“Tell the daughter of Zion, “Behold, your King is coming to you, lowly, and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey/” Matthew 21:5
There are two major religions in this world. There is the religion in which God comes to us to rescue us from the threatening perils of our sins. This is the true religion. It is the religion of the prophets and the apostles. It is the biblical religion. The focus of this religion is Jesus, true God, begotten from the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, who came into this world to rescue us poor, lost, sinners from the consequences of our sins and to set us free to be God’s dear children.
Then there is the false religion, which goes by many names. It often goes under the name of Christianity, though it is anything but Christian. It is the broad way that leads to destruction. The false religion teaches us how we may come to God. It teaches us how to get him to do what we want him to do for us. How to get your god to do what you want will vary from religion to religion, but what all manmade religions have in common is that the burden lies on you. If you want to escape whatever troubles you and find a blessed eternal future, it is up to you to do what is required.
The first religion is a religion of salvation by grace. Your humble king comes to you. The second religion is a religion of salvation by works. You find your way to your king.
We know God in Christ. We sing the Sanctus.
Holy, holy, holy Lord God of Sabaoth
Heaven and earth are full of your glory!
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in highest!
We see God riding a donkey. He is no threat to us. Our sins are the greatest threat. They consign us to judgment, a judgment we richly deserve. Our sins are a terrible enemy. This enemy isn’t out there. He is right here, inside of us, deep down inside. Our king is coming to us to rescue us from the power of sin and the punishment it brings upon us. Our king comes to us. We don’t go out and find him.
Come to Jesus, they say. Invite the Lord Jesus into your heart and make him your own personal Lord and Savior. Come to Jesus and make him the Lord of your life. Give him control. Give him your heart. Then you will experience the fullness of joy and victory over your troubles. As the revivalist hymn puts it:
Visions of rapture
Now burst on my sight.
Come to Jesus and by coming, by yielding, by submitting to him, by giving him your heart and holding nothing back, you will find rest and peace.
Can we argue with this? Shouldn’t we come to Jesus? Isn’t that better than staying away from him? Those who deliberately absent themselves from the services of God’s house because they have better things to do than to come to church and listen to God’s word need to be told to do their religious duty. Don’t they?
Yes, they surely do. Folks who refuse to join in the singing of the Sanctus or any other hymns of praise; who refuse to sit and listen attentively to the sermon; who refuse to come to God’s altar to eat and drink the body and blood of their Savior; who would rather stay away from Jesus than to come to Jesus have no one but themselves to blame for being on the outside looking in. They point the finger at all of the hypocrites in the church, all of the unkindness, all of the sin, but they won’t see the duplicity in their own hearts, their own acts of cruelty, or their own sin. By focusing in on the sins of others and ignoring their own they miss seeing Jesus, the sin bearer, who humbles himself upon a donkey to ride his way to suffering and death on a cross.
But you can come to church, sit in the pew, stand when the congregation stands, kneel when they kneel, sing, pray, and confess – and you cannot bring Jesus into your heart, you cannot make Jesus your Savior, you cannot draw him down from heaven and put him into the bread and the wine, you can’t reach into God’s heart and pull out forgiveness, no you can’t. You can only bring your dying body here to where Jesus is. You can’t make Jesus do anything.
Look! See! Your king comes to you! You don’t make him your Savior. He does that without any help from you. You don’t make him Lord. He is very God of very God, King of kings and Lord of Lords, and he humbles himself, riding into the holy city on a beast of burden. Outside the walls of that holy city he will bear the burden of the world’s sin. The world that ran away from him in unbelief, that scorned his love, that persecuted his prophets, that created false gods to worship and serve -he will bear the sin of that world because he loves them.
He loves sinners who cannot make themselves good. He loves fallen people who cannot raise themselves up. This is what Advent means. This is what Christ’s triumphant entrance into Jerusalem means. This is what we sing when we sing the Sanctus. The holy, holy, holy God whose glory we cannot see hides his glory under humility, and in the humble form of a servant he rides into the holy city to claim his authority.
Jerusalem stoned the prophets sent to her. She substituted her false worship for the true worship. She loved her self-chosen religious busywork more than God’s command to love him above all things. She despised her King when he showed his gracious face because she despised his grace. And Jerusalem’s graceless, legalistic, Christ-denying Religion persists in exalting its own arrogance against God and his Anointed. The religion of God humbling himself and coming to sinners to rescue them from the threatening perils of their sins is rejected in favor of the religion of sinners elevating themselves by their own Spiritual powers up to God.
But Jesus comes as he chooses to come, not as sinners choose. Luther preached a great sermon on this text. Listen to some of what he said commenting on the words, “Your king comes.” He wrote:
This is what is meant by “Your king comes.” You do not seek him, but he seeks you. You do not find him, he finds you. For the preachers come from him, not from you; their sermons come from him, not from you; your faith comes from him, not from you; everything that faith works in you comes from him, not from you; and where he does not come, you remain outside; and where there is no Gospel there is no God, but only sin and damnation, free will may do, suffer, work and live as it may and can. Therefore you should not ask, where to begin to be godly; there is no beginning, except where the king enters and is proclaimed. (Sermons of Martin Luther, edited by John Nicholas Lenker and others, Volume 1, page 27)
Don’t think that you make Jesus your Savior, your Lord, or anything at all. Don’t try to draw him from heaven, or into your heart, or into your life. Before you even think of doing something for God, stop and consider who you are, what you are, and what you need. You need Jesus to come to you, just as you are. By nature you are spiritually dead, with no more ability to come to God than a dead man has bodily ability to make himself alive. By nature you are spiritually blind, with no more ability to see your way to God than a blind man has of giving himself sight. By nature you are God’s enemy, inclined not to do as he says you should do but inclined to substitute your own judgments and your own wisdom for his.
For who would think that God, the holy, holy, holy God, the God who created this world, the God who engraved his holy law on tablets of stone, the God before whom all the nations will be brought for an accounting and be judged – who would think that this God could come to us undeserving sinners? We who love ourselves first and most and defied his commandments requiring us to love him above all things? We who misused his name to cover up our own sin, who despised his word, preferring our own opinions, and who put our neighbors’ needs below our own in our hierarchy of values? We were spiritually crippled. Oh yes, we had a free will of sorts, we could freely stay away from where God’s voice sounded forth or we could freely go to hear his gospel, but we had no ability to bring ourselves to believe it and through faith to receive deliverance from God from our sins, from death, and from hell.
This our God knew, even if we didn’t. So he came to us. Behold, your king comes to you. The prophet Zechariah is talking to the daughter of Zion. The apostle Matthew applies the prophet’s words to the church because the church is the daughter of Zion. The prophet wrote:
Rejoice greatly, 0 daughter of Zion!
Shout, 0 daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your King is coming to you;
He is just and having salvation,
Lowly and riding on a donkey,
A colt, the foal of a donkey.
He is just. That means righteous. He has salvation. He has salvation to give to you. He is the LORD our righteousness. His righteousness covers you and makes you righteous before God. This is how he saves you. This is how he delivers you from the threatening perils of your sins. He comes to you.
He rode the donkey into Jerusalem just a few days before he was crucified on a cross. Nobody forced him. He did what he did of his own free will. When we did all we could do by our own free will we hadn’t yet taken a single step on our way to deliverance from our sins. We had only demonstrated our spiritual powerlessness. We who cannot find our way to him receive him who finds his way to us. We sing, “Holy, holy, holy.” What can sinners do to establish fellowship with the holy God? Nothing! They can only cry out as Isaiah did, “Woe is me!” But look! He whom you could not approach approaches you. See him come! He comes in humility and lowliness. He comes to die for you.
Now he who died for us to take away our sins and rose from the dead to grant us immortality comes to us in his body and blood to give us the forgiveness and salvation he won for us on the cross. He comes as he came: in humility and lowliness. He comes to rule over us by his grace. And by his grace he empowers us to cast off the works of darkness and to live in the light of his truth. Amen