Fear Not, Your King is Coming

Text: Zechariah 9; John 12:12-19

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, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt![1]

Thus, began the week of our Lord’s passion. Five days before the Passover, the true Passover Lamb rode into Jerusalem amidst shouts of praise and acclamation.

Our Lord rode into Jerusalem not like any king of the earth, but as the true Melchizedek – the true king of peace. He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to fulfill the Scriptures that were written about Him, and to bring peace to our distress and calm to our fears. He rode into Jerusalem to suffer and die, and – by His death – win for the whole world the forgiveness of sins. Today, as we enter into our Lord’s holy week, we focus on these words, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold your king is coming.” With these words from the prophet Zechariah, we are reminded that our king Jesus comes to calm our fears and bring peace to our distress by His own death and resurrection.

I.

The text today takes place on a Sunday, five days before the Passover. St. John tells us this at the beginning of chapter 12, when he said, “Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.”[2] If you know the Gospel, you remember that it was there that Lazarus’ sister Mary anointed Jesus’ feet with oil and wiped them with her hair. “The next day,” St. John says, “the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem.” Confessing their faith in Jesus, the crowd – some of whom witnessed the raising of Lazarus’ and thus believed – grabbed palm branches from the trees and spread them out. They sang praises to Jesus from Psalm 118, believing that He is the fulfillment of the promises God had made. Jesus then sat on a donkey to come in, just has it had been written in the prophet Zechariah.

When we heard this text last, it was from St. Matthew on the First Sunday of Advent. Matthew, likewise, cited this passage from the prophet. But, we didn’t spend time then speaking about it. Zechariah was one of the last prophets of the Old Testament. His ministry took place after the children of Israel had been returned from exile, but before the temple was rebuilt. It was a time of turmoil. The people of Israel were returned to Israel, but in their absence, others had moved in. These others did not take well to the Israelites returning, nor did they think highly of the God of Israel. In fact, they greatly opposed the rebuilding of Jerusalem and they caused God’s people much distress and fear. Zechariah’s ministry to the people was one of comfort. He reminded them that God had not forgotten them. And, even as His promise to return them to their home had been fulfilled, so, too, would His promise to give them a king.

Both Sts. Matthew and John cite this passage from Zechariah, but – by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – St. John makes a change to the text. The original text from Zechariah said, “Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion,”[3] but John changed it to, “Fear not, daughter of Zion.” It’s not a huge change, but a purposeful one. Jesus, the true king of Israel, rode into Jerusalem to calm all fears and distress. What were the people of Israel afraid of then? You name it. Death, for one. Without modern medicine and care facilities, death was an ever-present reality. Poverty, that was a thing. Or, perhaps, when the faithful looked around – perhaps they were afraid, as in Zechariah’s day, that God had forgotten them. What are we afraid of? Probably the same things. Death, I’m sure; what about the way the world is headed? When it comes to money, we may not be destitute, but it often stretches thin. And what about church life? Are we afraid that we may be the last generation to worship in this place?

II.

Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming…righteous and having salvation is He.”[4] These are the words our Lord has given us by the Holy Spirit. We hear these words again today, the day we celebrate what is called “The Triumphal Entry.” Jesus rode into Jerusalem amidst shouts of praise and acclamation. Not like any other king did He ride in though, but humbly and mounted on a donkey. Normally, a king would ride in victoriously on a war horse. Jesus’ horse was a donkey, and His victory was yet to be won. The battle He had come to fight was not against flesh and blood, against barbarians or armies, but against the devil, against sin and hell, and against the powers of death itself. The field of this battle would be the cross.

