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Advent 4 – John 1:19-28

by pastorjuhl ~ December 20th, 2012

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

            John the Baptist’s conversation with the priests and Levites sent by the Jews almost sounds like those American Express commercials of yesteryear. “Do you know me? You think you know me, but you really don’t know me. I am not the Christ. I am not [Elijah]. No, [I am not the Prophet]. I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord.” Somehow, I don’t think there’s a pocket in his camel skin garment to put a wallet where John could keep his American Express card.

At any rate, the priests and Levites get three guesses and come up 0 for 3, all strikeouts. John the Baptist is a different kind of messenger, one never seen before. He comes to make straight the way of the Lord. If John were the Christ, or Elijah, or another prophet, then the Christ has not yet come. Observant Jews still wait for Messiah to make His appearance. How could they miss the fact that John is the one prophesied by Isaiah as we heard in last week’s Old Testament reading and as we hear John himself confess today?

The Jews were looking for someone different than the one sent by God. They had it all figured out. Messiah would come and hit the reboot switch on their behalf. Out goes Rome and all their trappings. In comes Messiah, Who would set up a theocracy not seen in many years. He will sit on a throne in the temple and run the show. Finally, finally, the Jews would show everyone they were God’s top dog.

There was one obstacle in the way…those pesky Gentiles. What to do about the outsiders? Scripture has the clear answer. The Gentiles, together with the Jews, are children of God. The Jews are God’s children by blood. The Gentiles are God’s children by faith in the promise of the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ. As the Jews see it, this Jesus is not Messiah. Perhaps it’s convenient to ignore them. Perhaps it’s convenient to ignore this Jesus, called Christ.

You can’t ignore Him. John tells the Jews, 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. Messiah is among them, yet the Jews have not eyes to see Him or ears to hear Him. You kind of have to sympathize with the Jews. They’ve suffered through four hundred years of silence on God’s behalf. God said nothing to His people after Malachi’s words. Even Malachi wasn’t really heard by the Jews. When John starts preaching repentance and baptizing in the Jordan river, you see how the Jews start asking questions about this bold preacher of repentance who claims to prepare the way of the Lord, the Anointed One sent from His Father.

The priests and Levites do all the heavy lifting for you in the waning hours of Advent. They ask all the right questions, even though they may not want to hear the answers John gives. Listen again to the answers John gives. What he says to them, and to you, is the best last-minute preparations for the birth of the Savior according to the flesh.

John is not the Christ. John and Jesus do share the same preaching: Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand! This is where comparisons end. John himself later says, He must increase, I must decrease. Though John later fades into the background, his preaching remains vital today as it was then. The word “repent” literally means “change of mind”. No longer are you to think one way, about yourself, your needs and wants, and what you want Jesus to be. Repentance brings a change of mind. The Law kills the Old Adam in his tracks. The Law shows you your sin and your lost condition. You either remain in sin, reject repentance, and continue on your merry way to eternal death, or you let the Law kill you stone dead, in order that you are raised to new life in Jesus Christ.

John is not Elijah. John has some similarities to Elijah, especially when it comes to preaching repentance. The authorities also rejected both men’s messages. All similarities end at the fact that Elijah never baptized anyone. John comes with a baptism of repentance. Baptism brings new life, a life of daily dying to sin and rising to new life in Jesus.

Consider your baptism for a moment. Consider that no one is baptized into a vacuum. Your baptism unites you with Jesus Christ and all He has accomplished for your salvation. Baptism is not a mere reception of a free pass to hell in order for you to live as if there is no God. Baptism does not mean that you don’t have to practice the Christian faith because you are baptized. The way of Baptism is the way of a Christian. The Law puts sin to death. The precious water bath of repentance and forgiveness puts you into fellowship with Jesus. You are a new creation, ready to receive more of the Lord’s precious Gifts, especially hearing preaching and the Word, as well as receiving Christ’s True Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins.

John is not the Prophet. He is more than a prophet, but less than the Prophet. John is unworthy of loosening the sandal strap of the One Who comes after him. This One, this Jesus, will do greater works than John could imagine. Jesus will work salvation in His innocent suffering and death. Those who put their trust in John the Baptist put their trust in a man born in sin. John’s blood covers nothing. Christ’s blood covers your sin. Jesus is the perfect offering for sin in your place. His perfect, innocent life is lived in place of your guilty life of sin.

Today’s Gospel calls John’s words a confession. John the Baptist is confessing what he believes by telling the priests and Levites who he is not. John is not the Christ. You are not the Christ, either. You, like John, are in need of the Savior of both Jew and Gentile. He is among you, just as He promised, in His Gifts of forgiveness and salvation. Though not seen with the naked eye, Jesus is here. No wonder Saint Paul exhorts us to rejoice. As today’s Gradual from Psalm 145 says, The Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth. The Lord is near to lift your sins with His grace and mercy. Receive Him in joy, for He is your Emmanuel, your God-with-us.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

1 Response to Advent 4 – John 1:19-28

  1. Glentis G. Samuel

    Thank you for these refreshing words as I am about to start my day, on this snow filled Thursday. May God continue to bless you as you present His Words with shame.


    God’s blessing!

    Glentis G. Samuel

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