“Jesus Comes to Be Our Humble King” (Mark 11:1-10)
While the world is preparing for Christmas, we begin our celebration by hearing about Lent. While the radio plays songs about Rudolph and Frosty and bells that go jingle, you would expect the Church to sing songs about angels and shepherds and a baby wrapped in clothes that swaddle.
Instead, we hear about Palm Sunday. The Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. The beginning of Holy Week at the beginning of Advent. This is always jarring. Always surprising. With one eye on the manger, our other eye is on the cross.
Someone once told me that there is a lot of Lent in Advent. This is very true. There is indeed a lot of Lent in Advent. Like Lent, Advent is also a penitential season. It is important for us to reflect on the reason the Son of God became flesh in the first place. It was not to be a cute little baby who reminds us of all that is pure and innocent. It was not to be a baby born into poverty to give us a lesson on how to care for the less fortunate. It was not to be a great miracle worker. The Son of God became flesh in order to die for us. Jesus Christ died in our place with our sins credited to him so that we could be forgiven and at peace with God. This is the “peace, goodwill toward men” of which the herald angels sang.
So today, this first Sunday in Advent, we hear how Jesus comes to be our humble king riding to his cross.
The humble king rides into Jerusalem on the back of a young donkey. This is to fulfill the word of the Lord given to the prophet Zechariah: “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” (Zech. 9:9). This king does not come in a chariot with soldiers bearing swords and shields. He comes in kindness, with love and mercy and compassion for his people, even the very people who would soon reject him as their king.
This is also another picture of Jesus as the greater Son of David. In 2 Samuel chapter 7, the Lord promised King David that the throne of his son would last forever. Later, in 1 Kings chapter 1, David’s son Solomon is anointed as king. Solomon rode on David’s mule, he was anointed as king to succeed his father, and the crowd cried out “Long live King Solomon!” and “rejoiced with great joy” (1 Kings 1:38-40). But after Solomon’s reign, the kingdom was divided in two. Both the northern kingdom and southern kingdom were eventually destroyed. How could God possibly say that Solomon’s throne was to last forever? In Jesus, the greater Son of David, this is true. Listen to what the angel Gabriel said to Mary: “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:31-33). Jesus is the King who came to rule over all creation in his death, resurrection, and ascension. His kingdom, the Church, is an everlasting kingdom. Even the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
Jesus is our humble king who rides to his death. “Hosanna!” the crowd shouted in Hebrew. “Save us now!” is what it means. What kind of a Savior did they expect? They expected an exalted king, not a humble one. They anticipated a conquering king, not a crucified one. “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” they cried. They wished to see the Messianic kingdom in all its glory. They wanted the king’s armies to defeat Rome and all other enemies of Israel. They wanted to see the king rule from his throne in Jerusalem. They wanted to welcome an era of eternal peace and joy. Nobody expected this would come via a cross and an empty tomb.
What kind of a Savior do we want? One who solves all our problems for us? One who magically takes all our aches and pains away? One who gives us all kinds of earthly goodies? A divine Santa Claus, so to speak? If that’s all we’re looking for in a Savior, then we will be sorely disappointed. Until our Lord’s Second Advent, we still live in this broken world where we endure the consequences of sin. Yet even now, Jesus sustains us in our suffering. The disciple who denied Jesus a few days after Palm Sunday later confidently wrote: “after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Pet. 5:9). Jesus sustains you in your suffering because he has already suffered for your salvation. He has already overcome death for you in his resurrection. He “will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:8). And the gifts of eternity he has in store for you will far outshine any package ever opened on Christmas morning. As St. Paul wrote in Romans 8, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18).
The crowd praised Jesus as the Messiah, even though they misunderstood the nature of his mission. Jesus received the praise of the people. Jesus received their praise and did not silence them, because this was part of the plan to stir up the ire of his opponents who would soon arrest him, put him on trial, and nail him to a cross. They thought the only way to silence Jesus and his followers was to put him to death.
Advent is meant to stir us up. It stirs us up to repentance as we recognize the ways in which our sinful nature is opposed to God and wishes to silence the voice of the Law that shouts “Guilty!” Like cloaks laid upon the dust of the ground and trampled underfoot, “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” Like leafy branches dropped after the procession is over, “we all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away” (Is. 64:6).
But in Holy Baptism, the cloak of Jesus’ righteousness is laid upon you. Your sins are covered over. The Gospel shouts to you, “Forgiven!” The Holy Spirit breathes new life into you, and you now flourish “like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in season and its leaf does not wither” as Psalm 1 describes the man who delights in God's Word (Ps. 1:3).
Advent stirs us up for a proper celebration of the birth of our Savior … our humble King born in a stable with a feeding trough for a cradle.
Advent stirs us up to remember that our King still comes to us today in the humble means of spoken words, water, bread and wine.
And Advent stirs us up to remain watchful and ready for the “the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ,” the day when he returns in glory as our exalted king. Jesus will return still bearing “those dear tokens of his Passion” … the nail marks in his hands … there to remind you that there is no need for fear and trepidation when your King returns. Sing “Hosanna!” Save us now! He has already saved you. It is finished. Lift up your heads, and weep no more.