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Following Jesus

First Sunday in Advent

Ad te Levavi

December 3, 2017

Matthew 21:1–9

In the Old Testament the people of God were waiting. They waited for the Lord to bring about His promise. It is stated in the Old Testament reading for today: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and He shall reign as king.” They waited for Him to come. As they waited they were to follow God and His commands. They were to live in the way He had called them to live. Following Him meant trusting Him that He would fulfill His promise and send the Savior. Throughout the Old Testament there were signs pointing to the one who was to come, the Savior of the Nations, the King spoken of by Jeremiah and the other prophets. Throughout the Old Testament there are bright spots where God’s people remained faithful and many dark times where they went their own way instead of following their Lord and trusting Him.

The Gospel reading today gives us a picture of them and also of us. As Jesus made His way into Jerusalem on the donkey there were those in the crowd who went before Him strewing cloaks and branches on the ground. This is a picture of all those who came before Jesus, preparing for Him to come. Those in the Gospel reading who followed Jesus as He made His way into Jerusalem are a picture of us. We have come after Him and so we follow Him.

This is why the account of Jesus entering Jerusalem on the first day of Holy Week is designated for the First Sunday in Advent, which is the beginning of the Church Year. We have a Church Year so that we can follow Jesus. Certainly a Christian can follow Jesus and be a faithful Christian without going through the Church Year. But the great value of the Church Year is that it orders our focus each Sunday throughout the year on Christ and specifically who He is and why He came. He came to go to the cross. That is why He was entering Jerusalem. Just as those who came before Jesus in the Old Testament didn’t know that God’s sending of His Savior would mean that the Savior would die on the cross, so the people on Palm Sunday didn’t know. They were rejoicing as He entered Jerusalem. I doubt they would have had they known that Jesus was coming in in order to submit to arrest and trial and mocking and beating and ultimately crucifixion.

So the Church Year keeps us focused. As we go through life we find ourselves a lot like the people of the Old Testament, forgetting God’s promise, doubting it, simply going our own way. We find ourselves a lot like the people Paul describes in the Epistle reading, succumbing to our sinful nature. He captures that anticipation of waiting for our Lord to come. He says, “our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” Think of the thousands of years the people of God waited for Him to bring about His promise of sending their salvation in the sending of His own Son. They went before Him, waiting, anticipating, trusting.

We come after Him, following, trusting. We too are waiting for Him to return to bring us home to heaven. Paul says that we ought to walk properly as in the day, not in the lusts of the flesh. He lists a few specific things and the way he lists them shows that he’s speaking of anything that gets in the way of seeing clearly who Jesus is. The specific temptations of the flesh will be different for different people but the fact that we act on them is the same. His remarkable solution is to put on the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, thereby making no provision for the flesh to gratify its desires.

Paul speaks this way often. The problem is that while we live we are in the flesh, that is, our sinful nature. What can we do? How can we rid ourselves of this sinful flesh and our sinful desires? We put on Christ. We clothe ourselves with Him. Paul in speaking this way often in his letters is speaking of Baptism. In Baptism we are clothed with Christ Himself. So when he tells us to put on Christ he is telling us to live in our Baptism. This is how we follow Jesus or as Paul says it, to walk properly as in the day. In other words, living in Baptism, not in our sinful flesh.

The gift God gave to those who came before Christ and who were waiting for Him was circumcision. Although they weren’t actually clothed with Christ as we are in Baptism, circumcision was a sign that they were in the covenant of God, His promise that He was their God and they were His people, that He would send a Savior for them. They were to live in that covenant promise. In the same way, we are to live in the promise of God by living in our Baptism. In Baptism we died with Christ. Hearing of the account of Jesus entering Jesus in order to go to His death focuses us on Baptism. As He went to the cross, so in Baptism have we gone to the cross. We died with Christ and there our sinful nature has been put to death. As Christ rose from the grave we have risen in Baptism to new life.

As the beginning of the Church Year Advent is a time of preparation. We celebrate Christmas in the Church Year but not before preparing for our celebration. Since He came at Christmas we ponder the reason why He came. As He promised to His people in the Old Testament, God said He would send a Savior. That a Savior was needed shows that the reason Jesus came was to deliver us from sin. Our preparation for celebrating Christmas is a good way to begin the Church Year because it makes us aware that our entire lives need to be in preparation. That we are sinful and need to be forgiven.

Just as Jesus was promised to come and He did at Christmas, so He is promised to come again and in Advent we are aware that our lives are constant preparation for His coming again. We can relate to those in the Old Testament, waiting and waiting. If we turn our focus away from Jesus we will not be prepared for when He comes again. But in the Introit for today we see this promise: “None who wait for you shall be put to shame.” And so our prayer, like that of those in the Old Testament is this, also from the Introit: “Make me to know Your ways, O LORD; teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation.”

Following Jesus is not following Him to the cross, He has already gone to the cross. But it is living in Baptism and therefore living in the daily dying to the old flesh and rising to new life in repentance and forgiveness. Following Jesus means taking the works of the flesh, all those sins we are tempted with and act on, and casting them off. Turning our focus back on Jesus who resolutely set His face toward the cross. When we look to Him we see that it was completely His decision to submit Himself to such treatment. It was as the Scriptures say, even His joy to scorn the shame of the cross and suffer on account of our sins and the eternal condemnation we deserve.

Though the people on that Palm Sunday did not realize they were hailing Jesus as the King who would die for them, their words nevertheless stand as true and we join in with them in declaring:

Hosanna to the Son of David

Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord

Hosanna in the highest.

As the people said these words of the one who was coming into Jerusalem to go to the cross we sing these words of the same one who comes to us at this altar to give us the fruits of the cross—His body slain and His blood shed. He knew why He was going to the cross, to give His body as the sacrifice for our sin, to shed His blood for the forgiveness of our sin. He will come again, not in humility or suffering or to accomplish salvation. He has already done all that. He will come again in glory to bring us home. As we wait, as we prepare, as we follow Him, He comes to us in the Sacrament He instituted to give us His body and His blood, to forgive our sins. As we sang in the Hymn of the Day:

For You are the Father’s Son Who in flesh the vict’ry won.

By Your mighty pow’r make whole All our ills of flesh and soul.

Amen.

SDG