Advent 1 Sermon. “Gentle, and riding a beast of burden.” Draft. and final outline.
I succeeded in writing my sermon out this week before Saturday. However, it was 12 pages long. Then subsequent drafts were also too long and I ended up preaching from an outline, and the sermon was still too long. Other than that I was kind of happy with it. Here’s the written manuscript, 1st draft, followed by the mostly complete final outline.
Ad Te Levavi—First Sunday in Advent
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 21:1-9
December 2, 2012
Sanctify them in the truth; Your Word is truth.
Your Zion strews before you green boughs and fairest palms
And I too will adore you with joyous songs and psalms.
My heart shall bloom forever For you with praises new
And from Your name will never withhold the honor due.
Zion is the name of the hill on which the temple in Jerusalem was built. Because the temple was so important to the people of Israel, so beloved, they often called the whole city after the name of the temple mount—Zion. And from there the prophets would sometimes call all of God’s people by the name. “The daughter of Zion” is God’s term of endearment for His people. It’s as though He is saying, “the dear child born to me from my dwelling on earth.” The whole reason God called Abraham away from his father’s house and then brought the people of Israel out of slavery and planted them in the land of Canaan was because He wanted to have a people for His own.
Ever since sin came into the world, God has wanted to have human beings back in His presence. But people did not want Him. Even among the people He claimed as His own and taught His ways, the same painful story repeated itself—His people turned away and became just like the nations around them. They were supposed to be a light that would turn the world to Him; instead the light was darkened and the people of God became like the world. And that meant nothing else than that they too were enemies of God. God could not dwell with them without either having His holy name blasphemed, without His people bearing false witness to the world, representing Him falsely.
But there were always a few faithful ones among whom God could dwell. They were the remnant of His people, the root in the ground. These were people who were also sinful, but who lived in continual repentance for their sins, and trusted in the forgiveness of sins which God had promised would be theirs through the King Whom He would send. This remnant of believers is “the daughter of Zion.”
The daughter of Zion is the harvest of God’s dwelling in a sinful world. What did God get for all the work that He did, planting a vineyard, cultivating the earth, watering it, fertilizing it, caring for it? A lot of weeds. A lot of people who heard His Word, received His promises, and lived in the presence of His glory, and who still brought forth the fruitless thorns and thistles of the worship of false gods and disobedience.
Yet there were always a few good grapes that produced the sweet wine of faith and love. Abraham, who was willing to offer up his only son because he trusted God. David, who was indeed a sinner but trusted in the Lord’s unfailing love and wrote hymns like the one we sang today: “Good and upright is the Lord; therefore He instructs sinners in the way. He guides the humble in what is right and teaches the humble His way.”
They were God’s beloved daughter of Zion not through their own doing but by grace alone. When most of the people turned away from the Lord, these were preserved by His grace.
Jesus promised, “I will build my Church.” He would gather all these scattered righteous ones growing together in the midst of thorns and brambles, among His enemies, into one holy gathering. Then He would establish this holy gathering, this holy Church, as His Zion—the city and temple of God’s saints. These ones would not turn away from Him, pollute His holiness, blaspheme His name, and reject Him. He would dwell among them forever.
In today’s Gospel Jesus comes to the earthly Zion and is greeted with cheers and praises. About a thousand and a half years ago Christians set this reading as the first of the new Church year to remind people of Jesus’ coming. This time of year had been a time of feasting and partying for pagans, and Christians, living in the midst of pagans or pagans who had not been Christians all that long, were liable to forget that at the first Christmas, Jesus came, and almost none of the people who were supposed to be His were paying attention. They were liable to not be paying attention themselves to the Jesus who was coming to them now, just as we are liable to miss it. They were liable to forget that they were supposed to be looking not primarily at what party they were going to go to next and what toga they should wear to it; they were supposed to be waiting with anticipation for Jesus to come again. They were supposed to make sure that they were ready to meet Him, with wedding garments on, with lamps trimmed and burning, behaving decently as in the day since “the night is almost over.”
So we see how things were the first time Jesus came to Zion, to the city that was supposed to be His. Great crowds came to meet Him and hail Him as their King. Yet within a few days the city which hailed Him as its King was shouting for Him to be crucified.
As we think about this we are invited to consider what kind of reception Jesus receives at this Zion, St. Peter, this place where those who are called by His name are gathered. Does Jesus come to us now as He did to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday? He does indeed. It is Him, in flesh and blood, who forgives your sins, who teaches you from the lectern and the pulpit, in Sunday School and Bible class. It is His flesh and blood which you eat and drink on your knees in this place. And it is the members of His body who say hello to you and hand you a bulletin, or drink coffee with you, or sit in meetings with you. They are people who have been baptized in His name and have eaten His body and drunk His blood—and they are His members, unless none of them believe.
