Advent IV 2011 – John 1:19-28

18. December 2011
Advent IV
John 1:19-28

Who is this John the Baptist? What is his testimony? Why should we listen to him? For the doubting world, John has an identity crisis. People just can’t figure him out. They know he is a Levite. They know his parents Zechariah and Elizabeth. But why is he “the Baptist?” Where does this message of repentance come from? By what authority does he institute this washing in the Jordan?

These are good questions. These are questions we should ask of every messenger. Who are you? Why have you come? Why should I listen to you? And so, the Jews sent priest and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” When it comes to religion, there can be nothing new under the sun. Either John is someone old or John is doing something new, and therefore, wrong.

And this is the testimony of John, when [they asked him] … “Who are you?” He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” Testimony. Witness. Martyria. They want to know about John’s office. Is he in the office of Messiah, Christ? If so, then he has authority to preach new doctrine and to institute new holy things. No, John, confessed emphatically, “I am not the Christ.” I do not do a new thing but I am bringing an end to the old. I am pointing my finger at the Messiah was has come. I bear witness of him.

Undeterred, those delegates asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” They fully expected their Elijah to come again, in the flesh, just as Malachi prophesied: Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet Before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he will turn The hearts of the fathers to the children, And the hearts of the children to their fathers, Lest I come and strike the earth with a curse (Malachi 4:5).

And [John] said, “I am not.” Uh, really, John? You have turned the hearts of children back to the doctrine of their fathers. You have called them to repentance. He speaks as Elijah. Turn away from your idolatry. Return to faithfulness.

Jesus even calls him Elijah in Matthew’s Gospel: “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come. 

John is the Elijah who has come. John directs the way to Jesus. The angel confessed to Zechariah before the altar of incense: “… And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” 

John is the Elijah to come but not the Elijah they expected. They expected the same Elijah that ascended to heaven in fiery horse and chariot to return again before the Messiah. Yet, here, as before, John’s identity is mistaken. Elijah’s identity is mistaken. Both are mere humble instruments of God. They have no power or authority of themselves but only in what they say and who they confess. They speak with power and authority because they speak the Word of God and in the Spirit of God.

Yet, there is the cult of personality. If not Elijah, then why should we listen to you? If not the Prophet, then why should we pay any attention? Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself? This is an identity crisis. Not for John personally but for the whole doubting world. Why should we listen to you? Why do you do the things you do? Why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

All good questions. These are questions you ought to ask, too. For I stand in this pulpit tonight and declare to you: Repent—the kingdom of heaven is at hand. By what authority? How can I say such a thing? Why should you listen?

Its all about the office and about the calling. John is called by the Lord into the office of prophet. He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’…” I am sent, I am called, I stand in the office of prophet. But he is no ordinary prophet but THE Prophet, the last prophet, the one who points to Christ. Zechariah sang: And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; For you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people By the remission of their sins… (Luke 1:76-77).

His office is one of a voice. He speaks and points and then gets out of the way. There is no cult of personality around St. John. He speaks and we hear Jesus. He points and we see Jesus. He baptizes for repentance and we need Jesus.

John said: A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent before Him.’ He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:29-30).

St. John is sent for the sole purpose of preparing the way for Christ. He is the herald trumpet to prepare for the King as He enters in. He is voice of the angel who points to Jesus in the voice of the prophet. His voice, with all the prophets, preaches repentance. Repentance, that is, turning away from your sins, is preparation for Jesus.

But St. John doesn’t want the credit. He is not the Messiah. He is not the Prophet. He is not Elijah. All the glory belongs to Christ. Christ is our one mediator. He is the Savior. He is the redeemer. No one comes to the Father except by Him. We have one Master to whose Word alone we are bound. We do not listen to voice of men, of saints, of angels, of prophets, or of kings. We only listen to the voice of Jesus, calling sinners to repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Maybe we’re a bit like those delegates from the Pharisees and Levites? Maybe we don’t know who to listen to or why to listen to them? Maybe we question their authority or their right to speak?

We run the same danger of putting our hope in that which is most brilliant in the eyes of the world. Maybe we’ll only listen if they claim to be Elijah or the Prophet, that is, with some special calling of the Spirit? Maybe we will only listen if it comes in bite sized nuggets of clever anecdotes? Maybe we’ll only listen if the messenger is old and wise or young and energetic?  Maybe we’ll only listen if they fit within our expectations?

Repent. … Among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of who sandal I am not worthy to untie. Repent. Hear the voice of the one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’… 

Christ has sent one to prepare the way for Him. He has placed one in His stead and given him His authority. Listen to Him. Confess your sins, make ready your heart, lift up your gates, that the king of glory may come in. He is not the Christ. He is not Elijah. He is not the Prophet. He is must decrease and Christ must increase.

John is the voice of a preacher and baptizes with water in the office and by the calling of God. So also, God the Lord has made available to you a preacher, whose voice and hands declares the Word of the Lord and administers the holy Sacraments.  It is God the Lord, however who is speaking through me, admonishing and administering. St. Paul says of the pastors of the church: We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. 

But do not look to the person of the preacher. Do not look to person of John. He speaks only by calling and by another’s authority. The Holy Spirit calls faithful men to be stewards of the mysteries. He calls them to proclaim and prepare the way for Christ. Actually, the Spirit Himself proclaims and prepares, enlightening your hearts through the apostles’ doctrine and faithful preachers. Do not look to the preacher. Do not look to John. Look to God’s working and power.

This is a struggle for our flesh. We do not like to listen to men. We don’t want to see past their sinfulness and hear the voice of Christ. So was the same for the Apostles. St. Paul wrote to Corinth: Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase (1 Cor 3:6-7).

