Archive for December, 2012

Sermon for New Year’s Eve

December 31, 2012 Leave a comment

Here’s the sermon from tonight.

Only audio available.  10 Sermon for New Years Eve.mp3


Categories: Uncategorized

Sermon for the Sunday after Christmas

December 31, 2012 Leave a comment

Jesus is Presented in the Temple

Augustana, 2012

Note: This sermon was started from some notes in Concordia Pulpit Resources, a preaching resource I use regularly.  While I got started there, it went in a different direction which is fine. 

Click here for mp3 audio 09 Sermon for the Sunday after Christmas.mp3

Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Happy sixth day of Christmas to you.  I can’t promise you six geese a laying, but I can offer you the gift of God’s grace in the Word today.  The text for the sermon is the Gospel reading for today and I’ll be referring to it as we go, starting with verse 22, “And when the days for their purification according to the Law of Moses were fulfilled, they brought him up to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord.”

“Fulfilled.”  The word keeps coming up in the Gospel of Luke because the Old Testament is like a thousand rivers each rushing together over a long distance, deeper and faster until they crash over one great water fall of God’s grace to which ever river of revelation pushes.  Just consider that metaphor for a minute.  Snow that melts in Ohio or Minnesota eventually winds its way through the streams and rivers into the Great Lakes and eventually down over Niagara Falls on its way to the sea.  The Old Testament is much like that, multiple streams of revelation all pointing to one single great rushing in of God’s grace, Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the unveiling of every divine plan; he is the answer to every holy mystery!  When Luke says “fulfilled,” the Holy Spirit opens mysteries, tells us the secrets of eternity as the tributaries of the Law and the Prophets wind through space and time and rush together all at once and we see all of God’s divine glory in the forty-day old baby boy Jesus.

Luke saw the rivers clap together in one small unstoppable outpouring.  One river can rushing in from the prophet Daniel.  “Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place.” (Da 9:24)  Luke heard that river rushing toward him.  In 1:23, he said, “And when [Zechariah’s] time of service was fulfilled, he went to his home. (Lk 1:23)  Then in chapter 2, verse 6 Luke says, “And while they were there, the days were fulfilled for her to give birth.” (Lk 2:6)  In the verse just before our reading for today, he writes, “When eight days were fulfilled, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” (Lk 2:21)  And then in our text, in verse 22, “And when the days were fulfilled, the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.” (Lk 2:22–23) The operative word here is “fulfilled.”

Luke had done his math.  From the time of Gabriel’s appearance to Zechariah until the annunciation to Mary was 6 months or 180 days.  From the annunciation until Jesus birth was 9 months, or 270 days.  From the nativity of Jesus until his presentation in the temple was 40 days.  180 + 270 + 40 = 490 days or 70 weeks.  The passage from Daniel that so many try to make into a prediction of the end of the world, was in fact about Jesus arriving in the temple.

At the temple at 40 days Jesus was dedicated to the Lord just as all first born males in Israel had been.  In Jesus was the end of sin.  Luke describes what Zechariah saw rushing together that day.  The fulfillment of Daniel’s otherwise enigmatic 70 weeks.

Luke saw another river rushing in from the prophet Malachi.  “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap.” (Mal 3:1-2)  That was one our Advent texts.  So take that text and now read verse 27 of our reading today, “And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law.” (Lk 2:27).  The Lord Jesus entered his holy temple.  How did anyone endure the day?  The temple in Jesus’ day was only a cartoon temple, a caricature of the real thing.  Jesus was the true temple.  When the glory of the Lord entered again the temple, there should have been a meltdown, a cosmic implosion, like a supernova star consuming half a galaxy.  The Lord came to His temple as it was foretold.  How did anyone survive the day?

Verse 25, “Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.” (Lk 2:25)  By the Holy Spirit Simeon saw more rivers, sweeter waters coming toward him than all the prophets who had come before him.  And he saw all those rivers come together in his arms, because he had been waiting for the consolation of Israel.  He had the consolation of Israel in his arms; he saw the light of revelation for the Gentiles, he cradled in the crook of his arms the glory of the people of Israel!  How did he survive?  Simeon survived because that word translated as consolation is parakleysin, It has the same root as paraklete, the advocate or comforter which we know to be the Holy Spirit.  Simeon saw the river coming from the prophet Isaiah “Comfort, comfort, you my people, says your God.” (Isa 40:1)  And again from chapter 61, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me because the Lord has anointed me… to comfort all who mourn.”

Simeon’s eyes say the river coming from the prophet Haggai.  “’The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former,’ says the LORD of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the LORD of hosts.’” (Hag 2:9)  Simeon saw it.  Solomon’s glorious temple in which dwelled the presence of the Lord in fire and smoke was long gone along with the rest of that Jerusalem.  It had been destroyed centuries earlier by the Babylonians.  All of the sacred things from that temple were gone.  How could the glory of the latter temple that Haggai foretold ever be as great as the temple of Solomon in which the Lord dwelled personally?  The ark of the covenant from Solomon’s temple was missing.  The all-important mercy seat, the lid to the ark where the Lord dwelled in glory for the protection of His people, it was long gone.  The tables of the Law stored inside the ark were gone.  No jar of manna, no flowering rod of Aaron.  In this latter temple there was nothing but the work of men in stone and gold.  There was no atonement for sin.

When Simeon’s eyes beheld the poor couple from Galilee coming to offer sacrifice in the temple according to the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons,” his eyes saw the glory of the Lord and his eyes saw the sacrifice. He knew it was not Mary and Joseph who would redeem their son with the humble sacrifice of pigeons.  Simeon knew their son would redeem them, because He was the sacrifice.  Simeon’s eyes saw the ark of the covenant for the first time as he held in his own arms the Mercy Seat, not the three hundred pound gold lid with angels wings outstretched, a mere forerunner to the real thing, but rather the 12 pound reality whose tiny arms would grow to stretch out in atonement for all the world’s sin.  Simeon saw and could endure it because the Lord came in mercy once again in the flesh of His own Son, Jesus born of Mary.  In Jesus, the Lord gives peace.  Simeon saw the face of the Lord and lived!  And yet it was enough for him that he asked to die.  “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word.” (Lk 2:29)

We just sort of assume Simeon was old but the Bible doesn’t tell us how old he was.  We assume he’s old because now that he’s held the consolation of Israel in his arms, he’s ready to go.  He talks some older people talk.  How do we talk?  “I only want to see God after I’m spent doing everything else.”  Right?  And so after we have received the Lord’s true body and blood we sing Simeon’s song from the heart, don’t we?

“Lord, now you let your servant go in peace, according to your word.

Cause this all well and good and all,

but there’s a lot more important stuff

than communion on sale at the mall.

I hope the service is over soon, though it’s been divine,

and I thank you that church fit into my pla-a-a-ans this time.


We’re not ready to die because we’ve just barely come alive our eyes barely opened we’re still too blind, too distracted, preferring to play in the stagnant mud puddles to look for the deep rushing waters emerging out of the prophets bearing their gifts, presenting to us the Lord of our salvation.  Lord, have mercy.

He does!  Simeon was ready to die because those rivers he read, those rivers he knew, once he saw them clap together at long last, he longed to be released from this life shadows and types, of stone models of the true temple, of gold precursors of the Mercy Seat, and of animal rehearsals for the sacrifice of the blessed Son of God for the sins of the whole world, who offered himself once for all, Jesus Christ the propitiation for our sins.  Simeon’s eyes had seen the real thing; he had bathed in the rushing torrent of the great waterfall of God’s grace in Christ that had come together from ever river of revelation from God.  Simeon had seen the real thing and he was finished.

And how is it that his eyes could see?  Why did the Nunc Dimittis pour out of him like the after splashings of a great waterfall?  Mary and Joseph certainly looked like any other poor pious couple coming to the temple.  Jesus certainly looked like any other 40 day-old son of Israel.  He could see because the Holy Spirit was upon him.  He could say, “For my eyes have seen your salvation,” because God opened his eyes to see it.  Yes it was a miracle.  But there was something else too.  How did Simeon have the Holy Spirit upon him?  By the Holy Scriptures.

Just like at the end of Luke’s Gospel were the two men on the road to Emmaus could not see that it was Jesus, alive from the dead and walking along the road with them until He opened the Scriptures to them and showed them the rivers of revelation that always were meant to join together in him, it was then that their hearts burned within them and they recognized Him in the breaking of the bread.

