“Behold, Your King Is Coming to You” (Matthew 21:1-11)

First Sunday in Advent
December 1, 2019

“Behold, Your King Is Coming to You” (Matthew 21:1-11)

In the Holy Gospel for today, St. Matthew writes: “This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, ‘Say to the daughter of Zion, “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.”’” But this raises some questions: How does this event from Jesus’ life, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey–how does this “fulfill what was spoken by the prophet”? Or another question: What does this Palm Sunday account have to do with Advent? And the even more important question: What does all of this have to do with us? Let’s get some answers now, under the theme, “Behold, Your King Is Coming to You.”

Today is the First Sunday in Advent, the start of a brand-new church year. And the Holy Gospel that will be featured throughout this year is the one written by St. Matthew, the Apostle and Evangelist, and our congregation’s patron saint. One of the characteristics of Matthew’s Gospel that makes it distinctive is, in his telling of a number of events from the life of Jesus, Matthew will write, “This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet.” And then he quotes the particular Old Testament passage he has in mind. Matthew uses this quotation formula, “to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet,” or a phrase much like it, some twelve times in his gospel. In fact, each of our Gospel readings now for five straight Sundays has some form of that formula. For today, then, we want to know: How does this particular incident from the life of Jesus fulfill what was spoken earlier by the Old Testament prophet?

The place to start is to find out which prophet Matthew is referring to and what the original context was. Well, the Old Testament prophet was Zechariah, who wrote some 500 years before Christ. If we turn to the Book of Zechariah, there we read: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

So now when Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, Matthew sees this event as being a fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy. But it’s much more than just predicting a donkey. It’s what the donkey stands for, and who it is that rides in on it. That’s what makes it a significant fulfillment. Why did Zechariah prophesy just this? Why does he tell Zion or Jerusalem to “rejoice greatly” and to “shout aloud” in view of this prophecy?

Why? “Behold, your king is coming to you.” That’s why Zion is to rejoice. Consider the situation in Jerusalem when Zechariah was writing this. The city had been pretty well devastated and desolated for 70 years, during the time of the Babylonian Exile. Just recently, though, the exiles had finally been able to return to Jerusalem and start rebuilding. But the place was a wreck. The people were discouraged. And the political situation was not what it once was, before the exile. Judah was no longer an independent nation with their own king. Now they were reduced to being at best a territory, under the rule of the Persian Empire. Judah no longer had a king. Now they had a governor.

But the Lord will remember the promises he made to his people. And those promises include a son of David reigning on the throne in Jerusalem. A great king would come, the Messiah, who would usher in a new and glorious age, an everlasting kingdom. That is why Jerusalem is told to rejoice: Even when things look discouraging, people of God, remember that the Lord remembers you. He will keep his promises. He will send you the great king he promised.

And this is where the donkey comes in. Rather, this is where the king comes in on the donkey. The animal is noteworthy because of what this king does not ride in on: He does not ride in on a war horse, a mounted steed. Instead, he rides in on a donkey. Jerusalem had seen enough of war horses. The people at Zechariah’s time were worn out by war and conquest. They longed for peace. And that is what the Lord will give them when he sends them this great king.

The donkey was a symbol of that peaceable kingdom. It’s a domestic animal, a beast of burden. The idyllic vision for Israel was of a land at peace, an agrarian nation, a land flowing with milk and honey, with each man sitting under his vine and fig tree. And the donkey fits in there perfectly as a symbol of peace and home life.

So that was Zechariah’s prophecy. And now it’s 500 years later, and here comes Jesus, riding into Jerusalem on a donkey! The message is clear: This Jesus is the Messiah! He is the great king promised from long ago! There’s a lot riding on that donkey! Jesus is the one who will bring God’s people out from under oppression. He will bring in the peaceable kingdom.

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion. Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem. Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation.” Here he comes, “humble and mounted on a donkey.” Jesus comes, having salvation to bestow, precisely by being “humble.” “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” The king comes victorious, by letting himself be “defeated,” so to speak.

So it’s appropriate that this king comes riding in on a beast of burden. Because the greatest burden being carried that day was the one carried by Jesus himself. He bore the burden of our sins on his back, carrying them to the cross. Behold, your king comes “righteous and having salvation.” He, the Righteous One, dies for us, the unrighteous. This is how he saves us from our sin and unrighteousness. This is how he saves us from death and damnation. He comes “having salvation.” Eternal salvation, safety and peace in his everlasting kingdom. This is what your king has for you! What a reason to rejoice!

Luther says of this king: “Look at him! He rides no stallion, which is a war animal, and he comes not with fearful pomp and power, but sits on a donkey, which is no war animal but which is ready for the burdens of work that will help human beings. Thereby he shows that he does not come to terrify people, to drive or oppress them, but to help them, to carry their burdens and take them on himself.”

Matthew says that this riding into Jerusalem on a donkey took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet. Was he right? Oh yeah! And then some. This is your king, having salvation.

But now getting back to another of our original questions: What in the world does this have to do with Advent? Jesus riding into Jerusalem is a Palm Sunday event, after all. Yes, it is. But it works here also, at the start of Advent. Because this whole season of Advent is about our king coming to us. The word “Advent” even means “coming.” “Behold your king is coming to you, righteous and having salvation”: This is a good theme verse for Advent. For the Son of God coming in the flesh at Christmas will save his people from their sins. And this king comes to us, humble. What could be more humble than his coming as a little baby laid in a manger, an animal’s feed trough, where even a donkey might feed? From his lowly birth to this humble ride, the coming of Christ goes against what you’d expect for a mighty king.

And it’s still that way today. Our king comes to us in lowly means. In lowly means, in a little church, he comes. Here, today. Through the word of absolution, spoken from the font. Through the preaching of Christ crucified, which sounds like foolishness and weakness, but which in reality–hidden reality–is the power and wisdom of God. Through bread and wine–lowly means, but which deliver the greatest gift, the body and blood of Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins. Behold, your king is coming to you today, through these humble means. This is Advent. This is salvation. This is the fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy, applied to us.

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem, the crowds there shouted, quoting Psalm 118, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” As Jesus is about to come to us here today in his Holy Supper, we will sing the same song: “Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.” The same king who came to his people back then is coming to his people here today.

Jesus, your king, is coming to you here today, bearing your burden and giving you his gifts. This is why we come to church. This is why we come every Sunday. Because Jesus comes here every Sunday to meet with you, his people. He has forgiveness to give you every week. He has things to teach you every week. He has strength to give you when you are weak. Friends, this is why we come to church: Because this is God’s house, and Jesus is here.

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD!” “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you, righteous and having salvation.”

Published in: on November 30, 2019 at 5:50 pm  Leave a Comment  
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