John 1:1-14 – The Word Became Flesh

Listen here.

John 1:1-14

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Grace, mercy, peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Bethlehem with StarThe opening to John’s Gospel tells us the nativity story as a cosmic battle. John doesn’t tell us about Joseph or Mary. He doesn’t mention the shepherds and angels. He doesn’t even set the scene in Bethlehem. Instead, John tells us, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”

It could have stayed that way, but because of our sin, because of our lies, because we decided to reject God in the Garden of Eden, it didn’t. Instead, the eternal, holy Word which was God, this Word became Flesh and dwelt among us.

You often see this verse over a picture of the nativity with animals, shepherds, angels, and Mary and Joseph all gathering around the Word made flesh, the divine Infant, lying in the manger. And that is fitting. But that is not the picture that John as gives it.

John’s view of the birth of Christ is holistic. John views the nativity in the perspective of the whole creation through all eternity. John says that the world which was created through this eternal Word made Flesh, did not recognize Him when He arrived. The Word made flesh came to His own, but His own did not receive Him.

God came to us just as He came to Adam and Eve in the Garden. And we reacted the same as they did when they hid themselves, shaking in fear because of their sin. They ran from God because they were under the delusion that He might not be good just as we did. But because they were His, God pursued them and restored them just as He did for us.

Even though we did not know Him, even though we did not receive Him, God remained merciful, gracious, faithful, and steadfast toward us.

Jesus, the Word made Flesh, came to His own. He endured our hatred and murder. He did not flinch from enduring the cross. He did this because you are His own and He was not willing to give you up.

To all who do receive Him, who believe in His Name – the name Jesus which means “Yahweh saves” – to them He gave the right to become children of God.

Baptism 2And so, dear Harper, today on the day of your Baptism, through the washing of water with the Word, you became a child of God. Harper, you became a child of God because He became a child of a woman. Harper, Jesus, your God and Savior, became Flesh and dwelt among us so that you and all your brothers and sisters in Christ could be His own, dear children.

Harper, you were born into the family of God today – born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

Harper, and all you saints here today, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us becoming our Life, our Light, and our Salvation. He has washed you clean. He has declared you forgiven. Your God has done all of this because He would not let you go.

You are His. He created you for Himself. And He has made you His child.

The Word became Flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth. And here, coming to us once again, is that same Word full of grace and truth. He comes now, not in a manger, but in bread and wine. He comes to you, His children, to feed you, to nourish you, to forgive you.

Rejoice! The Word became flesh. He has made you His child. The eternal God is among you to save you, forgive you, and make you His own today and for all eternity. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Advertisements

Matthew 1:18-25 – Immanuel

Listen here.

Matthew 1:18-25

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way.

When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23   “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”

(which means, God with us).

24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

If you have a nativity set, it is based on Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth. It has the stable, the manger, the shepherds, the animals. It has a Mary and Joseph bowing reverently toward the peaceful infant Christ. Your nativity set is not based on our text from Matthew 1 because nativity sets based on Matthew wouldn’t sell very well. A Matthew nativity set would have a Joseph figure wringing his hands over the divorce papers sitting on his table.

joseph-dream-matthew-1Joseph is in a mess. His legally-bound fiancé is pregnant, and Joseph knows that he is not the father. Joseph is a just man, a respectable man, an honorable man. It is very possible that Joseph had paid several years’ savings to become engaged to Mary. Legally, Joseph could have taken Mary into court and gotten his money back. Instead, Joseph resolves to quietly divorce her so she doesn’t get stoned for her apparent adultery. Joseph knows that this will bring him public shame and disgrace, but he is willing to do it anyway. Joseph is not willing to put Mary to shame.

Into that mess, God sends His angel to Joseph saying, “Do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She shall bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus for He will save His people from their sins.”

Notice two things about these words from the angel. First, God doesn’t command Joseph to marry her. God simply says, “Do not fear to take her as your wife.” Joseph could still have gone through with his plan of quietly divorcing Mary. God simply reassures Joseph that Mary had not been unfaithful – no matter what the gossips of Nazareth said. This means that Joseph willingly takes up the cross of caring for the Son of God and His mother.

Second, the Child Mary is carrying is a Son. His name shall be Jesus, which means Yahweh saves. This Baby will save God’s people from their sins. Matthew tells us that this is all to fulfill what was spoken in Isaiah, “Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means God with us). Those two names together are so beautiful. Immanuel = God with us. And Jesus = Yahweh saves. God with us not to condemn, destroy, or punish us. God with us to save us from our sins. This beautiful name is God’s wonderful promise to which Joseph will cling for the rest of his life.

So Joseph does take Mary to be his wife. He becomes the guardian and provider of Mary and of Jesus. And in doing so, Joseph lived a life filled with suffering.

Unfortunately, the truth doesn’t stop the gossips. When Joseph brought his desperately pregnant wife to Bethlehem for the census, none of his relatives or friends were willing to take them in for fear that they would share their shame. From there, Joseph and his family were forced into exile in Egypt. But even when they returned home, Joseph probably heard people whispering about him and his wife and their Son the rest of his life. The rumor mill is always running.

joseph-holds-baby-jesusYet Joseph endured all of that suffering and shame because of God’s promise. And Joseph clung to that promise that this Child, entrusted into his care, would save him from his sins.

Whatever suffering, whatever pain, whatever hardship comes your way, endure it. Take strength in God’s promise that He is with you in Jesus to save you from your sins. That is the central truth of the Incarnation. That is the meaning of Christmas.

Jesus. Immanuel. God is with you to save you from your sins. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Matthew 11:2-15 – When Jesus Offends

Listen here.

Matthew 11:2-15

2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 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. 6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is he of whom it is written,

“‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way before you.’

11 Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. 12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. 13 For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, 14 and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. 15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

John preached that Jesus is coming, that the reign of God is at hand, that God is about to act. John pointed at Jesus and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” This is all exciting news – a cause for rejoicing. What God had promised right after the Fall into sin – that the seed of the woman would crush the serpent’s head – it’s finally happening. That promise, the one that God continued to make and expand for centuries and millennia, is finally being realized.

john-in-prison-with-disciplesThis is more unique than the Cubs winning the World Series or the Vikings winning the Super Bowl. Start dancing in the streets. Throw a parade. But, hang on, we’d better wait. Before we start blowing the confetti and popping the champagne corks, look – there in prison, in Herod’s dungeon – there sits John the Baptizer. We should probably wait for him.

John hears about what Jesus is doing, but he isn’t free to witness it himself. John hears what Jesus is doing, and as great as all of that is, it’s hard to be too happy about it when you are sitting in a dank, dark prison. So, John sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are You the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

Now, there are two ways to look at the motive behind John’s question, and they both center around the question, “Who is doubting?” Is it John or his disciples?”

In our Old Testament lesson (Is. 35:1-10), God promises that the Messiah would come with vengeance and save His people. God had also promised that when the Christ came, those in prison would be released (Is. 42:7). So John might be asking this question because he is in prison. So, maybe, Jesus isn’t really the Messiah. John may be the one doubting. Others think that John is sending his disciples to Jesus because they are doubting because John, their beloved teacher, is still in prison.

Either way, it doesn’t matter who is doubting. Either John or his disciples are offended by Jesus. Jesus is offending some because it looks like Jesus either doesn’t care that John is still in prison, or that Jesus can’t do anything about it.

So today, this text should cause us to ask ourselves, “Does Jesus offend me?”

We know the answer to that question should be a resounding, “No.” We aren’t supposed to wrestle with doubt. We aren’t supposed to let the messes in our lives cause us to question Jesus and His promises to us. But, be honest, we all do. We all struggle with doubts and are offended by Jesus when our life doesn’t match up with what we have heard in His promises.

So, what do you do when the messes of your life are all you can see? What do you do when you lie awake at night full of anxiety because the demons in your mind will not be quiet? What do you do when you lose your job, when your spouse dies, when your kids abandon the faith and turn their back on God? What do you do when the doctors run all sorts of tests and still can’t tell you what is wrong with your body?

What do you do when Jesus lets you down? AngerWhat do you do when you cannot pray because Jesus has seemed to fail you? What do you do when Jesus doesn’t bust you out of the prison of suffering and doubt, and it looks like He has left you there to rot? What do you do when Jesus becomes offensive?

Frist, and most importantly, don’t hide your doubts. Don’t simply go through the motions of what you think a Christian should do. Don’t project your anger at Jesus toward others. Drop your pretenses. Just be honest about how you are angry at Jesus.

Instead, listen to the word that Jesus sends to John. “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. And blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.”

Even though Jesus didn’t restore sight to every pair of blind eyes on earth during His ministry, in healing the ones that He did, He showed that He is the Son of God to bring healing to this fallen world.

Even though Jesus didn’t cleanse every leper and exorcise every demon in the world during His ministry, by cleansing those that He did, He revealed that He has the power and authority to remove the uncleanness of your sin and cast out your evil by the word of His forgiveness and absolution.

And even though Jesus didn’t tear down the walls of John’s prison, He did tear down the walls of the devil and the walls of condemnation when He went to the cross. There, on that cross, Jesus became the Messiah who took your condemnation and clothed you in His forgiveness. Jesus wasn’t maybe the Messiah you wanted, but He proved Himself to be the Messiah you needed.

On the cross, Jesus proved Himself to be the Messiah who has made you eternally whole, eternally clean, and eternally holy. And at the empty tomb, Jesus proved Himself to be the Messiah who perfectly did the Father’s will. He laid down His life and picked it back up again so that you can have eternal life with Him forever and ever.

christ-of-st-john-on-the-cross-salvador-daliWhen you are offended by Jesus, remember, that in the cross and the empty tomb, He has defeated all your doubts, all your afflictions, and all your diseases.

The Scriptures don’t tell us why God removes the afflictions of some but not others. But what we do know from the Scriptures is that Jesus is coming again to make all things new.

Jesus didn’t tear down the walls of John’s prison. Instead, in His eternal wisdom, God allowed John to be beheaded. But when Jesus returns, He will place John’s head back on his shoulders and John will live eternally with his Messiah. And just as Jesus has done this for John, He has done it for you. “Be strong; fear not. Behold, your God will come with vengeance with the recompense of God. He will come and save you” (Is. 35:4). Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Matthew 3:1-12 – Let the Axe Fly

Listen here.

Matthew 3:1-12

1 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
make his paths straight.’”

4 Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. axe-laid-at-the-root-of-the-tree10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

You didn’t think you would get through Advent without hearing from John the Baptizer, did you? God promised to send His messenger preparing the way before Him. Well, here he is – proclaiming the coming of the King, removing every obstacle, and making every path straight. The leveling and excavating is under way.

John the BaptizerThey say, “You are what you eat.” John’s diet of locusts has a locust effect, but John’s diet of honey also has a sweet effect too. John preaches, “Repent. Repent for the reign of heaven is at hand.”

Scripturally, the call to repent is much more than we often think it is. So, here is the broadest definition I can give to the command, “Repent,” ready?

Repentance is believing what God says about your sin. God says two things about your sin. First, God says that your sin separates you from Him, that your sin is punishable, that your sin is damnable. But God also says that your sin is forgiven because of what Christ has done.

Because we are sinners, we mostly think of the first part of repentance.

Repent. Turn around. Repent. Stop doing what you were doing – living by the desires of your flesh. Repent. Everything that you are pursuing, everything that you think is so important, everything that the world chases after, it will all be thrown into the fire and consumed. Repent. You cannot find paradise and peace with God by searching. Repent. Bad trees do not and cannot bear good fruit. Repent.

As sinners, none of us want to hear this. We would rather move beyond this message of repentance. We get tired of being hacked at and chopped away by the Law. But, in this life, you never move beyond your need for the Law because you never stop sinning.

You need God’s Law to continue its work in you because as the axe of the Law flies, we are all driven, we are toppled to lean on Christ and the mercy of God.

Crying to GodThis is the second, and most important part of repentance. Repentance, turning away from trust in yourself and your own works and efforts leads you to trust in what Jesus has done for you.

Through the Gospel, the Holy Spirit creates faith in you so that you turn away from your sin and to God’s mercy. And God’s mercy knows no end because of the holy, innocent, and bitter sufferings of Jesus.

God hasn’t unleashed the full fury the axe of the Law to damn and destroy you in your sin. Instead, God chipped, swung, and hacked all of His wrath on Jesus.  The very Jesus who is the Lamb of God that John points you to – the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:29). This very Jesus is the one who is the propitiation for your sins and the sins of the whole world (1 Jn. 2:2). This very Jesus is the one who knew no sin but became sin for you (2 Cor. 5:21).

The voice of John still cries out in the wilderness because it cries to you who are in the wilderness of your sin.

Sinner, you are the bad tree who bears bad, rotten fruit which is really no fruit at all. But because you believe in Christ, you are now the tree that bears the fruit of the Spirit. You receive what God gives to you. You now bear the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Brothers and sisters, repent. Believe what God says about your sins. Believe that your sins are evil and damnable. But don’t stop there. Believe that what Jesus has done is for you. Believe that Jesus suffered God’s wrath, punishment, and damnation in your place. And let that repentance cause you to bear fruit. Fruit of love toward God and love for your neighbor.

Let the axe of the Law fly. Jesus has suffered in your place. Let the axe fly. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.