“Behold, your King is coming to you, Lowly, and sitting on a donkey” Advent 1 2023

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03. December 2023
Advent 1
Matthew 21:1-9

All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: “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.’ ”

In the holy Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem fulfills the prophecy of Zechariah, as the Holy Spirit inspired the Evangelist Matthew to confess. “To fulfill” can also mean “to complete.” This is one of nine times that Matthew spoke of the events of Christ’s life “fulfilling/completing” the Old Testament (Matthew 1:22; 2:15; 2:23; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:35; 27:35). This is, in part, what Jesus meant when He said, “All Scripture testifies of Me.” 

Jesus is the sum and circumference of the Bible. Every Christian preacher is also given to speak to the daughter of Zion, the Christian church, in the same way. Just like those pilgrims and faithful residents in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago, you hunger, thirst, and yearn for redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Zechariah’s prophetic promise is as true for you as for them. “Behold, your king is coming to you!”

Christ is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word designated for the Messiah. Both words mean “the Anointed One,” or as we would say, “the Crowned One,” “the King.” It was the Jewish name for the Lord whom God had promised through the prophets. The government would rest upon his shoulders, and his kingdom would be established and upheld “with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore” (Isaiah 11). 

When people shouted on the Mount of Olives, “Hosanna! Blessed be he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel,” this was a tribute to the Messiah of God. The church offers the same tribute to her Lord on this first Sunday in Advent. The lessons for this Sunday say the same as our own Hosanna: Jesus is the Christ, God’s Messiah, the Promised One that would come, our King, the Sovereign of the whole world. 

It was no accident that Jesus was born of the lineage of David, of royal blood. And yet, He was not just a descendant of royalty. He Himself says to the Pharisees that even David called him Lord. This king existed in the time of David, yes, even before Abraham, and He is Lord over all. All of the previous history had its goal for Him. Since humankind has risen in defiance of God, God has planned this way—the only possible way of salvation for his children. In the fullness of time, God sent his Son. All of the long preparation of Israel has its meaning only because it pointed forward and prepared the way for Christ.

As He is your king, then you made are His royal subjects. This is the heart of the Gospel. Jesus comes to save you, make you His own, and give you to live under His kingdom. Or as you confess in the Nicene Creed, “Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven.” 

Or as the Apostle testifies, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:5-8)

The Evangelist said, “‘Behold, your King is coming to you, Lowly, and sitting on a donkey.” A lot of ink has been spilled on the donkey and the colt, which is significant. But the word “lowly” or “humble” is the point. Jesus voluntarily refrains from the glory that belonged to Him. His humility is not simply in becoming man, for mankind was and is made in God’s image, the apex of Creation. No, His humility is becoming a lowly man, enduring what was far beneath His majesty. He exposed Himself to all kinds of malice, envy, slander, hatred, jealousy, insults, suffering, misery, pain, and ultimately death for you and for your salvation.

There’s something curious here from St. Matthew. He substituted the word “lowly/humble” for what Zechariah originally said was “righteous/just.” He’s making a heavy theological assertion. The expectation from the Coming King, the Messiah or Christ, is that He would be doing, saying, and even thinking about what is good, right, and true. He would be the epitome of a just and righteous man, like David or Solomon, but even better. He would judge with equity and speak with wisdom. 

But He would be just or right, not simply in man’s eyes. In our eyes, justice is being good, little boys and girls, following all the rules. Righteousness is flying flags, posting memes, signaling social virtue, and behaving as our culture or world expects of us. We do what is right in our own eyes and expect others to do the same. Jesus calls this “the blind leading the blind.” It won’t get you where you want to be in the Father’s good graces. It will only lead you and those around you into the pit. 

If Jesus had done what was socially acceptable for justice and what was right in people’s eyes, He’d never have ridden into Jerusalem as He did. Still, he would have amassed a fighting force in Galilee and staged a large-scale coup against both the secular tyrants and the spiritual tyrants of religion. He would have used swords and clubs and commanded His followers to fight. He would accuse, condemn, and execute all who stood in His way in righteousness and justice. This is what we call civil righteousness, but this is not the righteousness the Law of God demands.

Thus, Matthew’s transposing “lowly” for “righteous” is a bold correction. Your King Jesus does not come to condemn sinful people and throw them into hell. Moses comes to judge and accuses of sin (John 5:45). The devil also comes to accuse, judge, and kill. But your King Jesus does not come to condemn but to help, to redeem from sin, to pardon and forgive. That is how we should see Him, how He wants to be known by us. As He told His cousin John, from His Baptism to His Cross, Resurrection, and Ascension, everything Jesus said and did was to fulfill all righteousness. And then He gives you His righteousness as gift. Therefore, you can confess with Jeremiah that Jesus is your righteousness.

We confessed at Augsburg, “Our churches teach that people cannot be justified before God by their own strength, merits, or works. People are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. By His death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins. God counts this faith for righteousness in His sight (Romans 3 and 4).” 

Christian righteousness is the faith that believes that sins are freely forgiven for Christ’s sake. This is what Jesus is about getting for you when He rode into Jerusalem that Palm Sunday. And this is the righteousness He gives to you today and always, as He rides into this little Zion, faithful New Jerusalem. He comes to help, redeem, pardon, and forgive you. He gives His righteousness to you under water, bread, and wine by His Word. He’s just as humble and lowly today as He was in the prophetic vision of Zechariah and its inspired fulfillment seen by Matthew. And in humility, He is just and righteous, forgiving you your sins. 

All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying: “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.’ ”

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guards your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin