Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, December 16, 2012
Great in the Kingdom - December 16, 2012 - Third Sunday in Advent - Text: Luke 7:18-28 [29-35]
Today is the third Sunday in Advent, kind of the middle of our preparation as there is only one more candle to light. As we have said and as I continually reiterate, advent is the time we get ourselves, our hearts and minds ready to celebrate God’s fulfillment of His first promise to send a Savior, Christ’s birth on Christmas day. And advent is the time we are reminded and encouraged that just as God kept His first promise and sent Jesus, so He will keep His second promise, to return to gather us and take us to heaven, thus it is imperative that we are ready for His return, or our passing on to Him, because either way, it will happen. We will meet the Lord and I believe it will be sooner than we know and sooner than we might imagine. How do we prepare ourselves? By making regular and diligent use of those means our Lord has given to us to get ready, His means of grace. In particular we ready ourselves by believing God’s Word, which is His Word, and which is a Word that does what it says and gives the gifts it has to give. Our text for today bears witness of the faithfulness of God and His Word.
Our text for this morning moves us to the point that John the Baptist has been preparing the way for Jesus and he has already been arrested. John’s disciples had come to visit him in prison and were telling him all the things Jesus was doing. Notice that even in prison John is still pointing to Jesus. John came to prepare the way for Jesus. He came to get the children of Israel ready for the promised Messiah. They had not seen nor heard a prophet in over five hundred years. And so John was sent to get them ready so they did not miss the Savior.
John prepared the people by his preaching of the need of the people to repent. As I said last week, how would the people know that they were sinners unless they were told. Likewise, even today we need to be reminded of our own sin so that we too repent. To not repent means our sins remain on us and in our sin we would be eternally lost. But with repentance is forgiveness and with forgiveness is life and salvation.
John came calling the people to repent and he came baptizing with a baptism for repentance. John’s baptism was a call to a religious washing, an outward washing as a symbol of one’s sins being washed away. He spoke of the difference between his own baptizing and the baptism that Jesus gave in that Jesus’ baptism was a baptism that would give faith by the power of the Holy Spirit.
John did his work and he did it well as a matter of fact he did his work so well, he did such a good job of pointing out sin and calling for repentance that he was imprisoned. Evidently, like politicians in our world today, kings did not like being called sinners in John’s day. So King Herod had John imprisoned.
John knew and understood his role as the one who would come to prepare the way for Jesus and so he said that he must decrease and Jesus must increase. John was not envious nor jealous of Jesus and the fact that the people were following Jesus. He saw this as an affirmation that what he was doing was done right.
As for John’s disciples, some of his disciples left and followed Jesus. As an optimist I would suggest that this is the case because they did hear and they did believe John’s word. Believing John’s word the natural course of action would be to leave John and to follow Jesus.
In our text we are told that two of John’s disciples did not believe or understand, at least not right away. So, these two came to see John in prison and reported all that was happening. John in turn sends these two disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one? Should we expect another.” Now some people have suggested that this showed doubt on John’s part. I would suggest that rather than this showing doubt on John’s part this was John’s way of convincing his disciples who may have had doubts. John wanted his disciples to know Jesus is the One and to follow Him and so He sent them to Jesus.
Notice that Jesus does not attempt to debate or argue with John’s disciples. Jesus continues doing the work that He came to do, work that attested to the words He was preaching. John’s disciples come to Jesus and they see Him in action. They see Jesus healing, casting out demons, and preaching the good news. So when John’s disciples questioned Jesus His response was to tell them to look at what He was doing. It was Jesus actions that confirmed John’s words.
After John’s disciples left Jesus continued to preach. He spoke about John saying that he was not a preacher swayed by public opinion or popularity. John did not preach what itching ears wanted to hear. John preached the truth. He preached of sin and repentance. He preached against the sins of public figures as well even if it made him unpopular.
Mostly John pointed to Jesus. John knew that he was born into this world, sent by God to prepare the way for the One who would bring salvation to the world. About John Jesus said that “the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” I think the best explanation of Jesus words are that Jesus meant that John was least in the kingdom of God because he did not see the consummation of his preaching, in other words, John was beheaded before Jesus paid the price for the sins of the world, died and rose.
