Christ our Lord enters Jerusalem in a strange fashion. Most people who went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem would either walk or ride the entire way. But Christ, after walking many miles, stops just short of the city. He then sends for a young donkey to ride. This is an odd thing to do. Why change your mode of transportation at the last moment? He is certainly not saving time because the fetching of the donkey delays Him.
We get an idea why He does this when the Evangelist Saint Matthew reports that this was to fulfill the prophecy that said, “Tell the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your King is coming to you, lowly, and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”
But there is a wrinkle here. This appears to be a prophecy from Zechariah. But that passage begins with the words, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!” That is not what Matthew quotes, although he continues afterwards with the words from Zechariah about being lowly and sitting on a donkey. Instead, the words, “Tell the daughter of Zion,” come from Isaiah 62. So Matthew begins by quoting Isaiah, then switches to Zechariah.
Now, this sort of thing was common in the New Testament. Two prophecies would get blended together into one. Since the subject of both prophecies is usually Christ, then there is no problem with combining them. But why bother at all? Is Matthew, through the Holy Spirit, making a point?
To help make things clearer, the daughter of Zion is the people of Jerusalem. The inhabitants of the city are pictured as a young woman waiting for her king to come. So the people are instructed through Zechariah’s words that when they see Christ coming, they should know that here is their King. Yet at that very moment when Zechariah says that this is an occasion for rejoicing and loud shouting, Matthew borrows Isaiah’s words, resulting in the removal of the instruction to rejoice.
But they are rejoicing. The people are shouting out to Christ as He rides on the donkey. Why remove the words for rejoicing from the prophecy?
Perhaps it is because the people are largely shouting for the wrong reasons. Some of them see Christ as a savior who would drive out the Romans. Others see Him as a prophet, but no more than a prophet. That’s what the crowds were saying in the verses right after this Reading. In spite of the fine words they said as they hailed Christ’s arrival, most did not see Him as the King who comes to save them and redeem them from sin and death.
If they are rejoicing for the wrong reasons, then they are not truly rejoicing at the coming of the King. It is much like those who enthusiastically celebrate the coming of Christmas, but they do not really know what Christmas is about.
To summarize such people, they are those who want the Savior to come to solve their problems right now. They see only the obvious troubles that are right before their eyes. But seldom do people see that Christ comes to solve the deepest and most profound problems.
We are sometimes like that. We get upset, and not unreasonably so, over some of the trials that we must face in this vale of tears. We pray to Christ, “Please help me! Have mercy on me!” And it is right to pray this way. But we may also forget that Christ is a much more important Savior than merely taking care of a problem here and there. He comes to destroy death and atone for all sin. He comes to crush satan’s head and to open the gates of heaven to us. He comes not merely for the problems right in front of our noses, but to solve eternally all of life’s ills and evils.
He is not an earthly king. He is not merely a prophet. He is the Son of David who comes in the Name of the Lord to bring salvation to mankind.
When we approach this Altar for the Sacrament given here, we sing the words of the crowds. As we sing, we should do better than they did. We sing Hosanna to a King who saves us from all our sins. He also happens to raise our spirits and strengthen our weary limbs for this life. We may get a good feeling from receiving the Sacrament. We may feel togetherness and love for our neighbor as we leave the Altar. But if we make these secondary things the only thing we really want, then we are aiming for a king who makes us feel good, or a king who helps us love, or a king who strengthens us. But He is so much more than that. He is a King who has conquered the kingdom of darkness. He is a King who brings mercy to miserable sinners such as we are. He is a King who gave His Body and Blood into death for us, even death on a cross. These primary things must always be foremost in our minds, lest we trade our true heavenly King for a mere prophet or earthly king.
The blind men saw this. Immediately before today’s Gospel, Christ opened the eyes of two men born blind. Before the healing, they had been crying out, “Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David.” Although the words, “Son of David”, sound like what the crowds were saying, the blind men were also crying out for mercy. They wanted healing and expected that Christ was able to give it to them. On top of that, once they were healed they followed Christ. The fact that they were following with Christ is stated by Matthew immediately before our text. Therefore when it says, “When they approached Jerusalem,” the word “they” almost certainly includes the two blind men following with Christ.
So the blind men depended on the mercy of Christ. They expected that He came to miraculously express His mercy. That is how they saw the Son of David. Therefore they also followed Him.
But many of the crowds were not looking for mercy. They came to celebrate Christ’s coming, but not for the grace He came to give to men. Eventually, such people would either come to a realization that Christ was much more than they originally thought, or else they would stop following Him because He did not deliver what they thought He would bring.
Some in the crowd, to be sure, were looking for the redemption of Israel. Some desired the forgiveness of sins that weighed heavily on their conscience and feared the wrath of God that they deserved. But the crowd largely looked for a glorious king or prophet who would make their lives better. Possibly they thought, “Finally! What took God so long to send this prophet?” as if they deserved God’s mercy. But mercy that is deserved is not mercy at all.
So what about us? Are we looking for mercy? Do we think that we deserve it? Or do we realize that we are helpless and hopeless without Christ to rescue us?
When Christ comes to us, He arrives with His gifts, but not like Santa Claus. Santa did not have to suffer to deliver gifts. Santa did not die for you. Christ endures His Passion, His Crucifixion, and then was raised for us. The gifts Christ brings therefore are eternal, unlike the earthly gifts Santa might bring.
Do we recognize that Christ’s gifts of mercy were bought at such a drastic price? Sometimes we push that fact into the back of our minds. We don’t like to dwell on it. There is a part of our mind that wants a King who does not suffer and delivers His gifts to nice people like us who deserve it.
The thinking of our old Adam flinches away from the Savior who comes lowly. The sinful flesh in us wants a glorious King, but not a humble, suffering Slave King. Likewise, this part of us does not want to humble ourselves and beg for the mercy of a Savior who had to die to save us.
Advent has come in the Church. Advent teaches us to prepare for the coming of the true Savior. We remember what we are so that we can see how much we need this coming Lord. Advent teaches us that He does not come on our time schedule and solve our problems when we want them solved. Instead, He comes at the right time, bringing His gifts to repentant beggars. So we take time to learn that we are beggars to prepare for His coming.
This is unpleasant. It is not the joyful celebration of the so-called holiday season that the world is currently celebrating. That shallow celebration does not deliver the Suffering Savior who comes in a lowly way and who gives mercy to beggars.
But He did not come in the manger to be mighty, but to come in the form of a servant. In the divine Service He comes, not for good people or proud people, but for us pathetic beggars. On the Last Day He comes to judge the self-righteous but to lift up the lowly to the highest place. Those who let themselves be like Him in being despised and lowly and downtrodden will see the glory of heaven. Many people would not tolerate carrying a cross because they are too busy worshiping a happy god who makes them happy. Those people will never find the true Savior who rides in humility to offer Himself into torture and death.
Christ is here. Christ is come. The Spirit lead us to worship Him in the best way, by humbling ourselves before Him and praising Him for His mercy which He has poured out on us generously. Amen.
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