The Law, and How to Keep It

Text: Matthew 22:34-46

Our Lutheran Book of Concord says this near the end,

The distinction between the Law and the Gospel is a particularly brilliant light. It serves the purpose of…properly explaining and understanding the Scriptures…We must guard this distinction with special care, so that these two doctrines may not be mixed with each other…When that happens, Christ’s merit is hidden and troubled consciences are robbed of comfort, which they otherwise have in the Holy Gospel when it is preached genuinely and purely.[1]

Today we have another text in which the distinction between the Law and the Gospel brought up and taught to us by our Lord. When questioned by the Pharisees about the Law, Jesus explained the holy and righteous will of God, the actions that all the Commandments are pointed towards: love of God and love of neighbor. As Jesus said, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”[2] Our Lord went on to explain the Gospel: that He is both the promised Son of David and David’s Lord, his Redeemer.

The thing about the Law and the Gospel is that you can’t have one without the other. These two teachings must remain and be preached in the Church until Christ returns. If you take away the Law, the Gospel gets turned into a new Law. If you take away the Gospel, then you doom people to eternal condemnation. Therefore, our Lord rightly teaches both the Law and the Gospel in this text. Today we confess that in the Law we are taught God’s holy and righteous will and in the Gospel, we are taught what Christ has done for us.

I.

The text this week takes place during Holy Week, around the Tuesday. Sunday was the Triumphal Entry, and much of the first part of the week Jesus spent teaching in the temple. While He was teaching, the challengers just kept coming. First, it was the chief priests with the elders, then the Pharisees. Then came the Sadducees – who don’t believe in the Resurrection. Then came the Pharisees, again, in our text. Their plan? Get Jesus to trip up and incriminate Himself. So, the text begins, “When the Pharisees heard that [Jesus] had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?‘”[3]

This was an on-going discussion for the Pharisees. They and their scribes and the rabbis would argue back and forth about which is the greatest commandment. If Jesus said something different than the others generally responded, then they got Him. Jesus won’t be caught in their game. He cuts through the muck and goes right to the heart, as only the author of the Law could. He cites from Deuteronomy 6, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”[4] As Jesus said, this is the first Commandment. We are to fear, love and trust in God above all things. But, a second goes with it – again from the Old Testament – “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”[5]

These two commandments are the sum of the whole Law. In fact, all Scripture is directed to this end: that we love God and love each other. Sounds pretty simple. But, remember, Jesus is preaching the Law here. He’s speaking to the Pharisees, of whom we’ve had examples over the last number of Sundays: The Pharisee and the Tax Collector or the parable about humility from last week. The Pharisees were known and loved for their outward piety. But in their hearts, they did not love their neighbors and, therefore, did not truly love God. And neither do we.

The great commandment is that we love God with all that we have and are, but do we? To use an illustration from Luther, we would rather have a gold coin in our pocket that we could use to feed our appetites than hear the whole and pure Gospel read. God’s holy and righteous will is that we love our neighbor as ourselves, yet so often – for all we care – our neighbor can take a hike. Like the priest and Levite, we pass by while the Samaritan suffers. Even if we don’t pass by physically, we hold both contempt and apathy in our hearts.

II.

The will of God is given to us in the Law: we are to love Him above all things and our neighbor as ourselves. This is good, right, and true. Jesus says, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” And, I think that’s devastating. Because, the whole of Scripture directs us to those two things, and condemns for our failure to do them. This is what the Law does: it shows us what we are to do, and it condemns us when we don’t. Therefore, the Law must not be preached alone. But, after the Law, the Gospel. This is what Jesus does. He has just taught the right understanding of the Law, which is both good and hard for us to hear. In it we hear what we are supposed to do, but that which we fail to do. What we need now is the Gospel.

Jesus preaches the Gospel here in an odd way, by talking about King David. King David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, sang Psalm 110, which says, “The Lord said to my Lord: ‘Sit at My right hand, until I make Your enemies Your footstool.’[6] We know from elsewhere in Scripture that the Messiah would come from the David’s bloodline. This is shown in the genealogies of Matthew and Luke. But, here David – and Jesus by citing it – says that not only would the Messiah be his descendent but also his Lord. And, by “Lord,” he also means “Redeemer.” To redeem someone, in the Scriptural understanding, is to buy someone back from something else. In David’s case and ours, Jesus is our Redeemer and Lord, for He has bought us back from sin, death, and the devil.

“Not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.” Jesus is David’s son and Lord, and ours, by purchasing us out of death by His own suffering and death in our place. But, before He died for us, He kept God’s Law for us. First, He did truly fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Second, He perfectly loved the whole world by dying for the whole world on the cross. By these things Jesus both fulfilled God’s Law in our place, and secured for us the forgiveness of our sins. This is the distinction between the Law and the Gospel: the Law shows us God’s will for us and condemns transgressions against it, the Gospel shows what us Jesus did for us and gives to us.

But, if we cannot do the Law or obtain merit before God by our works, why is the Law still preached? Well, because the Commandments remain holy and righteous and good. They are God’s will for us as Christians. Besides, it is good to not steal or kill or commit adultery. Sometimes we need the reminder. When Jesus was questioned about the Law, He didn’t say we should put it on the shelf and talk about something us. Rather, He taught the Law and then the Gospel. The Gospel is different from the Law in another way, too. The Law doesn’t actually give us the ability to keep it, but the Gospel does. The Gospel doesn’t just tell us we are forgiven, but through being preached it actually does it. The Gospel is the instrument through which the Spirit creates and sustains faith, and through which we are equipped and led to do God’s will, the Commandments.

We won’t keep them perfectly, since we are in the flesh. Now that Christ has atoned for our sins, God our Father no longer looks down at our failures as an angry judge, but, to use Luther again, God looks at us through His fingers. He sees only the righteousness of His own dear Son. For our part, as God’s dear children, we seek to do the will of our Father. The Lutheran Confessions say that the distinction between the Law and the Gospel is a brilliant light and the way to rightly understand Scripture. In our text, Jesus teaches both the Law and the Gospel. In the Law, He shows that God’s holy will is that we love both Him and our neighbor. In the Gospel, Jesus showed that He is both David’s Son and Lord, who has redeemed us all by His perfect life and death.


 

[1] Paul Timothy McCain, ed., Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), 552.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Mt 22:40.

[3] Matt. 22:34-36.

[4] Matt. 22:37.

[5] Matt. 22:39.

[6] Ps. 110:1.

This is My Body, This is My Blood

Text: The Sacrament of the Altar

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, tonight we gather again in observance of our Lord’s passion. This past Sunday we celebrated with hymns of victory and praise. We left the sanctuary with palm branches in our hands, symbols of our King’s victory over sin, death, and hell. Tonight, Holy Thursday, marks the night when our Lord was betrayed into the hands of sinful men, an event foretold in Sacred Scripture and necessary for our salvation. Yet, on this night we also celebrate the most holy meal given us to eat. The holy Evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, and St. Paul write:

Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said: “Take, eat; this is My body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.”

In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

Tonight we momentarily continue our Lenten devotion as we meditate on the gift of our Lord’s precious body and blood in His Supper. In this meal we receive the true body and blood of Jesus under the bread and wine for the forgiveness of our sins. As our Savior went willingly to His death, He left us His last will and testament in this Sacrament, desiring that we receive it together until He returns at the end of time.

The Sacrament of the Altar, Holy Communion, the Eucharist, and the Lord’s Supper are all names for the same meal we confess and celebrate this evening. Already we’ve heard what the Church knows as the Words of Institution. These are the words that Christ spoke as He reclined with His disciples in the Upper Room. It was in the midst of the Passover meal, the meal that Jesus said He earnestly desired to eat before His suffering, that Christ gave us something new. At a certain time He took bread. After He had given thanks, He broke and gave it to the disciples saying, “This is my body which is for you.” In the same way He took cup and, when He had given thanks, gave it to them saying, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” With these words Christ gives us the Sacrament of the Altar and explains to us what it is, what it gives, and who it is for.

First, what is the Sacrament of the Altar? It is as Jesus says in His own words: His body and His blood. As we learn it from the Small Catechism, “It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, under the bread and wine, for us Christians to eat and to drink, instituted by Christ Himself.” In Holy Communion the very body and blood which were broken and shed for the forgiveness of sins are given to us in the form of bread and wine. Though we see with our eyes only the bread and wine, yet through faith we know that, by the power of His Word, Christ Jesus joins Himself to the elements. As St. Paul writes, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation [communion] in the body of Christ?”