The Holy Spirit does not blow in over the mountains.  He comes through the Scriptures.  It is there we see the rivers of God’s revelation come rushing together toward salvation, joining together in the Virgin and taking on our human flesh by the same power of the Holy Spirit.  In human flesh Jesus restores the perfection of created human nature from Eden.  In Jesus who lived perfectly a life through which we are given credit.  See today what Simeon saw, the forty day old Jesus presented to the Lord as holy, on your behalf, as if the whole human race was offered there and called holy before the Lord.  See Jesus being sacrificed in your place, buried in your grave, and rising from the dead in order to guarantee your resurrection.  Recognizing Him in the breaking of the bread we sin, “Lord now let your servants go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared.”  Yes, it’s a miracle.  With opened eyes see in humble bread and simple wine, Christ’s body and blood, given and shed for you.

Like Simeon, with opened eyes, depart in peace, because you have seen your salvation, you have seen every river of God’s revelation come rushing together and overflowing in the great waterfall of God’s grace in Christ Jesus pouring all over you.  When you do, it will pour out of you too.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Categories: Uncategorized

Sermon for Christmas Morning

December 31, 2012 Leave a comment

Note: This is the last of the sermons in the Schmitt series.

Click here for mp3 audio 08 Sermon for Christmas Day.mp3

Categories: Uncategorized

Sermon for Christmas Eve

December 31, 2012 Leave a comment

Note: This sermon was from the series by Dr. David Schmitt and I’m grateful for it.

The audio can be found by clicking here 07 Sermon for Christmas Eve.mp3

Categories: Uncategorized

Sermon for Advent 4

December 31, 2012 Leave a comment

Luke 1:39-56

Note:  This sermon includes a story of one of he families I ministered to while at Bethesda Naval Hospital.  Now five years after leaving the hospital, I’m starting to process those encounters and I am starting to realize some of what was happening in them.   Unfortunately, I left my recorder at home so there is only the text.

Augustana 2012

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

If you stand near the center of the Sistine Chapel and look up, you can see it. The creation of Adam.  Perhaps you know the picture.  Two hands reaching out toward each other.  I’ve seen reproductions of it on coffee cups and greeting cards, umbrellas and even a tie.  I’ve not seen it in person, but I just found the Vatican’s website which has a virtual reality version of it.[1]  You can see a lot more detail in that version than if you were there.  The tension of the picture lies in that small empty space between two fingers, the finger of Adam and the finger of God.  They are about to touch.  Heaven and earth, divinity and humanity, eternity and time are about to collide.  On the ground, there is Adam, resting.  Without soul.  Without life.  Hand outstretched awaiting a touch from his Creator.  In the clouds, there is God, surrounded by angels in a creative rush.  His garments are furled.  There in his arm is the figure of Eve, a future gift for Adam.  Present life and future gifts are suspended there in time as the figure of God rushes toward Adam.  And in that moment, as hand reaches out to hand, with the smallest of gaps between the two fingers, we anticipate God’s creative work.

I can imagine being there, standing there for what seems like eternity, near the middle of the chapel, looking up and waiting for that moment to occur.  Waiting like that, with your head tilted back as you look at the ceiling, causes your neck to ache.  But it’s better than looking away, because when you turn your eyes away from the ceiling and look out at the world, then you feel an ache in your heart instead.

Look at the world around you and you will see a much larger gap between heaven and earth, between humans and God.  This gap occurred after creation, in the fall from grace, and everywhere you look you can see evidence of it.  We certainly have more than enough evidence of it this year.  All of it telling us how far humans have fallen from the touch of God.  And your heart hurts.  The story in Connecticut still dominates the news but there’s plenty more going unreported too.  It makes your head whirl and your heart ache.  People are not resting peacefully on earth like Adam awaiting God’s work.  No, the world is a whirl of activity and most of the actions demonstrate how far we have fallen from the touch of God.

But if you close your eyes and listen, you can hear it.  A voice from the edge calling out to us, across centuries, asking us to stop and to see and to trust in something wonderful.

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” 

“for he who is mighty has done great things for me,”

“And his mercy is for those who fear him”

“He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly.”

“He had filled the hungry with good things and the rich he has sent away empty.”

“As he promised of old. To Abraham and to His Children forever.”

Mary’s song encourage us.  She helps our hearts hope more and hurt less as we prepare to celebrate the coming of our Savior into the world.

Yet how can Mary do that?  Consider her situation from a purely human viewpoint..  Her betrothal to Joseph was marred by quite a surprise.  She was in a mess.  I’m not entirely sure she didn’t go out to visit her aunt because girls in her situation go out to visit their aunts.  Her betrothal was a mess and her cover story?  And angel spoke to her she’s carrying the Son fo Yahweh?  On top of immorality, blasphemy.  She could not be in a bigger mess.

So Mary goes to visit Elizabeth, her cousin in the hill country, who has likewise experienced something very odd.  Almost as miraculously as Mary’s claim, she is with child, too, in her old age.  And what happens when the disgraced cousin arrives?  At the sound of her greeting, the prophet John the Baptist leaps in her womb.  And Elizabeth greets not a disgraced cousin but the mother of her Lord.  There is something very different going on with these two women, Elizabeth and Mary.  God is doing something new; out of His great love, He is bringing about His new creation.

A family once sat there in need of that love, that hope of a new creation.  They didn’t know what to do.  They had come very close to the end of their youngest son’s story.  He was a grown man and a Marine recon scout.  He had been ten-feet tall and bullet proof.  And now, there he was.  One sniper’s bullet found his head on a patrol outside Fallujah and the EEG showed no brainwave activity.  I was on duty and the medical staff hearing how religious the family spoke thought it would be good to have the chaplain on board with telling them the bad news.  The MRI had showed that the sniper’s bullet had done incredible damage to their son’s brain.  I was told by the neurologist, “Chaplain, you gotta help us out here.  We don’t see a way back for this one.  You need to help prepare this family for the bad news.”  And so I prayed silently as I walked to the conference room where families are given the really bad news.  “Lord, help me help them.  Lord, help them where I can’t.”  And then I was in the room.  His whole family was there down from Long Island, New York.  They were trying to be brave and hope against hope but they were facing a mess, the mess of human life in this broken world.  Their hearts ached for their son.  My heart ached for this family, for the medical staff.  What could I say?  What could I point to?  Not my skill.  Not my experience or that of the doctors.  Not even my love, as powerful as it was.

But I did have one thing: the story of Jesus, his death and his resurrection, his coming into human flesh to suffer all things.  This is not the only thing I said and, yes, their son had a long struggle after that.  But, this was a moment, one small moment, when a voice from the edge cried out: “His mercy is on those who fear him, in every generation.”  This twenty-something Marine, clinically brain-dead for three days, claimed by God, touched by God’s hand in baptismal waters, and God recreated him in that ICU.  Here, even here, in the ICU, one can see God at work.  And he was restored, recreated.  Not just as he was before but he could sing Jesus Loves Me and he knew all the family jokes.  He was himself but different, more childlike.  He even regained the ability to walk with braces and crutches.  But he did not die from that sniper’s bullet.  Behold, God is remembering His mercy.  He is renewing His creation.

The moment of creation captured on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel focuses upon a gap, a space between the finger of Adam and the finger of God.  The story of Mary visiting Elizabeth however, focuses not upon a gap but upon a connection: that day when Christ was conceived in the womb of his blessed mother.  That day, when the hand of a human was the hand of God.

Mary sings that in the coming of the child in her womb, God was beginning the great reversal of all the messes in world.  the writer to the Hebrews today shows us this communication between God the Father and the Son, “Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.” (Heb 10:7)  God the Father sent his Son Jesus into this world on a mission.  God did not simply stand outside of our world, looking down upon us from some heavenly realm, waiting for us to stop sinning and come back to him.  No, God came into our world to seek us and find us.  This is what we are preparing to celebrate: Christmas, when God takes upon himself human flesh.  He becomes man and he calls us back to God.  His work, however, involves more than simply announcing the kingdom of God, as if that’s all that is needed.  No, instead, he actually opens the way.  Again the writer to the Hebrews helps us understand this, “And by that will [that is, by the will of the Father mentioned earlier] we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (10:10)  The hand of Jesus is the hand of God, touching all of our sin, gathering all of our mess, and being nailed with it . . . being nailed by it to a tree.  Christ takes upon His own body the wrath of God.  He bears the eternal punishment of our rebellion and, through that act, opens for us the heart of his Father.  Jesus then rises from the grave and opens for us the hope of a new creation. We now experience the eternal love of God, our Father.  A love that will not abandon his children or hold their sins against them but works in their lives and brings about his new creation.

