The First Sunday in Advent
December 3, 2023
The King Shall Come—
He is Coming to Save Us!
1As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, 2saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ tell him, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’ ”
4They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, 5some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” 6They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. 7When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. 8Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. 9Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,
“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
10“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”
“Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (NIV1984)
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
When you heard that our Gospel Lesson for this morning was also our sermon text, did you perhaps scratch your head and wonder why? Why is the familiar account of Palm Sunday the focus of our attention on the First Sunday in Advent? While that would be a legitimate question to ask, the answer does not surprise us at all. The entire Christian church year either moves toward Good Friday and Easter or it flows out of the cross and the resurrection of our Savior. The First Sunday in Advent not only marks the beginning of a new church year, but it also serves to once again point God’s people toward Calvary. (Pointing to the cross) While generally speaking the entire season of Advent has to do with our Lord’s coming into this world, the portion of Scripture that serves as our text for today answers the specific question of why— why did God’s Son come into our world?
As we begin this new church year we are going to follow a new sermon series. The overall theme of this series is: The King Shall Come! In keeping with the historical purpose of the First Sunday in Advent let’s study our text under the theme: The King Shall Come— He is Coming to Save Us!
Mark sets the scene for us this morning when he says in the opening words of our text, “As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives….” This was Jesus’ final journey to Jerusalem. The villages of Bethany (the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus) and Bethphage were on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives— the side away from Jerusalem. Jesus and His disciples would need to go through them on their way to Jerusalem. The sight of these two villages was a clear sign to them that they were nearing the goal of their journey. They also served as a visible sign to Jesus that He was about to reach His goal— His reason for coming into this world. (Pointing to the cross)
The fact that Jesus knew He was about to reach His goal is brought out very clearly when Jesus said to two of His disciples, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone askes you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ tell him, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”
This is the first time in the Gospel of Mark that Jesus refers to Himself as “the Lord.” This undoubtedly had a far more powerful impact on Jesus’ first disciples than it has on us. They knew that “the Lord” is the great “I AM,” the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Since they believed that Jesus is indeed “the Lord” they humbly obeyed Him— without question, without doubt, without any objections.
The instructions that Jesus gave to His disciples reveal to us that Jesus was in complete control of the events of His life. Since He knew that He was about to reach His goal (Pointing to the cross) He wanted to make it undeniably clear to everyone that He is the fulfillment of all the Messianic prophecies that God’s people had been holding near and dear to their hearts for so many centuries! Anyone who knew their Old Testament Scriptures knew the Messianic prophecy of Zechariah, “See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:19).
Now look at verses four to six of our text. The fact that everything unfolded exactly as Jesus said it would is a good reminder for us. It’s a good reminder for us to not only listen to what Jesus tells us on the pages of His holy Word, but it is a good reminder to us to do what He tells us. It’s also a good reminder to us that we can trust the One who knows all things at all times.
The next portion of our text is not only very familiar to us, but it is also where we get our theme for today: The King Shall Come— He is Coming to Save Us! Jesus is not just a king. Jesus is not just our King. Jesus is the King. Unlike earthly kings who rise and fall over the course of time, unlike earthly kings who rule by might and are wrapped in majesty, Jesus is a humble King. He rode into the beloved city of Jerusalem on the back of a donkey with just that one goal— “to save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
While we can’t say for certain that everyone in this joyous procession knew that Jesus is the King who is coming to save us— and all people— the words which they proclaimed are beautiful, clear and completely appropriate. Here is where we need to remember that the great crowd of people had come to Jerusalem to celebrate— the Passover! The city of Jerusalem was literally overflowing with people who were preparing to sacrifice their Passover lambs in remembrance of how the Lord their God saved His people from slavery in the land of Egypt.
We, of course, know that it was certainly not by accident that Jesus made His final journey to Jerusalem during the celebration of the Passover. The backdrop of celebrating how the Lord saved His people from slavery through the blood of the Passover lamb is elevated to its highest level as the crowds of people proclaimed, “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!”
These words were automatically filled with so much meaning for God’s Old Testament children that we need to unpack them so that they carry the same meaning for us, God’s New Testament children. “Hosanna!” is a Hebrew word that very literally means, “Save us now!” Over the course of time “Hosanna!” became an expression of praise, as in “Praise to you!” For three years God’s people had heard Jesus proclaim God’s Word to them. For three years God’s people saw the power that Jesus of Nazareth possessed. No ordinary human being could perform the many miracles that Jesus performed. That’s why Jesus deserves to be praised! He is the only One who has the power to “save us”!
No matter whether the crowds were praising Jesus or calling out to Jesus, “Save us now!” what they were expecting Jesus would do for them is clear when they say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” These words are taken from Psalm 118. In Psalm 118 God’s king— most likely great King David— urges God’s people to give thanks to the LORD, the great “I AM” for His unfailing love. David describes how he won a great victory with the Lord’s help. The king’s life had been in great danger. He was in anguish— surrounded by his enemies on every side. He had been pushed back and about to fall. Yet the king did not base his hope for victory on the size of his army or the strength of his warriors, or any alliances he might have made with other kings. Just as he did when he faced the giant Goliath, David once again openly proclaimed that he won the victory “in the name of the LORD,” that is, trusting in the LORD’s promises David relied on the LORD to help him. And now, now King David is coming to the Temple to praise the LORD his God for giving him the victory, to praise the LORD his God for saving him!