We therefore believe that these words of Christ are plain and clear: “This is My body…This is My blood.” The bread is not just bread, but the real body of Christ. The wine is not just wine, but the real blood of Christ. We are not cannibals. We simply believe in what theologians call the sacramental union, a technical term that basically means: “Jesus is God. He knows how to do things I don’t understand. He says the bread is His body and the wine, His blood. Therefore, it is.” We believe that the Words of Institution mean exactly what they say, such that even a child can read and understand them and confess that when Christ says “is,” He means it.

  1.  

In the Lord’s Supper we receive in, with, and under the elements of bread and wine the true body and blood of Jesus Christ. It is the same body and blood that was bruised, broken, and shed on the cross, and which rose from the dead to be seated at the right hand of God the Father. Christ gives this meal to us freely; but for what purpose? Jesus said so in the words we heard at the beginning of the sermon, “Given for you…shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” If someone asked you to give them the Christian faith in a nutshell, what would you say? Probably the best answer is that it’s about the reconciliation between God and sinners through Jesus’ death for the forgiveness of sins. Christianity’s all about the forgiveness of sins. What do we receive in the Lord’s Supper? The forgiveness of sins.

We believe that we receive our Lord’s body and blood in His Supper for the express purpose of receiving forgiveness. This is not a special forgiveness, mind you. You are not receiving a different forgiveness than you received in Baptism or through the preaching of the Gospel or through Holy Absolution. You are, though, receiving it in an especially neat way, though. Christ, through His Word, gives into your mouth His very body and blood to bring to you the forgiveness He won for you on the cross. In the Supper He is intimately joined to you, and you to Him.

There are other benefits that we receive from the Lord’s Supper, though the most important benefit remains the forgiveness of sins. Along with it we receive eternal life and salvation. Where there is forgiveness of sins death no longer reigns, hence eternal life and salvation in Christ. We also receive in the Sacrament the strengthening of our faith in Christ, which leads us to also love God and our neighbor. Lastly, by communing together, there is also a public demonstration of our unity in faith. St. Paul writes, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” Likewise, “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”

III.  

We believe from our Lord’s Words of Institution that what we receive in His Supper is not just bread and wine, but also His true body and blood, broken and shed for us. In the Holy Sacrament Christ gives us these gifts for the forgiveness of sins and the strengthening of faith. We’ve now heard what the Lord’s Supper is and what it’s for, but now we must ask who is it for? Let us hear the words we’ve learned from the Small Catechism. “Fasting and bodily preparation are, indeed, fine outward training. But a person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words, ‘Given … and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.’” What does that mean? The Lord’s Supper was instituted for the sake of poor sinners like us. In the Sacrament Christ offers peace and pardon in the forgiveness of sins, and He invites to His table those who believe His Words; namely, that the Supper is His true body and blood, not symbolically but sacramentally, given for the forgiveness of sins.

Our individual beliefs do not make it the Lord’s Supper, but the power of Christ’s Word alone does. Neither do we receive the benefits of the Sacrament just by doing the motions, as if a ritual could merit us salvation. Rather, the power of the Sacrament lies in Christ’s Word and its benefits are received only by those who believe what Christ says about it and desire what Christ gives in it. Those who do not believe Christ’s Words or doubt them should not receive the Lord’s Supper. For, St. Paul writes, “Anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.”

In the Lord’s Supper we receive a visible, tangible gift of God and the assurance that Christ is with us, always at work forgiving our sins. Jesus gave us many promises in His ministry, “I am with you always; I will never leave you nor forsake you; Where two or three are gathered in My Name, there am I; This is My Body, This is My blood for the forgiveness of sins.” In His Supper Christ is with us in a real, bodily way. In the feast of His body and blood He unites Himself to us for the forgiveness of our sins. He makes His home in us, strengthening the faith that was created through the preaching of the Gospel and washing of Holy Baptism. His presence leads us to love and serve God and our neighbor. In His Supper Christ gives us exactly what He says: His body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. God grant that this meal would be preserved among through all time until we feast with all the saints at the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which will have no end.

 

Hosanna to the Lord, for He Fulfills God’s Word!

Text: John 12:12-19

As we’ve been getting closer and closer to Easter this year, I’ve had this weird urge to watch the old Charlton Heston version of The Ten Commandments. I suppose it’s not actually that odd. It probably springs from the years of my childhood when it was broadcast on national television somewhere around Holy Week, which it still is, on ABC. What interests me is that it’s not an Easter movie. It’s about the Passover, the Exodus, and the Ten Commandments. The name Jesus isn’t mentioned in it at all. And yet, through the eyes of Scripture, it definitely is an appropriate film for this time of the Church year.

