Who Are You? – Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent on John 1:19-28

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John 1:19–28

19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 And they asked him, John the Baptizer“What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said,
“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’
as the prophet Isaiah said.”

24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, 27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

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

Who are you, John? Well, his name means, ‘the Lord is gracious.’ John’s name was given to him not by his parents but from heaven itself (Lk. 1:13). So, when you insert the meaning of John’s name, our text opens saying, “This is the testimony, the witness, of God’s grace…”

Priests and Levites come from Jerusalem to ask John, “Who are you?”

If someone walks up to you and asks, “Who are you?” how do you answer? You maybe start with your name and tell them about your family. You talk about your job or what you are studying in school. The conversation might turn to your interests, hobbies, or pet-peeves.

John doesn’t do that. The priests and Levites come out into the wilderness to see this guy who has a large following, has his own disciples, and has baptized gobs of people from Jerusalem and Judea (Mt. 3:5-6). They want to know and so they ask, “Who are you?”

“Well, I’m not the Christ.” And you can just picture John go back to preaching and baptizing, and the priests and Levites scratching their heads.

Even though the picture we have of John in the Gospels is extremely intense, John must have been a bit of an introvert. But if we have a biblical understanding of who John is and what God had given him to do, this is a perfect answer.

John is the forerunner. He is the one sent by God to point people to God’s grace in Jesus. John is the one who prepares the way of the Lord. And when you are preparing the way for the Christ who is so great and mighty that you aren’t even worthy to untie His sandals, confessing that you aren’t Him makes a lot more sense.

Now, the priests were students of the Old Testament. They knew that the last word they had from God was that God would send Elijah (Mal. 4:5), the prophet who didn’t die but was taken into heaven. Malachi had prophesied that God would send His messenger before Him who would prepare for God’s coming into the Temple (Mal 3:1). There was even some in those days who thought that Elijah would return from heaven and be the Messiah. So, these priests and Levites ask, “Are you Elijah?” And John says, “Nope,” and goes back to baptizing.

Now, this may seem a little strange because Jesus will say that John is the Elijah whom Malachi spoke about (Mt. 11:14). But John’s denial is probably because of their misconceptions.

So, the priests and Levites think it over some more and ask, “Ok, are you the prophet?” incarnation of JesusAnd they ask this because of what we heard in our Old Testament lesson (Dt. 18:15-19). In that text, Moses told the people that God would raise up a prophet for His people from among them. And Moses made it very clear, “To Him you shall listen.”

In that text, Moses reminds the people about the day when God gave the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai. The people were, well, terrified and asked Moses to not let God speak to them anymore. And God said, “Yeah, talking to them like that is too frightening for them. I’ll speak to them again in a way that doesn’t make them wet themselves. I’ll put my words in the mouth of my Prophet, and He will speak to the people.” God was referring to Jesus – the One who speaks God’s words of forgiveness, who makes God’s grace and truth known (Jn. 1:14). So, when John gets asked, “Are you the prophet?” again, he says, “No.”

The priests and Levites are done asking John, “Who are you?” because John isn’t interested in answering. “Fine, you won’t tell us who you are. But we need to tell the guys who sent us something. What do you say about yourself?”

And John still keeps the focus where it should be, “Listen, guys, I’m no one. I am simply a voice preaching in the wilderness preparing the way for the Lord.”

Now, what does all of this mean for us today? What can we learn from this text?

One thing we can learn from the priests and Levites is that even if someone has studied the Scriptures, it doesn’t mean they are teaching the Bible rightly. Don’t simply listen to someone’s preaching and teaching because they seem nice, can quote a verse periodically, and sound “Bibley.” Know the Bible. And if any preacher or teacher isn’t constantly pointing you to Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins, avoid them.

Second, see how John confesses right away that he is not the Christ. Don’t ever trust in yourself for your salvation. God delivers you. Like John, you are not the Christ. But thanks be to God, you don’t need to be. Jesus has come. He has delivered you from sin, death, and the devil. His birth, His death, His resurrection, and His ascension have secured a place for you to live forever with God who is full of mercy and grace.

