The First Sunday in Advent

Divine Service:  Part 1

Divine Service:  Part 2

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Sermon Title:  The Lord Has Need Of A Donkey (Mark 11:1-10)

Happy New Year!  Yes, this Sunday, The First Sunday in Advent, we begin a new church year in our worship cycle.  The term "advent" means "coming."  It is the season of preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ.  Our focus is upon His coming to us as the infant son of Mary in Bethlehem; His coming to us even now in His Word and Sacraments; and His coming again in glory. 

One of the traditions that has developed over the years as part of our preparation for Jesus' coming is the use of the Advent Wreath.  The lighting of the candles symbolizes the age before the coming of Christ, when the light of prophecy concerning the Messiah became brighter and brighter until He, Who is the Light of the World, came.    The purple candles are used to reflect the necessity of being prepared to meet Him through repentance.  The sole pink candle proclaims the common thread found in each of the three readings appointed for the Third Sunday in Advent: joy in the coming of the Messiah. 

Today, through our Gospel lesson we are directed where to look for our coming Savior and how to recognize Him.  It is Mark's account of Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of the week of His crucifixion.  It might seem odd that we should connect this first Sunday in Advent with Palm Sunday, but it really isn't.  After all, where else do we see more clearly just how the Lord and His kingdom come to us?

The manner of our King’s coming to us is epitomized in this phrase:  "The LORD has need of (the donkey)."  We don’t often think of God needing anything.  As Lord of Heaven and Earth, He could come to us in any manner He chooses without any sort of help or assistance. He could come with the power of a fierce storm.  He could come seated in the fiery chariot of heaven.  But, no, the Lord chose to be carried by this lowly beast of burden! 

This is no slight matter.  God never does anything by accident or without purpose nor simply to look cute. His coming astride a donkey teaches us volumes, not only about our Lord God’s whole attitude, but also where we might expect Him to come to us today. 

Making a statement with His ride ought not sound so unusual to any of us.  One of the most important decisions you and I make in life is about what sort of vehicle we wish to ride in or drive.  And its not just because a vehicle is one of the most expensive purchases we will ever make in our lifetimes.  We all intuitively recognize that what we drive says allot about us.  Sure, we might buy a 4-wheel drive pick-up or a van for utility sake because we need it for certain jobs or tasks we need to perform. But we take real careful thought and pride in what we chose for that vehicle that is to be our transport.  If we personally are into frugality, then we will drive the cheapest new or used vehicle we can find and we will drive it until it has nor more life in it.  But if we want to give the impression of success or wealth, then we drive a Lincoln Continental or a Cadillac.  If we want to make a statement about preserving our environment then we will drive the greenest car available.  And, of course, if we are into being macho, then it’s badest, sportiest, 4x4 around. 

Political figures and rulers are especially cognizant of what sort of vehicle they ride in. Even if the Secret Service would let him, what self-respecting president would drive himself around in a Volkswagen Beetle?  No, his ride is a big, black, limousine.  And, of course, he doesn’t do his own driving, he is chauffeured!  It is all about image… how you want people to perceive of you.

In that sense Jesus was no different.  His choice of a donkey makes a big statement. 

And what a statement it is!  I know it sounds strange to us, but Jesus purposely chose to ride into Jerusalem on the “colt, the foal of a donkey.”  It was a deliberate attempt to connect Himself to the reign of King David and to say that He is the Davidic heir to the throne. 

One definitely does not ride the foal of a donkey for comfort, especially Jesus.  This is the only occasion we are ever told Jesus ever rode on or in anything. But among the prophecies concerning the coming of God’s Messiah it is mentioned that the Messianic King would come “meek and lowly and riding on a donkey, even upon the colt of a beast of burden” (Zech. 9:9).  Jesus purposely chose this ride to say that He is that One spoken of in the prophecies. 

Secondly, a precedent had already been well established with the very first successor to David.  In the process of handing over the kingdom to David’s son, Solomon, Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet had Solomon ride David’s donkey while the people heralded their new king:  “Hosanna!  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD.”  Again, Jesus’ choice of ride made the statement that He is the rightful heir to David’s throne. 

The people of Jerusalem caught the message loud and clear!  As Mark notes, the peoplelaid their cloaks down in His path."  This was an ancient custom of acknowledging the rightful heir and king..... the one who has authority  over you...... God's chosen servant.  So for example it is recorded that when Jehu became king,  "Then they hurried and each man took his garment and placed it under him on the bare steps, and blew the trumpet, saying, 'Jehu is king!'" (2 Kings 9:13)

In Jesus’ case, the crowd’s giving of Jesus the royal treatment went even further. Mark, and the other Gospel writers all note that the crowd cut down branches and, as a sign of royalty, waved them before Jesus.  They also sang the ancient hymn found in Psalm 118 and directed to the king, “Hosanna!  (That is:  ‘save us’)  Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the Highest!

Yet, as the prophecy of Zechariah I quoted few minutes ago clearly points out, Jesus’ choice of a ride on a donkey did more than claim the throne of David.  It also testified, to the great disappointment of many in Israel who wanted a king who would bear the sword and lead them in freeing themselves from Roman control, that Jesus would be a completely different kind of king.  The manner of this Messiah King’s rule was that He would be :  “meek and lowly and riding on a donkey, even upon the colt of a beast of burden.”  Jesus’ reign would not be marked by the exercise of authority over others but rather marked by His humble and meek serving of all His subjects.  No gallant war horse for Him.  The beast of burden He rode was a preliminary to the cross of crucifixion on which He Himself would bear the burdens of every sinner. His ride said, “I have come not to be served but to serve and to give my life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45).   He would sport the crown of thorns not a bejeweled crown of gold. 

The apostle Paul has beautifully captured the message of Jesus’ ride.  He wrote:  "Although He existed in the form of God, (He) did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant, and being made in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Phil. 2:6-8).

Jesus’ choice of the donkey also tells us that we can expect Jesus to continue to come through ordinary... humble means to bring Himself and the blessings of His kingdom to us.   It’s only in Hollywood or in the imaginations of people’s hearts that God comes to speak to His people in highly dramatic and spectacular fashion. 

But the reality is that our Messiah and King makes use of “lowly donkeys” to bring Himself and His Word into people’s lives that He might extend His saving reign among them.  Unlike the Law that was thundered down from the holy mountain, the Gospel, the good news concerning Jesus, has always been and continues to be proclaimed in our world through the lowly beasts of burden: simple, ordinary, human beings.  God foretold the coming of His Messianic King through the ordinary lips of weak appearing prophets like Moses, Elijah and John. When the Son of God, The Word of God Himself, came to dwell among us, He came in the womb of a simple, young, virgin.   He, then, called and commissioned simple fisherman and tax collectors to be His "apostles" and proclaim Him on to the world.  He has called and appointed weak, fledgling, men with feet of clay and hearts of lowly sinners to pastor His churches with His Word. 

The apostle Paul, a onetime persecutor of the Church of Christ, said in of himself, "...I did not come to you with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God... I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling... (I Cor. 2). He likewise spoke this word to all God’s people, "For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble;  but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong...." (I Cor. 1:26,27) 

 And think about this, Jesus has even kept His coming into people’s lives so simple and humble that He has chosen to use common people just like us.  He has appointed "us," as believers in Jesus Christ,  “to be His priests, that we might proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light.”   And why such simple and humble means?  The holy apostle replies:  "…we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves...."(2 Cor. 4:7).

And the Lord’s chosen humble means does not end there.  The LORD makes use of donkeys of a different color, as well.  We call them the Holy Sacraments.  He uses ordinary water, empowered by His promise, to wash sinners with His forgiveness and bring the reign of His kingdom to them and, in fact, into His very redemptive work.  Holy Scripture declares;  "Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been… buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in the newness of life..." (Ro. 6:3,4).

Furthermore, the LORD makes use of ordinary bread and wine to bring us Christ's body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.... to bring Himself into true communion with us.  The Lord’s apostle asks rhetorically, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?”  (I Cor. 10:16)

Because God has chosen such humble means of coming, like the Jews of old, many still have difficulty recognizing the coming Savior and look for Jesus and His kingdom in all the wrong places.  They imagine He comes in palaces with military might, worldly glory and honor or in great emotional experiences or in great miraculous gifts or in mystical visions, etc.

As a result they despise water baptism and imagine a "spirit baptism," a kind of heightened "spiritual awakening," which amounts to nothing more than an emotional high!  Not wanting to look for the Saving King and His kingdom in simple bread and wine of The Lord’s Supper, they concoct false notions about His communion with them; that Christ is present only in a spiritual presence but not bodily;  or that Christ doesn't come at all, but the communicant is somehow mystically transported into heaven where Christ is;  or even that Holy Communion is simply a "memorial" meal, nothing more and nothing less.

Still looking for Christ and His kingdom in grand and glorious ways, the world has even transformed Christmas and the story of Christ's first coming.  It is almost as if we are embarrassed by the humility of that first Christmas in a cattle stall.  The story has to be embellished.  The harsh humility of our Savior's entrance is "cleaned up" to be a cute pageant. The story of the incarnation of the Son of God as a gift to the world of sinners is systematically replaced with an exotic and fanciful tale of a yuletide gift giver from the North Pole with miraculous powers.  This worldly glorification has a way of obscuring our Savior’s real glory in the humiliation of His being in appearance as a man of sorrows crucified to save a whole world of sinners.

 However, we dare not look for Christ the King and His Kingdom this Christmas in all the glittering trappings that have become Christmas, for He won't be there.  He still has need of donkeys.   We will find Our Saving King in a cattle's manger..... on the cross of suffering..... in ordinary water connected with God's Word in Holy Baptism … in ordinary bread and wine of Holy Communion … and in the simple yet profound words of the Gospel as they are preached and read by simple, ordinary, men.  Through these humble means He brings us His kingdom of grace and eternal salvation.

This Advent season, and every day of our lives, we sing, "Hosanna! Blessed is he Who comes in the name of the Lord on a donkey to reign among us with His grace!