It feels like we just heard the Triumphal Entry, and that’s because we have. The lectionary also places the Triumphal Entry on the First Sunday in Advent, where we hear it to prepare for our Lord’s second coming. Today we hear the text again as we remember and confess our Lord’s Passion. The Triumphal Entry marks the final week of Jesus’ life. Today we’ll see that Jesus, our humble king, rides on to the cross in fulfillment of the Scriptures and for our salvation.

But, like I’ve said, I’ve had this weird urge to watch The Ten Commandments. I’ve also been listening to a heavy metal concept album about the Exodus. Maybe it’s because the daily lectionary, which provides Scripture readings for every day of the year (you can find it beginning on pg. 299 in our hymnal), has been walking us through the story of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and now Moses. This week we’ll hear about the plagues, the Passover, and the crossing of the Red Sea. Now, what I’m getting at with Charleton Heston, with concept albums and the lectionary, is that there’s a connection the Scriptures make that we sometimes forget. In chapter 12, St. John is inspired by the Holy Spirit to tell us that we’ve now entered the week leading up to the Passover. The Passover and Jesus’ Passion are connected; it’s not a coincidence.

The Holy Spirit mentions the Jewish festival three times in John’s Gospel, each time taking something connected to the Passover and doing something new. The first time was at the wedding in Cana. The six stone jars, each holding twenty or thirty gallons of water that Jesus turned into wine – those were for washing in preparation for the Passover. The Passover is mentioned again at the feeding of the 5,000. In the wilderness Jesus fed the multitudes, with 5 loaves and 2 fish. The manna and quail were an Old Testament preview. The third time the Passover is mentioned in John’s Gospel is as we enter the week of our Lord’s passion. It’s not a coincidence.

The Passover was given by the Lord in Exodus 12 as meal to be eaten in preparation for the Exodus. The people were to take an unblemished male lamb and slaughter it at twilight. Then they were to take some of its blood and put it on their doorposts. The blood would be sign for them. When the Lord came through to strike down the firstborn of Egypt, He would see the blood on the crossbars of their doors and pass over them. Through the blood, death passed over. That’s not a coincidence.

The Passover pointed ahead to and is now fulfilled in the Passion, the suffering, of our Savior. Like the Israelites in Egypt, we stood in the bonds of slavery. Only our slavery was to sin, to death and the powers of hell. From of old, God has heard the cries of His people. Every tear of distress, every cry of anguish and grief, every prayer of sorrow prayed by loved ones left behind, has entered God’s ears. In the Garden of Eden He promised that He would put an end to death and the devil, and it happens this week. We remember and confess this week the most holy and sacred week in the history of the universe, where the Son of God dies for us. His arms were outstretched on the cross so that His blood now marks our doors. Through His suffering and passion, we are rescued from slavery to sin as death passes over us.

  1.   

The Evangelist writes,

The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’ And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written.

As I’ve already said, it’s not a coincidence that the Passover and the Passion fall during the same time. We also just heard that Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it had been written in the Scriptures. This another connection that we might not always notice. Everything Jesus did was to fulfill the Scriptures, and there’s nothing in them that isn’t connected to Jesus.

Since we’re in the year 2016, the events of Holy Week and Easter have happened already. We aren’t reliving or re-enacting them. Rather, we’re looking backwards through the resurrection to learn and confess all the things Christ did for us. That’s what Jesus taught the Disciples to do as well. Remember after the Resurrection, how Jesus appeared to them and taught them to understand the Scriptures? He opened their minds to see that throughout the Law and the Prophets He is talked about, particularly how it was necessary for Him to suffer, die, and rise on the third day. St. John writes in our text, “His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about Him.”

What was written in the Old Testament about Jesus at the Triumphal Entry? Look at verse 15, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” The Holy Spirit applies the words of the prophet Zechariah to this event, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion…behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation…because of the blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free.” The Holy Spirit is preaching that Jesus’ humble entry into Jerusalem is the king of glory entering His holy temple. But rather than a building, Jesus’ temple is the cross. The cross is where He offered up His own body and blood as the sacrifice for all the sins of the world. This is where all the Scriptures find their meaning: the bruised and broken body of God dying on the cross for the sins His creation committed against Him.

So, let us return to these comforting words this Palm Sunday, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming.” Fear not, daughter of Zion. That’s the Church. The Lord is speaking to you, now, “Fear not.” You who wait anxiously for the redemption of your souls and the resurrection of the body; You who patiently bear the reproach of the world for the sake of Christ’s holy name; You who suffer illness, trial, temptation, sorrow, and grief: Fear not. Why? Because your King is coming. And, not like the kings of the world does Jesus come, but as the humble Son of God riding on a donkey. He rides on in majesty, in lowly pomp, in fulfillment of the Passover and the completion of God’s promises, to die for your salvation.

I invite you turn to the Lenten hymn, “A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth.” (438) Stanza 2 speaks about our true Passover lamb. “This Lamb is Christ, the soul’s great friend, the Lamb of God, our Savior, whom God the Father chose to send to gain for us His favor. ‘Go forth, My Son,’ the Father said, ‘And free My children from their dread of guilt and condemnation. The wrath and stripes are hard to bear, but by Your passion they will share the fruit of Your salvation.’” Here we sing of Christ fulfilling the Scriptures for our salvation. He is the true Lamb of God, whose blood takes away the sin of the world. He was sent by God the Father, in keeping with His promises through the prophets, to gain for us salvation. Though the wrath and stripes of God’s punishment are hard to bear, Christ bore them willingly. For, by His passion, we are made to share the fruits of His salvation: the forgiveness of sins, and eternal life.

This week we remember and confess the events of Christ’s holy passion. We call it His passion because He allowed all the things that happen this week, to happen out of His great love for us. On Thursday we’ll celebrate the Institution of the Lord’s Supper, where at His last supper Christ gave us the feast of His body and blood, through which He gives us the forgiveness that He won on the cross. On Friday we’ll gather in observance of His suffering and death for us. Then, on Sunday we will celebrate with all the faithful His triumphant resurrection, where death’s reign is ended as it is swallowed up in victory.

Jesus Prays for Us

Text: John 17:11b-19

This week we return again to the night on which Jesus was betrayed. The last two weeks our Gospel readings were from John 15 where Jesus assured us that He is the vine and we are the branches. He promised that as we abide in Him and His Word, He abides in us and causes us to bear fruit. Bearing fruit is the work of the Holy Spirit, who leads us to speak the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ to all people without partiality. However, Jesus names a solemn consequence of the work that the Triune God does among the body of believers. Jesus says to the Disciples, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”[1]

It is on account of this reality that Jesus does one last thing before He departs for Gethsemane to be betrayed. Knowing that we who are kept in the Word of God by His grace will be hated by the world, Jesus prayed for us.

I.

Jesus knew that His departure was at hand. Soon He would be delivered into the hands of sinners; soon He would be given a mock trial, and crucified. We would expect Jesus’ main concern to Himself. After all, being crucified has to be one of the most painful ways to die. But, Jesus’ main concern is not for Himself. He prayed to the Father, “I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.”[2]

Jesus’ chief concern is for those who remain in the world as He returns to the Father. He is returning to resume the glory He had in unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit before all Creation. Part of that involved that the Disciples remain behind. We’ll get back to that in a little bit. Jesus’ prayer includes a request that God the Father keep the Disciples in His name, the name which Jesus shares, that they may be one. Jesus called the Disciples out of darkness into the Light by the confession of faith in the Triune God. While Jesus was with the Disciples He guarded and kept them in the name of God Most High. Despite the pot-shots and criticisms of the Pharisees and Sadducees, the derision of even their own families, Jesus guarded and protected the Disciples during their time together. Not one of them was lost, save Judas the betrayer, in order to fulfill Scripture.

II.

Christ’s work calling the Disciples and guarding them in the confession of the Truth bore fruit. It bore fruit in that already through the ministry of the Disciples many had been called to faith in Jesus. But it also bore fruit in another way. Jesus continues praying to the Father, “Now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.”[3] Jesus has given the Disciples His Word, which has borne fruit in the world, and the world hates it. The world hates Jesus and persecutes those who believe in Him.

Jesus said that His followers should not be afraid if the world hates them, for so it hated him. He taught in the Sermon on the Mount that we should, “Rejoice and be glad,” when others revile us and persecute us and utter all kinds of evil against us falsely on His account, “for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”[4] Just as Jesus is not of the world, so are we not of the world, and it hates us for it. Nevertheless, Jesus does not ask that the Disciples be taken out of the world, but that they be kept from the evil one. The devil seeks to devour and destroy the Truth of Jesus Christ. He tried to destroy the Apostles and early Christians through persecutions and trials. He is trying to do so today by infiltrating both society and the church. Satan influences the workings of the sinful nature to try and choke out saving faith in Jesus Christ not by denying forgiveness, but by denying sin. Therefore the world hates us. Jesus prays that we be kept from the evil one, which we echo in the Lord’s Prayer.

III.

Jumping ahead in Jesus’ prayer, He makes it clear that He is not just praying for the Disciples, but for us as well. He says, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.”[5] Jesus’ prayer to the Father for the Disciples and us is that God would sanctify us in the truth of His Word. For that reason, Jesus says, He consecrates Himself. This means that Jesus has set Himself apart; He has dedicated Himself to the work of God, namely His own death and resurrection, that we be sanctified in truth. To be sanctified means to be made holy. Jesus died as payment for our sins and rose from the dead so that we may be made holy through faith in His Word.

For what purpose have we been saved by grace and made holy by His Word? Jesus says, “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.”[6] At His Ascension, Jesus instructed the Disciples to go to all nations, making other disciples by baptizing in the name of the Triune God and teaching them to observe all that Christ has taught them. For this purpose Jesus prayed for the Disciples and us: that we be kept in God’s Word and protected from the evil one, even as we are sent out into a world that hates our confession of faith in Jesus.

Today we returned to the night on which Jesus was betrayed. It was the same night He washed His disciples’ feet, giving them a new model of love. He also instituted the Lord’s Supper whereby He gives the forgiveness of sins. He would shortly be going to Gethsemane to be betrayed, suffer, and die for our sins. We would understand if Jesus took the opportunity to pray for Himself. We probably would at least get a quick one in if we were Him. But instead, He prays for His disciples.

As He goes to the Father by His death, resurrection, and ascension, the Disciples will remain behind. He has given them His Word, which has made them holy. The world hates the holiness that comes through faith in Jesus. Nevertheless, Jesus didn’t pray that they be removed from the world, but that they be protected from the Devil. As Jesus was sent into the world to proclaim the Good News, so does He now send His Disciples and us. He sends us out into the world to preach the truth of His Work for us. Though the world hates our faith, Jesus will always be with us and will keep us in His Word.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Jn. 15:18–19.

[2] Jn. 17:11–12.

[3] Jn, 17:13–16.

[4] Matt. 5:11-12.

[5] Jn. 17:20.

[6] Jn. 17:18.

The Humble Entry of Salvation

Text: Mark 11:1-10

The video “JK Wedding Entrance Dance”[1] has been viewed over 87.5 million times in the last five years. In it the wedding party for Jill and Kevin’s wedding (who are actually from the Twin Cities) marches into the ceremony a little differently than how it usually goes down. Normally the bridal party processes in to a hymn or some other music in an orderly fashion. Everyone’s excited, but also nervous and serious. That was, until about five years ago when this video came out. It began quietly like it was any other wedding procession, but then the music started. For about 5 minutes the party came dancing into the church. The crowd was dancing along, clapping, and hollering. Everyone’s having a great time. Even the pastor was up dancing in front of the altar. It was quite the spectacle, one that has been copied over and over, even on “The Office.”

It is great, and we’re certainly glad that they are still happily married, but let us contrast their entrance with the entrance of the King of the Universe into Jerusalem as we have in our Gospel text. Jesus did not ride in on a gold chariot, He didn’t call for pomp and circumstance, He didn’t even ride in on a horse and saddle. Instead, He rode into Jerusalem on a humble donkey, a beast of burden, even as He came in carrying the burden of our sin. Humbly Jesus rode into Jerusalem to accomplish our salvation. We remember that especially this Advent and the beginning of the new church year.

I.

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. 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.”[2] As Jesus and His disciples drew near to Jerusalem everything had already begun to fall into place. Though He was familiar with Bethany, as that is where Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were from, Jesus knew that this time would be different. Passing through the Mount of Olives, He knew that this location would be the site of His betrayal by one of His own disciples.

