Text: Matthew 21:1-9
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The prophet Zechariah writes: “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.” Jesus fulfills this prophecy right before the eyes of the people of Jerusalem as he does just that. Jesus is the “righteous branch” that Jeremiah foretold. Israel is a shadow of its former self. Its been decimated by foreign enemies who have taken God’s people captive, and, in the case of the northern tribes of Israel, they’ve been scattered across the face of the earth. Yes, the Jews are back from Babylon and dwell in Israel and Jerusalem again, but they know that they are no where close to what they once were. The reason that they are nowhere close to what they once were, though, has nothing to do with foreign invading armies, though. Rather, it has everything to do with the sin of the people. They rejected the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God who created the heavens and the earth, the God who led them out of slavery in Egypt with a mighty hand and outstretched arm. That’s the God they rejected. Instead, they chased after the gods of the people who dwelt in the Promised Land. These were gods of wood and stone that hold absolutely no power whatsoever, but they were gods that satisfied their passions and lusts. These gods allowed them to live lives filled with orgies and drunkenness, sexual immorality and sensuality, and quarreling and jealousy. In fact, in these false religions, these types of things were actually looked upon as virtues to be pursued by the people and pleasing to the gods. The people were unrighteous, to say the least, but Jeremiah promises them that a righteous branch will come and execute righteousness and justice in the land. Jesus is that righteous branch. Jesus comes to execute righteousness and justice.
As Jesus enters Jerusalem, how do the people greet him? They greet him as a king. This is right and good. They should lay palm branches before him. They should be crowding the streets to see him. They should lay their cloaks in the road. They call him the Son of David. This is not just a genealogical fact, though. They are calling Jesus the Messiah. He is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. He is the fulfillment of all of the Old Testament prophecies. The people are right to shout loud “Hosannas” as Jesus comes in in. “Hosanna” means “save us now,” and that is precisely what the people need and precisely what Jesus comes to do.
Save the people how and from what, though? On this matter, it becomes painfully clear that the people and Jesus are not on the same page. The people know their situation well. They know that they live in a city and in a country that was given to their fathers by Almighty God, but they also know that they don’t truly possess the land anymore. It’s part of the Roman Empire, now. Jesus knows this, too. What Jesus understands and the people still don’t get, though, is why and what the solution to the problem is.
For the people of Israel, they see the problem, their enemy, as the Romans. They need to get rid of the Romans so that they can live as they please in their land once again.
The Romans are not their enemy, though. They should know that. Jesus does know that. Jesus comes into Jerusalem as the Son of David, the Messiah, to save God’s people, but he comes to save them from a completely different enemy. He comes to deliver them from the one who deceived Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. He comes to bring them forgiveness, life, and salvation. He comes as the righteous branch who will bestow his righteousness on them that they might one day be delivered from the valley of sorrow that is this world and be raised to immortality and incorruption to live for eternity in his heavenly kingdom. That’s the kind of victory that Jesus enters into Jerusalem riding on a donkey to bring. It’s the victory that will be wrought by his death and resurrection. And it’s a victory that will not just be for the Israelites, but it will be for all people.
Even though Jesus makes it clear that his kingdom is not of this world and the battle that he fights and wins is not against flesh and blood, “but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12), still many obsess over that little strip of land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. The dominant end-times teaching in American Christianity teaches that Jesus will return and establish (or re-establish) and earthly kingdom centered in Jerusalem that will last for a literal one thousand years. This is a classic case of missing the point and returning to the exact same error that the people of Jerusalem held two thousand years ago. This teaching may seem harmless to us, but what it does it makes the death and resurrection of Jesus, the central event in the entire history of the world substantially less important. It takes his redemptive act and turns it into a sort of plan B. In other words, God didn’t really want to send his only begotten son to die for the world, but he was forced to do it once the people rejected his word given to them by the prophets. But once Jesus comes back, according to this error-filled end-times teaching, God will return to his original plan of saving the literal children of Israel. This turns Jesus into a political king rather than the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
The truth is that, other than location, modern-day Israel has nothing to do with Old Testament Israel. When Jesus came into Jerusalem, he came to win a victory, but the victory he won was a spiritual victory, not a military or political victory. The victory he won, he won for you. Jesus, the righteous branch of Israel, comes so that you might be counted righteous before God. This righteousness is given to you through water, word, bread, and wine.
This is why we sing the song that the people of Jerusalem sang as Jesus entered Jerusalem right at the beginning of our communion liturgy. We know that we need saving. We know that Jesus comes to do just that. He comes to feed us with his body and blood in the Lord’s supper that we might have forgiveness, life and salvation. This is most certainly the food that we need. For we know full well that we have not cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light as St. Paul calls upon us to do. Rather, we, like the Israelites, seek to serve the gods of this world who tell us what we want to hear. The gods of this world constantly affirm whatever lifestyle choice we make. The gods of this world teach us that love means anything goes. God’s design for our lives is constantly questioned and re-defined. We do the precise same thing with his word that Satan did with Adam and Eve. Did God really say….?” That is, you can live however you please. In our Epistle St. Paul particularly urges us to avoid sexual sin. How our world loves to play with God’s definitions of sex and marriage! How difficult it is for us to stand against the world’s redefinition of such things. How often we fail to speak for the truth and instead remain silent. We need saving, and Jesus does just that. His body and blood are the solution to our problem as we cry out God, “Lord, save us now.” Indeed, blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord!
The Lord came into Jerusalem to pay the price for our sins. The Lord comes to us still in Word and Sacrament. All of this is preparing us to meet the Lord again when he returns on the Last Day to raise us from the dead. How will you prepare to meet the Lord? Put on the Lord Jesus Christ. That is, live in your baptism, daily confessing your sins, drowning the old Adam and rising to new life in Jesus, not gratifying the flesh, but daily patiently waiting for him to come again. “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.