This is how God wants to be seen. Today’s Gospel is the picture of Himself that God wants. Advent is all about Christ’s three comings—first as Jesus of Nazareth, born in time and space; second, as the Lord who transcends time and space to be present everywhere His Word is read and preached, everywhere people are Baptized, and everywhere His Supper is distributed; third, as the One who will come at the end of time to judge the living and the dead, the One whose kingdom has no end. None of those are more or less important than the other. Each coming of Christ is vital to who we are as Christians, who we are a Christ’s Church, who Christ is as our Savior. We shouldn’t focus on the baby in the manger at the detriment of the cross, the sacraments, and the Last Day. We shouldn’t focus on the judgment day and forget His coming in grace. The Triumphal Entry is so important that it’s the one Gospel we hear twice a year. It’s because on Palm Sunday Christ is seen in the way He wants to be seen, not just in Advent, but in our entire Christian life.
On Palm Sunday Christ came in full humility. He did not parade as a king. There were no white horses, no displays of military might, no finery. There were villagers shouting hosanna and cutting down palm branches. His saddle was borrowed clothing. His mighty steed a donkey and her colt. And that’s only what we see. What we don’t see is what Jesus knows completely, something He has told His disciples several times but they have yet to fully grasp the truth. He knows that He is riding on in lowly pomp to die. He isn’t riding in anger, but in compassion. As St. Luke reveals, just before the Triumphal Entry Jesus weeps over Jerusalem. He laments what is about to happen, that they will reject the One who has come to give them peace. For thousands of years of undeserved grace they will give their God murder. But Jesus rides in joyfully. He rides in willingly, knowing what awaits, but eager to do it, to pay the price sin demanded, to be death’s undoing. This is how Jesus wants to be seen.
But remember what I said just a minute ago. We mustn’t forget the other comings of Christ. He will come again in judgment, as we heard over the last three weeks, and as St. Paul reminded us in this morning’s Epistle. Jesus has come as our Redeemer, yes, but that does not give us license to sin. Should we keep on sinning so that grace may abound? By no means! Our Lord expects us to live in thanksgiving for the gift of our salvation. As the new Church Year unfolds we know what events we will trace. We will see very God of very God take on frail human flesh and be born in a barn. We will watch the Author of Life succumb to death. We look at these things year after year to see what price our salvation cost Him. And because God Himself breathed our poisoned air and willingly refrained from fully and always using His divine attributes, we ought to live lives of thankful repentance, seeking to do good works toward God and neighbor, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy, but walking properly as His Law demands of us. We do not want to be caught on the Last Day, be it the day of Christ’s return or the last day of our life, in the works of darkness when we ought to be children of the day. Though damnation is God’s alien work, that which He does not want to do, He will do it when it is necessary. Repent, lest Christ be seen by you in judgment.
Though you are called to live in repentance, it does not mean you are called to live in fear. Because you are Baptized into Christ, you have nothing to fear. It doesn’t mean you have license to sin, but it means that when you do sin, you have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, who forgives you all your sin. When you sin, the Holy Spirit points you to Jesus. He shows you Jesus as He wants to be seen, as the One whose arms were stretched, whose back was whipped open, whose hands and feet were nailed to the cross. That is how Jesus wants to be seen. Not gory, but in the ultimate act of love. He steps into your place. He pushes you aside and steps in front of the executioner. He receives your sentence and you receive His innocence. He saves you from yourself, from your sin, from the devil, from death, from God’s righteous wrath. He endures all of those for you. He suffers under Pontius Pilate, is crucified, dies, and is buried. He is seen in all His glory breathing His last, shouting with His last breath that the work of your salvation is finished.
And the benefit of that work He comes to deliver to you today. When you lift up your soul, that blackened, sin-laden thing, He cleanses it. His Advent sets His people free! He hears your confession, your admission of total guilt, and says to you, “Because I was born in Bethlehem; because I lived a fully obedient life; because I died and was buried; because I rose and ascended, you are forgiven.” And the benefit of all of those He delivers in the Feast of His Body and Blood. In the Holy Communion He is seen as He wants to be seen, as the One who stoops low to heal. Though it may go against anything we think God should ever do, He defies reason and science and is present not just on this Altar, but on Altars around the world. Infinite, omnipotent God confines Himself to bread and wine for you, to be seen as the Host and the Meal.
And because You have seen Him in this way, coming for you, you will see Him on the Last Day just as He was presented in St. Matthew’s recording. You will see Him coming in humility, in love, and in compassion. Your precious Ransom will come, by His mighty power making whole all your ills of flesh and soul. He will come to take you with Him to that place where darkness does not reside, because He is Lamp and Sun.
Today, and on your Last Day, you get to cry out with those crowds of Jerusalem: “Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!” He has come for you, two thousand years ago and today as well, to bear your sin and be your Savior. And when you see Him face to face in eternity, you will see Him just as He wants to be seen, as your God, your Brother, as the One who welcomes you into His eternal kingdom prepared for you.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.