And that is what Mary, wants the church to remember all its days.  Not just the Church but this church, our church.  Today.  Left to ourselves, looking at our world, looking at our lives, our heart will hurt.  But Mary sings and directs our attention to what God is doing.  Not on some ceiling far away, but here in our presence.  God comes today in an act of reconciliation.  He comes to us in his word proclaimed here this morning.  He comes to us in his body and blood celebrated at this altar.  He comes to us in words on the lips of those he has called and chosen and sent.  Relentlessly.  Lovingly.  Tirelessly.  He reaches out his hand to touch you and bring about his new creation.  Unlike God’s hand on the Sistine chapel ceiling, this hand is wounded and its wounds are precious.  All of your sin and your suffering, your harmful actions, your hopelessness, your despair, these are taken into the wounded hands of God as he comes this morning and touches you, bringing about his new creation.  “The Lord remembers His mercy.  He is bring about His new creation.”  And when you see that . . . God’s new creation . . . your heart fills with hope.  Even as you sit there in the place God has place you and wonder what the future holds.  Whatever it is, you have hope in the hand that holds you.  No wonder Mary points to this working of God.  On the ceiling of the Sistine chapel, you have the act of God’s first creation.  It is breathtaking and beautiful and larger than life.  But, for many, it is something that they will never see in their lifetime.  It’s too far away.  In our text from Luke, however, you have a much more wonderful working, God’s new creation.  It’s not far away but near. It is simple and profound and happens in the most ordinary of circumstances.  Even here, this morning.  God’s hand reaches into this world, with its conflict and suffering and brings about hope.  Here.  In our midst.  For you.  And as you enter the world with its hurt, God has given you a message of hope.  God can take your voice and make it, like Mary’s, a voice that shares his gracious work.

This morning, Mary calls us to stop and to open our eyes: behold the wonder of God’s new  creation.  There, in the hill country of Judea.  Here, in this place.  Out there, in the world.  Behold and see.  God is bringing about a new creation.  With hearts that hope more and ache less, we believe this is only a glimpse of the eternal kingdom of God. Amen.

Categories: Uncategorized

Sermon for Advent Vespers 3

December 19, 2012 Leave a comment

Note:  The sermon is more of a devotional thought less exposition because it was delivered at the Children’s Sunday School service which we have typically held on the third Sunday in Advent.  The sermon picks up on the themes of light and darkness which were clearly in the program that night but may not be so clear to anyone outside that context.

The audio for the sermon can be found here 06 Sermon for Advent Vespers 3.mp3

A link to the image of the earth at night from NASA is here


Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus.  Amen.

Light in the darkness.  Jesus is the Light in the world darkened by sin and death and evil.

That is our prayer this week:

Lord Jesus Christ, we implore You to hear our prayers and to lighten the darkness of our hearts by Your gracious visitation;

The Son of God came down from heaven was born of Mary by the Holy Spirit and so entered the realm of earthly darkness.  In order to bring light in the darkness.

NASA just released an amazing picture high resolution satellite picture of the earth at night called the black marble.  All the lights of all the big cities look like splotches of color and it’s pretty easy to figure which big city is where.  There are also great swathes of darkness, places where there are very few artificial lights, the Sahara Desert and the Congo of Africa, the Great Basin out west, hundreds, sometimes thousands of square miles of darkness.  This is what we have done to the darkness.  We have created our own light.  We have attempted to overcome the physical darkness of our world with artificial light and it works up to a point, as long as the fuel for that light lasts.  When it fails, the darkness seems even darker.

Do we not also do the same thing with the spiritual darkness that surrounds us?  We create the artificial light of man-made religions, of purely secular traditions, of self-styled morality all in the name of freedom, rejecting the true Light from above.  And these artificial spiritual lights can last for years.  We seem to have a tremendous ability for such self-made spiritual light.  But when it fails, the darkness comes crashing in all the darker.

And yet, still the Lord comes.  Jesus comes to bring light to a world darkened by sin and lit only with the artificial light of man-made religion.  It may be worth noting that in Revelation 21, in the New Jerusalem, there is no sun or moon.  The entire city is lit by the light coming from the Lamb on the throne.  Jesus Christ is the eternal light.  At Christmas time we celebrate that He was born far from home and laid in the wooden manger, the humble events of His birth foreshadowing His rejection by most and His path to the cross, all of it pre-ordained by the Most High God.  All of it to bring light into our sin-darkened world, all of it to call us out of darkness and into His marvelous light.