When He comes, what kind of welcome does He receive here? He is praised with Hosannas, just as He was in Jerusalem. Our ears hear His Word. Our mouths eat His body and drink His blood.
But what happens after the service, between services, at home? What happens on Monday, Wednesday, Friday? “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.” (Romans 13:13-14) Do we cry “Hosanna! Save us!” to Jesus one day and then give free reign to the lusts of our flesh the next day—the flesh’s lusts for which He was crucified? Do we eat and drink and spend the rest of the week satisfying every desire of our body and forgetting the needs of our neighbor, making sure we are comfortable whether or not our neighbor’s needs are met? Isn’t that the reason strife and jealousy threaten to rip the church apart, so that you can barely walk out the sanctuary doors sometimes before hostility breaks out in the form of gossip or cold shoulders? We want what we want; and no one can serve the lusts of the flesh without someone or something else getting shortchanged. We make sure we have what we need to make ourselves comfortable. Then our families or the church has to make do with the time and energy and money we have left over. Then we fight about why there isn’t enough money in our households or in the church, whose fault it is that people aren’t coming or you can’t get people to help.
These are the wages of serving false gods.
Into this mess Your King comes. He comes, as He did in Jerusalem, and as He will on the last day, to the daughter of Zion—those who will receive Him, the remnant predestined by grace alone before the foundation of the world. He also comes to the cursed, the children of the devil, the enemies of God who refuse to accept this King, even though they live among God’s people and will not be rooted out until Jesus returns the final time.
He comes to the good and evil, the believers and unbelievers, to the daughter of Zion and the brood of vipers. And until He comes again on the last day, He comes in the same way to everyone. He went into Jerusalem on the donkey this way, even though He knew that it would mean that He would be tortured and killed by those who hated Him. Today He comes to the Church in His Word and Sacraments, knowing that He will be resisted and hated, abused and blasphemed, that those who preach Him and those who confess Him will be vilified and mistreated by those who hate Him outside the Church and by those who oppose Him within it.
The prophet says, “Say to the daughter of Zion” because only the elect ones will listen and take to heart and believe that the one who comes like this is their king. The rest will not listen; they will despise the king who comes this way and they will treat the message with contempt.
Yet Jesus comes the same way to them too—to the daughter of Zion, both the strong in faith and the weak, and to those who will not believe or who believe for a time and then depart. He comes gentle—without vengeance, in peace, seeking only blessing for all to whom He comes. And He comes on a yoke-animal, an animal for hard labor, not for war or royal transportation.
Wherever this sermon finds you, and regardless of the state of your heart, Jesus comes to you gently, desiring only your salvation; and He comes to labor and serve for you, to bear the yoke for you.
“Say to the daughter of Zion, Behold, your king comes to you gentle.”
Jesus comes to a Jerusalem that is not what it should be. The ones who are supposed to teach His commandments to His people, who are supposed to watch over and guard them and gather the ones who have gone astray, are blind guides. They teach their own thoughts instead of the Word of the Lord. Their converts become worse children of hell than they are. They are polluted by the love of earthly gain and the love of their own honor. And on top of all this they are at war with the Lord who has come down in human flesh to fulfill His promise and save His people.
God’s people who are supposed to declare His name to the world are still worshipping God the wrong way, bearing false witness to the world about the Lord. Before the Israelites had been taken into captivity in Babylon and the temple was burned, they worshipped the idols of the pagan nations alongside the Lord. But since they came back from exile, the Jews cleaned up their act and stopped setting up idols in their villages and in the temple. But their worship of the Lord was not worship in Spirit and truth; it was not faith in His promise resulting in love toward God and the neighbor that comes from the heart. It was only external, outward worship—the following of rules and procedures, performing the required outward acts. People tithed, fasted when they were required to, didn’t work on the Sabbath, washed their hands at required times. Then they trusted through their performance of ceremonies that they were righteous in God’s sight, even though in their hearts they still loved money and pleasure and honor more than God, even though they still hated their neighbors. As long as I fulfill God’s requirements and am righteous in His sight, what happens to you is your own problem, was the way many of the most religious thought. Those who didn’t live up to the requirements were sinners and outcasts in Israel.
