Bible Text: Matthew 21:1-9 | Preacher: Pastor Andrew Richard | Series: Advent 2022 | “Behold, your King is coming to you.” Today is the First Sunday in Advent and a new Church Year begins. The old has passed, and Jesus still comes, ushering in another year of grace. Of this we are unworthy, as unworthy as the people of God were on Palm Sunday. Consider for a moment the history of the Church in the Old Testament. The Lord brought the people of Israel out of Egypt, and they praised the Lord at the Red Sea and stood in awe as they heard the Ten Commandments, and then they made a golden calf, and the people repented, and the Lord had mercy. The Lord gave them the land he had sworn to their fathers, and they built the temple in Jerusalem and they set up high places and worshiped false gods. The Lord sent to them persistently by his servants the prophets, and the people were fickle, sometimes committing themselves to the Lord in full devotion, sometimes committing horrible sins. In a word, they were inconstant, unworthy that the King of Glory should enter under their roof.
As we reflect on this past Church Year, we must examine ourselves, and what do we find but that we too have been inconstant. Now there were times, thanks be to God for them, when our souls thirsted for God as the deer pants for the water brooks (Ps. 42:1). We tasted and saw that the Lord is good (Ps. 34:8). There were times this past year when tribulation had us sore distressed, and though such affliction was not pleasant in itself, which of us would lament the pleasantness that we found in the Word of God and prayer? All earthly help failed and we cried to the Lord in our trouble, and he delivered us from our distress (Ps. 107:6). We sang with the psalmist, “You, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head” (Ps. 3:3). There were times when we recognized all the good things that we have received from God and our hearts erupted in thanksgiving for the forgiveness of sins, for life and breath and daily bread, for health and family: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! For his mercy endures forever” (Ps. 106:1). There were times when temptation came and by the grace of Christ we triumphed over it. We saw the truth of the words in Hebrews 2, “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” There were times when we were glad for the duties God has given us to do, and we worked heartily, as for the Lord and not for men (Col. 3:23).
But there were also times when our hearts panted for other things, earthly things, unclean things. The conscience felt its nakedness and found once again that fig leaves don’t cover anything. There were times when instead of hearing the Word of God with joy, we heard it with apathy, thinking, “I’ve heard this before,” as if we could get enough of God’s Word. There were times when in the goodness of life we failed to give thanks to God, even though the Scripture says, “in everything give thanks” (1 Thess. 5:18). There were times when in the tribulation of life we neglected prayer, even though the Scripture says, “be constant in prayer” (Rom. 12:12). Instead we looked to our own hands and schemes for deliverance. There were times when temptation came and―Lord, have mercy on us!―we went headlong into it like lambs being led to the slaughter. There were times when the good works God had given us to do seemed like nothing more than tortures and burdens, and we were lax in loving our neighbor.
“Behold, your King is coming to you,” and suddenly those words sound threatening, for we know all too well what the Lord will find. He has been so merciful and good to us, and how have we repaid him? Certainly not as he deserves, and who will help us if he deals with us as we deserve? “If someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?” (1 Sam. 2:25). Indeed, as the prophet Malachi preaches, “Who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?” Have we the strength for it? Or shall we not cast ourselves down in the dust along the highway to Zion and clothe our souls in sackcloth and ashes? Shall we not have ready on our lips the words of that holy man Elijah, who said, “O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers” (1 Kgs. 19:4)?
But “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble.” He is the King of Glory, the Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle (Ps. 24:8). And yet he comes humble. He came humbly on Palm Sunday to a people who had been inconstant. He knew the sins of his people. He was fully aware of their past. Yet he came anyway, with mercy in his hand, and he came that way for two reasons. He came first of all because he had promised to do so. The Lord’s promises are a sure foundation on which we can build. He will remain true to them always. We heard one of those promises in the Old Testament reading: “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” (Jer. 23:5). Nothing would prevent the Lord from fulfilling his promise, as the Apostle Paul writes to Timothy, “If we are faithless, he remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim. 2:13).
And second, the Lord came humbly and graciously because he wanted to help his people. He is full of compassion, more than we can fathom. Jeremiah speaks of this compassion, “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’” (Jer. 23:6). We know why Jesus was riding toward Jerusalem. He did come as king and he would reign and prosper. But his coronation involved a crown of thorns and his prosperity meant pouring out his blood to give his people life, that they might be able to say, “The Lord is our righteousness.”
Today this same Lord comes again, still in a humble way, still to his unworthy people. Jesus knows full well how inconstant we have been. He knows all our sins in full detail, just as well as he knew the sins of the people on Palm Sunday. He knows our corruption and frailty. This does not keep him away. Rather, he comes precisely to deal with sin by forgiving and to deal with corruption by renewing and to deal with frailty by strengthening. As it says in Psalm 103, “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him” (Ps. 103:10-11). So take heart, dear Christians. The Lord will never leave you nor forsake you (Heb. 13:5). You too have a promise from him, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:20).
