Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor
+ In the Name of Jesus +
We Americans have been free of any kind of royalty since we declared independence and drove King George’s soldiers off our land and sent them back to England. On our recent trip to Charleston, South Carolina, we stopped at an inlet beach between two barrier islands where there was a memorial display – some 900 American patriots shooting down from hastily made embankments drove back to their warships some 6000 redcoats attempting an amphibious landing at that site.
King George had set himself up above the law. Taxation without representation and all that. Kings tend to do that. The Bible is full of examples of them. Today, while the titles and forms of government have changed, the law is whatever the political clique in power says it is. The very idea that there are permanent standards of right and wrong that apply to all people everywhere is as old fashioned a notion as having kings and queens and the trappings of royalty. Today, everyone does what is right in his own eyes, and woe unto you if you stand in judgment of the sovereign conscience of another! Each man’s conscience is king, or attempts to be so.
By the time of our Savior’s coming, God had long since given the people of Israel and Judah up to the surrounding nations. They and their lines of wicked kings worshipped the world’s false gods and practiced the world’s pagan immorality.
So God gave them over in judgment. The northern tribes of Israel were extinct after the Assyrians carted them off, and only a tiny remnant from Judah and Benjamin came to rebuild Judah and Jerusalem after the Babylonians had taken them into exile. By and large, the ancient people of God had been scattered throughout the world. Their judgment was the world's judgment.
The prophet Jeremiah, like Isaiah before him, spent his ministry warning the people of Jerusalem and Judah about this judgment. Those who want what to be worldly and make one’s will and reason to be one’s king will receive what the world has – God’s judgment and wrath.
So the ancient kingdom of Israel well and truly dead and gone. The royal line of David showed so much promise at its beginning. We read our Lord’s family line from Matthew chapter one:
…Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king… (Mt 1:5–6). Right away we have the wonderful story of faithful Ruth and her redemption by Boaz, great-grandparents to David. And David the shepherd-boy slew the great Goliath, anointed by Samuel the great prophet with oil and the Holy Spirit, and everything ought to have been just right for this kingdom of Israel established by God…
…But it quickly fizzled out. Sinners sin and fail. Kings and their subjects set themselves above God’s law: …And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah [Bathsheba], and Solomon the father of Rehoboam… (Mt 1:6–7) and already Israel’s kings are tainted by scandal, murder, adultery, pagan idolatry beginning with Solomon the Wise, and then thirteen generations of mostly wicked and unbelieving kings down to Jechoniah, the king deported to Babylon. And with fourteen generations yet to go from the captivity in Babylon to Mary’s conceiving of Jesus by the Holy Spirit, the royal line is already dead and gone.
But then Jeremiah says something that is joyful and comforting.
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land…” (Jer. 23.5; ESV)
Here, Jeremiah echoes Isaiah before him:
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. (Is 11:1).
The Lord will raise up from the royal line of David a King who will exercise righteousness and judgment on the earth. Where before there was only sin and death and no growth, He will bear fruit. Life is going to unexpectedly come forth out of something that was dead, and David’s kingly line is not as dead as it seems.
Today, the Gospel shows us this descendent of King David coming in righteousness to bear in Himself the judgment for sin. Hosanna to the Son of David, the crowd sings. We celebrate His coming on Christmas, born in royal David’s city of Bethlehem. Christmas is celebrated all over the world, but most people who celebrate it don’t really celebrate it, because they rule the throne of their own heart. Christmas is really the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ the King, who comes to rule all hearts. You need to know what kind of a king He is and what kind of a kingdom He rules over if you are to celebrate his birth rightly.
Whereas other kings impose taxes on you, send your sons off to fight wars, impose arbitrary and burdensome laws, and generally push you around, this King relieves you of your burdens, taking them on himself. But only those who feel the burden will care to have their burden taken away. And this is why Advent is largely ignored by a people who are ignorant of their sin but nevertheless pretend to celebrate Christmas.
Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your King is coming to you, lowly, and sitting on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.’
The daughter of Zion is Christ’s Church. The King comes to his Church. We must understand Christmas belongs to the Church. Consider the word, “Christmas.” What does it mean? It means literally “Christ-mass” – the mass, or Divine Service, at which we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Christ came to the daughter of Zion.
The King who was born on Christmas came to his people just as he had promised. He came to his Church. The daughter of Zion is the Church. She is not any earthly kingdom, whether ancient Israel or present day America. His kingdom is not of this world. His authority transcends the authority of any world power. He is almighty. No army can defeat Him. No nation can destroy his kingdom, though many have tried and still are. The kings of the earth rise up, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against His anointed, yet, the Lord laughs at their vain efforts. This King is ruler over all. As we confess in the Creed, his kingdom shall have no end.
Confess him now or confess him later, but everyone will confess that he is Lord to the glory of God the Father. He is King of kings and Lord of lords and he shall reign forever and ever. Yet, even so, He comes in humility to those who need him. The crowd that sang hosanna when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the donkey is the same crowd that sings hosanna when Jesus comes to give us His body and blood under the bread and wine. It is the same King of kings, who still comes to rule over you in humility.
Those who will not be ruled by Jesus remain under the power of the devil. Your King comes to you where you are, and He sees you as you really are. So we must see ourselves, if we are to be ready to meet Him. That is the repentant waiting called for in this season of Advent.
For He comes to help the helpless sinners who have soiled themselves spiritually and cannot make themselves clean. He comes to those who in blind pride broke his holy law, dishonoring God and hurting their neighbor. He comes to failures who are tired of failing. He comes to the poor, the blind, the lame, the hurting, the grieving, those who toil in sorrow under the burden of this sin plagued life.
“Behold, your king comes to you. He is just and having salvation.” He is just and He covers you with his righteousness. He rescues you from what you deserve. For He doesn’t come into the holy city to bask in praise. He comes to die outside the city walls, to be crucified between two criminals, to suffer and die for the sin of the world. His throne is that cross, His crown made of thorns, the blood the King shed to wash you clean very red and very real.
The almighty Son of God assumed His kingdom by taking on the form of a servant and meekly submitting to the agonies of the cross. That’s how he takes away your sin. That’s how He rescues you from the punishment you deserve. That’s how He brings to you true justice and salvation. He submits in meekness and humility to supreme injustice. That is the glory of the Son of God and Son of David, our King.
He doesn’t come in a display of power. He comes as if He is weak. But He isn’t weak. He is your almighty God coming to you in the only way you can receive Him. He comes to you where you are, trapped in sin, and He lifts you up out of our sin, washes you clean by His blood, and sets you before God as pure and holy saints, subjects of His eternal kingdom of grace and mercy.
In His Kingdom, He has pleased His Father and thus made us pleasing to God. Look at our humble King and see the good life you are called to live. Put on Christ, crucifying the flesh, and by grace, through faith, claim Christ’s life as your own. The glory of the Son, our King, is that He comes to rule over you by taking away your sin and guilt and makes His life yours. This is the kind of authority to which we poor sinners are happy to submit, for it is divine authority to make you saints, subjects of the one true King on the holy hill of the eternal Zion to come.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +