Savior of the Nations, Come

Text: Mark 11:1-10
Date: Advent I + St. Andrew, Apostle Day + 11/30/08
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI

Having been given another day before the Lord’s final coming or Advent, we must therefore assume another day may turn into another week, another month, another year. And so Holy Church begins to tell the whole story of God’s love for His fallen world, in an orderly way, all over again. And just as Thanksgiving Day parades mark the beginning of some sort of official countdown to Christmas in our American society, so the Lectionary, the appointed scripture readings of the Church, mark the beginning of a new liturgical year with a parade, the Triumphant Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Like a movie trailer Advent lets us view the basic highlights of the Gospel before the movie begins:

(Imagine dramatic music in the background, quickly changing clips of various scenes before our eyes, and a deeper, bass, almost sinister voice, saying:) Jesus’ Shocking Final Coming on a day that cannot be predicted. Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem—the parade that ends in tragedy. Finally, the ancient and touching account of the little infant son of Mary of Bethlehem—Is He also the Son of God? Discover the truth for yourself. Don’t miss “Savior of the Nations, Come,” being told now, each Sunday, from a pulpit near you.

The movie hasn’t started yet. The trailer is aimed at luring people who might be interested. But how shall we tell this story? Think about that person, our potential audience, for a moment—that person who may have little knowledge, exposure or historical or geographical perspective, to whom Jerusalem, Bethphage or Bethany mean little or nothing; the person to whom the idea of needing a savior has hardly entered his mind in the first place, much less the meaning or significance of those strange sounding words, “Hosanna in the highest.” How do we tell this story? Where do we start? And with what sort of words?

This is the year in which we tell and hear the Gospel story from the unique perspective of St. Mark. Mark tells the same story of the Gospel but in his own unique way among the four major Gospel production and distribution moguls including MGM, Matthew-Goldwyn-Mayer, Doctor Luke the Skywalker, and young John, not McCain, not Lennon but Zebedee. Mark is unique, for one thing, because he doesn’t know anything about Christmas! That is, he doesn’t write about it but starts his Gospel with the coming of John the Baptist when Jesus is already about 30 years old! So the lectionary is going to have to have the other three Gospel writers fill in for Mark when we get to December 25. Mark’s is also the shortest Gospel. He seems to be in quite a hurry to get the facts of the Gospel out in the shortest amount of time possible. So, this year, St. John will be given no less than 15 Sundays to help Mark tell the story.

Well, the first thing that needs to be said to anyone who is listening, who has been drawn to listen to the story of the Gospel, is that it is all about a man named Jesus. We can’t say that enough. We said it is the story about God’s love for His fallen world. And the Gospel is that if you want to know anything that is true, certain and sure about God, you need to get to know His Son, Jesus, for this is how the only true God has chosen to reveal Himself to the world. So we should also say that any true, godly, worthy sermon is going to be all about Jesus. Oh, the pastor might mention how faith in Jesus has an effect on the daily concerns of life—our health, family relationships, our jobs or vocations, the problems of living in this world. But if the sermon begins to be all about those things alone and Jesus is rarely mentioned or is not the central, most important part of the message, then the preacher has stopped telling the story of the Gospel. You can’t have the Gospel without Jesus.

Now, at Christmas we will tell of the mystery of the Incarnation. It’s the “name day” of this congregation, The Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word. Even that word is a mystery to people, and so needs to be explained as the process of God, who is pure Spirit, and in this case the Second Person or Son of God coming to earth and taking on our human nature, our flesh and blood being conceived in the womb and born of the Virgin Mary, and named Jesus. God in the flesh is what “incarnation” is all about. You’ll be told why it is so important that Mary was a virgin, and what is the significance of the little town called Bethlehem. Then you’ll be told, briefly, of Jesus early years, the beginning of His earthly ministry starting from His baptism by John in the Jordan River, His ministry of preaching, teaching and healing.

All of this, however, leads to the climax of the story of the Gospel that happens in the holy city of Jerusalem. Why Jerusalem? Jerusalem is where God had His people construct a great temple which served as His promised place of meeting and dwelling with His people. The animal sacrifices God had commanded them to make there were a prophecy, pointing forward to the one, final and perfect sacrifice that would take away all sin and death, namely, the bloody sacrifice of God Himself, in the flesh (“incarnate”!) of Jesus hanging on a cross of crucifixion.

Then you’ll be told of the miraculous account of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, His ascension into heaven, His sending of the Holy Spirit on His people, and finally of His promised return to judge the living and the dead on the Last Day.

But this is why the first word we hear in our liturgical New Year celebration today is of our Lord’s entry into Jerusalem for that final week of His earthly ministry before His crucifixion. Without the crucifixion, without His innocent, bitter, suffering and death on the cross, without Good Friday there is (1) no reason for Christmas, for “incarnation,” for God becoming man in the first place, and (2) therefore no sacrifice for sin, and there can be no Easter, no rising from the dead, no forgiveness of sins. This is why the cross has become the central and most important symbol of the Christian faith. This is why Christian worship, and specifically the sacrament of Holy Communion is described by the Apostle Paul as “proclaiming the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). This is why the sacrament of Baptism, by which you become a Christian, is, as the Apostle calls it, “being baptized into Christ’s death,” and why the daily life of the baptized is called but a daily dying and rising, in repentance and faith, the life, as our Lord called it, of denying self, taking up our cross and following him (Mark 8:34).

So the Lord entered Jerusalem riding in humility not on a mighty steed but on a colt, a young donkey. That he could tell the two disciples he had sent to retrieve the donkey that someone was going to ask what they were doing, what they were then to say, and that they would let them take it at least tells you that Jesus was in complete control of things even up to the giving of His life for us. As He said, “No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:18).

As He entered Jerusalem the people shouted “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!” This was a cheer fit for a king. The Hebrew word has even been preserved so that we can hear it and even shout it ourselves in the liturgy, “Hosanna,” which is the cheer shouted to the king as he comes by, and means, simply, “save, now.” We say and sing that cheer at the Holy Communion because there most dramatically does the King, our Lord, come to us in His body and blood. “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” is Psalm 118:26, spoken, shouted and sung as a celebration of victory from God. Some people may have thought of Jesus in a merely political way, as coming to take over Jerusalem in the name of God and force the hated occupying Roman Empire to leave. At any rate, what was actually happening there in that Holy Week was the final destruction of sin and death and the opening of the Way of resurrection and eternal life, the kingdom of heaven.

The words “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” shows that the people were hoping that Jesus (who was of the house and lineage of the great King David of old!) would be the promised Messiah. They, of course, were right. But that makes an even greater mystery of their being so easily turned against Him in the next few days to be handed over to death.

As we said, the story starts with Christmas and reaches its climax in Lent and Easter. But the story is never complete until it reaches its goal as faith, saving faith in the heart of each and every sinner. This faith makes righteous, justifies, that is makes you right and acceptable to God because He says so. This faith makes a difference in how you deal with your life now, finally able to see everything as the blessing of a gracious God. It is in this faith that we can join the parade and proclaim with joy the coming King, the “Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” Amen! It’s all about Jesus. In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.