Then John the Baptist came, preaching to the sinners and outcasts and to the Pharisees, “Repent!” “All of you are unrighteous and unclean,” John preached, “and now the King is almost here; and if you want to be ready for Him, and not be thrown into the fire with Satan and his offspring, you must confess that even your righteousness—your obedience in outward things—is sinful and unclean in His sight.” And those who repented John baptized for the forgiveness of sins, so that when the King came, they would be ready to meet Him and receive Him and the gift of the Holy Spirit which He would give to make them truly righteous—to make them not only obey God’s law outwardly, but to renew them from within so that they would actually begin to love God and their neighbor from the heart, and not simply obey and serve outwardly.
But the leaders of the Israelites—priests, Pharisees, scribes, members of the ruling council—did not listen to John. They laughed at his warning that they were godless despite all their efforts to be holy. And when Jesus came and began to heal people, showing the kingdom of God was near, and to forgive sinners, and even disregard the ceremonies commanded by the law at times, they became jealous and opposed to Jesus, because His teaching contradicted theirs. Jesus preached that God declared people righteous and let them into His kingdom not by their deeds, but simply through believing that He was the Messiah. Then their hearts would be made new so that they didn’t just do dead, outward works, but instead began to fulfill God’s law by love that comes from the heart.
So now when Jesus was riding into Jerusalem He was riding into the midst of enemies who opposed Him and denied that He was the promised King, the rightful King of the Jews. He knew that they would fight Him tooth and nail before they would acknowledge His right to rule and be called Lord in Zion.
Yet knowing how the priests and leaders of Israel despised and hated Him and wanted to destroy Him, Jesus still enters Jerusalem not with war, prepared to shed blood; not with hostility in His words, actions, or His heart. He comes gentle. He comes not to destroy, but to seek and save the lost—whether lost disciples, lost prostitutes, or lost, murderous, bitter, hypocritical priests and leaders.
Things were not right in Jerusalem. Its leaders were wicked. But Jesus didn’t come to fight them.
Things were not right even among His own disciples. They were quite a bit like the Pharisees. When they were on their way to Jerusalem, they were in a fierce argument about which of them was the greatest and would be second in command when Jesus became king in Jerusalem. They wanted vengeance on their opponents. They weren’t simply angry because people sinned against God when they rejected Jesus. They were angry because in opposing Jesus they were also opposing the disciples and getting in the way of the glory and power the disciples expected to receive when Jesus was crowned king of the whole earth.
So James and John asked Jesus if they could call down fire from heaven to burn up the Samaritans who did not welcome Jesus as He journeyed to Jerusalem to be installed as the Messiah. Peter tried to kill one of the soldiers who came to arrest Jesus in Gethsemane, but only succeeded in cutting off His ear.
The disciples did not understand what it meant that Jesus was the King who comes to the daughter of Zion “gentle.” So when Jesus was arrested and brought to trial by His enemies—when He didn’t exercise the power He showed on the Sea of Galilee when He quieted the wind and the waves; when He didn’t call 12 legions of angels to fight His enemies; when His voice didn’t send His enemies running for the hills like it did the demons when He told them, “Come out!”—the disciples abandoned Jesus.
Things weren’t right with Jerusalem—its leaders opposed Jesus. Its ruler was an idol-worshipping tyrant. Even the daughter of Zion, His disciples, were not able to stay with Jesus when He wouldn’t take vengeance and wouldn’t let them either.
Jesus had reason to come in wrath and burn all three groups of people to cinders in His wrath.
But instead their King came gentle, as though with His hands in the air and His weapons on the ground. He comes with no threat, only with the true Word of God—which He wields not as a weapon to destroy them but as a scalpel to heal and save them.
This does not mean that Jesus is pleased with the way Jerusalem is. He is not. But the King is gentle. He is not there because He wants to punish them, or take things away from them. Even though He has a right to be angry, He does not want to make them feel His anger.
He doesn’t want to destroy the godless Romans, which is what the priests and leaders want, so that they can rule the world. He doesn’t want to destroy the hypocritical priests and leaders, as the disciples and believers would be tempted to desire, so that He can have power (and the disciples with Him.) He wants them to be saved.
So He comes to them—in every way showing that He is gentle and is not against them, does not wish their death, is not harboring any secret desire to make them pay for all the wrong they have done Him. He knows that they will not be able to see His coming as anything other than a threat and that they will kill Him. He never intends to sit on a throne in Jerusalem. He is fully aware that when He comes gentle to the city called by His name that city will kill Him and His disciples will abandon Him.
But He still comes. It’s almost as though Jesus is tricking them. But it is a trick that catches them in the snare of His goodness and salvation. He knows that they will kill Him, and He knows that unless He is killed there will be no atonement for sins. So He goes gently to be killed. He tricks them into letting Him bleed and suffer for their sins.
