The Savior Who Is Not You – Sermon on John 1:19-28 for the Fourth Sunday in Advent

Listen here.

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, “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.”

John Points to Christ24 (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.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

From 4th grade until I graduated High School, I spent too much time at swimming pools. Monday-Friday consisted in at least two hours of practice. And most weekends December–March and June–August were swim meets. In the summer, if my friends wanted to hang out, it usually meant we would go to the pool. Now, there are different sets of pool rules: one set for swim team members during practice and another set for everyone who comes for open swim.

I knew all the lifeguards because most of them were also on the swim team. During practice, they were teammates (even though, until I got to High School, they were much older than I was). But during open swim, they were no longer teammates. They were the authorities. I had to obey their commands and comply with their whistles. And, believe me, they made sure I got a whistle for every little infraction during open swim.

So, when I was old enough, I took the class to get my lifeguard certification so I too could get a job at the pool. I received that perforated card from the Red Cross with the words written in bold “Lifeguard Certification.” And I had ascended the ranks. I donned my white tank-top with the bold red cross, grabbed my whistle, shouldered my 50” rescue tube, and climbed to the throne of the lifeguard stand.

Now, I had authority. I could boss around the younger kids who were on the swim team when they came for open swim. I could bark commands at the college kids and adults who dared to hang on the rim of the poolside basketball hoop, run on the deck, dive in the shallow end, or take more than one bounce on the diving boards. The first few months of being on the stand, I was the Attila the Hun of lifeguards. All feared and obeyed me. (But, I’m sure, the swimmers and my fellow lifeguards thought I was ridiculous.)

The point of all that is this: Whenever we are unsure of our authority or position or status, we take every opportunity to assert ourselves to make sure that everyone around us can see that we are important, we are in charge, we have the answers. And, in our minds, those who can’t see that are just plain clueless. So, we respond to their ignorance about our greatness and importance by doubling down on insisting how important we are. The worst part is that we don’t see how sinful and stuffed with pride we have become, and we refuse to repent because we have justified ourselves in our minds.

John the BaptizerJohn the Baptizer was important. He was the forerunner of the Messiah and the last prophet. He was foretold in Scripture. He had the attention of all Judea and Jerusalem as they came out to him. And the religious authorities were sending envoys to him asking, “Who are you?” They wanted to find out exactly why John was doing what he was doing.

John could have easily persuaded and convinced everyone that he was something more than he actually was. But John confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ, not Elijah, not the prophet.”

John stayed in his God-given role, his God-given position, his God-given job, his God-given task, his God-given vocation, “I am not the Christ. I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’” Those two, brief confessions from John can also bring stability, peace, and joy into our lives. John confesses who he is not, and John confesses who he is. When you recognize and trust that you are not your own christ and that you have your own God-given calling and vocation, everything falls into its proper place.

You, like John, are not the Christ. Repeat after me, “I am not the Christ.” You do not have to justify yourself or your actions. Now, let me be clear, there may be times where you are falsely accused of doing wrong and you will need to set the record straight. But even in those instances, there is always some sin you have committed even if it was only a thought or wrong attitude. If we say we have nosin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us (1 Jn. 1:8). So, rather than covering your tracks, rather than justifying yourself, rather than trying to be your own christ, your own savior, you are free. Free to ask for forgiveness – from God and from your neighbor.

There is freedom in saying, “I am not the Christ,” because there is a Christ, there is a Savior who is not you. Jesus, the Christ and Savior, sits at His Father’s right hand with His nail-scarred hands and feet. He vouches for you to God the Father saying, “I am the Christ. I am the Savior. I died and rose again to forgive that one there.”

So, confessing, “I am not the Christ,” brings peace and joy. But so also does John’s other statement, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness…”

cropped-jesus-lamb-slain-silver-goldNow, you aren’t the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, but you are a Christian. And you are a Christian because there is a Christ. You bear His name. You are washed clean of all your sins in His blood. You hear Jesus’ Word. You pray His prayers. You live His life. You have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer you who live but Christ who lives in you (Gal. 2:20). This means that you have your own God-given calling, role, task, and vocation to carry out. So be faithful in those callings and vocations.

And rejoice. Rejoice because there is a Savior who is not you. In Him is your rest. In Him is your forgiveness. In him is your peace. “Rejoice the Lord always, again I will say rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.” (Php. 4:4-5). You have no reason to be anxious about anything. You are the forgiven, ransomed, redeemed people of God. You have the Savior. You bear His name and have been made His royal children. And Christ the King, your Lord and Savior, He is at hand. Amen.

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

Advertisements

The One Who Shows You Mercy – Sermon on Luke 10:23-37 for the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity

Listen here.