Jesus sent two disciples ahead of Him into town to find a donkey that He already knew was there. When theologians talk about the attributes of God, one of the words is “omniscient,” meaning “all knowing.” Jesus, the All Knowing, Son of God rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to secure our salvation. C.F.W. Walther wrote that we should take comfort in this fact, that though Jesus is the All Knowing and All Powerful God, He did not ride into Jerusalem to destroy us for our sin, but to be destroyed Himself because of our sin. St. John wrote about Jesus’ calling of His disciples. He says that upon seeing Simon, He immediately changed his name to Cephas – Peter – knowing already the confession he would make later. Upon meeting Nathanael, Jesus says to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”[3] John writes, “[Jesus] knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for He Himself knew what was in man.”[4]

In addition to knowing all things, Jesus showed that He was all powerful by His many miracles. The Gospels are filled with the works of Jesus – healing people, raising the dead, and forgiving their sins. These things were written so that we may believe that Jesus is the Son of God. But even being the Son of God, Jesus did not count that as something to be held onto. Rather, He emptied Himself of His glory and took upon the form of a servant, being born of the Virgin Mary. Instead of coming in glory, He came humbly to bear our sin. The Son of God rode humbly into Jerusalem to die a murder’s death.

II.

And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. And 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!’[5] Here we see that Jesus the Son of God rode into Jerusalem as the prophesied king of old. Though He could have just snapped His fingers and everything would be done, Jesus chose to ride in on a humble donkey in order to fulfill Old Testament prophecy. Particularly, Jesus has Zechariah 9 in mind: “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.”[6] Certainly Isaiah 62 also applies, “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold your salvation comes; behold, his reward is with him.’[7]

Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, not with the pomp of kings, and yet that is exactly what He is. He comes in bringing His reward – the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation – purchased by His own blood on the cross. He rode into Jerusalem to accomplish our salvation and to fulfill the prophetic promises of God throughout the Old Testament. By His death He crushed the powers of sin, death, and Satan, thereby crushing the head of the ancient serpent as promised in Genesis 3. He is the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham, that in his offspring all nations shall be blessed, foreshadowed as well by the sacrifice of Isaac.

The people spread their cloaks and palm branches on the road before Jesus, proclaiming the coming kingdom of their father David. Jesus is the heir promised to David, whose throne is established forever. He is the promised prince David from our Ezekiel reading last week (34) and as God says in Ezekiel 37, “David my servant shall be their prince forever.”[8] Jesus rode into Jerusalem as the fulfillment of all prophecy.

III.

He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey as the humble Son of God to accomplish our salvation. He rode into Jerusalem as the prophesied king, the fulfillment of all Old Testament messianic prophecy. And now, as we begin this Advent season and the entire church year, Christ, our savior, rides in again for our salvation. Though, instead of Jerusalem, Jesus comes here. As He was faithful to the witness and promises of God in the Old Testament, so is Jesus faithful to His promises in the New. Jesus promised that even though He goes to prepare a place for us in heaven, He would never leave us destitute or alone. Instead, He promised to never forsake us, to be with us always. He promised to be wherever two or three are gathered in His name and sent His Holy Spirit, the Comforter, into our hearts to work faith and as a guarantee of our salvation. Because Jesus is the Son of God, shown by His power and miracles and fulfillment of prophecy, He is able to make good.

In His grace He continues to come to us this Advent season and this entire year. We gather awaiting and remembering the birth of our Savior, knowing that even now He is here among us. He is present in His Word and in His Sacraments, not just in a spiritual way, but He is here and He hears us when we pray. He is here when we speak about Him with each other to comfort and build one another up. He is with you in every struggle and temptation, even as He took our sins to the cross. Scripture says, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”[9]

Soon we will sing in the closing hymn, “Savior of the nations, come. Virgin’s Son, make here Your home! Marvel now, O heav’n and earth, that the Lord chose such a birth.”[10] We know that as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, humbly and not with any sort of fanciness, He rode in as the Son of God, the promised Messiah and King, to accomplish our salvation. This Jesus also comes to us even now with His grace and forgiveness, for He is the Author of life itself.


[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-94JhLEiN0

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mk. 11:1–4.

[3] Jn. 1:48.

[4] Jn. 2:24-25.

[5] Mk.11:7–10.

[6] Zec. 9:9.

[7] Is. 62:11.

[8] Ezek. 37:25.

[9] Heb. 4:15.

[10] Lutheran Service Book, 332.