So this Church Year the Lord will come to us and be with us according to his promise. Of that you can be certain. And he will certainly continue to come for the second reason also: he still desires to be your help. Think about that. The Lord of glory, who could obliterate sinful man from the earth in a second and be done with the trouble of dealing with us, doesn’t want to be done with the trouble of dealing with us. Rather he wants to make your trouble his trouble. Yes, as surely as he once made your sins his sins and was made to be sin who knew no sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21), so surely does he want to make all your troubles his troubles. He has no thought of destroying you from the earth, but has every intention of keeping you steadfast through life on this earth and conducting you to himself in heaven.
This means there are certain things you can expect from Jesus this Church Year, the same things you’ve been able to expect from him every Church Year. To be clear, this expectation is not presumptuous, nor do we bring with it a sense of entitlement. We know what we deserve, but our expectation is based on the gracious coming of our Lord. We can say, “Lord, I am worthy of no good thing. You know my sin and inconstancy. But you came to me in my sin and inconstancy, not because of my merit but because of your mercy. And so you have taught me to expect mercy from you, and indeed I will, because I know you want me to. Dear Jesus, you do not want me to expect wrath and condemnation from you. If you had wanted me to expect that, you would have come in a far different way than you did on Palm Sunday. But you came humbly, righteous and having salvation. You foretold it through your prophet Zechariah and then you fulfilled it, giving me double certainty of your mercy. Therefore, in honor of your gracious promise and your humble coming in the flesh, I will expect mercy from you.” That’s the proper mind to have when expecting the Lord’s mercy: a humble and honest and confident and courageous mind.
Now here’s what you can expect this Church Year. Simply put, you can expect that the Lord will give you cause for thanksgiving and rejoicing. Just as the crowd on Palm Sunday sang, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” so too the Lord will gladden your heart to rejoice in him.
There will be times this year when your conscience feels the weight of sin and your strength is turned into the drought of summer (Ps. 32:4) and you know your transgressions and your sin is ever before you (Ps. 51:3). And then Jesus will come and tell you through your pastors or your parents or your fellow Christians that your sin is forgiven. In this place he will pronounce his Absolution and preach to you his Gospel and provide the holy food of his body and blood. He will make the bones he has broken rejoice and restore to you the joy of his salvation (Ps. 51:8, 12) so that you likewise cry out in joy, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
There will be times this year when you suffer tribulation and you will feel like one of the disciples in the storm-tossed boat on the Sea of Galilee. Our Lord knows what form your tribulation will take, whether persecution for righteousness sake, or sickness, or the death of a loved one, or strife among family or friends, whether being slandered or hated or betrayed or deprived of earthly things. But as surely as you sit here after another Church Year, as surely as the Lord has said, “No evil shall befall you, nor shall any plague come near your dwelling” (Ps. 91:10), as surely as the disciples did not capsize in the storm-tossed boat but made it safely through by the grace of Jesus, so surely will the Lord preserve you from all evil (Ps. 121:7). He will heed your prayers and see you through, and you will look back and confess, “I know, O Lord, that your judgments are right, and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me” (Ps. 119:75). He will turn for you your mourning into dancing and put off your sackcloth and clothe you with gladness (Ps. 30:11), and you shall likewise say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
There will be times this year when you suffer sharp temptation, when the enemy bends his bow and shoots his flaming arrows tipped with doubt and anger and lust and bitterness and pride and despair and other things. But “God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13). He who overcame every temptation in the wilderness will not leave you to an enemy that he has already defeated. Jesus will come to you and stand with you. So do not give in, as if you were standing alone, as if by your own strength you had to overcome the evil one. Do not go willingly down the path of sin as if you can’t help it, but rely on him who can help you. Jesus will not forsake you, but will come to you, and the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet (Rom. 16:20) and in him you will rejoice, saying, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
There will be times this year when you are weary, when in the face of the duties God has given you to do toward your various neighbors it seems you cannot go any further. You will feel your weakness. This weakness is not a sin, though it can lead to the sin of neglecting God-given duty. Nor is this weakness a temptation, though the devil does like to seize the opportunity to bring temptation. But this weakness is simply weakness, a lack of power, the inability of yourself to do what you know you must do, a taste of mortality that says, “Dust you are, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19). But Jesus, the conqueror of death, will not forsake you. He will strengthen you to live if it is his appointed time for you to live, satisfying you with his Word and grace so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s (Ps. 103:5). And he will strengthen you to die if it is his appointed time for you to die. “For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” (Rom. 14:8).” Whether we live or die, Jesus comes to us, as he always has, as he always will, for he is constant. And he will always gladden us with his coming so that we sing, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” In the name of Jesus. Amen.