Advent 1 Sermon, 2018
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
The car makes the man, some say.
And as president of Uruguay from 2010—2015, José Mujica became known as the world’s poorest head-of-state because he listed, as his only possession of worth, his car—a 1987 Volkswagen Bug.
The car has become famous as a symbol of the man’s austerity. He’s allegedly been offered a million dollars for it—but he “didn’t give it any importance.”
What’s interesting about Mr. Mujica is the difference in accounts of his humility. Some say he gave over 90% of his monthly $12,000 salary to charities. Some say he gave 20% of his salary to his political party. Also, some of his assets are listed in other people’s names—his farm and home at least was in his wife’s name.
I don’t know—but perhaps the image presented is different from the reality.
Or, you may have seen, from the previous popes of the Roman Catholic Church, the various pope-mobiles in which they’d ride—a wall of glass between them and the ordinary, for safety purposes.
But Pope Francis embraces the huddled masses, at his age, not having much to lose, he said.
But doing away with the pope-mobile won favor with people critical of the Roman church—and the various comparisons shown between this pope and previous popes have tried to tell us that this one is different.
But given the worldwide abuse scandals that seem now to be seasonal, and the anathemas, the curses, against those who believe in salvation by grace alone, what has been true is still true—the antichrist is still the antichrist.
If the car makes the man, then so does the steed.
But in the case of Jesus riding a donkey into Jerusalem, the appearance and the reality is the same.
We just don’t like it.
Whereas we admire the austerity of driving a car that was made during the Cold War and the seeming humanitarianism of foregoing glass walls between you and the people you serve, we’d rather our King, Lord, and God ride into town in something better than the equine equivalent of a Ford Festiva.
But the animal on which your King rides tells you about the king. Had Jesus entered Jerusalem on a warhorse, He would have been saying that His kingdom is of this world, but it’s not.
A warhorse suggests conquering strength.
A chariot, speed.
A donkey—and not just a donkey but “a colt, the foal of a beast of burden” (Matthew 21:5; cf. Zech. 9:9)—this working man’s beast suggests the poverty of spirit that Jesus calls blessed—the humility of the meek who will inherit the earth.
It’s not as successful looking. It’s not as showy. It’s not what we would pick for our King and God to ride.
But it does accurately portray the humility of Christ, what He came to accomplish, and who He is for us.
“Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).
A warhorse doesn’t carry a man like that. Nor a chariot. But—though we don’t like it and wouldn’t pick it—a donkey would. And one did.
That God reveals some details and not others can be frustrating—especially when we think the details to be inconsequential. But the details matter. What Jesus rode in on matters. And what the crowd says matters.
Now, that it matters what the crowd said isn’t so surprising. Everything that everyone says matters in the Bible.
But what the crowd says can be understood differently.
“The crowds that went before [Jesus] 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!’” (Matthew 21:9).
What does “hosanna” mean?
When we sing it in the Sanctus, our hymnal includes this definition at the bottom of the page: “Hosanna is a Hebrew word of praise meaning ‘save us now.’”
So, “hosanna” is a request for help, for salvation.
But from what did the crowds desire to be saved?
As we all know that Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem, so we all know that Jesus came to save us from sin, death, and satan.
But then and now, people desired help and salvation from different things.
The gospel is the good news of God’s forgiveness of sin earned by Christ and given by the Word. It is the power of God unto salvation for all who believe (cf. Romans 1).
But some then and some now preach a different gospel.
There are people who won’t go to a church with just a few people in attendance, because it doesn’t look successful.
I watched a video of what was supposed to be a baptism in an LCMS congregation where the pastor advertised the congregation as the 74th fastest growing congregation in the United States.
There are church bodies who allow their members to say and believe anything about Jesus—that He was or wasn’t God, that He was or wasn’t married, that He was or wasn’t crucified, died, buried, descended into hell, and rose on the Third Day.
There are those who’ll allow you to say and believe anything about God, whatever you feel like, but you can’t say or at least publicly believe anything contrary to what that church teaches about gender, marriage, life, and love.
When you sing your hosannas, are you asking God to save you from sin? I trust, hope, and pray so.
But realize that there are churches for whom hosanna is a prayer against income inequality, a prayer against restrictions to child-murder, or a prayer to whatever you believe in that day to save you from whatever you want to be saved from that day.
“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9).
The crowds sing for salvation from sin, death, and satan—and nothing else.
We know this, because they call Jesus the Son of David, and in the New Testament, only faith recognizes Jesus as the Son of David, the righteous Branch raised up, who’ll reign as king and deal wisely.
In His days, we’ll be saved and dwell secure, because the Lord is our Righteousness (cf. Jeremiah 23:5-6).
God has revealed not what we want Him to reveal but He wants to reveal.
And that happens to be—always—what we need.
That it’s a donkey says so much.
That the crowds call Jesus the Son of David says so much.
But what the donkey says—and what the crowds say—don’t matter.
Some say that Jesus is John the Baptist reborn or Elijah or one of the prophets. But Jesus says, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matthew 16:15).
He’s not an austere man who chooses to ride a donkey to win PR points with the world.
He’s the Christ, the King, who enters Jerusalem in humility to shouts of “Save us!” And a few days later, He dies doing just that, saving us from sin.
“Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, [and] you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).
In Jesus’ name, Amen!