Not as any other king did Jesus ride in, but as the true king of peace, who would secure peace for the world by the sacrifice of His own body and blood. In just five days, shouts of praise would change to taunts and jeers. The waving palms would change to lashes and blows. The cloaks spread out on the road before Him would give way to His own clothes being torn from Him as He was nailed to the tree. And, all this He suffered willingly, most willingly. He suffered all these things and died, so that our sins might be forgiven and so that we might have peace. We’ll hear these words on Friday, “They made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence and there was no deceit in his mouth…Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied…[He shall] make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.”[5]

Not as any other king did Jesus ride in, but as the true Melchizedek, the true king of peace. Jesus rode into Jerusalem to bring calm to our fears and peace to our distress. Just as all men have since the Fall of Adam, we also live beneath the shadow of death. As the consequence of sin, we will die; and this causes us to be afraid. By His death, Jesus made our death but a doorway to heaven. By His death, He atoned for our sins and secured for us forgiveness. Then, by His rising again, Jesus restored us eternal life. And, not only did Jesus rise from the dead, but He remains alive even now and – even now – remains with us. Not only is our fear of death conquered and calmed in Christ, but so is every fear and distress we now face. For, we now face all things having been united with Christ. That is what our Baptism means. In Baptism, we were united with Christ and He with us. He can no sooner abandon us than He can Himself.

Now, what does that mean? It means that all the situations in life that cause us distress and fear, we now face with Christ, and He with us. We live our lives as victors in Christ. And even though death may threaten with disaster, though our finances may go to the pot, we have a greater treasure in Christ our Lord. Not only does He remain with us in our lives, but He is here with us now. He has promised to be where two or three are gathered in His name and He is present for us in the blessed Sacrament. By His true body and blood, He binds up our wounds and strengthens our souls. St. John wrote, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold your king is coming.” And so, fear not, for your king has come and is here to calm your fear and give you peace.


[1] https://biblia.com/books/esv/Jn12.12

[2] https://biblia.com/books/esv/Jn12.1

[3] https://biblia.com/books/esv/Zec9.9

[4] Jn. 12 and Zech. 9.

[5] https://biblia.com/books/esv/bibleesv.Is53.9

The King of Glory Enters In

Text: Psalm 24

Bulletin: 2017-12-06 Advent Midweek I

Tonight, we begin another period of special devotion to our God and King. We come together this evening to hear His Word, to sing His praises, and to return Him our thanksgiving for the gifts He has freely given us. Especially in this Advent season, we remember His loving kindness as we await His return in glory. In all of these things, we are united to the saints of old in the Old Testament, who worshipped God in the tabernacle and temple with the singing of psalms. The texts for our meditations this year will each be based on the Psalm of the Week. The Psalm for the First Sunday in Advent is Psalm 24. Tonight, we confess that Christ is the King of Glory, who entered into His own creation so that we might receive blessing from God.

I.

Along with many of the other psalms, Psalm 24 is one that we know relatively little about. With some of the psalms – like Psalm 51 – we know who wrote them, when, and why. Psalm 51 was written by David after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba. We know less about Psalm 24. The psalm is attributed to David in both the Hebrew and Greek. The Greek adds that this was a psalm meant to be sung on Sunday. In the Church’s history, this psalm has been sung on Ascension and, for about the last 400 years – on the First Sunday in Advent as well. It’s easy to see why. This psalm is a psalm of worship to God as our king.

Psalm 24 lays out right away why we worship God as King – He is the author and founder of Creation. It says, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for He has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.”[1] This  topic comes up over and over in Scripture, and often it’s the first topic that we cover with our children. Our God, the Triune God, commanded the universe to exist and it did. He spoke and it came to be. He set the stars in place and knows them each by name. He set the boundaries of the seas and rules both wind and wave. The earth and all who dwell in it are the Lord’s. He gives all things their food, and they receive it from His loving hand. Truly, the Creator God is a King worthy of all praise.

II.

Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in His holy place?”[2] That is to say, who may stand before this God and King, who may stand in His presence to sing His praise? “He who has clean hands and pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the Lord.”[3] God, our God, is the God of all creation. Not one thing escapes His eye or happens apart from His knowing. He deserves to be worshipped in sincerity and truth, for His Word is truth and He is the truth. Those who worship Him with pure hearts receive from Him blessing and honor.