Jesus comes into this Jerusalem today. Here today is the daughter of Zion—those whom God has foreknown, who believe or who will believe and inherit eternal life. Here today are also those who are called by His name and have been given the promise of His new testament; they are baptized into His name and eat the holy food which only those who are holy have the right to eat. Yet they do not believe, or they believe now but will fall away later and be cast into the lake of fire forever.
Jesus comes to this Jerusalem invisibly in His Word and Sacrament, and He comes gentle. He is not coming to burn and scorch and crush His enemies, nor to pour wrath on His believing ones for their sins of weakness. He comes with the same intention toward everyone—to save and to heal.
He does not come in majestic power. He comes gentle, just as He came to Jerusalem. He comes this way so that we will not be burned up, reduced to ashes. He does not want to come fight us and kill us but to save us. He comes in weakness so that we will not be frightened away from Him, as though because we are sinners and have turned against Him before He will not receive us now. In every way He wants us to know that He comes in peace to help us. He comes in weakness, through a weak and sinful human being’s voice. And He comes gently; His message is not wrath and destruction and death. It is a scalpel that slices open the infected wound that is hidden from the light of day and exposes it—the infection of corruption and original sin—the reality that there is nothing in our nature but uncleanness and rebellion against God. And then into that exposed sore He pours soothing medicine. He proclaims that the infection of sin has been healed by the flesh that He took when He became one with us in Mary’s womb. That flesh, which He shares with us forever, has healed the infection we suffer from. His flesh was wounded and condemned on the cross for our uncleanness. His flesh carried the sickness and foulness of our flesh, and it was destroyed; then it was raised from the dead and exalted to the right hand of God. The healing of His flesh, the resurrection of His flesh, He proclaims to be our own. It is shared with us through His Word, His Baptism, and His body and blood. Even now the death of sin and the resurrection of the flesh that happened in Him is given to us, and the healing and life that has already happened in Him travels through the members of His body and begins their healing. Just as gangrene begins in one part of the body and spreads through the whole body until it rots and dies, so the healing and salvation which has been accomplished for us in Jesus, the head of the body, spreads through the whole church that is connected to Him, that believes that all He has done is ours.
He comes gentle. He speaks under weakness through weak men, He lives under weakness in the sinners He has gathered into His church. He comes with a gentle message of healing. And He does not force His message upon us.
He will not force you to let go of your trust in false gods. If you insist on putting your trust in what you can see, and will only believe that you are safe and secure if you have money, or good health, power, honor, or a comfortable life, He will not force you. If you follow Him for awhile, but then hit a sticking point—a god you will not let go of—He will let you leave, if that’s what you insist upon. If you want to point the finger at other people’s sins and not admit that, whatever the Romans have done or the Pharisees or priests have done, you have indulged your sinful flesh and robbed God, and you made yourself comfortable and let your neighbor suffer—Jesus will not force you to see your own sin. If you sit in church for years and think that you know all you need to know and that you do and give plenty, that all the church’s troubles are someone else’s fault, even though you are no more holy than you were 1, 5, or 10 years ago—or worse, you aren’t even aware of much sin in yourself—Jesus will not force you to see the truth. If I or another pastor don’t want to put much effort into reading His word and preparing to preach and teach it; or if I or other pastors refuse to see and repent of the sinful lives by which we cause people to reject Christ’s word—Jesus will not force us. Because He comes gentle.
But if we begin to see that we are among the crowds who cry Hosanna on Sunday and crucify on Friday, who despised and abused Jesus because He was gentle and did not force us to repent of our sins—Jesus would have you see that His gentleness is not a trick. He isn’t coming like a Trojan horse, pretending to be gracious only to destroy you later. He is gentle and allows Himself to be abused by unbelievers and believers in their weakness because He wants the brokenhearted sinners not to be afraid but come to Him. He wants you to see that even though your heart is still hard He is not coming to kill you. If you try to get out of the quicksand of your sins and fall repeatedly—He still is coming to you gentle as Your King to answer your cry: “Hosanna! Save us!” If you have been like John and James, and have been walking with Jesus as disciples, but then started to attack the members of His body because you wanted to be the greatest—completely ignoring and despising the King who came to be the lowest and allowed Himself to die for those who wanted to be in His place—Jesus does not say “depart from me!” He is still coming to you gently—to forgive you and heal you and be your King. If like Peter you have been unfaithful to Your Lord and denied Him because of your pride, and your fleshliness, your fear of suffering, He looks at you gently because He loves you. He looks at you not to make you despair, but to return to Him even now. He does not want to destroy you. He wants you to see that He was destroyed for you because He knew exactly how weak and helpless you are, even though you didn’t know it. He was destroyed for you so that you wouldn’t be destroyed. You disowned Him because you refused to accept His gentleness and His cross; but He acknowledged you before His Father and said “Let His pride and vengefulness be my responsibility; let it be counted to me.”
