First Sunday in Advent
November 30, 2008
Text: Mark 11:1-10
“Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down” cries the Prophet Isaiah (64:1; ESV). And such is the cry of every Christian. For only if the Savior of the nations comes, only if He stoops down to us, only if He takes on our flesh and becomes one with us, will we be saved. Come, Lord Jesus, we pray. Amen. Come quickly. Come and deliver us. For we have destroyed ourselves with our sin. “Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities” (vv. 5-7). O Lord, reveal Yourself to us as a gracious Savior. Come to us and deliver us. For without You, we perish.
The people of God long for the coming of Jesus. The people of God in the Old Testament longed for the coming of Jesus for several thousand years. Ever since Adam and Eve committed the original sin and so plunged creation into the fall, the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth, groaning for deliverance from sin, from death, from the devil, from hell. Ever since God promised our first parents that He would send the Seed of the woman to crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15), the people of God have waited, and prayed, and cried out to their God for the fulfillment of the prophecy. “Be not so terribly angry, O LORD, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people” (Is. 64:9). “Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved” (Ps. 80: 7). Have mercy, O Lord. Send the promised Messiah, the Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. And then, “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4). He came as a little baby, the Word becoming flesh and making His dwelling among us, that we might behold the glory of God, the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). He was born of the Virgin Mary in a little stable in Bethlehem, and the angels lauded His coming. He grew in wisdom and stature. He lived a holy life before God, without sin, perfectly fulfilling the Law of God, all as Paul says, to redeem those who were under the Law, to redeem sinners, to redeem you and me. For His righteousness was to be given away. The Lord had heard the cries of His people. He had answered their prayers. The Lord God had rent the heavens and come down to bestow His righteousness, His justification, His salvation on the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. The Seed of the woman, the Seed of Mary, had come to crush the serpent’s head. “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” (Zech. 9:9b).
So it is that Jesus is greeted with shouts of “Hosanna!” as He enters the holy city of Jerusalem. Hosanna, a cry of exultation, but with a meaning: “Save us!” There’s that cry of the Prophet Isaiah again. There’s that longing of God’s people for His deliverance. And here is Jesus, riding into Jerusalem, just as God through the Prophet Zechariah said the Messiah would: “behold, your king is coming to you… humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” The people of Jerusalem recognize the triumphal entry of their King, the Son of David, into the royal city. They spread their palm branches and their cloaks on the road before Him, a royal highway. It is a plea that Jesus would stop and come down from the donkey and bestow His salvation upon them here and now. And all the while the people are shouting their praise and their prayer, “Hosanna! Save us, Lord.” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”
The Lord rends the heavens wide and comes down to His people. He meets them in their sin and wretchedness. He heals their diseases. He gives sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf. The lame walk and the poor have the Good News preached to them. Jesus raises the dead. And He forgives sins. Only God can forgive sins. Here God in the flesh has come for this very purpose. He has come to forgive, to save. When Jesus rides into the city in our text, He is riding to His death. He knows what will happen this holy week. Yet He goes willingly, in love, for you. He takes the sins of the people upon Himself. He bears those sins all the way to Calvary. As heavy as the Roman cross may have been upon His back, it was nothing in comparison with the weight of our sin. Jesus of Nazareth, the Seed of the woman, the promised Christ, bears all the weight of all the sins of all people of all time and all places in His body on the tree of the cross. He is nailed to the cross to suffer the punishment we deserve. He suffers hell itself in our place. He bears the wrath of God so that you and I don’t have to. Beloved, Advent, which means “coming,” is all about the coming of God in the flesh to suffer and die on Good Friday. God has heard our cry, “Hosanna! Save us!” Your King has come, to be crowned with thorns, to be enthroned on the cross, to die. And in His death He has purchased you to be His people, His beloved subjects. The price on your head was God’s blood. And God so loved you that He sent His Son to pay the price of your ransom in full.
But beloved in the Lord, the death of Jesus on the cross is not the end of the story, as you know full well. Christ is risen. And here is the Good News for you, the Promise beyond all expectation: Your Lord still comes to you. He comes to you continually. He has not left you as orphans. He comes to you now, today, here, in this place. He comes in His blessed Word and Sacraments. What grace! For you still need Him. You still cry Hosanna. For even though the war has been won, sin has been conquered, hell has been defeated, Satan’s head crushed, and death mortally wounded… even though Jesus has conquered these, your greatest enemies, you still battle in the flesh. You still suffer. You still suffer from sickness and disease. You still sin, and you still suffer the consequences of sin. The devil still tempts you and accuses you and seeks to devour you. Your loved ones still die, and unless the Lord hastens His second coming, you will have to die, too. Yes, even though Jesus has come as Savior, you still pray Hosanna. You still pray for your salvation. You still pray that Jesus would come to you. And He does. He comes in the way He has promised, in His holy Word preached and read, in the absolution, in your Baptism, in the Supper of His body and blood. In all of these ways Jesus bestows on you all the benefits of His life, His death, His resurrection. He makes you God’s own child. He pours out His Holy Spirit upon you. He gives you His righteousness. He forgives your sins. Through these means of grace, Christ comes to you and dwells with you.
And He will not leave you to suffer forever. He will come to you in yet another way. He will come again, visibly, on the Last Day, to deliver you and the fallen creation. On that Day He will raise all the dead from the grave, and He will judge. Those who believe in Him will receive eternal life in a new heaven and a new earth. Those who do not believe in Him will receive eternal punishment in hell. But beloved, because Christ has come as your Savior, and because He comes to you continually in His Word and Sacrament to give you His gifts, you need not fear this Judgment. There is only one possible verdict for those in whom Christ dwells and who dwell in Christ. That verdict is innocent, more than that, righteous. Not account of your works. No, you have no righteousness of your own, nothing remotely righteous within you. But on account of Christ. You are righteous with His righteousness. This will be a day of great rejoicing for you. When the Lord Jesus returns in the glory of His Father with the holy angels, you will rejoice greatly, for you will know that God has come to restore you, to deliver you from sin and death once and for all, to make all that is wrong in the world right again. You will know that the Lord is rending the heavens to come down and save you, and that the salvation Jesus won for you on the cross in His first coming, the salvation that He has continually given you in Word and Sacrament throughout your earthly life, will finally be revealed in all its fullness, fulfilled in all its glory. So you continue to pray, “Hosanna!” You continue to pray that the Lord would rend the heavens and come down. You continue to cry with God’s people of all ages, “Come, Lord Jesus! Come quickly!” And in the meantime you trust. You trust Him, and you listen to His Word, and you come to His Table. You live each day confidently in your Baptism. You wait in hopeful and joyful expectation. And you prepare to celebrate another Christmas, knowing that the King born in Bethlehem “will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:8). In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.