Happy New Year! No, I haven’t somehow torn off a page of the calendar. I know that today is November thirtieth, not January 1. But today is a new year. Today is the first day of the church year, and like New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day it is a time to look back and look forward like the two faces of the Roman god, Janus, where we get the name for our month of January. Janus had two faces one looking backward and one looking forward. At the beginning of the church’s year we too look both directions: backward to the time before God the Son came to earth and took on our flesh as a baby born in a stable in a little town. Backward to the time when God’s people lived by the promises of a Savior to come, trusting in what was written about the Messiah, the righteous branch, the promised one, from Genesis to Malachi. Back to a time when it looked like God had forsaken His people, His church, in their little country occupied by the pagan Romans, and a pale shadow of the glory and power and wealth they had under king David and Solomon, Hezekiah, and Josiah.
We also look forward to the time when Jesus has promised to return to earth again, this time not as a humble baby, but as King of Kings. Forward to a time when He will call His bride, the Church, the community of saints, to the wedding feast He has prepared for her before the creation of the world. Forward to the time when His humble bride will be presented to Him spotless, wearing the robe of His righteousness. The Lord has promised this, and He never breaks a promise. When the Lord gives His Word, you may depend on it.
And that is what I would like to focus on in today’s sermon: The promises of God which have been already fulfilled and those which we wait for. Today’s text may seem more appropriate for Palm Sunday, and indeed it is about the same entry into Jerusalem, but one of the reasons we read it today, in the weeks leading to Christmas, is that tucked in the middle of it.” Jesus had sent His disciples to find a donkey and its colt, for He wanted to ride into Jerusalem on a beast of burden, fitting for a servant who came to take our burden of sin upon Himself. He gave instructions to the disciples where to find it, for He knows everything. He knew that the owners would let the disciples have the animals, for he is able to do miracles at a distance. But he didn’t do this to show off His divine power. Our text says He did this to fulfill what the prophet had spoken.
The prophet Zechariah said, in the ninth chapter of his book, “Behold your king is coming to you, righteous and having salvation, humble and riding a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9) And Isaiah the prophet said in the sixty-second chapter of his book, “Say to the daughter of Zion, your salvation comes.” (Isaiah 62:11). These prophets spoke the promises of God and Jesus fulfilled them. Because God keeps His promises. He promised to Eve in the garden of Eden that her seed would bruise the head of the serpent, Satan, and Jesus did just that on the cross of Calvary, defeating Satan, sin, and death in His death for our sins. God promised Abraham that through His seed, all nations would be blessed. Abraham believed that promise, and the Lord counted that belief as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6) Jesus, the descendant of Abraham promised by God, fulfilled that promise, blessing the world by erasing its sin, and offering eternal life to all who believe in Him. He blessed the world by sending the Gospel out to all nations through the apostles that He taught and trained, and who preserved His Word in the books of the New Testament, inspired by His Holy Spirit. God promised David that His throne would be established forever. And Jesus, the descendant of David, born in his hometown, Bethlehem, fulfilled that promise when He ascended in clouds to the right hand of God, to His eternal reign. All’s God’s promises in the OT found their fulfillment in Jesus Christ. We see this so clearly in Scripture, the written Word of God. Jesus wanted our faith to be strengthened by seeing that what was spoken of Him by the prophets was fulfilled in Him, so that looking forward we can be confident in what was spoken by Him about our future, and the future of His church.
And what was spoken by Jesus about the future? The one most appropriate for this season of Advent is the promise that He is coming again. In the twenty-fourth chapter of Matthew Jesus says that He, the Son of Man will return on the last day “coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” (Matthew 24:30). He says His coming will be like a bridegroom coming to take his bride to his home.
But that’s not all. He promises He has prepared a place for those who believe in Him. He promises that He will never let those whom His Father has given to Him fall from His hands. He says that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16) He can do all this because everything in heaven and earth has been given to Him. What He has promised He has already won in His life, death, and resurrection, but it will be fully realized when He returns on the last day. This is what was spoken by the Lord Jesus, His promises. He never lies. We can depend on His Word.
We can’t depend on our own worthiness, or our own righteousness, for when we look back we see where we have fallen so short of the glory of God. We look back at our lives and we see where we have not lived as though we believed God’s promises. We are not like Abraham, who was so obedient and trusting that he was willing to sacrifice his son Isaac, through whom God had promised the seed of the savior would come. He trusted that God could give him Isaac back from the dead after he had been sacrificed. We have not given back sacrificially of the gifts that God has freely and graciously given to us, for unlike Abraham, we fear that God will not give them back to us again.
We haven’t trusted that Christ will build His church. We have been afraid that our little temple is being destroyed and Christ won’t be able to build it up in three days, three years, or three decades. We haven’t trusted God when He said that His Word will not return empty. We say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” on a bright Sunday morning, like the thousands who greeted Jesus coming into Jerusalem, but scatter later in the week when our doubts and fears attack us.
May we look back and repent of our little faith and learn to trust in the promises of God, who has always fulfilled what was spoken of Him and by Him. Let us look forward in this night of Christendom to the coming dawn of glory. The day is at hand. Into the dark night of this world a light has shone. As the words of the Hymn of the Day Savior of the Nations, Come, proclaim, “From the manger newborn light shines in glory through the night, Darkness there no more resides In this light faith now abides.” Just as we stand between the already fulfilled promises of the Savior in Jesus Christ and the promises of the restored Kingdom yet to come, we can see with eyes of faith the lightening of the eastern sky, as the Light of the World prepares to return, His Holy Spirit glowing ever brighter in us as the dawn approaches when He will return in glory. The hour has come for us to wake from sleep, for salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. “ (Romans 13: 11.)
We trust that what was spoken by our Lord and His apostles and prophets will happen. We trust that He will daily sanctify us, that He will daily soften the heart of stone within us, making us to be servants of each other, bearing each other’s burdens, love one another as members of His Body, the Church, which He will build. He has given us His Word, and He nevers breaks His Word. He has given us our task, to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them. That is our task. He will do the building. How He will do that, we do not know, except that He creates faith by the hearing of the Word through the power of the Holy Spirit. But the path has never been a steady upward climb of a line chart. The Church has suffered under the cross before, and will most likely suffer again before Christ returns, but what was spoken by our Lord is this, that He will build His church on the confession of Him as Lord, as Peter confessed, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Jesus is talking about us. We are part of what was spoken by Him. We can trust His Word. He never breaks His word. He saved us once for all and He will save His church. What a blessed assurance in these troubled times.
“All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” (1Peter 1:24-25) And with it, His Church. Amen.
Preached Sunday, November 30, 2014 at Calvary Lutheran Church, Wellington, Kansas.