December 1, 2013
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Around 550 years before the first Palm Sunday, Zechariah prophesied the way in which Jesus would come to His people. “Behold, your King is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey, and upon a colt, the foal of a donkey” (v 5). The first word of this prophecy is significant. He says, “Behold,” “Look.” But how can you behold the invisible God?
Zechariah’s prophecy is also a promise that God will make Himself visible, manifest. And He does so by taking on human flesh. Though to human eyes He looks like any other man, to the heart that is enlightened by the Holy Spirit in faith, He is the way to behold God. And when you behold Jesus, you behold Him in a way quite unexpected for the all-knowing, all-powerful God of creation.
Behold, your King is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey, and upon a colt, the foal of a donkey. The first thing you see about your King is that there’s not a whole lot to see. He’s not very impressive. Pretty ordinary, in fact. He doesn’t exceed the standard deviation with respect to looks, or strength, or standing in society. When He makes His final entrance into the Holy City, the King’s city, He doesn’t choose a warhorse or a chariot like other kings might. It’s a donkey—an animal that’s remarkable for being unremarkable.
The image that we have of God in our heads and the image that He presents in the flesh are at odds with one another. American Protestantism has become very creative at reimagining Christ, because He’s just so plain in real life. If you know the right places to look, you can find Jesus action figures so that you can have your own Jesus adventures, maybe sending Him out with a platoon of G.I. Joes for battle. One of my favorites is a picture of Jesus on the cross. Only the picture is not of a suffering servant. This particular Jesus has pecs chiseled by Biogenesis and when He flexes His guns the arms of the cross break off.
These are perhaps crass examples, but they illustrate the way we desire to see God. We want a God who’s bigger than our problems, stronger than our bullies, and triumphant over our enemies. We want a God who’s so great, so strong, and so mighty, there’s nothing that God cannot do. And against this desire is the cry of Zechariah: Behold, your King is coming to you, humble and mounted on a donkey, and upon a colt, the foal of a donkey.
The donkey isn’t a random choice, or simply an outward show of humility. The donkey is a very deliberate choice by our Lord—not just because of the prophecy, but because it says something about His very nature, about what shape His humility takes. The donkey is a beast of burden, and his load is more than just a man. For he bears the One who bears the sins of the world on His shoulders. Christ Himself is a beast of burden, shuttling your sins before the priests, before rulers, before His own Father. He bears those sins to the cross.
Behold your King’s humility. Taking the form of a servant, He humbled Himself to death, even death on a cross. He’s not just a humble guy who doesn’t like to take credit for things. His humility is that He rides that donkey to the cross. Behold Jesus, your humble King.
The New Testament writers are often very liberal in their quotations of the Old Testament. Sometimes they conflate two seemingly disconnected verses from very different parts of the Old Testament; sometimes they leave out details. This prophetic quotation does both of these. Except it’s not as if Matthew is trying to rewrite the Old Testament for his own devices, but that in the minds of those who are familiar with these prophecies, these pithy quotations should bring to mind the entire context—so the hearer sort of fills in the blanks.
Well, today the preacher’s going to fill in those blanks. What Matthew leaves out of his quotation is that this humble King who is mounted on a donkey is the One who is righteous and having salvation. Why does he leave it out? Probably because the crowd makes it obvious what Jesus is coming to do. They cry out, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who is coming in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
First, hosanna. Hosanna is a word that means, “Save us!” The crowds who went before and behind Jesus were shouting these words, which they learned from Psalm 118. The salvation that Jesus came to bring wasn’t an earthly victory over occupying forces in Jerusalem. His salvation is that for which He is named. You will call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins (Mt 1:21).
Your salvation is in the particular, cruciform humility of Christ. He humbled Himself to the point of riding a donkey into Jerusalem, to the point of enduring false accusations and mockery without answering a word, to the point of torture and execution. He humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on a cross. But God has exalted Him. From the grave, Jesus is risen to life again with victory over death and the grave. And when He ascended to His seat at the Father’s right hand, He led a host of captives, just as Isaiah also prophesies, Tell the daughter of Zion, “Look, your salvation is coming. See, His reward is with Him, and what He has earned goes ahead of Him” (Is 62:11 AAT).
The crowds went before Him and after Him into Jerusalem. So also the crowds go before Him and after Him into His spiritual kingdom. He leads you—captive by faith in His Word—to His eternal kingdom. You are His peculiar possession, peculiar because you were bought, not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood, and with His innocent suffering and death. That you may be His own. He is your King, and He has your salvation. Hosanna to the Son of David. Hosanna in the highest.
Your salvation is with Christ, your king, because He is the Righteous One. One of the great ironies of the New Testament is that it took a Gentile, pagan soldier to first realize this. One of the centurions at the foot of the cross, having witnessed Christ’s last breath, glorified God and said, Truly, this Man was righteous (Lk 23:47). The soldier watched an innocent man die—innocent not only of the trumped up charges against Him, but of any sin.
Yet He died the death of a sinner. His righteousness is not only in following the letter of the Law, but also its spirit. Owe nothing to no one, except to love each other, for loving another has fulfilled the Law, St. Paul writes to the Romans (Rom 13:8). It’s not your love that fulfills the Law (though you are not free to be unloving). It’s the love of Christ. O Love how deep, how broad, how high, that God, the Son of God should take, a mortal’s form for mortals’ sake.
Christ is the One who fulfills the Law by His all-encompassing love, the love that drove Him into the flesh, the love that drove Him to the cross. He is the Righteous One because He is the One who loved another more than Himself. He is the innocent One who died in place of the guilty.
Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest. Blessed is He. Blessed is He. Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. Hosanna, hosanna, hosanna in the highest! The hymn of Palm Sunday is also your hymn before communion. Each Lord’s Supper you join your voices with the Palm Sunday crowds and shout for Jesus to bring you salvation, to save you from your sins. And He does. Our Lord has a way of choosing humble means of transportation. But it’s not a donkey that He rides to you, it’s bread and wine. Mounted on circle of baked grains, He comes to you, righteous and have salvation. Look. Look to the Sacrament, and you will see your King. He comes in humility. He comes with salvation. He comes as your Righteousness.
In Jesus, You Behold God in His Righteousness and Humility
Blessed is He who comes in the + name of the Lord. Amen.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard