Jean’s Gospel: Behold Your King is Coming to You
In many Western Church traditions, this past Sunday marked the first Sunday in the season of Advent, which is from the Latin word for “coming,” and describes the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
“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!’ ” (Matt 21:1-9)
Through the prophets God promised the Jews a Messiah (i.e., Anointed One, Christ, King). These prophets foretold how the Messiah would appear on earth, establish His kingdom, and save His people. Here in Matthew’s Gospel, the Evangelist has recorded Jesus fulfilling one such messianic prophesy, this one by the Prophet Zechariah, which foretold the coming of their King to Zion (see Zach 9:9).
The Jewish religious authorities were well aware of the messianic prophesies. Recall, for example, Herod’s inquiry: “and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet’ ” (Matt 2:4-5). The problem was that the religious authorities misled their people into looking for a messiah who would come after the fashion of an earthly king – in power and splendor, who would conquer the Romans and establish an earthly kingdom. Thus most of the people in Jerusalem were offended by the arrival of a “humble” Galilean seated on an ass (no armor, saddle or bridle), receiving adoration reserved for an earthly king.
“Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he,” (Zech 9:9)
The Prophet, however, tells us something unique about this King. He is the Righteous One and Savior. The Messiah brings righteousness and salvation. “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” (Isa 53:11) What earthly king can bear our sins or make us righteous before God? This is the office of Christ our King – to atone for our sins; defeat the devil; conquer death; and bestow eternal life to all who believe in Him. Jesus fulfilled Zechariah’s prophesy in broad daylight, putting everyone on notice that “Behold, your king is coming to you”.
“Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matt 22:21)
Jesus leaves other kings in possession of their earthly kingdoms. He does not rain down fire from heaven on people who reject Him (Luke 9:54-55). Jesus, on the other hand, brings a “kingdom not of this world” (John 18:36), a kingdom of grace.
Neither is Jesus a turn-around specialist or fix-it King for earthly kingdoms. Jesus operates by means of death and resurrection. The present age was judged at Golgotha and is passing away. The resurrection and a new heaven and earth await everyone who places their trust in Christ. Unlike all earthly kingdoms, the kingdom of God is eternal.
Luke tells the story of a rich man dressed in royal purple who feasted sumptuously every day, while poor, miserable Lazarus lay at his gate covered in sores, longing to eat the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table (see Luke 16:19-31). Despite outward appearances, Lazarus was a citizen of Christ’s kingdom who, though suffering during his earthly life, inherited eternal life. By contrast, the rich man had the appearance of righteousness – wealth and power in his earthly life, but was powerless in death to justify himself before God.
“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.’ ” (Matt 21:5)
The Evangelist included Zechariah’s prophesy in his Gospel for our benefit and as a solemn warning: Here is your Christ: humble, that is gentle and lowly; riding on an ass, that is without pomp, glory, earthly power, fame or wealth. If you look for a savior with a golden crown, splendid apparel, earthly fame, wealth or power, you will not find the Christ. Your Christ is a man “despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa 53:3).
This is the foolishness of the cross. The Father’s only begotten Son humbled himself so that His Father would exalt us to sonship. To quote a pastor friend: “The theology of the cross is the paradoxical theology of the law and the gospel. The cross is both law and gospel, both the cursed tree and the tree of life. It is the death of God and the life of man, the punishment for our sin and sin’s atonement.” (William M. Cwirla)
“Say to the daughter of Zion,” (Matt 21:5)
As children of Adam, we see the world like the Jews did. Our corrupted eyes and reason are just as offended at the sight of a Savior coming on an ass as were the Jews of Jerusalem. Therefore, we must repent and shut the eyes of the old Adam who will not behold Christ lying in a manger, riding on an ass or hanging helpless on a cross. Instead we must listen. Our Christ comes to us through the ears: “Say to the daughter of Zion”. Our Christ comes “to you” through proclamation of the Word which faith receives.
The Evangelist rephrased Zechariah’s prophesy, which begins “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!” to read: “Say to the daughter of Zion”. Christ comes to us not through our sense of sight, but through the words of the Gospel proclaimed for us: “Behold, your king is coming to you.” Our Savior works powerfully in us through the living Word, by which He forgives sins, heals the sick, expels demons, tramples the devil, and raises the dead.
Therefore, let us rejoice this Advent season in reflection on the coming of Christ our King, who came for us in His incarnation; who comes to us now through His Holy Word and Sacraments; and who will come again for us at the end of the age.
“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” Amen.