I must diminish but He must increase. I baptize with water, but the One stands among you whose sandal I am not worthy to untie. Know Him. Listen to Him. Be baptized by Him. Receive His flesh and blood. Rejoice in His voice that forgives. Be prepared by Christ for Christ as He comes.

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana

Advent III 2011 – Matthew 11:2-10

11. December 2011
Advent III
Matthew 11:2-10

Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” This question has been the source of debate for many a preacher. The nearly universal opinion is that John wanted his disciples break ties and attach themselves to Jesus. He sent them with a baited question, knowing that Jesus would spring the trap.

In more recent years, theologians have begun to take John’s question more literally, suggesting he doubted that Jesus was who he said he is. Perhaps John wasn’t so sure that the one who caused him to leap in Elizabeth’s womb is truly the Lord, as his mother confessed? Perhaps John wasn’t so sure that Jesus truly was “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” as he had so boldly confessed? Perhaps the voice that he heard from heaven “this is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” or the Spirit descending as a dove were tricks of his imagination?

No, John knew perfectly well who Jesus was. He was willing to suffer imprisonment, pain, and even death for the sake of Him. He had heard from prison of the healing of the leper, the stilling of the storm, the raising of Jairus’ daughter and the widow’s son at Nain. The whole region of Galilee was abuzz with word of this Jesus. He healed those in pain, cast of foul demons, cured those with seizures, and even made the lame to walk. No doubt blind received sight and deaf their hearing.

John already knew and believed. His confession was validated by Jesus’ great deeds. The Lamb of God was doing the Lamb’s job. He was healing and forgiving, just as John expected. The problem is: John’s own disciples weren’t so sure. They are dedicated disciples of their man but to leave him and follow another? Now, that’s asking alot.

Change is never easy. Changing one’s expectations is the hardest. Perhaps John’s disciples enjoyed those grotesque locusts? Maybe the liked the scratchy camel hair coat of their prophet? Honey isn’t bad and far better than refined sugar, health-wise.

Or perhaps they loved the spectacle? All Galilee and the surround region flocked to be baptized by their man. They waited with baited breath for his latest tirade—reaming them out for their idolatry, their forsaking the Law, their total lack of love for God.

And what of the multitudes who came for John’s baptism? What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? … A man dressed in soft clothing? … A prophet? What do they expect of John? Do they expect more of him than he can possibly give? Do they put their hope in John and not in the one who comes after him? This is he of whom it is written, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.” John prepares for the one to come.

Whatever caused them to latch onto John, it was time to latch on to the one to come. That’s the point, isn’t it? John prepares for Jesus who is. “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” John knew full well Jesus is the one but those disciples didn’t. They liked the old way. They preferred dwelling in darkness and the shadow of death to light and life. They preferred sackcloth and ashes to brilliant garments and holy oil.

That’s your problem, too. You struggle between darkness and light, between death and life. You prefer who you are to who you are to become. You’re caught in middle between John and Jesus. That is, you’re caught between what is according to the God’s holy Law and what is and will be according to the holy Gospel.

John said: Repent—the kingdom of heaven is near. Repentance is a a change of mind and body. It is to say auf wiedersehn to your affection of riches, to bid fond adieu to the relentless pursuit of stuff. Repentance is saying adios to your compulsion to please yourself and rather to love what pleases your Heavenly Father. It is to say sayonara to your greed, your murderous hate, your idol worship, your lust, your foul tongue, and your backbiting.

This is all necessary. It cannot be avoided or forsaken and remain a Christian. But John is not enough. The rules are not enough. God’s holy Law is never good enough. Its never enough for you to know your sin and to try to do better. Where does that leave you? In death and misery. Even if this holy Law causes you to confess your wickedness, to sell all your possessions, and flee to the wilderness of poverty, what has that gotten you? Now, you’re poor, miserable, and alone with your sin.

This is the work of the law. This is the work of John. He knows his calling: to make straight the way for the Lord. The final word is not repent. For repentance is nothing if were not for Jesus. To repent and declare your unworthiness before God is a sure fire way to be killed, destroyed, or simply left out to die, apart from Jesus.

John wants you know Jesus. The horrible curse of the Law is meant to show you the way to the Gospel. “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.”

That’s something the old way of John can never give. That’s something only Jesus can give. John preaches a baptism of repentance and Jesus comes with a baptism of new birth. John shows you your blindness to the ways of God, you crippled life, you leperous flesh, your deafness to the Word, and the death you deserve. Its nothing but bad news. Its complete honesty about who you are.

But John is not the end. He wants you to know Jesus. Jesus gives your eyes to see Him, face to face, flesh and blood. He gives you feet to go into the world with Him. If cleanses you of the lusts and passions of the flesh. He gives you ears to hear God’s holy Word. He gives you tongues to confess His holy name. He gives you new life in waters of the font. He grants you riches beyond measure in the forgiveness of sins. And where there is forgiveness, there is life and salvation.

The Advent of our Lord is here. John declares: Repent—the kingdom of heaven is near. John’s word makes the paths straight, pointing our minds and bodies to Jesus, the Savior. We have confessed our sins and know the need for forgiveness. This forgiveness is the foundation for the kingdom—and the kingdom is near. Its nearer than when you first believed when He washed you in the saving flood, for He is here and bless you with holy food to eat and drink. John wants you to know this Jesus, who ushers in a new kingdom, rich in blessings.

You may still love John. You may still love the old way of fire and brimstone, sackcloth and ashes, destruction and death. You may still love your sin, your perversity, your hatred. Repent—the kingdom of heaven is near. Change your allegiance. John’s bony finger is pointing straight to him. Don’t look to another. Look to the king and His kingdom, Jesus. Be forgiven and healed.

In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church
Dyer, Indiana