If like Judas you loved honor and wealth and power and sold Jesus, pretending to love Him only to take advantage of people who believed in Him; if you looked for earthly rewards from Jesus but saw that they wouldn’t come unless you sold Him out; if you realize now what you have done, that you were seduced by Satan but betrayed the Son of God—to you also Jesus comes gentle. He knew what you were doing when you did it. He knew you would do it before He called you. He didn’t call you to trick you. He didn’t let you do it to make things worse for you. He was serious when He called you to be His disciple and be saved. He is serious now when He comes to you in the Gospel and tells you He forgives all Your sins and that He blotted these out with His blood also.
Jesus comes into our midst gentle in this new church year. Let no one mistake Him. He is gentle not so you can continue to hold on to false gods, to lies and excuses and judgments of other people. He is not gentle so that you can go on sinning and then comfort yourself with forgiveness. He is gentle because He does not want the unrepentant to be destroyed, but to listen to His law and turn away from their sins in fear and sorrow, because whoever wants to hold on to their sins, or who wants to please their flesh or the world and God at the same time also rejects Jesus. Those who reject Him will receive the wages of their rejection when He comes again in His glory.
But He is gentle also so that the fearful hearts who are troubled about their sins will know that He will not drive them away. He came gentle into Jerusalem so that He could give His life for you and pay for your sins. That is what Matthew is saying when he quotes the prophet Zechariah, “Behold, Your king comes to you gentle.” Pay attention to how Jesus comes—gentle, giving Himself into the hands of His enemies. In weakness with a message of grace and good news today. He knows that His enemies will abuse Him today just as they did then—but He allows it because He is concerned about you—the daughter of Zion, His beloved church. He is willing to allow unbelievers to trample and abuse His Gospel and His body and blood so that poor sinners who tremble at God’s wrath will not run away from Him and despair but will find comfort that Jesus has come in weakness specifically so that they may be comforted. He comes so that you who feel yourselves to be lost sinners will find comfort that the sins from which you cannot free yourselves are not counted to You because of this Jesus who came gently—as a little, weak, poverty-stricken baby in Bethlehem’s stable to share our nature, and then as a poor, despised man who shed His innocent blood to atone for your sins. His suffering frees you from punishment and His Gospel d0es not liberate you to sin, but gives you a joyful heart that hates sin but is confident that the sins that it hates are forgiven.
On a Yoke Animal
“Say to the daughter of Zion, Behold, your King comes to you…riding on a donkey…a beast of burden.”
The King does not come with money and wealth. He has no splendor. He doesn’t even come with what we call “a comfortable life.” He comes on a beast of burden—an undignified little stubborn animal used to carry loads or thresh grain. And the beast is borrowed!
Jesus could have come on a horse, a camel, an elephant—a much more splendid creature. Everything in the universe is His. He has His disciples tell the owner, “The Lord needs it,” and that’s it.
Everything belongs to Jesus; but when He was on earth He was poor. Now Jesus is exalted over the whole universe. Yet the church is poor. The churches that preach His Word faithfully usually seem bedraggled and lowly, while the churches which have lots of money at their disposal usually do not preach the pure word of God. If you walk into a church with full pews and brand new equipment or with beautiful stone and stained glass and other finery, what kind of church are you most likely to be in? Either a non-denominational church in which infants are not baptized and Jesus’ words: “Take eat, this is my body” are denied. Or a Roman Catholic church, in which the people are taught that it is not Jesus’ death for our sins on the cross, received by faith alone, which saves us, but rather Jesus’ death received by faith along with our obedient good works—these two things together make us righteous before God. As a result, Rome teaches that no one can be certain of salvation. If a church is secure financially, it is most likely to be in one of those two camps, although I would bet that in most cases their financial security is more a figment of the unbelieving and covetous imagination of people who are looking on from the outside.
Jesus owns everything, yet He let other people use it when He was on earth. He owns everything now, but His church is usually not rich financially, nor does it have honor and praise in the world usually. Often it does not even have a comfortable life, but instead miserable poverty; often it is not only despised but hated by neighbors, even physically assaulted, robbed, and murdered.