John 1_14Finally, take a page out of John’s playbook and point people to Jesus. John has a laser-like focus on Jesus and isn’t interested in talking to people unless he is pointing them to Christ. Point others to the One who delivers them from sin. Point them to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Tell them that they don’t need to save themselves. Jesus saves them.

This is the testimony of John. This is the testimony of God’s grace. May that be our testimony as well. May that be our witness as we gather together and as we go out from here.

I look forward to celebrating the coming of God’s grace with you tonight as we rejoice in the incarnation of our Lord and Savior. Amen.

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

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Comfort – Sermon for the Third Sunday in Advent on Isaiah 40:1-8

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Isaiah 40:1-8

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.Isaiah 40 1
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.

3 A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
5 And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

A voice says, “Cry!”
And I said, “What shall I cry?”
All flesh is grass,
and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
7 The grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of the Lord blows on it;
surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.

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

Do these verses scare you? After all, they talk about warfare, iniquity, sins. Wilderness, desert. Mountains pressed down. Valleys raised. And you are in the midst of it all. Frail. Like grass that withers and like flowers that fade.

No. These verses don’t cause you to worry. They do not cause anxiety. You probably don’t give any of those things a second thought T because through it all you hear of the constant, abiding, eternal Word of your God who speaks comfort to you.

You heard it at the beginning of our service, but it bears repeating. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, rejoice” (Php. 4:4). Why should you rejoice? Because God comes to comfort you. “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” Those seven words are enough for endless sermons.

Luther Isaiah 40 ComfortThe only people who can be comforted are those who are troubled, afflicted, and uncomfortable. And God says, “Give them a double dose. Give them two shots of comfort.”

Who gets this comfort? God’s people do. That means you. You are those for whom Christ was born. You are those whom God claims as His own. You are the people for whom Christ has died. Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. That means your sin is included. The Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier of all people calls you, “My people.”

And just in case you don’t get the fact that you are God’s people, His children, God calls Himself, “Your God.” He is not ashamed to claim you as His.

So, play the first verse of this text backwards. God says to you, “I am your God. You are My people. And I give to you comfort on top of comfort.”

The context in which these verses were written helps us see how comforting these words from God are. God tells Isaiah to tell Jerusalem that her warfare is ended. But, when Isaiah writes these words, Jerusalem isn’t even at war. Now, Babylon will come and besiege Jerusalem, and God’s people will be taken into exile. But even before it begins, God comforts His people with the promise that her warfare will end.

Advent Wreath 3God’s anger is but for a moment, and His favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning (Ps. 30:5). And even before the suffering begins God preaches comfort to His people.

That final line of v. 2 may still make you scratch your head a little bit. This talk of receiving “from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” What is that all about? It sounds like punishment, but it is not.

The people of Isaiah’s day didn’t pay double for their sins, not even close. The wages of sin is death. The people of Jerusalem didn’t die twice; they didn’t’ get a double dose of hell. These words are not about punishment. Instead, they are about God’s mercy and grace.

You see, God doesn’t want you to receive any of His wrath or judgment. He doesn’t want you to pay for any of your sin. He doesn’t want you to spend eternity in hell. So be comforted. Christ has come. Jesus has ended your warfare and pardoned you. You receive double from God for all your sins because your sin is punished – not on you but on Christ. And in return, you are given His righteousness, holiness, innocence, and His good works.

This is how God’s accounting works. Here is how God manages the debt of your sin. Jesus doesn’t just simply get you out of debt. He gives you an increase. Imagine if you stole from God $1,000 worth of stuff. Instead of simply forgiving the debt and calling it even, God gives you $1,000 more (Pr. David Petersen). That is how your God is for you.

God with UsHere is your hope, Christian. You have God’s comfort in all things. Heaven is on your side. Your warfare is ended. Your iniquity pardoned. And no one, not even God Himself, can charge you for your sins because His Word of comfort stands forever.

So, rejoice. Rejoice in the Lord always. Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel, Jesus, God with you, shall come to you. Amen.

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

Near – Sermon for the Second Sunday in Advent on Luke 21:25-36

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Luke 21:25-36

25 “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves, 26 people fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. For the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

29 And he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. 30 As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

34 “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come upon all who dwell on the face of the whole earth. 36 But stay awake at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Imagine that you are in a large, fortified castle that is being attacked. The ground shakes and the walls creak. You hear the shouts of soldiers. Captains holler as they command their troops to band together and be steady. Swords are clashing, arrows whizzing. You feel and hear the deep boom of a battering ram repeatedly pounding the gates as dust and pebbles fall from the massive bricks of stone all around youCastle Besieged

Normally, you wouldn’t want to be anywhere near all that calamity, wreckage, and ruin. But imagine that all of this is happening while you are in the dungeon, and the king who is attacking the castle is your father coming to rescue you. So, when those gates fall and his soldiers breach the walls, you will be freed. You might still be scared when the fighting rages near you because the danger is real, but you know that the castle falling is your hope.

That is why Jesus gave us these words. Jesus tells you about the end of this world so that when all these fearful things take place, you know what is happening. The castle of this world is falling, but its fall is your rescue and deliverance.

Too often, we think that this world is all there is because this world is all we know. And when what we know starts to shake and crumble, we get worried when its end appears near.

When we see hurricanes hitting the South and California burning, when we turn on the news or open Facebook and learn about another mass shooting or the continued nuclear saber-rattling of dictators, as we hear about celebrities and politicians being accused of terrible conduct, or as we watch our society decaying because we can’t even talk to each other, we think the world is coming to an end. Well, it is.

It is, but Jesus has told us it would. Jesus said that there would be signs in creation – in the sun, moon, and stars. Jesus said there would be distress in the nations. Jesus said people would be fainting with fear and foreboding of what is coming on the world. We are seeing with our own eyes all of this taking place. But remember that we live in the dungeon of the castle of this fallen, sinful world, and Jesus, our Savior, is coming again to rescue and free us.

Christ Returns in Power and GloryRemember also that this world is not all that there is. There is more. There is still the eternal wedding feast of the Lamb in His kingdom. That is why Jesus tells us to not be afraid when these things draw near. He says, “When these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

All the troubles of this world are signs that Jesus is coming to rescue us. These signs that bring fear to the world are already near you, and they are only going to get nearer and nearer. And for the world all these signs leave them no other option than to despair.

But for you, Christian, these signs are signs that your deliverance is drawing near, that you are about to be rescued. If the signs still cause you to worry and fear, look to God’s Word because even though heaven and earth pass away, God’s Word will never pass away.

Remember, the Word became flesh for you and for your salvation, full of grace and truth (Jn. 1:14). God’s Word to you is that He is a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding is steadfast love and faithfulness (Ex. 34:6).

After Adam and Eve fell into sin, they didn’t want to be near each other in their natural, created state, so they covered themselves in leaves. Then, when God showed up, they didn’t want to be near Him either, so they hid. But what did God say? He asked, “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:9).

It was not God’s wrath that caused Adam and Eve to hide; it was their sin. Their sin had so clouded their minds that they thought their sin had changed who God was. Sadly, we think that too. Of course, God knew where Adam and Eve were. God who created everything in mercy and had given them everything in mercy had come to them In His mercy.

God came to Adam and Eve to give them the promise of the Seed who would crush the serpent’s head. God had come to mercifully point Adam and Eve to Jesus, the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world (1 Pet. 1:19-20). God came to show them that because of His mercy, He would accept the death of another to cover their sin.

But Adam and Eve thought He was coming to destroy them.