Jesus then explains the schizophrenia of this generation. Jesus explains that John the Baptist came and he did not dance so he was not to be taken seriously. On the other hand, Jesus came and lived a normal life so He was not to be taken seriously. The same schizophrenia can be seen in our world today. People reject Jesus for many and various reasons, claiming Him to be a fake and a fraud, a liar, simply a good man and no more or a good teacher and no more. The rejection of Jesus today continually shows the cursed nature of humanity and man’s desire to seek to save himself.
So, as we often do, we ask, what does this mean? Unlike God’s fulfillment of His first promise and the fact that He promised and did send John to prepare the people for Jesus’ birth, God does not promise that someone will come to prepare the way for Jesus’ second coming on the day of judgement. Instead of sending someone to prepare us, God has been giving us signs, such as wars and rumors of wars, nations fighting against nations, earthquakes, wild fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, and the like, all these events are signs that are pointing us to take God and His Word serious, to know that we are living in the last days and that our last day will be sooner than we know and sooner than we might expect.
John pointed his disciples to Jesus. Jesus pointed them and us to the signs, wonders and miracles He performed. All of Holy Scripture points to Jesus. All of history points to Jesus. The people of the Old Testament looked forward to the coming of the Savior. They were saved by faith, by believing that God would send a Savior. We, New Testament people, are saved the same way, but faith, faith that Jesus is the one promised by God.
Unfortunately, many of the people of Jesus day rejected Him believing Him to be something or someone other than who He said He was, or who John said He was. Yes, there were those who did believe and they were saved by their faith. Interestingly enough most all of the first Christians were of the Jewish faith and culture, yet, their Jewishness meant nothing compared to their faith in Jesus and so they simply dropped their Jewish culture in order to be called Christians. Likewise in our world today, there continue to be to many who reject Jesus and many more simply fall short, only believing what they want to believe. We live in a world that likes to focus on self and too often, even well meaning preachers proclaim a theology of self, pointing people to themselves rather than pointing to Jesus.
I would point you to Jesus, just Jesus. I point you to Jesus because Jesus is the Christ and the only way to heaven. We cannot do it ourselves. We are conceived and born in sin. Every inclination of our hearts is evil all the time. Apart from the work of the Holy Spirit working through the external means of grace we would deny, refuse and reject Jesus, which is what too many in our world do. It is the Holy Spirit, working through the external means of grace, God’s Word, Holy Baptism, Confession and absolution and the Lord’s Supper who gives, strengthens and keeps us in faith. And it is in Divine Service and Bible Class that these means of grace are always and clearly present. This making regular and diligent use of the means of grace, this being in Divine Service whenever offered and being in Bible Class, is how our Lord works to get us ready, to give us the gifts He has to give.
We are ready for the Lord’s return, we are ready to celebrate Jesus’ first coming when we know and believe because we have been given faith through the means of grace, as well as forgiveness, strengthening of faith, and eternal life. And all these gifts were earned and paid for by Jesus and are distributed and given out by Jesus through His means of grace.
Contrary to the skepticism of the world in which we live, contrary to those who deny and doubt the very Word of God, I am here to tell you that God’s Word is faithful and true and does what it says. If there is ever a question concerning whether or not to believe the thoughts and conclusions of fallible human beings or the Word of God, I will take the word of God anytime.
Like John, I will point you to Jesus. I will point you to the signs, wonders and miracles that Jesus performed as proof of His divinity, that is that He is truly God. I will point you to the cross where Jesus paid for our sins and earned our forgiveness. I will point you to His Word which does what it says and gives what it offers. I will point you to your Baptism and remind you that through the water and God’s name put on you you were given faith, forgiveness and life. I will point you to your confession of sins and the words of absolution, that your sins have been forgiven. I will point you to the Lord’s table where you are given His body to eat and His blood to drink and where in you participate in Jesus’ life, suffering, death, and resurrection. And I will point you to Jesus who, having fulfilled His first promise has given us His Word that He will return and when He does return He will judge the living and the dead and He will take those whom He has given faith and He will robe us with His robes of righteousness and take us to be with Himself in heaven forever.
Jesus is coming and we are ready, by God’s grace through faith in Him. Our response of faith is simply to offer thanks and praise and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.