Luke 10:23-37

23 Then turning to the disciples he said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! 24 For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”

25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” 29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. Jesus Good Samaritan Icon32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

This parable is arguably the most well-known parable Jesus ever told. That being said, it is also one of the most misinterpreted and misused parables. Today, may your eyes and ears be blessed as Jesus tells you what many prophets and kings desired to see and hear but did not. Holy Spirit, open our eyes and unplug our ears to Christ’s mercy.

This lawyer, this guy who knows the Old Testament forwards and backwards, asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” This is a stupid question. You don’t do something to gain an inheritance.

All Scripture shows that God’s people do not inherit eternal life by doing something. As our Epistle Text (Gal. 3:15-22) said, the inheritance of eternal life has always and will always come through the promise of God.

The lawyer knew exactly what he must do to have eternal life. He must do the Law, and his understanding of the Law is correct. Love God perfectly; love your neighbor perfectly. It’s exactly how Jesus sums up the Law elsewhere (Mt. 22:34-40). Jesus tells the lawyer, “Bingo! Do this, and you will live.”But Jesus might just as well have said, “Yup. Go to hell.”

And the lawyer gets it. He is stuck in his own death. The Law has exposed him for the wretched sinner that he is. The Law has left him scared and confused because he doesn’t know the Gospel; it’s completely foreign to him. He wants an out and clamors for a loophole. He asks, “Well, who is my neighbor? Whom should I love?”

But every Sunday school student knows the answer. “Who is my neighbor?” Everyone. “Whom should I love?” Everyone and without fail. But Jesus doesn’t tell the parable to answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus tells the parable to change the question to get the answer He wants. The point of the parable is not to teach us to love everyone. Scripture teaches that all over the place but not in this parable.

Instead, Jesus tells the parable because He wants to show the lawyer and you hope. Jesus wants to show you what God mercifully does for you. He wants your eyes to see and your ears to hear the Gospel.

With all that in mind, consider the parable: The road from Jerusalem to Jericho is downhill the whole way. The man in the parable is constantly going down. And as he goes down, he falls among thieves who rob, strip, beat, and leave him for dead.

A priest happens to come across him, but when he sees the poor sap, he moves to the other side of the road. A Levite spots him as well and does the same. They don’t bind up his wounds. They don’t offer to find someone else to help. They don’t even stand a safe distance and speak comforting words to him as he dies. Instead, the two most respected religious people in Jesus’ day are unwilling to give a second look to the wretch in the ditch.

They know God’s Word, but they are able to justify leaving the guy in the mud and blood. “If God allowed this to happen to him, it must have been for a reason.” Or, “He must have been hanging out with the wrong crowd.” Or, “If I help this guy, I’ll be unclean and won’t be able to perform my duties in the Temple and people won’t have their spiritual needs met.” They won’t let this looser distract them from their calling.

This beaten, bloodied man is despised and rejected by his own people who turn their faces from him (Is. 52:14; 53:2-4).

But then comes the hero – the man of the hour. But he is a Samaritan. He’s a looser and outcast just like the man in the ditch. And this looser ministers to his fellow looser.

He goes down into the ditch. He binds up the wounds. He puts ointment, oil, and wine on the lacerations. He hefts the guy onto his own animal, giving up his own comfort. He is delayed and intruded upon. Whatever appointment or meeting he was journeying to doesn’t matter anymore. The only thing that matters is the stripped, bleeding man.

The Samaritan brings the guy to a hotel and watches over him through the night. In the morning, he makes his way to the front desk and books the room indefinitely.

He tells the staff, “Bill everything to my room. That bloodied guy I brought in here last night, whatever he needs Is on my tab. If he needs doctors or nurses, I’ll cover it. If he needs a ride, get an Uber on me. If he consumes the mini bar fifteen times, I’m good for it. I’ll be back to pay for it all.”

The parable completed, Jesus looks at the lawyer and asks, “Who proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”

Again, if this parable is teaching us to love everyone, then Jesus is a bad teacher and is asking the wrong question. “Who proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”

Jesus is setting the lawyer up. Christ is not calling the lawyer to be like the Samaritan. Jesus wants the lawyer to see that he is the man in the ditch. Jesus wants the lawyer to desire the care, compassion, reckless love, and mercy that the Samaritan shows in the parable because that is exactly what Jesus has come to do for him and for you. Jesus is the one who shows mercy.

Good Samaritan Jesus IconChrist has come to find you. He has bound up your wounds. Jesus has poured out His healing, life-giving blood for you. Jesus nurses you in your brokenness. He has ascended into heaven and has promised to come back and pay for everything you need.

In order to be saved, you don’t need to be merciful; you need mercy. You don’t need to love your neighbor; you need to be loved. You need to receive the Jesus who has come to give you every last bit of His mercy.

That is what the parable means. Our text ends with Jesus saying, “You, go and do likewise.”And Jesus means that too. What Jesus has poured into you, let it spill out and bless others. Amen.