Jesus at times received praise on earth and sometimes seemed to have success. Things go that way for the church, too. But it didn’t last forever for Jesus, nor does it for the Church. Today Jesus is cheered and on Good Friday they crucify Him. For over a thousand years the church had a central, honored position in Europe and America—at least as an institution. But now the countries that once called themselves Christian increasingly look at the Church not only with a contemptuous smile but with a growing disapproval, a growing sentiment that the Church is a force of evil. A force of intolerance, hypocrisy; a cause of oppression, suffering, and bloodshed.
This is a stumbling block for us. Our flesh wants to be comfortable, enjoy itself, have wealth, prestige, and a good name. God wants us to have good things, too. That’s why He gives us body and soul, clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, et cetera. In the 8th commandment He commands our neighbor to protect our reputation; in the fifth commandment He commands us to help our neighbor in every bodily need.
But our flesh wants more than is good for it all the time, and our sinful nature thinks that we are entitled to uninterrupted happiness and contentment and honor, as though we had never sinned and provoked God’s fatherly discipline or His unrestrained righteous anger.
So when because of our allegiance to Jesus we are threatened with the loss of our good name, or with people hating us or treating us like we’re stupid, we are offended. When as a member of the church I have to suffer for Christ’s sake—because the world hates us for doing what is good, or when brothers and sisters in the church sin and the whole church suffers—I become indignant—impatient with sinning brothers and sisters, impatient with the unbelieving world, impatient with God who allows me to suffer and be humbled.
That’s because I don’t want to serve. I want to be exalted. Aren’t you the same?
Even if you don’t act on it, don’t you find that you often want to be in the highest place? You are quickly annoyed if you have to bear with someone else’s failings? If you consider someone or something boring or irritating, you reserve the right to take a vacation from it?
I wish I had time to care about the people in the congregation who are shut in and have no family, but I’m too busy. I wish I could help drive people to church who don’t have a ride, but I don’t have time. Voters’ meetings are boring or irritating; let someone else go. I don’t get anything out of bible class. Why don’t people control their kids in church? Why don’t people dress right when they come here? Why don’t they sing the hymns I like? This rotten neighborhood drags the church down. I have to go somewhere else; my needs or the needs of my kids aren’t being met in this church.
Whenever we say these things we may have a valid complaint. But then the question comes back: Are you too good to serve these people, by bearing with them, praying for them, helping them, humbly and lovingly rebuking them when necessary?
Pastors have their own variations: How can this person or these people so flagrantly despise God’s Word? Are people going to hate me if I say or do this or that? I wish I had so and so’s congregation. I give up; they’re not going to listen to me anyway.
But it’s worse in the pastor’s case. Because the pastor is supposed to be an example. Congregations are supposed to hear from their pastor that Jesus, the King, served us and died for our sins. But what the pastor preaches he should not contradict by the way he lives. The Pharisees wanted to rule and have the best seats in the synagogue, but Jesus told his disciples that “the greatest among you will be he who serves.” God serves us. The world may hear this from the church, but unbelievers want to see, not hear. When Zion, the church of Christ, is zealous about serving those outside and those within who are weak, we give a little living flesh and blood picture of the faith we confess. But when the pastor is unwilling to bear with and serve his people, not only preaching, but also praying for them, seeking out the lost, dealing gently with those who resist the word, no wonder if people have trouble listening to what he says or believing it. Not that this excuses anyone, but the pastor’s guilt is greater. He must serve the congregation not only by preaching but by treating the sins of the congregation as if they are his own. The congregation in turn must treat the sins of weaker brothers and unbelievers as if they are their own, praying for and seeking the blessing of those who are weak or don’t believe.
That is because Jesus comes to us on a beast of burden; He comes to serve. He does not consider equality with God the Father a trophy to be held on to at all costs. He made Himself nothing; He emptied Himself of power and glory and came in the likeness of Adam and you and me—weak and subject to suffering and the curse of the law and death. None of that did He earn. He came to serve us so He treated our misery as His own—even for those who would be ungrateful.
That is why He was born in a stable to a woman. That is why He was wrapped in swaddling clothes—bound up and laid helpless in a manger, in poverty and weakness, depending on His mother for milk, for warmth, for love, relying on her to clean Him and keep Him alive.
Parties, carols, trees, lights, Christmas cheer, cookies, family and friends, even nativities in the front lawn can be a way to rejoice and give thanks to Jesus who came to us to serve us. But the person who celebrates Christmas rightly, and gives glory and honor to Christ, is the one who receives the Lord Jesus who came to serve us and who still comes to serve us in His Word.
