First Sunday in Advent on Matthew 21:1-9

Initial Sermon preached by Seminarian David J. Mensing
in Oak Forest, Illinois on Sunday, December 2, 2012

First Sunday in Advent
Matthew 21:1-9

(Standard Gospel)

In the Name of Jesus Christ, the Savior and gracious King of His Church, dearly beloved hearers of His precious Word:

As we begin this year to celebrate the holy Advent season, let us briefly review just what the word “advent” means.  The word “advent” comes from the Latin word adventus, meaning “coming.”  This term was appropriately given to the period of the church year in which we specially prepare for and meditate upon the coming, or advent, of Christ Jesus, our Savior.  This liturgical season always includes the four Sundays immediately preceding Christmas, represented by the four candles on the Advent wreath which we display every year.

During each of these Sundays in Advent, we focus on one of the four of our Savior’s “comings” described by Scripture.  These comings, or advents, include first of all, His coming into the world as a little baby, conceived by the Holy Ghost in the Virgin Mary at His incarnation; secondly, His coming to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday in order to begin His great Passion as the Redeemer of the world; thirdly, His coming to us in His precious Word and Sacraments; and finally, His coming at the last day on which He will judge the world.

According to the selection and arrangement of the “standard” Gospel lessons, as found beginning on page 54 in our hymnal, our first Advent text is the account of our Savior’s entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, in which we see

Christ, the Gracious King of Israel, Come to His People

(I) visibly in the fullness of time; (II) as promised in the Scriptures of the Old Testament; and (III) as revealed also to us, in these latter times, in the Scriptures of the New Testament.

I.

In the very beginning of our text, we see that our Lord Jesus was traveling with His disciples to Jerusalem, and that they were drawing nigh to their destination, having arrived at a very near “suburb” of Jerusalem, called Bethphage.  This journey was very significant because not only was Jerusalem the “capital” city of the Jews, God’s chosen people, the location where the temple of God stood and where His visible church was principally recognized; but it was significant also because this journey marked the beginning of the transition from Jesus’ period of public ministry according to His prophetic office to His vicarious suffering and death according to His priestly office, and that what would transpire in Jerusalem would be the completion or accomplishment of that divine, vicarious, worldwide rescue mission by which He would make satisfaction for the sins of the world, the task to which He had been ordained before the foundation of the world as the Redeemer of all mankind.

The Lord Jesus revealed this in the simplest of terms to His disciples, as Matthew recorded this earlier in chapter 16 verse 21, where the substance of that instruction is plainly set forth.  We read that “[Jesus] began to show unto His disciples how that He must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.”  In addition, Peter, James, and John had been given the special privilege to witness Jesus’ transfiguration, during which they heard Him discuss, with Moses and Elijah, His impending suffering and death at Jerusalem, as this conversation is referred to by Luke in chapter 9 of his Gospel.

As evidenced by the initial reaction of Peter to that instruction (Matthew 16:22), the details regarding His imminent suffering and death were new to His disciples; and, according to their flesh, they resisted the thought of their dear Lord and friend being treated in such a spiteful manner.  They did not yet fully understand (Luke 18:34) that the grief, the despisal, the rejection of men, the bruising, wounding, affliction, and eventual death that He was to suffer at Jerusalem, as foretold in Isaiah’s prophecy chapter 53, was necessary as the PRICE of the world’s, and thereby also THEIR redemption, the ONLY PAYMENT sufficient enough to pay the penalty of the world’s, and thereby also THEIR guilt before God.  What was not new, however, was His special instruction or revelation to them that He was the Son of God and the promised Savior of the world.  They had enjoyed this benefit already from the beginning of His public ministry three years before.  Because while, according to His prophetic office, the Lord Jesus openly showed Himself to be without doubt the promised Messiah by His preaching and His miracles, starting already with the recruitment of His disciples (John 1:36-51) and changing water into wine at the wedding at Cana (John 2:11), He often took special time and gracious care with them to expound the meaning of the many parables by means of which He frequently instructed His hearers.

Along the way to Jerusalem, the Lord Jesus continued to show forth His Messiahship by preaching to the crowds that accompanied and followed Him, and by performing miracles in their presence.  As they passed through Jericho, for instance, He healed two blind men, one of them named Bartimaeus, whom the children know from their Sunday School lesson.  This healing of the blind, this opening of their eyes, was a sign prophesied in the Old Testament, specifically identifying the Messiah as the one who would perform these miracles, as we read in Isaiah 35:5, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped” (cp. 42:7).

