Who's Calling?


Text: Mark 11:1-11
Date: Advent I + 11/30/14

St. Andrew, Apostle

Today, November 30, is the day every year holy church commemorates St. Andrew, the first to be called by Jesus to be an apostle. A disciple of John the Baptist, one day he heard his master pointing to Jesus saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” Andrew first went and found his brother Simon and together they began to follow Jesus. The tradition is that the new church year season of Advent is determined to begin on the Sunday closest to St. Andrew day. Well, you can’t get any closer than this! So today is also the first Sunday of our new year, the beginning of the season of Advent.

It was John the Baptist who called Andrew’s attention to Jesus. It was then Andrew who called his brother Simon’s attention to Jesus. Today and this year it is Simon Peter, through St. Mark the Evangelist, who continues to call us to continue to follow Jesus. John the Baptist, Andrew, Simon Peter, Mark. But who’s calling, really? Who is it that actually draws people’s attention to God’s plan of salvation and leads them to the feet and faith of Jesus, the only-begotten Son of God? Through John the Baptist, through Andrew, through Peter, through St. Mark and through the Holy Church Throughout the World it is God Himself who calls, gathers, enlightens, Who draws people. And who was it that drew you and is still drawing you? Who has the Holy Spirit used in your life to bring you to Jesus? Probably your parents or a pastor or teacher or even a Christian friend along the way called you to follow and to believe in Jesus as the Savior Who rent the heavens wide; Who came down with mighty stride to unlock the gates and doors of your bondage to unbar the way for you to heaven’s crown (LSB 355:1).

In the season of Advent we speak of the three-fold advent, coming or presence of Jesus. And we have traditionally reviewed this theme “backwards,” if you will, this first Sunday usually speaking about our Lord’s second, final coming. Then we emphasize how our Lord continues to be present among us through the Word and Sacraments. Finally we get serious about preparing for Christmas, the celebration of the Savior’s first arrival on earth.

But what do we hear from St. Mark on this first Sunday? Not the dire or hopeful word of our Lord’s final return, but, of all things, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem that first day of the great and holy week of His suffering and death! I would suggest that this text actually summarizes all three aspects of Advent emphasizing the most important one for us now, namely, our Lord’s advent and presence with us now through His Word and Sacraments and Fellowship of the Church.

Before drawing us to Himself, Jesus was drawn to Jerusalem, the dwelling place of the Most High, actually His own house and home. This is the purpose for which He was born, to transfer the presence of God from a mere building and geographical location and single ethnicity of people, to transfer that presence to Himself, His body and His whole creation.

It was this temple to which His parents brought Him for His presentation after His birth. This is where He said He would be about His Father’s business already at the age of twelve. Today He returns for the final time.

St. Matthew tells us of the Lord’s Triumphal Entry and His cleansing of the temple, vehemently expelling the money changers. St. Luke narrates the same with a few added comments about Jesus’ deep emotion. St. John, too, tells of the event. But it is our Evangelist, St. Mark, who adds an interesting detail that we didn’t hear read this morning and which is found in his Gospel alone. It is the eleventh verse of the chapter where he writes, “And He entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, He went out to Bethany with the twelve.” Why this unusual addition, I wondered?

“And when he had looked around at everything.” What were His thoughts as He surveyed the entrances, the rooms, its courts and altars? One commentator suggests, “The point is rather that Jesus is the Lord of the Temple, who must inspect its premises to determine whether the purpose intended by God is being fulfilled”[1] As God the Son Himself He had received the prayers and worship of generations in this place. Yet what does He see now? A place, He said, now having become “a den of robbers” (v. 17). (I can’t help but remember how, in a previous parish, two people from the finance committee would count and record the offerings during the second half of the second service!) Jesus’ “looking around at everything” the night before is a sort of quiet ending to the entire first part of the Gospel leading to the climactic events of the next few days of teaching in the temple and then His arrest, conviction, bloody death and sorrowful burial.

But what does this all mean? By His passion He Himself would now be the “place,” the one gate, the one court, the one altar in Whom alone the people of the whole world could find God. This rebuilding would happen, of course, through the destruction of the temple of His body on the cross, His death and burial, and His astounding resurrection from the tomb. That’s important to emphasize and to know. But right now we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Jesus came into the holy city riding on a donkey colt as a King bringing the offer of peace. The people chanted the song that welcomed kings. “Hosanna!”, that is, “save now!” “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 is the very song the Church has sung ever since and we sing every time Jesus comes into our presence with His body and blood in the Eucharist. After the song of the angels, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of hosts, heaven and earth are full of His glory,” we sing to the King. It is the custom to make the sign of the cross when we sing “Blessed is He,” for we know Who this King truly is.

So this same Jesus comes among us now. He looks around at everything here. So what does He see? Once Jesus told a parable about His final advent and asked, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8). What does He see when He looks in on us today. Hopefully He sees His Word being preached in its truth and purity, rightly dividing Law and Gospel. Hopefully He sees His last will and testament being faithfully fulfilled as we eat this bread and drink this cup as He commanded. And what does He see when He looks at you? Surely a sinner. He knows that. And we are to admit that. But that does not keep us away in fear. Rather true repentance and faith draws us to Him. So He sees precious lives of His own creation torn and tempted, wounded by all sorts of forces and events resulting from the alien sin surrounding us. But here He hopes to see repentant sinners with emptied, open hearts being filled by faith and every good and perfect gift from above. He sees a family, even members of His own body, coming alive out of the tribulation of sin and suffering and death, bearing crosses, following in His steps in faith, hope and love, on the way, the journey to the new temple, “the new Jerusalem, which comes down from God out of heaven” (Rev 3:12).

On this Saint Andrew Day, on this First Sunday of Advent, our new Church Year, Jesus comes “looking around at everything.” So we gather to look to Him. As the writer of the letter to the Hebrews said it,

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb 12:1-2).

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

[1] William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 398.