But, as we live our lives, we find well-enough that we do not have pure hearts. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and operate outside of the truth. Those who receive blessing from God are those whose hands are clean, whose hearts are pure, who do not deal falsely or speak deceitfully. Yet, on each count, we are guilty. Our hands we have used to commit iniquity and our hearts are filled with the same. We have spent our lives pursing our own passions and desires and have often done so at the expense of our love for others. We have spoken and sworn deceitfully. We do not deserve to ascend the Lord’s holy hill or stand in His holy place.

III.

Then the psalmist sings, “Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.”[4] It’s possible that this psalm was sung as the Ark of the Covenant was moved to its final resting place in the temple. In which case, the doors may be literal. In the Church’s use, these words are also sung to creation in the confidence that the King has come. Though we may not stand in the Lord’s presence nor receive His blessing because of our sinfulness, Christ Jesus is the one who has clean hands and a pure heart. He does not lift up His soul to what is false or swear deceitfully. He who is the King of Creation now has entered into His creation to redeem it from sin. Though He spoke no lies and had no guilt, He bore our sin on the cross. He suffered, died, and rose again victorious for us.

Therefore, with all of God’s people – past and present – we sing the praise of the King of Glory. He entered into the universe He made at His incarnation, being conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. From there, He rose to conquer sin and death by His own death on the cross. He comes to us now, bringing with Him blessing from God in Word and Sacrament. Through these, He gathers us together and makes us a generation that seeks the face of the God of Jacob. Soon, all gates and ancient doors must open as He returns to judge the living and the dead. This Advent, may we ever be mindful that Christ, the King of Glory, has entered into His creation to bring us blessing from God.


 

[1] Ps. 24:1-2, English Standard Version.

[2] Ps. 24:3.

[3] Ps. 24:4-5.

[4] Ps. 24:7.

The Righteous Branch

Text: Jeremiah 23:5-8

Bulletin: 2017-12-03 First Sunday in Advent

Today marks the beginning of a new church year. We know by now that the Church Year flows in seasons. Seasons, which are patterned after the life of Christ and the Church. The first season of the year is Advent, a season of both repentance and joyful expectation. In Advent, we celebrate our Lord’s coming the flesh and His future coming again, even as we recognize in ourselves our own sinfulness. Christ, by His death, has secured for us forgiveness and eternal life. But still, we live here as exiles. And, like exiles, we groan.

The groaning among God’s people in Jeremiah’s time was that they were ruled by an unfaithful shepherd. Or, rather, a line of unfaithful kings who did not abide by God’s Word nor rule by His wisdom and justice. By these kings’ negative influence, the people also fell into idolatry – until Jerusalem was finally destroyed as the punishment for their evil deeds. Still, God’s faithful people among them longed for a new king, a new shepherd, who would be faithful to God’s Word. Therefore, God spoke through Jeremiah that the days were indeed coming, when the Righteous Branch would rule. Unlike the kings of Israel and Judah, and unlike all kings of the earth, Jesus the Righteous Branch executes justice and righteousness and makes His people dwell securely.

I.

Jeremiah is a prophet that comes up a lot in conversations and the lectionary. He, along with Isaiah, Daniel, and Ezekiel are called the Major Prophets – for the length of their writing. Not only is the book of Jeremiah long, but so was his ministry. Jeremiah preached perhaps more than 40 years, during which time a complete handful of kings ruled in Jerusalem. As you might guess, this was not a good time for Judah. Their brothers in the Northern Kingdom had long before fallen to Assyria, and now Jerusalem was on the road to destruction herself. The reason would be the same that Israel was given into the hands of their enemies, idolatry. Both king and people were unfaithful to God’s Word.

Jeremiah 23 is part of a sermon given in the king’s court. In it, Jeremiah recounted the deeds of King Josiah’s sons and grandson who followed him on the throne. Josiah was a good king. He abided by God’s Word – his sons, not so much. In the Old Testament, when you were king you weren’t just king. You were a shepherd; you very much a spiritual figure for your people. It was also your job as king to encourage worship of the one true God. You were to discourage and punish idolatry. Josiah’s sons, along with many of the other kings, didn’t do that. The kings did not abide by God’s Word. They were frivolous in their living. They did not care about their neighbor near as much as themselves. They were in it for themselves. And, as were the kings, so were the people.

This is not an unfamiliar concept for us. Just a few weeks ago we talked about how the rulers and governments that exist are put in place by God. Now, ask yourself, how many of them do God’s will according to His written Word, the Bible? As the kings, so the people. In America, the disfunction goes even deeper. There are many people who dislike the government, so they take their orders and inspiration from celebrities. But, it’s also not just the rulers who don’t follow God’s Word – neither do we. At least, not all the time. We all set up little shrines to ourselves in our own hearts. We are the most important things in our lives, we do what our hearts desire and disregard the good of our neighbor. As those who have been redeemed by Christ, we recognize and lament our own sinfulness. With the faithful people of Jerusalem in Jeremiah’s time, we also groan. God’s Word to them and us is the same.

II.

The Lord spoke through Jeremiah,

Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’[1]

Remember that Jeremiah is speaking these words in the court of the king – at this time – Zedekiah. Jeremiah preached the Law against Zedekiah reign, and against those who came before him by calling them wicked shepherds. Now comes the Gospel to God’s people, where He promises a Righteous Branch, a Righteous Shepherd, a righteous king. These terms are often used interchangeably for the Messiah. The Lord promised David a son who would sit on his throne forever. The prophets Isaiah and Zechariah both talked about the branch of the Lord, the shoot from the stump of Jesse. Ezekiel preached about how the Lord would shepherd His people Himself. Branch, Shepherd, King, all mean the Messiah.

The Messiah, of course, is Jesus. He is the promised offspring of Adam and Eve, the offspring of Abraham. He is the true Son of David. He is the Righteous Branch who reigns as king. Unlike the kings of Israel and our time, Jesus does rule according to God’s will and Word. In His life, in the Garden, and on the cross, Jesus submitted to the Father’s will. He spoke and acted according the Word of God. According to the justice of God, “a bruised reed He [did] not break, and a smoldering wick He [did] not quench.”[2] Jesus does reign as king and deal wisely according to God’s Word, and that also means demanding the justice of God. One way God is just is in demanding punishment of sin. The kings of Israel did not punish the sin of idolatry. Jesus will punish sin eternally at His return. So that all the world might not perish in iniquity, Jesus also kept the Lord’s justice by bearing God’s wrath against sin in Himself on the cross. Jesus atoned for our sin by drinking the cup of God’s wrath for us.

The Lord promised through Jeremiah that the Righteous Branch would make both Israel and Judah dwell securely. That means He will bring all of God’s people together to live in peace. Such, has Christ done by His death. Though we were once united in death, by His death, Christ has brought His people together in life. He unites His people in every time and place together through His Holy Word and Sacraments. In Baptism, we are brought into the one family of Christ. In the Supper, we are united to Christ and each other. Through the preaching of the Word, the same Holy Spirit dwells in each of us. We have peace and security now in the forgiveness sins. But, that’s not the only thing we have. We have the blessed hope of eternal life. Someday soon, our Lord will return. He will send His angels and gather all the faithful from the ends of the earth. He will bring us together, and together we will enter the blessedness of the new creation. There, we will have no sin or sorrow, no danger or need. There, we will dwell with our king in our land, and we will all know Him.

But, for now, we groan. We are united with God’s faithful people in Jeremiah’s time. We are sinful people living in a wicked world at a wicked time. Yet, we are also the forgiven saints of God, purchased and won from sin and the devil by the precious blood of Christ. Through faith in His death we have the forgiveness of sins now, even as we await His return. While we suffer here as exiles below, God’s Word to us now is the same as then.

Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.

[1] Jer. 23:5-6, English Standard Version.

[2] Matt. 12:20.