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

Use It – Sermon for Easter 7 on 1 Peter 4:7-14

Listen here.

1 Peter 4:7-14

7The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. 8Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 9Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: 11whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

12Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.

Alleluia, Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The end is near. Peter said so nearly two-thousand years ago, and this world hasn’t gotten any better. But we are not told to panic and worry. Instead, Scripture tells us to be self-controlled, sober-minded, loving, hospitable, and to use the gifts God has given us so that God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. Today, we are going to consider God’s good gift of motherhood because whether or not you are a mother, you have a mother. And in the gift of motherhood, we see the beauty of God’s love for us.

When our society decides to dedicate a day to celebrate one of the Ten Commandments, we in the church say, “Fantastic idea. Let’s do it!” Actually, our society has dedicated two whole days to the 4thCommandment, “Honor thy father and thy mother.”

Through the vocation of motherhood, God chose to save the world – literally. God’s act of creation and salvation intersect in the office of motherhood. In the opening chapters of Scripture, God creates man and woman telling them, “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.” However, Satan attacked God’s good creation, and all humanity fell because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience.

After the Fall, God said that He would put enmity between the devil and the woman, and between the devil’s offspring and the woman’s offspring. God promised that an Offspring of the woman would come and crush the serpent’s head even as the serpent bruised His heel. God was promising to send Jesus as He gave this first promise of the virgin birth of our Savior.

Adam and Eve clearly believed this because it was only after this promise that Adam gives his wife the name Eve. Before that, she was simply called ‘woman.’ Now, Eve was going to be the mother of all the children in all creation. So why does Adam change her name to Eve, which means ‘life-giver’? Because they both believed God’s promise to defeat Satan and remove the curse of sin and death that they had brought into the world.

This is why the devil attacks the family and especially motherhood. Satan attacked the family right away in the jealous feud Cain had with Abel. That attack continued down through the birth of Jesus when the devil roused Herod to kill the infant boys in Bethlehem. And the attack continues today in our culture of death.

Whenever there is a child in the womb of a mother, the devil sees a reminder of the Christ Child. So, Satan has filled our society with his lies thatmotherhood is not a burden worth bearing. Instead, the devil tries to make everything about me: my plans, my rights, my body, my choice. Too often today, children in the womb are said to be parasites when they are God’s greatest gift after the forgiving blood of Jesus.

But even as we Christians point this outand proclaim repentance and forgiveness for those who would kill children in the womb where they should be protected, we are accused of only caring for children in the womb and not when they are born. Let those attacks come. But let us all live our lives in such a way that those attacks are completely baseless and totally untrue.

God’s intent is that we, His creatures, continue with Him in His work of creation having children and continuing life through families – fathers, mothers, and children. Mothers know how to suffer for the sake of the lives of their children. When God said to Eve, “In pain you will bring forth children,” He wasn’t only speaking about the pain of labor and birth. Every mother continues to know the pain and suffering that goes into the responsibility of nurturing, caring for, and raising children. They make sacrifices, shed tears, and worry for their children. Mothers, you are doing God’s good work when you do those things.

So, all of you, thank your mom because mothers are a picture of how Jesus picked up our sorrows and carried our burdens. He suffered for your sake, for your eternal life, and for your salvation. Like Jesus, mothers lay down their lives for the sake of others.

In college, I studied a poem by Billy Collins titled The Lanyard. In it, the poet remembers how he crafted a lanyard for his mother while he was away at camp even though he had no idea what a lanyard was or what a person would do with it. Here is a bit of that poem:

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light
and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
‘Here are thousands of meals,’ she said,
‘and here is clothing and a good education.’
‘And here is your lanyard,’ I replied,
‘which I made with a little help from a counselor.’
‘Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world,’ she whispered,
‘and here,’ I said, ‘is the lanyard I made at camp.’

The poem closes with Collins wishing he could give his mother a different gift – an apology. He wants to confess that when he gave his mother that lanyard as a young boy he thought it was enough to make him even with her.

But here’s the point, mothers are glad to have gifts from their children. They love getting the drawings and sketches, the poorly spelled notes and letters, and the bouquets of dandelions from their children – not because those things are so well-done – but because they love their children. They don’t care about the artistry or worth of what their children give. They love their children and, therefore, they love what their children do.

The same is even more true of God. God isn’t concerned about you repaying Him so that you are even. Your prayers, your tithes, your acts of charity toward your neighbor are infinitesimally less than a son giving his mother a lanyard. But that doesn’t matter to God.

Christian, what you do in faith is never in vain. God takes what you do in faith and uses it to serve your neighbor so that He is glorified.

So, as our text here says, as you see that the end of all things is at hand, as each of you has received a gift, use it. Use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.

Alleluia, Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.

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