deeds – the best works that they could do – are nothing except a disgusting, filthy rag. But God is holy and powerful, sitting on His throne, filling the earth with His glory. God is holy and perfect. Man is sinful and unclean.
Knowing this, how would you expect the Lord of heaven and earth to come to us? As a King coming to crush those who oppose Him? In might and power, tearing open the heavens and making the earth shake and the people tremble? Certainly not as a baby born of a young virgin girl. Not as a humble servant coming to serve us, sinful man. Not as a man riding a humble beast of burden.
Jesus, who is God Himself, left the glory and joys of heaven and took on human flesh. He who created the heavens and the earth came into creation as a man. He humbled Himself to serve us. And He didn’t come in all of His glory and power. Entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, He rode a borrowed, lowly donkey instead of a majestic horse. He did not come to be crowned with a crown of gold, but with a crown of thorns. He did not come to ascend an earthly throne but instead was lifted up on a cross. Seeing the royal privilege of riding on a donkey that had never before been ridden, He came also to have the royal privilege of being buried in a tomb in which no one had yet been laid.
Jesus did not come to be an earthly king. Thus, when He was on trial before Pontius Pilate, the governor, Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” (Jn. 18:36) Everything Jesus did was for our eternal kingdom. He didn’t come to earth to prepare a kingdom for us here. He didn’t come to conquer our earthly enemies or to make His followers here on earth rich and famous.
Jesus came to earth to win us into His kingdom. He conquered death and the devil by His death and resurrection. He came to save us from our lives here on earth. He came to save us from sin. He came to save us from suffering and sickness; from depression and loneliness; from trial and temptation.
Unlike the Israelites kings of old and their war campaigns to save the people and conquer the enemy, Jesus saved you by suffering. He conquered by dying. Jesus won the battle and the victory has been accomplished. His death defeated death for us. It is finished.
This is what we can miss about the triumphal entry if we merely compare it to other kings who entered the city in similar fashion. Jesus came into the city with the purpose of suffering and dying for us. This King gave up His life to save us, His people. God the Father sent Him to save us.
O, wondrous Love, what have You done!
The Father offers up His Son,
Desiring our salvation.
O Love, how strong you are to save!
You lay the one into the grave,
Who built the earth’s foundation. (LSB 438 v. 3)
Yet Jesus also rose from the dead. He conquered death for us by His death and resurrection. So we can join the Palm Sunday crowd in singing, “Hosanna,” which means “save us!” This we sing in our communion liturgy in the Sanctus. We sing, “Hosanna. Hosanna. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.” (see the Sanctus in the LSB). This is fitting to sing as Christ comes to us in His true body and blood. It is fitting to sing as He comes to save us.
What’s also interesting about the Sanctus is that it starts out with “Holy, holy, holy Lord God of power and might: Heaven and earth are full of Your glory.” This is what the angels in heaven sing as they praise God as described by Isaiah (6:3). So in this one liturgical song, the Sanctus, heaven and earth are united. We sing “Holy, holy, holy” with the angels in heaven and we sing, “Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord” from Psalm 118(:26), recognizing that the glory of God is here among us as He was when the crowds sung this on Palm Sunday.
In the Lord’s Supper, heaven and earth unite. Jesus comes to us in His body and blood. “Hosanna” means “save us”, and that is exactly what Jesus does in the Supper. He gives us salvation through the forgiveness of our sins. His glory is veiled as it was during the triumphal entry. The crowds then saw a man riding a lowly donkey into the city. We see lowly bread and wine on the altar. But faith sees what our eyes cannot see. Faith holds to the promise of Christ that says, “This is my body”, and “This is my blood… for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt. 26:28). Jesus truly comes to us and unites heaven and earth. Jesus truly comes to save us.
And when Jesus returns, then He will rend the heavens and come down. He will come as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west (Mt. 26:27). Jesus will not return as He came the first time, but then He will come in all His glory and the angels with Him. He will come and raise the dead and take all His own to be with Him.
Jesus rode into Jerusalem like the Israelite kings of old, but He did what they could never do. Jesus rescued us from our enemies which are sin, death, and the devil. Jesus has also triumphantly entered His kingdom after defeating our enemies, and He prepares a place for us in that kingdom. And He has promised to be with us, and to strengthen us during our time on earth through Word and Sacrament until we have our triumphal entry. We will triumphantly enter the joys of heaven. Because of Jesus’ victory on the cross, when we die from this life, we have a triumphal entry awaiting us. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.