Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Advent 1 of Series B (Mark 11:1-10)

“Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. Our text for this the first Sunday in Advent, the opening of another Church Year, is the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from Mark, the eleventh chapter. Dear friends in Christ, I was in Fort Wayne a couple of years ago when the Indianapolis Colts won the Super Bowl. Being in Indiana for that event was quite an exciting experience- I would bet that a colt has not felt that good about itself since the Lord of Heaven and Earth sat upon one around two thousand years ago. For on that day, Jesus Christ, the Messiah, chose one colt in the villages outside of Jerusalem to be His transportation into the city where salvation would be accomplished. “Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of His disciples and said to them, ‘Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it.’” This colt was required by the Lord, no questions asked: “‘If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” say, “The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.”’ And they went away and found a colt tied at a door outside in the street, and they untied it. And some of those standing there said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ And they told them what Jesus had said, and they let them go.” This animal was then pressed into service- its purpose was to bring the King into the city of Israel’s kings: “And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and He sat upon it. And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields.” And like a good football player, we can only guess that after this moment in the sun, the colt retired from public life.

On the back of that colt, Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, came to sinful humanity. This was necessary because we as sinful humans cannot come to God. In our Old Testament lesson for today, Isaiah writes: “Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?” Ever since conception, ever since our forefather and mother fell into sin, we have been consumed by sin. Mankind has toiled in sin since the earliest days of creation, and it continues to ensnare you and me. Isaiah continues: “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” Our sins fill us, they consume us, they attempt to take over our life. But more than that, our sins prevent us from coming to God, from turning to Him, as Isaiah says: “There is no one who calls upon your Name, who rouses himself to take hold of you.” Because of our sin, we are constantly in rebellion against God- we cannot, nor do we want to, come to Him. We are dead in our trespasses and sins, and just as a dead person cannot raise himself, so all of us who are born in rebellion against God cannot end that rebellion by ourselves and come to Him.

But oh, does our sinful nature try! This is perhaps that most insidious perversion that sin and Satan places in our mind- that we who are sinful and corrupted can somehow make ourselves clean, that we can turn to God, at least a little bit. Satan knows that when we rely on ourselves to turn to God, our focus is exactly where he wants it to be- on us! We try to please God with our works, with our ‘good life,’ with all those nice things that we do. This perversion is ingrained in our world today- if you ask many people, ‘who is going to go to heaven?’ they will say that it is the ‘good’ people. This is despite the fact that Jesus Himself rarely hung out with those ‘good’ people, but instead ate many meals with tax collectors and prostitutes, those who had definitely not lead a ‘good’ life. Many people do realize this, they know that their good works do not count anything before God, but still, we must be able to do something, right? We can at least make the decision to come to God, we can pray the ‘acceptance prayer’ we see in much of Christian literature today, right? This is Satan’s most cunning move. When a person says “I decided to accept you Jesus,” Satan has turned the focus of that person’s salvation once more upon him or herself. Many who say this do believe in Christ, but unfortunately they have a belief founded on their own decision, their salvation is based on themselves. When we focus on ourselves, when we trust in our own capability to come to Christ, we are walking in the wrong direction, we are focusing on ourselves, we are setting ourselves up to fall- we cannot come to God by ourselves, period.

Instead of trusting in our capability, in our own good life, or our own decision, we place our trust in the One who came to us. As Jesus entered the gates of Jerusalem, “many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!’” The crowd began their cry with a very ancient word, ‘Hosanna.’ We usually think that this is simply a word of praise, but it is much more than that. This word is actually two words in Hebrew, two words that mean ‘Lord, save us!’ The crowd understood, at least in part, that this man Jesus Christ had come for salvation, He had come to deliver them! He entered into Jerusalem to save the crowd, he entered into Jerusalem to save you and me, He entered into Jerusalem to save all people. We who have been afflicted by sin cry out ‘Hosanna,’ ‘Lord, save us!’ because we cannot save ourselves, we cannot come to God, and so He comes to us.

“Blessed is He who comes in the Name of Lord!” God came to us in the person of Jesus Christ, He came to us by sending His one and only Son. Jesus Christ came bearing the Name of the Lord, He came as Yahweh in the flesh, God come to save. But His first entrance was not into Jerusalem, it was into our world as a little baby. This Advent season, we turn our attention to a stable in Bethlehem, to the night when God was born as a man to Mary and Joseph. On that wondrous night, Jesus Christ came to us, to sinful and fallen humanity, as a little baby, He came to answer our cries of ‘Hosanna,’ ‘Lord save us!’ and for that reason there was another entrance yet to come. We look beyond the stable in Bethlehem to the gates of Jerusalem; Jesus Christ came as a little baby for the very purpose of sitting on a colt and riding into Jerusalem. This was the mission of the Messiah, the one who bore the Name of the Lord for us.

The crowd calls Jesus ‘blessed’ because they are asking that God will bless all that He does within the city. And God did so, but in a way that no one expected. That is because Jesus did not come on the back of a colt to defeat the Romans, He did not come as a triumphant king to take His throne, He instead came as the suffering servant, as the one who must shed His blood to answer the cries of ‘Hosanna,’ ‘Lord save us!’ He came into the walls of Jerusalem to do this, but Pilate and the Jews cast Him outside the walls, where He was hung on a cross to shed His blood and to die, to die for us and our sins. He hung on that cross to be a blessing to all people, the only blessing that we all truly need, the blessing of the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting. Because Christ came to us in our hour of need, and He came to die for our sins, we receive these blessings, we no longer have to fear the wrath of God, for it was poured out upon Christ. God blessed this sacrifice, this shed blood, by raising Christ from the dead and then delivering those gifts to us.

Only after His blood was shed and Jesus cried out ‘It is finished,’ only after God blessed His shed blood by opening the tomb for the risen Christ to walk out, did Jesus take His throne. The crowds may not have completely understood this, but they still cried out: “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” He entered Jerusalem as a king, and so He was, but His kingdom was not founded on the defeat of the Romans, it was not based on His wealth or earthly power, but instead it was founded on His shed blood, the blood He shed for you and me. This kingdom is not an earthly kingdom of power, but instead a heavenly kingdom of grace.

And this grace, this kingdom now comes to us. It comes to us because we cannot come to God, if left to ourselves we would never reach salvation. Christ’s greatest gift is that He continues to come to us, and He comes bearing salvation. He came as a baby to Bethlehem, He came to Jerusalem to shed His blood for us, and now He comes to each of us to create and sustain faith, He comes into our midst bearing the benefits of that death and resurrection. We cannot come to God with our own works, we cannot decide to accept Jesus, but instead, while we were dead in our trespasses and sins, Christ came to us and made us alive, He kindled faith within us that grasps the promised gifts, the blessings that He won for us. And He continues to come to us, bearing in abundance all of His gifts.
There is a place in our worship service where we join with the crowds in greeting the coming Christ. We sing in the words of the Sanctus: “Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.” Where do we sing this? Directly before the pastor speaks the Words of Institution, right before we receive the Lord’s Body and Blood in His Supper. In this song we celebrate with the crowd the coming Christ, the Christ who comes to us in His own Body and Blood, given and shed on the cross and now given and presented to all who believe for our salvation.

Christ came as a baby, He came through the gates of Jerusalem, He came to us to create faith, and now He comes to us to sustain that faith. But there is yet one more coming that we look forward to. In our Epistle lesson for today, Paul writes that we are waiting for “the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the Day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” On that Day, the Last Day, Christ will return in glory, and He will return for the purpose of raising you and all believers to live before Him forever. May we all meet the coming Christ with joy this Advent season, as we look forward to His final coming, when we will see Him face to face in heavenly glory, Amen.

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