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

Dec 17, 2017  SERMON ARCHIVE

Sunday Sermon - Pastor Lavrenz Stained Glass - Communion

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

The text for our meditation today is the Gospel Lesson for this 3rd Sunday in Advent, John 1:6-8, 19-28. There we read these words:

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.....And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?" He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, "I am not the Christ." And they asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the Prophet?" And he answered, "No." 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?" 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." (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) They asked him, "Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?" John answered them, "I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie." These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

We begin in the name of Jesus, Amen

You know, there was something compelling about John the Baptist, but it really wasn't the camels' hair wardrobe or the diet of locusts and wild honey.

No, there was a commanding presence about him, something that made you stop and take notice. All of Judea was flocking to hear this strangely-clad man, yearning to hear a message of baptism, repentance and the remission of sins. He spoke with a rare authority, and the people determined that he couln't just be John, son of Zacharias. He had to have been something more.

"Are you the Christ?" they asked him. It made sense. This powerful man was no respecter of persons; he was the sort who even told soldiers what they ought to be doing, and that was important. Israel had waited a long time for the Christ, the One who would vanquish their enemies and rule forever.

Could John be the long-awaited Messiah? No, he confessed openly. "I am not the Christ." "What then?" they asked. "Are you Elijah?

Oh, for the return of Elijah, the prophet who spoke God's Word and brought famine to the land, who spoke again and brought the rains. The man who raised the widow's son from death to life, who called down fire from heaven and stood up against 400 prophets of Baal. The one who was taken to heaven in a fiery chariot.

Maybe he was making an encore appearance, disguised as John the Baptist. "Are you Elijah?" they ask. "I am not," John said. Strike two.

"Are you the Prophet?" others asked. The great prophet Moses had declared that God would send another one like him to preach to the people of Israel; and it was during the time of Moses that ten plagues afflicted Israel, the Red Sea parted, and manna fell from heaven.

Look at the results of John's preaching-everybody's coming to hear. If John was the Prophet foretold by Moses, wow! He was just getting warmed up, so they needed to stick around to see the fireworks. "Are you the Prophet?" they ask. His answer: "No." Strike 3.

Stained Glass Baptism Window

"Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?" John replied, "I am 'The voice of one crying in the wilderness: "Make straight the way of the LORD," 'as the prophet Isaiah said.'"

So that was it. John was the voice. For all of his authority and presence and charisma, he was just the preparer, the forerunner. And John was preparing the way for no one less than the LORD. John was not the Christ; but his message meant the Christ was coming.

And if this was the messenger, what would the Christ be like? Surely He would stand out head and shoulders above the crowd. Certainly, there would the handsomeness of power about him, a strength and authority that was apparent to all. There had to be.

If the Christ is the One anointed by God in order to save His people, govern and lift them up forever, then He must be strong and powerful. Persuasive. A leader who stands out. John's presence means that He is coming, He is near. And oh, yes: You'll know Him when you see Him. Won't you?

Some sent by the Pharisees ask one more question: "Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?" John answers: "I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose."

What did he say? "There stands One among you whom you do not know." He's there. He stands among them, the One so great that John isn't worthy to loose his sandal strap. He's there, in the crowd; but they don't know Him.

It's kind of strange. You'd think that they'd recognize someone who was greater than John, Elijah and Moses. The One who flattens the hills and raises valleys. The One they call the Lion of the tribe of Judah.

Being pretty good judges of character and all, you'd think they'd sense something. But they didn't. They didn't recognize Him. He had no special form or comeliness that made Him stand out; apparently, there was no beauty about Him that made Him attractive or desirable. He was just a face in the crowd.

Shoot: A Christ like that means you can't go by appearances. You're going to have to watch what He does and listen to what He says, just to be sure.

But who was He? Who was the Face in the crowd? They didn't have to wait long-only until the next day, and the very next verse after today's Gospel lesson: It is in John 1:29 that John pointed the finger at the One coming toward him and cried out, "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!"

There He was-the Savior of the world had been standing among them. And John just called the mighty Lion of the tribe of Judah… "the Lamb of God?"

When one thinks in terms of mighty conquerors and kings, the image of a lamb usually doesn't come to mind. Lambs don't go forth and fight and take care of others; unless they are taken care of, they wander around until they're attacked.

Priests pick up lambs and sacrifice them, shedding the blood of these wooly victims all the time without resistance. "Follow the Lamb!" was not an inspiring battle cry. Why was He the Lamb of God? Wasn't He strong and powerful? Yes.

But that very day, He did not declare Himself as superior to others on the banks of the Jordan; He was not going to save by overpowering, but by serving; He would not conscript followers and force them into His army, but would draw them to Himself by His servant hood to them.

Stained Glass Confirmation Window

Rather than punish His enemies until they dare not lift a finger, He would submit to their punishment and scorn. Most of all, He would save by sacrifice-by offering Himself to God on the cross for the sins of the world. His blood would be shed, like those lambs on the altar; and His holy, precious blood would be enough to atone for the sins of all. That is why He was the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

This fulfilled the prophets words. This fulfilled the promise of a Messiah who God had foretold throughout the Old Testament, the Savior who would come with a mighty hand-and be stricken, smitten and afflicted for our iniquity.

The problem is, sinners don't go by the Word; they go by appearances. The fruit is pleasant to the eyes. The sin looks attractive.

A Messiah ought to look like a powerful warrior. He should have a palace and throne, not a manger and cross. Because people go by appearances, many would miss the Savior-they would reject Him intentionally, or just pass Him off as nothing special.

But others will hear His Word. Hearing His Word, they will believe. Despite appearances, they will look upon the Face in the crowd, or the One pierced on the cross, and say, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world."

Although He has conquered sin and death and risen victorious from the grave, and although He sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty and rules all things, He still comes to you humbly. He still comes to you to serve. He is present with you today when His Word is proclaimed. He is the Word made flesh; so when the Word is here, He is here.

He is present at the font, in those waters of Holy Baptism; there, when your sins were washed away, they were washed onto Him and He suffered for them at the cross. He is here in bread and wine, giving you His body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.

These are humble, common things-words and water, bread and wine. They are simple and unremarkable elements that you can find in any supermarket.

But, his appearance was pretty unremarkable on the banks of the Jordan, too; yet He was there. And you have His promise that He is just as here with you, by His Word and Sacraments.

And this, dear Christians, explains much about your life in Christ. It is sometimes taught that, as a Christian, you should expect an extraordinary life. Miracles should be happening, glorious proofs of God's love for you. You should enjoy prosperity, good health and recognition.

Therefore, if your life seems routine and unremarkable, there must be something wrong. But there isn't anything wrong at all. As the Lord works in unremarkable-looking ways for your salvation, so He works for your other needs as well.

Rather than heal you of disease or injury outright in a glorious display of power, He uses doctors and nurses to perform that work. Rather than drop groceries out of heaven to your doorstep, He provides funds through your employment and food through the store. Such an ordinary life does not mean God's absence; this is how He works, behind the scenes, to provide for you.

As the Lord Jesus stood unrecognized at the Jordan River, so you may live a life unrecognized, too. As He suffered temptation, trial and affliction; so will you-not because Jesus has abandoned you, but because you are His disciple.

You are the sheep of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Christ is risen.

Luther Rose


Christ Is Risen
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