This is the message of Christmas.  The children tonight have done a fine job of proclaiming that message: Jesus who created the world and everything in it has come in the same flesh of our first parents Adam and Eve in order to redeem the world to set it right.  Jesus, Son of God, born of Mary, born to live and die and be raised on Easter morning.  The message of Christmas is what makes Christmas truly merry.  Jesus was born into this world to rescue it from sin; on Christmas night, Christ was born to rescue us all.  Amen.

The peace which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Sermon for Advent 3

December 16, 2012 Leave a comment

Sermon on Luke 7:18-35

Note: a version of this sermon was written earlier in the week and posted at the Preaching Archive at Goettingen University through my friend and colleague Rev. Dr. Samuel Zumwalt.  In the wake of the tragic events in Connecticut on Friday, there needed to be some revisions, but not nearly so many as one might think.  Advent is a season that said the world is messed up, soaked through by sin and evil, and we need Jesus to return to finish the job of fixing it begun in His life and ministry and we are longing for that day when He will return.  Sadly, that message of the Lord’s Light in this dark world is not usually heard amongst the lights and it reflections on the tinsel we have created as a competing light.

The collect for today is especially appropriate:

Lord Jesus Christ, we implore You to hear our prayers and to lighten the darkness of our hearts by Your gracious visitation; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

 A note about the audio.  The battery ran out at minute 14 or so.  I’m sorry about that.  You’ll have to read the ending. 

Click here for the audio  05 Sermon for Advent 3.mp3


Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The text for the sermon today is the Gospel for today from Luke chapter 7.

The Gospel reading last week ended somewhat ominously, “But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done, 20 added this to them all, that he locked up John in prison.”  (Lk 3:19–20)  This week’s Gospel reading picks up on that thread in Luke’s narrative of the kingdom of God come in Christ Jesus.

John the Baptist sitting in Herod’s prison, his physical needs tended to by his disciples, sends two of them to Jesus.  Their question is certainly one of theological depth and profundity.  But remember for John, who Jesus is more than a theological question.  If Jesus is the one who was to come, then John’s suffering in Herod’s prison has a purpose.  He is suffering for the sake of the kingdom Jesus brings with Him because God is bringing about His plan to redeem the world through Jesus.  This is the message that brings John and all of us suffering and grieving comfort and great joy.

A question in the minds of many who read this passage is whether John, sitting in Herod’s prison, had begun to doubt.  And so he sends his disciples to Jesus to be reassured that Jesus is in fact the long-prophesied one.  I’m okay with that reading.  I think it makes John the Baptist a little more human and a little less “super-prophet” of Lord.  The traditional way to read this is that John is sitting in prison and is concerned for his disciples and as a good teacher and forerunner of the Messiah, he sends them to Jesus so that they are reassured that Jesus is the coming one.  That makes John a quite extraordinary kind of man.  I’m certainly okay with that reading too.  Jesus certainly thinks John is rather extraordinary.  I think either one works because Jesus answer to John’s disciples is the real focus.

“Are you the one who is to come?”  They are asking, unambiguously whether Jesus is God’s Messiah, God’s deliverer.  The phrase they use is often translated poorly in our English Bibles.  There’s no capital letters used here and we’d never get the idea what we’re looking at it is a proper title, a title used for God’s long promised Messiah.  The Messiah is the “One Who Was to Come” or the “Coming One.”  It was a title that the Jews of Jesus’ day were well familiar with.  As I said, their question is not just a desire to end some theological musing but a real one considering John is suffering as the Messiah’s forerunner and herald.  And Jesus answer is absolutely clear.

I realize Jesus doesn’t say, “Yes, I’m the Messiah.  Go reassure John, or be assured yourselves, that indeed I am the God of Israel’s long promised Messiah.”  But what He does say, means precisely that.  Jesus clearly says He’s God’s Messiah, the One who was to come.  Jesus says, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.”  (Lk 7:22)  So where did we get this job description of the “Coming One”?  What Jesus says He is doing is a direct fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophetic description of what the Coming One will do when He comes.  Isaiah 29, “In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see.”  (Isa 29:18)  And Isaiah 35, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6 then shall the lame man leap like a deer,  and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.” (Isa 35:5-6a)  If you go back through the chapters between last week’s Gospel reading and this week’s reading you’ll see that Jesus has been doing precisely these things since the beginning of His public ministry.  He preached in the synagogues.  He cast out demons.  He healed many from their sicknesses including a lame man and a blind man.  It’s no wonder He told them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard.”  Jesus is God’s Messiah.