It’s not hard to see why the crowds on Palm Sunday used these words in reference to Jesus as He entered into the beloved city of Jerusalem. They were under the false impression that as the King, as the son of David, Jesus would get rid of the hated Romans and restore “the kingdom of our father David.” So no matter whether they shouted “Hosanna!” in its original sense of “Save us now!” or whether they shouted “Hosanna!” in the sense of “Praise be to you!” this crowd was excited about Jesus restoring the nation of Israel to her ancient position of power and prestige, glory and independence.
What would we like to see Jesus restore, my friends? Do we wish that Jesus would come and “save us” by restoring our country to the way we think we remember it? Do we wish that Jesus would come and “save us” by restoring the “good ‘ol days”? Do we wish that Jesus would come and “save us” by restoring the dreams we once had for our life— the dreams of a great job and a comfortable retirement? Do we wish that Jesus would come and “save us” by restoring the sense of security we had before 9/11? What do you wish that Jesus would come and restore for you?
A far better question to ask is not what do we want Jesus to restore, but what do we need Jesus to restore? That’s the question that the original understanding of the word “Hosanna!” answers quite well! We need Jesus to “save us” by restoring our relationship with the LORD, the great “I AM,” the one and only living God! We need Jesus to “Save us!” from the power of sin, death and the devil by taking away all of our sins. That’s what the season of Advent gives us an opportunity to contemplate. That’s why we are studying this Palm Sunday text on the First Sunday in Advent!
There is tremendous value in having an opportunity to review and remember that that the central message of the season of Advent is that the true Son of God was born into this world as the true Son of Man specifically so that He could humbly ride on the back of a donkey into the city of Jerusalem— the city where the Temple of the Lord was located, the city where countless sacrifices were offered up to the God of heaven to pay for the sins of God’s people. There is tremendous value in having an opportunity to review and remember that as the perfect Passover Lamb Jesus willingly and deliberately offered Himself up on the altar of the cross so that He could be “the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).
With that valuable opportunity in mind I’d like to share with you something that I ran across while I was studying this text. It addresses a question that one of my grandsons loves to ask me— what if? What if Jesus had decided to deviate from the Father’s Plan for our salvation? What if Jesus did not come “in the name of the LORD”? What if He had come some other way? He could have. As He Himself said to Peter, He had the angel armies of heaven at His beck and call. (See Matthew 26:53) What if instead of riding into Jerusalem on the back of a humble donkey, He chose to sit on top of a majestic war stallion or riding in a magnificent royal chariot? What if Jesus decided that He was going to use His divine power to force the world to obey Him, to force the world to proclaim Him King? It would have been no problem for Jesus to demand the obedience of all— including the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Teachers of the Law. But would He have won the hearts of the people— including ours? Would the Scriptures have been fulfilled? The first time He came into this world the Lord Jesus could have literally wiped out all disease and created a kingdom right here on this earth where bread was free. He had that power. But, mankind’s real problem would have remained. The spiritual battle would have been conceded to Satan. People like us would still be dying in our sin. People like us would still be condemned to spend eternity banished from God’s presence, banished from God’s grace, banished from God’s joy.
That’s why Jesus followed His Father’s Plan. That’s why Jesus humbly rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. That’s why Jesus’ goal was— to suffer and die on the cross of Calvary’s hill. Jesus came into our world as our true Brother to fight and conquer our real problems. He came to wage war on our behalf against the spiritual enemies that so easily overpower us— sin, death and the devil. He came “in the name of the LORD” to “save us”! The result? The result is— Victory! Victory over the sting of death; victory over the consequences of sin; victory over Satan himself. And through faith in what our King Jesus has done for us (Pointing to the cross) His victory is our victory for all of eternity!
“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!” From our perspective as the New Testament children of God we marvel at how well those words capture Jesus’ mission here on this earth. No matter what anyone says or thinks Jesus is so much more than a great example or a wise teacher. Jesus is the only One who had the ability to bring with Him “the kingdom of our father David.” Jesus’ Kingdom is not the kind of kingdom the Palm Sunday crowds were expecting, but it is the only Kingdom we need! Jesus’ Kingdom is the only Kingdom that will last into all of eternity! Jesus’ Kingdom is the only Kingdom where we poor, mortal, sinful human beings can cry out to Jesus, “Hosanna— save us!” and He responds by saying, “I already have!” (Pointing to the cross)
“It’s hard to believe that we are already in the season of Advent!” Have you heard anyone speak those words? I have! Have you expressed that sentiment? I have! We all know that Advent is an extremely busy time of the year. There are projects to complete, appointments to keep, and commitments to honor. There are parties to plan, gifts to purchase and cards to send. My prayer this morning is that you will also see the Season of Advent as kind of like a spiritual speedbump— a time to slow down and recognize that the Season of Advent gives us an opportunity to re-focus both our hearts and our lives on this glorious truth: The King Shall Come— He is Coming to Save Us! “Hosanna in the highest!”
To God be the glory!