When we receive Jesus, the joy that comes is not exactly the same as “the Christmas Spirit” or “holiday cheer.” The person who receives Jesus rightly is not just filled with warm fuzzies at the baby in the manger. Faith in Jesus rejoices that God is one with us and that He has come to serve us, but it also grieves. Because Mary’s sweet child, who comes gently, as a baby, on a donkey, in the Word, in the water to our babies, also came to serve us. And His service to us was this: that the little baby grew up to be the man of sorrows; His flesh felt spit and stripes from the lash, thorns from His crown, the stab of nails and spear, until all the life poured out of His heart in blood and water. His soul felt the anguish of damnation and the anger of the righteous judge.
Having served like this when He came at first, He still serves. He keeps gently coming to serve you, not with honor and glory, but in simple things—words, water, wine, bread. Who would ever guess that in these things we are being served by God with all the wealth of heaven, with the priceless treasure of eternal life, bought for us not with a few dollars, nor thirty pieces of silver, nor with the billions of dollars spent every Christmas or the trillions that our government owes, but with the pain and anguish of the one who sits at the right hand of God!
He still comes to serve you with that incredibly expensive treasure.
So the one who honors Jesus at Christmas is the one who believes that it was God who served him on Palm Sunday and Christmas and who now serves us by bringing us to repentance and faith through the preaching of His Word.
And the one who believes that Jesus comes to serve him like this becomes a beast of burden. Jesus is not ashamed to sit on a service animal because He has come to serve. And whoever believes this becomes a carrier of Jesus—a service animal. Donkeys sometimes are stubborn and don’t want to serve, and the flesh of Christians is like that too. But Jesus the king is pleased to use us to carry out His reign. He comes to you to serve you, and then He makes you a servant of others, so that you bear Christ to others.
You bear with each other and forgive each other in the church and in your homes and you bear Christ to them. You pray for one another, and you bear your sinful brother to Jesus. You serve your neighbor in your job, serving him with all your heart, and you bear Christ to him, because Christ bore all burdens of all men—sin, suffering, sickness. Whether you preach or wash dishes or mow lawns or pray, when you do it because Jesus serves you, you carry Jesus to your neighbor.
The donkey on palm Sunday wasn’t the only one who was honored by Jesus riding on it. When he carried Jesus, the whole world was blessed. The king came to serve his people, and that donkey was the means by which Jesus fulfilled the Scripture.
Jesus comes to serve you. Take note of this, whoever you are. He comes gentle and on a beast of burden. He came then and He comes now in the word and sacraments not to wage war and punish you, not to scare you, but to serve you—first to die for you, now to give you forgiveness of sins, joy, a new life, to make you and I, who are not gentle and forgiving or humble and ready to serve, into the members of His body who carry His reign of blessing and salvation to one another and those outside the church, just as He has brought it to us.
That’s how he comes to you today, daughter of Zion! He dwells in you through forgiveness and makes you more and more into a donkey on which He can ride, sweet grapes that make sweet wine, and a holy city in which he will be received and live among His people forever.
Do good to Zion in thy good pleasure; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Then wilt thou delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on thy altar. (Psalm 51:18-19 RSV)
Soli Deo Gloria.
Here is something like what I actually preached.
Ad Te Levavi—First Sunday in Advent
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. Matthew 21:1-9
December 2, 2012
Gentle and with an easy yoke.
Sanctify them in the truth; Your Word is truth. Amen.
For the Lord has chosen Zion;
He has desired it for his habitation.
“This is my resting place forever;
Here I will dwell, for I have desired it.” (Psalm 132: 13-14)
- 1. Introduction: Behold, Daughter of Zion!
- a. Definition of Zion/daughter of Zion
- b. God’s longing to dwell with man and woman
- i. God the Son became the second Adam to restore Adam and Eve.
- ii. He came to go into a deep sleep that His bride might be given to Him.
- iii. God longs for the Daughter of Zion; “This is my resting place forever; Here I will dwell, for I have desired it.”
- c. Most who were called refused. It should have been the joy of all the people when Jesus came to Jerusalem
- i. When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
We were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
And our tongue with shouts of joy… (Psalm 126: 1-2)
- ii. How the faithful city has become a whore! (Isaiah 1)
- iii. The daughter of Zion, the one church of Jesus, is a remnant, chosen by grace alone.
- d. Advent calls: Wake up! Prepare for the coming of Jesus!
- i. Learn from Jerusalem’s mistake. Why did they reject Christ?
- ii. Keeping the flesh alive (Rom. 13). Don’t we do the same—repeatedly?
- iii. How is he received when He comes now?
- 1. He comes in His Word and sacrament to us.
- 2. Can you see how He is greeted?
- iv. Advent calls you to be prepared to meet Him at His second Advent.
- e. To penitent sinners, to the daughter of Zion Jesus comes and gives comfort. Look, Daughter of Zion: Your King comes to you
- 1. Gentle
- 2. Riding a beast of burden.