But this reading comes to us in the season of Advent, on the Sunday of joy, pink candle and all.  It comes to us on a Sunday after last Friday, where Newtown, Connecticut could just as well be our town, in many ways is our town.  What could this reading have to do with Advent?  What joy could this message bring to John in Herod’s prison?  Does this passage say anything about God’s plan to rescue our world from sin and its effects in our world?  Because after a Friday like last Friday we need to know if there is any joy in this world.  We need to know for sure whether Jesus is the one, or whether we should look for another.

If we are to look at John’s predicament, we might say that the thing John most needs is to be let out of prison.  And yet are we sure that is what John needs most?  I’d posit that what John needs most is to know whether Jesus is the One and whether it’s on account of Him that one day John’s suffering will end.  John is in prison not just so that glory of God might be proclaimed but because Herod is a wicked and evil man.  God used even the wickedness of Herod to proclaim the authority of God over and against Herod’s authority.  And so with John as a case in point, the meaning of it all is clear.  Jesus not only tells the people and John’s disciples who He is, but He tells everyone within earshot who John is, the messenger of the Lord, per Malachi chapter 3 if you remember from last week, sent before the Messiah as standard bearer for the Lord’s Messiah and herald of the Coming One.  Through John, God is bringing His plan to bear.  This is the message that brings John and all of us suffering and grieving comfort and great joy.

You’re probably familiar with the prophecies from Isaiah that Jesus quoted to support His Messiahship.  You’re probably less familiar with this question from Jesus, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?  A reed shaken by the wind?”  That’s a rather odd expression, isn’t it?  On our coins we have the heads of former presidents, Lincoln, Jefferson, Eisenhower, Washington.  Rome too had the heads of caesars on their coins but in Israel the Law of God forbade the graven image.  So on their coins there were symbols.  When King Herod came to power new coins were minted with symbols that meant something to Herod.  His favorite was that of a reed from the shore of the Sea of Galilee.  A reed symbolized the beauty and fertility of the area that Herod ruled.  Our culture is overwhelmed with images but the only graphic art a common person in Jesus’ day might see on any regular basis were the images on coins.  When Jesus asks this odd little question about going to see a reed blowing in the wind, the people knew exactly what He was asking.  “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?”  Another king like the one just down the road here?  Another mere man who lives in palaces and wears fine clothes?”  A prophet?  Yes and more than just “a” prophet.”  John was THE PROPHET to end all prophets, the last in the line of prophets whose job was to foretell the coming of God’s deliverer of Israel.  God is bringing His plan to redeem the world from sin through Jesus, and that means through John too.

John’s disciples come to Jesus and ask, “Are you the one or should we look for another?”  That question is just as relevant today as it was in Jesus’ day.  John is in prison facing what we know to be certain death.  Great trial and persecution have Christians faced since and will face in the days and years to come.  John’s disciples clearly expected Jesus to be fixing things like unjust kings and Roman occupation and all the rest of the evils great and small in the world not playing the small ball of healing a few folks here and there.  But it’s not as if no one expected Jesus to be the kind of Messiah He was; we have evidence from the one of the Dead Sea Scrolls that some were expecting the Messiah to do exactly what Jesus had been doing.  And so Jesus confirmed what sort of Messiah He intends to be: “not a straightforward rival to Herod, even though his kingdom will eventually challenge and outlast all the Herods in the world, but a kingdom operating in a different mode altogether, healing people and the world at every level.” (Wright, Luke for Everyone, 87-88)  And that is what we have.  A Messiah come not to prevent every evil in this world, at least not yet, but a Messiah who comes to die to the evil in this world and in so doing undo that evil.

Jesus is “The One Who Was To Come.”  John the Baptist was the greatest prophet who pointed to the coming one, even to the point of imprisonment and death.  In the death of the forerunner of the king, we have a foreshadowing of what awaits the coming king when He receives His crown.  Behold the One has come, come to die and be raised, to be undone by evil and in so doing, undo evil itself.  And all of it done to assure you that Jesus is the one who was to come, to make you a citizen of the kingdom of God Jesus came to restore.  And this season we wait the return of our king.

Come, Lord Jesus.  Come.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Categories: Uncategorized