Rev’d Mark B. Stirdivant, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Yucaipa, California
✝ sdg ✝
Have you ever wished for the good guys to flex a little muscle? Has it ever frustrated you beyond your senses that the bad guys, no matter what you’re talking about—sports, relationships, politics, whatever—that those enemies are always a little more crafty than you counted on, and they always seem to get the upper hand? Why do enemies seem to have all the moves, there’s nothing holding them back when they do their dirty work, and they even use the rules that the good guys have to follow to make it entirely lop-sided in their own favor. It’s easy to consider it these days, since we continue to see a barrage of violence from people who take advantage even of churches trying to be open to everyone. It would be simply wonderful if these and any other bad guys you can think of out there could just get smacked with defeat and humiliation—as long as their demise was complete, they wouldn’t know what hit them, and you could leap into the air for joy and cheer at the top of your lungs.
There are even Psalms in the Bible that yearn for God’s mighty stroke of justice, and they really want it to hurt. When opponents just go away without that decisive blow, it simply doesn’t satisfy. Let the politically correct folks say things like, they should be “made accountable,” whatever that means. Deep down, we want more than that! We want retribution! Condemnation! You could even say, let’s open up a can of Judgment Day itself, and let all those bad guys have it!
Listen again now to the yearning cry that was written down by the prophet Isaiah. Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down! That the mountains might quake at your presence… to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence! Yeah! That’s what I want! I want God to unleash His full power! Show those enemies of yours who’s really boss in this universe. Tear the very skies apart like a curtain, send out a whirlwind of judgment that makes the immovable mountains shake like jello. Break in the door like a SWAT officer with helmet and rifle and shout to the devil and all who do his bidding: drop your weapons! get on the ground! Boy, oh boy, Lord, wouldn’t that be great?
You see, when Jesus first came, He was all weakness, humility, and suffering. He didn’t take charge and execute utter revenge on those enemies of His. He instead let them insult Him, accuse Him of blasphemy and killed Him for making Himself as though He was equal to God. But He really was! Sure, Jesus did some miracles, and they were pretty amazing sights to see, but He was just too complacent for our taste; too willing to let the world walk all over Him. He even said, turn the other cheek when someone strikes you and if they sue you and take the very shirt off your back, let them have your coat too. That just makes us scratch our heads in utter bewilderment. How is that going to defeat any enemies? How is that going to give Him the utter victory? So we echo the cry that we hear from Isaiah, Come down, Lord Jesus! Stir up your power, the ancient prayer says. We await your coming to set things right! Flex your muscles! Get a little angry! Show ’em an Advent that they’ll never forget!
There’s just one thing that we’re forgetting, though, when we start thinking like that. Isaiah catches it, too, midway through chapter 64. When we plead for Almighty God to let loose His wrath and judgment against all evildoers, then it also becomes really dangerous for us. You can’t play with the fire of the Law and not get burned. And it’s not like you risk getting caught in the crossfire, and swept away by accident as collateral damage. It’s His direct blow of utter condemnation that would decimate you, since the Ten Commandments condemn you just as much as they do Satan, Hitler, all terrorists, and even that driver who cut you off on the highway! When you pray for Divine power to tear heaven open, it will be a little too hot to handle for you because of your sins that have offended against His perfect righteousness.
Isaiah even takes the Law one step further. It’s not just for our sins that we deserve to suffer eternal death and complete separation from God. No, it’s our righteous deeds, too—they are a polluted garment, or a filthy rag. Our attempts to impress our Lord with how good we are—think of the vilest thing that would make even a trash man turn up his nose in disgust! As a result of our inner self-pride, we fade like a leaf before the Lord’s justice, and we have every right to simply blow away with the fall wind and be no more. There is no hope for us, if God would ever answer our plea with His magnificent power.
That’s why Advent begins with Palm Sunday. It’s because we need a Savior, not a SWAT team leader. We need Jesus Christ crucified, humiliated, condemned in our place, and then risen from the dead to grant us peace. He came not to swing his arms in destruction and take names. Jesus came to spread out His arms on the cross and write your name in the book of Life in heaven. The blast of judgment would have been unbearable for you, and you would have been lost forever, but that blast was fired instead at Christ, your Savior, and He suffered the wrath that you deserved. Isaiah asked, We have been in our sins a long time, and shall we be saved? Jesus answered, Yes, because that is the reason why I have come!
Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the week of His death and resurrection as a fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy: Behold, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, humble and mounted on a donkey. Thus He began His holy mission to rescue the world not with a show of strength, but with utter weakness and the suffering of the cross. The crowds cheered at the presence of their Savior, but it would be the shouts of Crucify Him a few days later that would drown out the praises of the faithful. Because Jesus did not escape death, many thought that He was defeated. But faith rules out over sight, because faith saw the full force and power of God’s judgment condemning His Son in place of the people of the whole world. That was the true victory, the utter defeat of Satan, and it looked the whole time like evil had won the day.
Palm Sunday fulfilled a prophecy, but in riding into Jerusalem on a donkey, Jesus did a little prophesying of His own. The procession that was done in lowliness on a colt, a mere beast of burden, was a picture of a grand procession that is yet in the future—even for us! When Christ shall come again, the payment for sins will have already been paid. He won’t need to do that again. Jesus will come to claim you as His own, to raise the dead and welcome those who believed in Him. Everything that was complete ever since the time He said, It is finished! on the cross, will be open and evident to everyone at the Last Day. That’s the coming to which we as His Church are looking forward. Palm Sunday begins our Advent season, not because the Lord needs any help finishing His business, because it is all done! Our Christmas preparations need to include spiritual preparations of our heart to receive Him while He still comes to us in lowliness.
Yes, Jesus Christ, the Almighty God who has assumed again all power and authority over heaven and earth, comes to you today to clean house. But the Law, the smash-and-tear-down condemnation that you so desire, is for now only unleashed upon your sinful heart. Here in this place, though you cannot see it, sinners are crucified and saints are raised up to new life, pure and clean in His forgiveness. When you give up on handing up to God your love, your time served in His kingdom, your efforts to make yourself look good, then you have truly been destroyed so that the Holy Spirit will then make you a new creation. The bad guys are still going to have their shot at you, and they will hurt you, even as they use people whom you thought you could trust. But do not let that discourage you. God’s Word never lies. His promises never fail. He is no longer angry at your sin, and the iniquity, the stain that your sin has left, will be remembered no more. Christ will come again and give you thousands-fold whatever you lost in this life for the sake of His holy name.
Prepare your heart for Christmas this Advent, not merely eager for God’s judgment to show the bad guys who’s really the boss, but joyful that His judgment was spent completely on Jesus Christ for you, and for everyone who has sinned against you. Trust in your heavenly Father as the potter, and you are the clay, and be pleased to let Him form you to be His own dear child, and an instrument of His heavenly peace to everyone you meet in your daily life. Welcome your lowly Savior among you today. Hunger and thirst for the forgiveness, peace and righteousness that He gives you as His precious gift. And look forward with great encouragement to the Day when He will come again in glory to take you home forever with Him and all the blessed saints.
In the Name of the Father and of the ✝ Son and of the Holy Spirit.