- 2. Your King comes gentle.
- a. He comes gentle or meek. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matt 5:1) “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches the humble his way (ps 25/ introit.”
- b. He comes gentle so that troubled sinners will not run away from Him
- i. For their sake He is willing to be abused—for the sake of His bride, the daughter of Zion.
- ii. She is composed of people who are first of all sinners.
- c. Jerusalem not as it should have been. Jesus had reason to come in vengeance.
- i. Priests
- ii. People
- iii. Tyrannical emperor
- iv. Even disciples
- d. Yet He makes clear that He comes in peace
- i. Gentle, as with His hands up
- ii. Not approving sin, but not punishing his opponents.
- iii. This is a death sentence.
- iv. They figure it must be a trick.
- v. Jesus comes with no guile to be killed by His enemies in order to redeem a world of enemies form their sins.
- e. He comes gentle to us today.
- i. In resistable, despised things.
- ii. He lives in and among sinners and is not ashamed of them.
- iii. With a message of healing, grace. A gentle word.
- f. Why He comes gentle
- i. Not so that you can remain in your sins; not to excuse them or approve them. That is rejecting Him.
- ii. But so that repentant sinners will see that He is not angry with them, but comes to help and save them.
- iii. The world can’t fathom this:
- 1. It sees Jesus as a weakling to be despised.
- 2. Or as a danger—His teaching encourages people to disobey God
- a. Saying “Trust God” then appears to be saying
- b. Go ahead and allow people to do evil
- c. Go ahead and deficit spend until we close.
- iv. The world thinks Jesus has a secret agenda
- 1. He is taking away our power
- 2. He must really be here to punish us.
- g. But He comes gentle because He really and truly wishes destruction to no one.
- i. Not even the priests and Pharisees.
- ii. Thus the sign that you have prepared for Christ rightly is that you become gentle and meek even with those who are your enemies because of Christ.
- iii. How this happens: word, sacrament, prayer. self-examination, confession, absolution.
- 3. Your king comes on a beast of burden.
- a. Jesus doesn’t come with wealth, honor
- i. Not even a comfortable life
- ii. He rides an animal that does hard, slave labor
- iii. And it is borrowed.
- b. Jesus has everything, yet he entrusts it to human beings.
- i. He doesn’t use it.
- ii. He entrusts it to human authority that they might be his coworkers.
- iii. He takes the form of a slave
- iv. Doesn’t dress to be worshipped, but to serve. Rides a donkey. Wears a towel for washing feet. Swaddling cloths. Nakedness and wounds.
- c. Jesus also comes to us to serve.
- i. No outward splendor
- ii. Means of grace
- iii. Church
- a. Jesus doesn’t come with wealth, honor
This is an offense to us; we want wealth and honor.
Jesus received praise, but it was quickly gone. He didn’t put his trust in it or seek it. It is the same for our congregation. Once it was praised and the pews were full. We would still like it that way because we do not want to be slaves.
But our God comes to us to serve us as a slave.
We do not respect serving. We do not want to serve.
We don’t want to bear with other people.
But this is the real joy of Christmas–not that the secular “Christmas spirit” is sinful, if it doesn’t interrupt the joy of Christ’s birth.
The true joy of Christmas is that God, whom I hated and put to death, comes to serve me–on the cross and in the Divine Service. And then He graces me by making me like Him, so that I gladly serve.
When we receive Christ by repentance and faith, the fruit is that we become donkeys.
On the one hand we become asses and fools before the world. St. Paul said this: “We are the offscouring of the world… If anyone thinks he is wise, let him become a fool.” In the world’s eyes it was foolish to come empty handed into the midst of a den of vipers and thieves and preach repentance–to come gently to serve His enemies.
We also become donkeys in that the burden we carry is Christ–an easy burden and a light yoke. Just as that donkey became the servant of the world in bringing the Lord to Jerusalem, so do we in our callings.
Our callings are very ordinary. We are called to serve in mostly non-ostentatious ways; as fathers and mothers, employees, pastors and parishioners.
Yet in these callings Christians carry Christ; we become His coworkers and co-regents. WE participate in His reign. See, our King comes gently to serve the daughter of Zion and also the unfaithful, ungrateful world. So may He use us, who are rightfully His, as His donkeys who, unthanked and unnoticed, carry the Son of God in His mission to bring blessing and salvation to our neighbors.
Your Zion strews before you green boughs and fairest palms
And I too will adore you with joyous songs and psalms.
My heart shall bloom forever For you with praises new
And from Your name will never withhold the honor due.