Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent based on Matthew 21:1-11
Dear crowd shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David”: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Son of David rode into the city of David. He was received with much fanfare and celebration. They shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
Jesus entered Jerusalem humbly, riding on a donkey rather than a majestic horse. He came in great power and might because He is God in the flesh, the creator of heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them. However, His power and might were veiled. They could not be seen. The King of kings and Lord of lords humbled Himself and did not come in great demonstrations of power and might. The glimpses that He did show of His power and might were to heal, help, cleanse, and raise the dead; not signs of force or intimidation.
Some kings rule through tyranny and force. History is full of military dictatorships, despots, and tyrants. History is full of rulers who crushed their opposition through sheer force and violence, who murdered those who disagreed with them, and controlled their subjects through violence and threats of violence. We can think of examples such as Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Pol Pot in Cambodia, Josef Stalin in the Soviet Union, Adolf Hitler in Germany, and Mao Zedong in China. Their reigns were filled with conflict, murder, genocide, and war crimes.
Even in the modern-day western world, many politicians depict Machiavellianism, which is an unscrupulous approach to politics characterized by immoral behaviour, dishonesty, and even the killing of innocent people if it advances their political aspirations and goals. It was Machiavelli himself who said that if as a leader you cannot have both, it is better to be feared than loved.
What a far cry from Jesus’ humble entry into Jerusalem. Jesus came with more power and might than any world leader ever, but He did not come to lead His people by coercion and tyranny. He did not come to force people into subjection through oppression.
Jesus didn’t come on a war horse with an army of soldiers in a sign of force. He didn’t strong-arm people to sing His praises. He didn’t demand that they spread their cloaks on the road in front of Him or cut palm branches and lay them before Him.
Rather, God’s people were stirred to excitement and praise because they had waited for thousands of years for God to send the promised Saviour, and the crowds believed that that time had come. They shouted “Hosanna!” which means “save us now!” Thus, they believed their Saviour had come. They called Him “the Son of David” which confessed that they believed that He is the eternal King of the line of David promised by God through the Old Testament prophets (see esp. God’s promise to David in 2 Sam. 7:12-13).
The crowds may not have understood what it all meant, but Jesus understood. The crowds may not have known how Jesus would use His power and might, but Jesus knew.
Jesus did not use His power and might to coerce people to follow Him. He used His power and might to defeat the enemies of all mankind.
Jesus did not do this in the way that might have been expected. He could have attacked the devil and his demon hordes with the host of heaven and cast them into eternal chains of darkness. He could have destroyed Satan and his evil angels and rid the earth of them without even becoming man.
This, however, would have left mankind to pay for our sin. We would still have had to suffer eternally in hell for our sin if Jesus would have killed our enemy instead of allowing Himself to be killed. If Jesus had come in great power and might and defeated the devil without defeating sin and death for us, we would still be subject to sin and death.
That is why Jesus became man. That is why Jesus entered Jerusalem to suffer and die. By His suffering and death, He not only defeated the devil for Himself, but He defeated the devil for us. He defeated sin and death for us. Because Jesus paid the price of our sins, now we do not have to make the payment. Because Jesus died for us, we will not die eternally. Because Jesus defeated the devil for us, now the devil has no more power over us.
Sure, the devil will rave and storm and try to devour us and accuse us of our sin. Yes, we are still sinful and commit sin. And yes, we will die from this life.
But we are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection (Rom. 6:5). That means, “Satan, drop your ugly accusation: I am baptized into Christ!” That means, “Sin, disturb my soul no longer: I am baptized into Christ!” That means, “Death, you cannot end my gladness: I am baptized into Christ!” (LSB 594)
The devil has no power over us. He is a tyrant who tries to coerce us to follow him, but he cannot snatch us out of God’s hand (John 10:27-29). He tries to tempt us and accuse us, but he cannot entice us away from Christ, and God will not listen to his empty accusations because Jesus’ death has taken our sin away from us.
Sin has no power over us. Baptized into Christ, we don’t have to follow our sinful desires. Sin does not rule over us (Rom. 6:17-18). Because Jesus died for our sin, He took the punishment of our sin away from us. Our sin is removed from us as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12) because Jesus suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, bringing us to God (I Peter 3:18).
Death has no power over us. It may look like it has power over us since we will die from this life, but we are baptized into Christ’s resurrection, so we will rise from the dead as surely as He rose from the dead (Rom. 6:8). Death is now nothing to fear. Death for us is now nothing more than the doorway to eternal life.
Jesus will return as He has promised, and then He will come in power and might that is visible (Matt. 24:30). He will come in great glory that will be seen by all, even those who rejected Him, and all will bow down (Rom. 14:11).
Until that time, Jesus still comes to us humbly, in His Word and Sacraments. Jesus does not come to us as a tyrant and coerce us to believe or force us to go to church. Jesus comes to us in His Word which from the outside just looks like a book, but Jesus says His words are life (Jn. 6:63). Jesus comes to us in Baptism which from the outside just looks like water, but which Scripture teaches gives the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-39). Jesus comes to us in the Sacrament of the Altar which from the outside just looks like bread and wine, but which Jesus tells us are His true body and blood, given and shed for the forgiveness of our sins (Matt. 26:26-28; I Cor. 11:23-24).
Through these humble means Jesus gives us faith and keeps us in the faith. Thus, it is also appropriate that as part of the communion liturgy we join the Palm Sunday crowd and sing, “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
We recognize that the Saviour promised long ago comes to us in humble form. We sing “Hosanna!” which means “save us now!” because we believe our Saviour comes to us in His body and blood to save us from our sins. We sing that He comes in the name of the Lord because we confess that He is the eternal King of the line of David promised by God through the Old Testament prophets.
We receive our Lord with fanfare and celebration who comes humbly to us. Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest! Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.