The Coming of the Great King
In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Matthew 21:9 Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord… As we have said already, today begins a new church year, the marking of time from the coming of our Lord through the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost.
This morning our attention is focused, as always, on Jesus as He enters Jerusalem for the last time before He is to be crucified for the sins of the whole world. Yes, it is the same text for Palm Sunday, the triumphal entry where Jesus rode on a beast of burden into a city which hailed Him as their Great King and who expected that He would now reign on the earthly throne and defeat the despised Roman rulers.
But the people of Jerusalem were mistaken. They did not realize that Jesus had come not to reign on the earth, but in heaven, and so they were disappointed and angry. Eventually many of those who had placed palm branches in His path and sang His praises would be the same ones at the cross shouting, “Crucify Him!”
Throughout His earthly life Jesus had been a familiar sight in Jerusalem, and the people looked for His coming. Before this day His comings and goings had been quite simple. But on this particular day, a few days before His death, He had made an exception. He had walked as far as Bethphage on the top of the Mount of Olives where He stopped and looked over Jerusalem, His city. He said to two of His disciples there, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Loose them and bring them to Me. And if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and immediately he will send them.
No earthly king ever spoke like that. How did He know the donkey and the colt were there, not to mention the exact spot where they would be found and what the owner would say? This is a king who does not impress with wealth or power or gold or silver or horses or chariots. This is a king who knows all things, who makes hearts do His bidding, who commands and all things are at His service!
Let us not be deceived by His lowliness even today, for He is still present in the lowly things of the earth. Your King comes to you today in things that the world around you considers lowly, even impossibly simple. He comes to you in bread and wine and says to you that He is truly present to forgive, strengthen, and sustain you. He comes to you in words that the world does not listen to or believe – words that deliver exactly what they say, words of life, words of forgiveness. He comes to you in water poured onto your head and words spoken into your ears – water and words that deliver the full benefits of His death and resurrection. Behold, your king comes to you!
And His coming to you is not a failure as many in Jerusalem thought. We must not imagine that Jesus undertook this strange entry for His own delight; on the contrary, it was a painful experience for Him, for when He came in full sight of the city He wept bitter tears. It was not vain ambition that prompted Him to make this spectacular display; it was God’s own decree.
Centuries ago the prophet Zechariah had said, “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.’” (Zech. 9:9) As insignificant as this prophecy might seem to some, the Son of God must not return to heaven before it was fulfilled. Christ’s entry into Jerusalem was one of the things by which God put the stamp of authenticity upon this Man’s right to the throne, for in Him all prophecies are fulfilled.
Jesus is the King for whom the world has been looking so long, and for whom, unwittingly, it is still looking! Jesus is the fulfillment of all divine prophecy; everything good and comforting that God has ever promised or that He will ever give is embodied in Jesus. The words of Zechariah’s prophecy, “Tell the daughter of Zion, ‘behold your king is coming to you,’” are directed at every one of us. It is a message of great joy to all who bear the name of Christ.
And what a message it is! Sin is not to rule over us; the devil is not to be our king; death and despair are not to be triumphant over us: today and every day from now on is the Coming of the Great King – our King – your King and my King – whom God sends for our rescue and peace, just exactly as He has promised.
It must have been a stirring sight to see that crowd, waving palm branches, spreading their garments along the road, shouting hosannas. It is strange that no one seemed to take offense at the ordinary clothing that this King wore, or that no one seemed disturbed at the borrowed beast upon which He rode, or at the class of people that cheered Him along the way. It seems that a simple reminder of that might have silenced all the shouting.
But He who orders the sea when to roar, and the lightning when to strike, also told these people when to shout, “Hosanna!” Were they thinking of the ancient prophecy? Probably not. One of the evangelists tells us that not even the disciples thought of it until after Jesus was dead, buried, and raised again. Then why was there so much shouting as Jesus entered the city?
Have you ever seen a grain field in the summertime, bending under the breeze as though waves were passing over it? The grain can not do anything to keep from surging when the wind blows over it. There are times when God moves human hearts in the same way. It was a kind of intuition that took hold of the people; they were doing more than they were aware of. It was a tribute to the fact that all hearts owe homage to Jesus – a premonition of that final day when all things shall bow down and worship Him.
In the meantime, Christ still comes on earth. He has triumphed since that day; the grave has opened before His power; hell is defeated, and millions upon millions live under Him in His kingdom. And He still comes in lowliness. He comes in the Gospel. You see a book; it is made of common paper, printed with ordinary printer’s ink, preached to us by men. But it is the means by which the Great King comes to you. What could be more humble than that?
You see the font, occasionally filled with ordinary tap water which is applied to the heads of people young and old, but with words spoken from that book. What could be more humble than ordinary water? You hear the words of absolution spoken by an ordinary man under the command of God, words which deliver the same forgiveness which Christ Himself bought for us with His own blood. What could be more ordinary and humble than words? And you see bread and wine, simple earthly elements, but through which God delivers His Son’s forgiveness. What could be more humble than these ordinary things?
And yet, these are the very means through which the Great King comes to you. Through the years the world has sneered, saying, “Look at this beggarly king of yours coming into our great city!” And yet the procession goes on. The Word of God is preached, His gifts are given out, and a few hearts return to their homes a little stronger in their faith and a little more peaceful and happy. Behold, your King comes to you!
If the people of Jerusalem shouted for joy even though they did not fully understand why, then we do it all the more, for we know why! So rejoice whenever you hear the Gospel! Rejoice whenever you remember God’s name put upon you in Holy Baptism! Rejoice whenever Christ through His servant the pastor forgives you all your sins! Rejoice whenever you receive His body and blood! You know the power, peace, and richness of these things, for they are the ways in which the Great King comes to you!
Let your hearts raise glad hosannas and glorify His greatness as He rides on in triumph! Praise God for the coming of the Great King! Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He, blessed is He, blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord! Amen!