To be sure, sin has changed us. Because of our sin, death entered into the world. Because of our sin, this creation will perish. But God has fixed it because His love and mercy for you endures forever. He has come and paid the price. He has laid down His life for you. And He is coming again for you.

cropped-jesus-lamb-slain-silver-goldSo, the castle of this world crumbles, but your redemption draws near. Though the earth gives way, though the mountains tremble and are moved into the heart of the sea (Ps. 46:2-3), according to His promise you are waiting for the new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Pet. 3:13).

The end is drawing near. Twilight is falling upon this world of sin. But for you believer, there is a new dawn. “The sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings” (Mic. 4:2). Jesus, your Redeemer, is near, and He comes to save you so you can be with Him forever and ever.

So, straighten up. Raise your heads. Your redemption is drawing near. Amen.

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

God’s New Name – Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent on Jeremiah 23:5-8 & Matthew 21:1-9

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Jeremiah 23:5-8

5 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell Jeremiah 23_6 Righteousnesssecurely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’

7 “Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when they shall no longer say, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ 8 but ‘As the Lord lives who brought up and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ Then they shall dwell in their own land.”

Matthew 21:1–9

1 Now when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Bethphage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will send them at once.” 4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying,

5 “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘
Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”

6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. 8 Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest!”

jesus-triumphal-entry-palm-sunday

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

The Exodus, when God led His people out of slavery in Egypt, was the main event of salvation in the Old Testament. The slaughter of the Passover lamb whose blood protected God’s people from the angel of death. The parting of the sea to release God’s people from the land of slavery on dry ground. The guidance of cloud by day. The protection of the pillar of fire by night. And the culmination when God gave of the Law on Mt. Sinai saying, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Ex. 20:2). All those actions were the main celebration of the people of God. So, when God’s people called upon Him, they would name Him, “the God who brought us out of land of Egypt.”

But in today’s Old Testament text (Jeremiah 23:5-8), God declares through Jeremiah that He will be called by a new name, “the Lord is our righteousness.” God would no longer be known as the one who brought His people out of the land of Egypt because greater things were coming. God would bring about a better, more lasting deliverance. The days were coming when God would raise up for David a righteous branch. This offspring of David would reign as king. He would cause God’s people to be saved, and under Him they would dwell securely.

Our Gospel text today (Matthew 21:1-9), is the beginning of that great event. Jesus rides into Jerusalem, into the royal city. He rides toward the cross – for you.

Jesus is your Lord. He is your righteousness. He rules not over a political kingdom, but over an eternal kingdom. Jesus is the Savior that the all great events of the Exodus were pointing forward to. He is your Passover Lamb; faith points toward Him and the angel of death passes over you. He is the pillar of fire who lights your way through the darkness. He is the cloud protecting you from the scorching heat of God’s wrath. He is the one who brings you out of a foreign land full of death and sin.

Jesus’ death and resurrection stands as the central event in the history of the cosmos. The cross and empty tomb is what all of Scripture pointed forward to. God coming and reconciling you back to Himself is the story and the teaching of all the Scriptures (Jn. 5:39).

That is why the Church has its own unique calendar that centers around Jesus’ death and resurrection. Having such a calendar isn’t commanded in Scripture, but it is a helpful tool prepared Advent Wreath 1for us by the saints who have come before us. Today, this first Sunday in Advent, is the beginning of a new Church year.

Advent is not about us getting ready for Christmas to meet baby Jesus in a manger. Instead it is getting us ready for Christ’s coming in glory to judge the living and the dead. And so, we repent. We repent because Jesus will come on the Last Day to judge all mankind, and sadly for most it will be a day of terror.

But not for you, Christian. Jesus, your Savior, is your righteousness. He died to make you His own. Because of what He has done, you are declared righteous. And we, as God’s people prepare for His return by receiving Him as He comes to us in His Word and as He comes here and now in Bread and Wine given to us for the forgiveness of our sins.

And so, we join our voices with those who welcomed Him into Jerusalem, “Hosanna,” which means, “Lord, save us now.” And He does because He is our righteousness. Amen.

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