And now at Bethphage, we read in our text that “Jesus sent two disciples, saying unto them, ‘Go ye into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her.  Loose them, and bring them unto Me.  And if any man say aught unto you, ye shall say, ‘The Lord hath need of them;’ and straightway he will send them.”  We see here that the Lord Jesus once again manifested one of the divine attributes communicated to His human nature by demonstrating His omniscience in the assignment He gave to His disciples.  We read in verse 2 that two disciples were sent into the nearby village in order to fetch for Him an ass, that is, a donkey, and a colt along with it, which Jesus said they would find right away upon their entering the village.  They were also to say to anyone that questioned them that “the Lord hath need of them;” and Jesus said that this person would immediately comply with the request.   As shown in verses 6 and 7 of our text, as well as in a parallel account of the same event in Luke chapter 19, everything happened as Jesus had foretold, even in the questioning and compliance of the animals’ owner.

In verses 6 and 7, we read: “And the disciples went, and did as Jesus had commanded them, and brought the ass, and the colt, and put on them their clothes, and they set Him thereon.”  These words show also that the disciples gladly followed these instructions, even in their interaction with the owner of the ass and the colt.  They placed their clothing onto the animals for Jesus to ride upon, and joined the multitude in their shouts of praise.

The crowds of people called Jesus the “Son of David,” a term used very specially for the promised Messiah, foretold to be from King David’s lineage, to inherit His throne, and to reign and prosper as a King (Jeremiah 23:5).  And they prepared a special procession for Him, waving palm branches, and spreading them, as well as even their clothing in the way, as a sort of “red carpet” treatment, fit for a king.

II.

But what was the basis of those shouts of praise?  Indeed, the crowds and the disciples proclaimed that Jesus was the promised Messiah; but why was that such happy news to them?  These Messianic followers, as also their ancestors back through the Old Testament, were no strangers to God’s holy Law in all its fierceness.  They were well acquainted, from the Holy Scriptures, with the account of the fall of Adam and Eve into sin in Genesis chapter three.  They had learned from childhood already God’s demand of sinful men that they be holy because He is holy, as it is written in Leviticus 19:2.  They knew well and acknowledged the extent of sin, as found in Ecclesiastes chapter 7, where it is written, “There is not a just man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth not” (v. 20); and they knew also God’s just pronouncements against sin and sinners, declaring through the prophet Ezekiel in his eighteenth chapter, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (v. 20).  As a result of that Law working in their hearts, they had come to understand and acknowledge their natural sinful and condemned state, their filthy status in God’s sight because of their sins, and the just punishment they deserved according to His justice.

Yet, by the working of the Holy Ghost through the pronouncement of the Gospel which the Lord had made known unto them throughout the whole Old Testament, they had also become acquainted with God’s mercy and His promises toward fallen mankind, particularly those of forgiveness of sins for all mankind earned by the Messiah, comfort for sinners, and salvation from sin offered out of pure grace.  Clinging to these promises by faith, Messianic believers counted God faithful that He would fulfill them all, that He would “perform the mercy promised to [their] fathers” (Luke 1:72), and they anxiously and confidently awaited the arrival of their Deliverer, their gracious King, as was prophesied.

We see the fulfillment of His foretold arrival here in our text in verses 4 and 5, where we are told that “All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, ‘Tell ye the daughter of Sion, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, meek, and sitting upon an ass, and a colt the foal of an ass.’”  Matthew quotes here from the ninth chapter of Zechariah’s prophecy, in which more detail is revealed about this King, as we read in verse 9, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, thy King cometh unto thee; He is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.”  In this reference, the Holy Ghost, through Matthew, quotes Himself, pointing to the fact that this event was the fulfillment of that very prophecy and promise.

We learn from Zechariah that the King who was to arrive according to prophecy is the King of the daughter of Zion and the daughter of Jerusalem, specific references to God’s church on earth.  This arriving King was to be “just” and “having salvation,” that is, He would be “as advertised,” the eternal God Himself, fully capable of performing that which He was sent to do; and He was coming in order to execute that plan, to be the Propitiation for the sins of the whole world (I John 2:2), to earn forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation for all people by His vicarious, that is, substitutionary obedience and atonement, rendering full compliance with God’s Holy Law in the stead of and for the salvation of all mankind.  This King’s arrival was prophesied to occur in a lowly, or meek, manner, as the Messiah according to His state of humiliation was to ride on an ass and a colt, and not in a glorious and flashy way as a powerful political figure, which so many had mistakenly been looking for.  This news, this Gospel news, as Zechariah says, was intended to result in rejoicing by His people, and did result in rejoicing in the hearts of those Messianic believers who trusted God, who saw afar off this fulfillment with their eyes of faith.

In verse 9 of our text, Matthew records that the crowds accompanying the Lord Jesus shouted: “Hosanna to the Son of David!  Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”  This prayer for deliverance offered and expressed by the multitudes and the disciples is strikingly similar to the wording of Psalm 118:25-26.  There, King David beseeches the Lord, saying, “Save now, I beseech thee, O Lord! O Lord, I beseech Thee, send now prosperity.  Blessed be He that cometh in the name of the Lord!”  The word “hosanna,” exclaimed by the people in our text, a Hebrew word meaning “Save now, we pray,” echoed the prayer of David.  By this joyful prayer, the people professed that they recognized also with their physical eyes what David saw with his spiritual eyes only (Hebrews 11:13), namely that Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of David, was “He that cometh in the name of the Lord,” the Savior ordained and anointed before the foundation world.  He was to be praised, and He would perform the rescue from sin, death, and the power of the devil, that they so earnestly desired of Him.

Our Savior’s accomplishment of this rescue formed the basis of the comforting message spoken of by the prophet Isaiah in his 40th chapter.  Messianic believers confided in this message, this assurance, this divine promise, specifically that their “warfare,” their spiritual warfare with sin and the wrath of God pronounced in His Law, was “accomplished” and that their “iniquity” was “pardoned.”  They firmly trusted God’s Word which assured them that this rescue was the basis for their pardon before Him, the basis for what they had received from His hand, namely “double for all [their] sins” (vv. 1-2), forgiveness and righteousness in His sight.

III.

Now, dear brethren, this advent of our Lord Jesus to His people in time according to God’s gracious promise was recorded by inspiration of the Holy Ghost in the words of the New Testament so that, as members of His gracious kingdom by faith, we take comfort in the fact that this Savior has come to us also.  He comes to us, who, along with the Old Testament believers, acknowledge and are broken-hearted over our naturally depraved condition in God’s sight.  He comes to us, who, because of our fleshly thoughts, desires, words, and deeds by which we daily sin against Him, deserve nothing but wrath, displeasure, and eternal damnation according to His Holy Law.  He comes to us, who have by the Gospel been brought to faith in the fact that, in spite of all of this, in spite of our complete lack of ability to save ourselves, God does not desire our destruction, but earnestly desires our salvation, so much so that He graciously provided His only begotten Son, this very Savior who has come to us, that we should not perish, but have everlasting life through faith in Him (John 3:16).

In the record of the New Testament, we have written “for our learning” the exhortation of the Lord Jesus pointing back to the Old Testament regarding also our salvation, bidding us in John 5:39 to “search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life; and they are they which testify of Me.”  We also see how the Lord Jesus, on the road to Emmaus after His resurrection, patiently and carefully pointed to and explained the fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies concerning Himself and His Vicarious Atonement, as we find this admonition and exposition recorded for our learning and comfort in Luke 24:25-27.  Moreover, in this New Testament record, His Apostle Paul declares that “in Christ,” that is, in this meek and lowly Savior and King, and in His Vicarious Atonement as the Propitiation for our sins and for the sins of all mankind, God reconciled the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.  This unspeakably good news God has committed unto us in the Word of Reconciliation, the Gospel of God’s grace for Christ’s sake, assuring us of the forgiveness of sins (II Corinthians 5:19).  He promises also us that His precious Word, these Scriptures “written for our learning,” will “stand forever” (Romans 15:4; Isaiah 40:8; Matthew 24:35).

This durable, reliable, unchangeable record is used by the Holy Ghost as the means by which He engenders and preserves saving faith in our hearts (John 17:17; Romans 10:17).  It is to be used by us for our continued edification and growth in grace (II Peter 3:18).  It is the message that Christian pastors are to bring to their people (Ephesians 4:12; II Timothy 4:2); and it is the comforting Gospel message through which we have hope (Romans 15:4).

Dear brethren, to God’s credit alone, because of the gracious operation of the Holy Ghost in His precious Word, we see with our eyes of faith the fulfillment of all the prophecies of the Old Testament concerning Christ Jesus, our Savior and gracious King; we have personal assurance of the fact that the redemptive work of our Lord Jesus has, in fact, been accomplished for us and for all mankind, and that He, as the Lamb of God, has taken away the sins of the world (John 1:29), earning God’s reconciliation of the world unto Himself in His completed work.  Thus, with the Messianic believers of old, we take comfort in the fact that also OUR iniquity has been pardoned and that WE ALSO have received “double for all [OUR] sins” (Isaiah 40:1-2).

May the Lord continue to grant us abiding faith in our Savior and enduring comfort in the wonderful news of God’s faithfulness to His promise, manifested here in the Advent of Christ, our gracious King, and comfort also in the forgiveness of our sins as the fruit of His redemptive work.  May we, on that basis, joyfully cry out with the Messianic believers of the Old Testament as well as with the crowds proclaiming His advent at Jerusalem, “Hosanna! Save now, we pray, O Thou Son of David!  Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord!  Hosanna in the highest!”  Amen.

And the peace of God which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds, through faith in Christ Jesus, OUR gracious King and Savior, unto life everlasting.  Amen.

Soli Deo gloria!