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BETHLEHEM LUTHERAN CHURCH: | Mason City, Iowa USA | Pastor Mark Lavrenz

Dec 4, 2016  SERMON ARCHIVE

Sunday Sermon - Pastor Lavrenz Stained Glass - Communion

Grace, mercy and peace are yours from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ! Amen.

The text for our meditation today is the Gospel Lesson for today, Matthew3:1-12. There we read these words:

In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." 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.’" Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 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? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 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. 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. "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. 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."

Dear Christian friends, God desires very much to explain for you the meaning of everything you see. In other words, God wants you to distinguish between the thing that you are looking at, and what He tells you concerning that thing. God wants you to see with your ears, so to speak.

Take the example of your house, your car, your business, or anything else you own. That thing looks as if it were built by your own hands, or paid off over period of time, or inherited, and so on. But that is just the surface of the thing; the way it seems.

The real meaning of the thing is what God explains concerning it. Your house, car, business, whatever: it is a gift "from above, coming down from the Father of lights" as we read in James 1:17.

In last week’s Gospel, God again distinguished between what you see and what He says about it. Jesus rode donkeys into Jerusalem. That is all the people could see: a peasant riding donkeys. God needed to explain the meaning of what they saw, and He did so through His prophet: "Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold your king is coming to you.’"

The people could not have guessed that they were looking at their king, unless God first said to them, "Behold, your king."

In today’s Gospel, God again uses the same distinction between what you see and how He explains what you see. God wants you to see with your ears, as it were. As God’s prophet John stood on banks of the Jordan River, he saw many people who looked holy and well-established in the church. John saw people who looked meticulous about their duties, faithfully performing everything God requires. But prophets do not declare what a thing looks like. Prophets declare what God says the thing is.

Who were these men, coming to John for baptism? The quick answer is, "Pharisees and Sadducees," as you heard in this Gospel.

Stained Glass Baptism Window

But take a broader view for a moment. Dial your vision back and look at these men from a distance. They are people who have gathered to hear the preaching of the church, for whatever reason. These are people who have come to receive the gifts of God from the hand of the prophet whom God had sent.

It is NOT my point that we should all think of ourselves as Pharisees and Sadducees. My point is that these Pharisees and Sadducees stand together with us to hear the preaching of the Church and to participate in the divine gifts. After all, these men were "coming for baptism."

Each of you should identify yourselves with these Pharisees and Sadducees, but NOT because of their legendary hypocrisy. You should identify yourselves with these Pharisees and Sadducees because God’s prophet looks at these men, not according to what is seen with the eye, but according to what is declared in the divine Word.

Look around this sanctuary. What do you see? Mason City and each of the towns around are small enough that everyone pretty much knows all there is to know about everyone else. Probably the only one still in the dark is the preacher. And in more ways than one.

You know the liars, the gossips, and the cheats. You know those who cannot be trusted with a dollar, much less a position in the congregation or the community. You know those who only look good, those who do not even try to look good, and those who seem to think they look better than everyone else. You know the skeletons people have in their closets—some of them decades old—and you know where all the dead bodies are buried, so to speak.

God wants you to know that things are much WORSE than they appear. God wants you to draw a distinction between what you see with your eyes and what He explains concerning the thing you see. For all the evil actions you have seen and heard from others, their condition is actually much WORSE than their actions suggest.

God wants you to know that their sin does not merely consist of what you can see. Their sin is a viperous and deadly poison. Their sin is fully capable of death for them and misery for everyone around them. John could look at the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism and John could say to them, "brood of vipers," NOT because of the way these men looked, but because of what God says concerning all people everywhere.

What does God say? God says "Every inclination of a man’s heart is evil" (Genesis 8:21). We were "sinful from birth, sinful from the time our mothers conceived us" (Psalm 51:5). Our minds are "hostile to God" (Romans 8:7).

This is what God says about the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to John, despite the outward appearance of their holiness. This is what God says about every one of you, no matter who you are or how long your list of sins. This is most especially what God says about me—and it matters not one bit how things might appear to your eyes.

God wants you to draw a distinction between what you see with your eyes and what He explains concerning the thing you see.

Stained Glass Confirmation Window

Now, look again, around this sanctuary. What do you see? Everyone pretty much knows all there is to know about everyone else. In-laws and outlaws; well-known sinners and lily-white saints; naggers and braggers and pains-in-the-keister, all thrown together into the same pews.

But God wants you to know that things are much BETTER than they appear. God wants you to draw a distinction between what you see with your eyes and what He explains concerning the thing you see.

For all the evil actions you have seen and heard from these others, their condition is actually much BETTER than their actions suggest. God wants you to know that their sin has been assumed and carried by Christ the Sacrificial Lamb whose Advent we celebrate and anticipate in this season.

God wants you to know that the viperous and deadly poison of their sin has been injected into Jesus’ veins; that the poison of their sin has found its antidote in the blood that poured from our Lord’s cross.

These others around you have sin that is fully capable of death for them, just a yours is for you, but God in Christ has transformed their death into eternal life for them and for all who believe. Their sin is indeed capable of misery for everyone around them, but God now promises that all things now work together for the good of those who love Christ Jesus (Romans 8:28).

What does God say these others, and you, and me? God says in (1 John 2:1-2) … you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.

What does God say? God says in (Romans 5:6-8) …while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

What does God say? God says in (Colossians 1:13-14) ....He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

On nearly every page of His Scriptures, including today’s Gospel, God your heavenly Father teaches uyou to look at the world, not with your eyes, but with your ears.

God wants you to distinguish carefully between the thing that you are looking at, and what He tells you concerning that thing. God greatly desires to explain for you the meaning of everything you see, so that you may see everything rightly, from now to eternity. God wants you to hear it with your ears, since you cannot see it with your eyes.....

Christ Is Risen.

Luther Rose

 

Christ Is Risen
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