Saturday, November 30, 2013

Rejoice Greatly, O Daughter of Zion

Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’” The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” And when he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee” (Matthew 21:1-11).

There is a children's song sometimes used to teach Kindergartners about Advent. The children are supposed to learn the words, "Advent is the time of waiting, waiting/Advent is the time we wait for him; Advent is the time of waiting/We also have to wait for...." The children are supposed to then say something that they have to wait for. The answers I tend to get are things like "lunch" and "cupcakes". Advent, however is much more than simply a time of waiting for something trivial like a snack. It is certainly a time of waiting, but it is also a time of preparation - preparation to celebrate Jesus' first coming at Christmas, as well as his second coming at the end of the age. The word Advent comes from the Latin "adventus", which means "coming".

The text from Matthew 21 culminates with Jesus coming to Jerusalem. Jesus and his disciples begin going up to Jerusalem in Matthew 20. This is after the large crowds had followed him into the region of Judea beyond the Jordan River from Galilee[1]. The crowds had been healed and had witnessed miracles. Jesus taught them and his disciples through parables. The Pharisees disputed with him and, most significantly, Jesus had told his disciples exactly why they were going to Jerusalem:

As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day.” And they were greatly distressed (Matthew 17:22).

Jesus was going up to Jerusalem to die. He and his disciples had gone up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, and for other feasts, before. This time, however, Jesus was going to die. He told his disciples this and they didn't understand. They didn't understand that Jesus was the true Passover lamb for whom they had been waiting[2], and that all the Passover lambs they had eaten during their lives were shadows of Jesus[3]. They didn't yet understand that Jesus was the propitiation for their sins, and the sins of the whole world[4], foretold by the prophets of old. They didn't understand that Jesus, who was true God in human flesh, would be that propitiation for sin by dying a horrible death hanging on a Roman cross, and that he would defeat sin, death, and the devil once and for all by his resurrection from the dead[5]. They understood that they were going to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, as they had done before, but they did not understand that they had brought with them the true Passover lamb, for which the faithful had waited since man had been cast out of the Garden of Eden.

Matthew explains to us why the donkey is significant; it fulfills Old Testament prophecy. Zechariah wrote:

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, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey (Zechariah 9:9).

The coming king of Zion would not enter his city as the triumphant conqueror. He would not be clad in armor, seated atop a strong and noble steed, with a mighty army at his back. Zechariah wrote that the coming king, the Messiah, who would speak peace to the nations, who would rule from sea to sea, who would set the captives free because of the blood of his covenant and save his people, would be humble and would come to his people riding on a humble donkey.

Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem claims an authority that the people of that time and place would have quickly recognized. By entering Jerusalem in this way, Jesus was recreating the kind of royal inauguration experienced by Solomon, also David’s son and king of Israel. Jesus was, by his actions here, announcing that he, the King of Israel, had arrived in Jerusalem. The crowds that were with him hailed him in the appropriate manner. Kretzmann writes the following about Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem as told by Matthew:

But the climax of the exultation was reached at the summit of the Mount of Olives. Here the ranks of the early singers were swelled by great crowds of newcomers, and while the latter turned and marched ahead, the others followed behind the Lord. And in antiphonal shouting the joyous acclaim of the people rose up to heaven as they chanted sections from the great Hallel, with the doxology used on great festivals, Ps. 118, 25. 26. They openly proclaim Him as the Son of David, as the true Messiah, they wish Him blessing and salvation from above. Far and wide, the people joined in this demonstration in honor of the lowly Nazarene (Kretzmann, 1921).

Hosanna means “help” or “save”; a plea for divine help or deliverance, found frequently in Psalms 113 – 118, that became a general acclimation (Engelbrecht, 2009). The crowds hailed Jesus as savior and king, and the Pharisees became worried that the world was going after him[6]. Unfortunately the people, like the Pharisees and even the disciples, were expecting a political savior who would establish the nation of Israel in the physical world by force, delivering them from the tyranny of the enemies around them such as Rome. This praise Jesus received from the fickle crowds would vanish. They would come to realize, as Jesus told Pilate, that his kingdom was not of this world[7], and that the prison from which he was going to free the captives would be that of sin and death, not worldly strife and hardship[8]. As Jesus entered Jerusalem, they did not understand that the blood of the covenant by which the King would save his people[9] would not be that of some sacrificed animal, but it would be Jesus’ own blood shed on the cross for the forgiveness of sins.

This Advent we prepare to celebrate the humble arrival of the Christ at Christmas, who took on human flesh and dwelt among his creation. This he did not by some spectacularly glorious process befitting the Almighty Creator of all things, but by being born of a virgin in a cattle shed. He would not be draped in royal purple and surrounded by servants, but would be lying in straw and worshiped by unclean shepherds. This seems to be how Jesus operates. He comes to his people in the time, place, and manner which he chooses, not in the ways we think he should. During this Advent we remember that this is the case not only with his coming to earth as a babe lying in a manger, or with Jesus coming to his people, entering Jerusalem riding on a donkey. We must also keep this in mind as we look forward to his coming as supreme judge of the living and the dead, whose kingdom will have no end:

Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen…When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats…For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil (Revelation 1:7; Matthew 25:31-32; 2 Corinthians 5:10).

As we anticipate and prepare for Jesus' second coming, we can take comfort knowing that he has not left us alone as we wait. He comes to us in bread and wine in the Lord's Supper. He comes to us in water and word in Baptism. He comes to us where two or three are gathered in his name around these gifts of Word and Sacrament, the pledges he has given us, his means of coming to us, creating faith in us, and sustaining us during this time of waiting. We may not know the day or the hour of his second coming, or how it will appear to us as it happens. Still, we wait, as did the faithful of old. Even so, we who believe in him and have thus through faith been justified by his blood on the cross say Lord Jesus, quickly come![10]

Works Cited

Engelbrecht, R. E. (Ed.). (2009). The Lutheran Study Bible. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Kretzmann, P. E. (1921). Popular Commentary of the Bible: New Testament (Vol. 1). St. Louis, MO, USA: Concordia Publishing House.

End Notes

[1] Matthew 19:1-2
[2] John 1:29-34
[3] Hebrews 8:1-7
[4] 1 John 2:1-3
[5] Philippians 2:4-11
[6] John 12:19
[7] John 18:36
[8] Isaiah 61
[9] Zechariah 9:11
[10] Romans 3:21-26; Hebrews 10:19-25; Revelation 1:4-8