Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘John the Baptist’

COLLECT OF THE DAY

Almighty God,through John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, You once proclaimed salvation.Now grant that we may know this salvation and serve You in holiness and righteousness all the days of our life; through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

READINGS

Isaiah 40:1-5

Psalm 85:(1-6) 7-13

Acts 13:13-26

Luke 1:57-80

Bio:  St. John the Baptizer, the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, was born into a priestly family.  His birth was miraculously announced to his father by an angel of the Lord (Luke 1: 5-23), and on the occasion of his birth, his aged father proclaimed a hymn of praise (Luke 1:67-79). This hymn is entitled the Benedictus and serves as the traditional Gospel Canticle in the Church’s Service of Morning Prayer. Events of John’s life and his teaching are known from accounts in all four of the Gospels. In the wilderness of Judea, near the Jordan River, John began to preach a call to repentance and a baptismal washing, and he told the crowds, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). John denounced the immoral life of the Herodian rulers, with the result that Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee, had him arrested and imprisoned in the huge fortress of Machaerus near the Dead Sea. There Herod had him beheaded (Mark 6:17-29). John is remembered and honored as the one who with his preaching pointed to “the Lamb of God” and “prepared the way” for the coming of the Messiah. (The Treasury of Daily Prayer, CPH)

Reflection:

This is the Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grunewald (circa 1515).  The Lord’s vocation to John is amply shown in the detail of John the Baptist:

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” St. John 1: 29b

The long bony finger says it all:  it is John’s sermon visualized pointing us to Jesus Christ and in particular upon the Cross.  There is our salvation, not in my heart and mind but in Jesus Christ so that the Holy Spirit bears witness to us all of so great a salvation, we must not neglect the preaching (Hebrews 2:3).  The Baptizer’s sermon recorded in John 1: 29 is only one sentence!  Reading carefully the entire text,  John 1: 29-34, and not that the Evangelist reports no other people listening to John in this paragraph.  We are the hearers of the Word and  doers of the Word (Luke 8:21). In fact, the whole world (in Greek, “world” is cosmos), is under the Cross, objectively, existentially and really (John 3:16).  We are all sinners.  John the Baptizer points not to himself, not to man nor woman, not to His blessed Mother, not to our spiritualities but ever and only to Jesus Christ, and by faith in Him, we are His baptized saints, with John, Paul, Mary and the whole company of heaven.  The Lord’s finger pointing at us is His just Law and judgment.  The finger pointing to Jesus Christ and Him crucified is His finger pointing us  ever to the  pure Gospel for our lives day by day as we are justified freely on account of the Christ John so pointed out.

Christ is our steadfastness in these times of immorality and unrest, even near  those who bear the name of brother (see 1 Corinthians 5:11) . John was steadfast in his preaching, especially regarding marriage. The Festival of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, 24 June 2014 He was born for this.  The saints are encouragement to the Church to hold the course steady in doctrine and practice.  The Church will not be patted on the back by the world.  It is not easy but we can point others to the Lord:  Behold!  The Lamb of God. We are reborn for this.  Pastor and Professor Johann Gerhard, in his commentary on  Matthew 11:7:  

 “…John’s (the Baptist) steadfastness is held up as an example to be followed by all faithful teachers—indeed also by all true Christians. John was not a reed. He did not allow himself to be deterred from the pathway of truth and from his calling by the world’s cunning and temptation.  So also Christians are not to be fickle and erratic like a reed.  Rather, they are to be grounded like pillars and columns in the house of God.   1 Tim. 3: 15, Rev. 3: 12—Johann Gerhard

Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word!

Read Full Post »

I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.-St. Matthew 1:  8

 As Advent progresses, one typical question of the season:   Are you ready for Christmas?  Are you prepared?  It’s kind of scary as the mind races through the mental checklist:  gifts for family members and friends, office parties, wrapping, tree and decorations, baking and cooking, dinner and/or houseguests, traveling, cleaning the house etc. etc. etc. It amounts to what I am supposed to do, that is, what I owe.  Just not enough time!  Only 18 more days to shop before Christmas!  Then on top of it all the banks and credit cards want people to go into debt so we owe twice:  by what we have not done and by what we have done. 

 We prepare as Christians and the Church in the Way that is already been prepared:  As the Lord said, “I am the Way, the truth and the life, no one comes to Father except by Me”.  The highway to heaven is first the highway from heaven. Prepare ye the way of the Lord. 

 The Messiah is the office of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit does not push nor sell the Messiah, the Christ, Jesus with coercion . He teaches.  The Holy Spirit does not process words, but proceeds from the Father and the Son to teach us the Word, the Word of Christ.  The Holy Spirit teaches the pages of the Holy Scripture, the written Word in the spoken Word of the Church to proclaim the incarnate Word Jesus Christ.  The Holy Spirit’s will, desire and work is to fill the Lord’s people with the Word of God, Word of Christ Jesus in the grace, mercy and peace of Christ Jesus for His forgiven people.  The Lord has baptized us into His Church, His body.  All offices in government and business, and education have parameters. When government oversteps its parameters and interferes in the lives of law-abiding citizens to “make them better”, it is illegal and outside the supreme law of the land, the Constitution.  The office of the Messiah’s parameters is all the human race, all flesh shall see the glory of the Lord. The office of the Holy Spirit will never step over the bounds of the Decalogue, the 10 Commandments.  The office of the Messiah, of Jesus is to step into our lives to redeem them, our hearts, souls and minds. He has.

 We confess in the Nicene Creed that the Holy Spirit spoke by the prophets:  from Moses to Malachi.   Moses was a prophet and is attributed with writing the Torah, Genesis through Deuteronomy, commonly called, the 5 books of Moses.  Many prophets’ sermons, sayings and deeds,  such as Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, Nathan etc., were not recorded in  books bearing their names.  Yet  their words and deeds are recorded in 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, 1 and 2 Chronicles.  Put all that together with the books bearing a prophet’s name:  the Major Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel and the 12 Minor Prophets, prophets wrote most of the Old Testament or are about them. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth.  God does not lie. “The testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy.” (Rev. 19: 10)  The testimony of Jesus, from His conception to His Crucifxion, to His Resurrection, His Ascension and His promise to come again.  All Scripture, Old and New Testaments,  is inspired, God breathed.

 John speaks of two baptisms:  one of the Law and the one to come, the Gospel promise fulfilled in work and word of Jesus.  The first baptism was for the confession of sin and the second, for remission of sin, now the one Baptism into Christ (Romans 6:1ff).  It is the baptism of the Holy Spirit, in God’s Name, His Holy Name in the water: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

 All Scripture is divided into Law and Promise.  People were flocking to the Jordan for baptism, “confessing their sins”.    The phrase used many times in the Old Testament is “The word of the Lord came to…”.  The Holy Spirit taught His Word to the Lord’s chosen prophets as He did through John (Luke 3: 2).  John came to preach repentance and a baptism into repentance. Today is also the Commemoration of  St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, a faithful preacher of the Gospel in the 4th Century. At his congregation a young troubled man came to Mass. He was an adulterer and a pagan philosopher.   His name was Augustine and through the preaching of the Gospel, by Ambrose, came to faith.  Ambrose preached the following on John the Baptist and the Word:

The Son of God, being about to bring together His Church, first works through his young servant: and so it is well said: The Word of the God came to John (Luke 3:2), etc., so that the Church has its beginning not from man, but from the Word.  

  There were many baptisms, ritual ablutions and such in the Temple.  But in God’s Word, the baptism by John, was one size fits all for all are not fit, for we sin.  All Judea and all Jerusalem came to the Jordan.  They knew by the preaching of the Law, they were sinners. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.   John preached the Word and the Word of repentance in the baptism of repentance to prepare the way of the Lord. They were dumping their sin into the Jordan River water where the Word of Law was comprehended in John’s prophetic preaching.  Immediately following today’s lesson, Jesus Himself comes to be baptized into the Baptism of repentance, He who need no repentance, but did so to fulfill all righteousness.  He bore our sin, He was drowned in it and died and breathed again and still does, He breathes the Holy Spirit into our lifeless bodies, through His Word of eternal life, Jesus, and so we live.

 John’s Baptism was a one shot deal back then. Baptism into Christ, in the Name of God, is also one time event, but unlike John’s baptism, the Lord’s baptism, baptised into Christ  is also an everyday deal, His means of grace for faith in His Word. We are washed in Christ’s blood, His forgiveness.

 The Holy Spirit’s Office of the Word, preached and taught and prayed,  is two fold: 

  •  His strange or alien work rebukes sin and sinners that they might know God’s anger toward sin.  It is alien as any father and mother should know, that they do not want their anger over their children’s misdeeds to last long. This is the word of the Law. He convicts of sin according to His 10 Commandments. Still does.  
  •  The Holy Spirit’s second work, His proper work is Christ Jesus and His blood shed for sinners administered in the Baptism into Christ.  This is the word of the Gospel. His grace, mercy and peace seeking us daily that in daily repentance the New Man is fortified in faith through His grace towards us all. Any sin, however seemingly trivial, is confronted by the enormity of Christ Jesus’ blood on the Cross for confession and forgiveness.  Overkill?  Yes! When the Apostle wrote of Baptism into the death and resurrection of Christ, he immediately exhorts to walk in the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit hovered above the face of the deep, the depths of sin and sorrow. Walking in the Holy Spirit is walking in our Baptism, “…be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.” 

 When the worldly Christmas replaces the actual Christ Mass, His Nativity and Advent as time of prayer and Scripture things get all bollixed. Look at it  this way:  When worldly Christmas supplants the real Christ Mass, then the Office of the Holy Spirit is forgotten.  For instance, we have not seen a Christmas card with the icon of John the Baptist on it, complete with his head on a platter…

 

 …with the caption, Prepare ye the way of the Lord!  He wore camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waste.  Not exactly Santa Claus.  When King Ahaziah of Israel heard a prophet was speaking against him, he asked his messengers:  

 “What kind of man was he who came to meet you and told you these things?” They answered him, “He wore a garment of hair, with a belt of leather about his waist.” And he said, “It is Elijah the Tishbite.” (2 Kings 1)

Elijah prepares for the Messiah as foretold.  John prepared the Way.  He is a prophet of the Word of God but when the actual Word of Law and Promise  is replaced by sentimentality and nostalgia at Christmas, we see Christmas cards like this one:  

I found one such card with this poem on it:  

“Sweet as a song may Christmas prove, and one by one, as they depart, May all its hours be words of love set to music of your heart”

Nostalgia and sentimentality replace the Word and as in the poem above, the last thing Old Adam should do is to set words of love to your heart.  As the Lord tells us look at what comes out of the heart: theft, murder, adultery, evil thoughts etc.  Don’t trust your heart, trust God’s Word for He knows you better than you do.  When we follow hearts, then the word of God is not heard and hearts are so hard they are cruel, or so soft, men and women stand for nothing and fall for everything.

The question was asked, Where is the Lord’s coming?  The Apostle Peter answered as in today’s Epistle reading:

 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.   

 The word “patience” has also been translated, “long-suffering”. As in 1 Corinthians 13, Love is long-suffering.  God has all the time, His long-suffering, patience toward us and yet we do not have all the time in the world. 

  We live in a  fast-paced, achievement-oriented world entering the third millennium, when the spirit of the age tempts churches and Christians to look for quick and impressive results, when short-tempered anger is literally  the rage,  it is salutary to reflect on the Lord’s long-suffering love for us, a love that can wait on the Lord and each other.  His long-suffering love bore our wrong and hurt.  His long-suffering, His forbearance is our salvation.  We are admonished in Holy Scripture to walk in the Holy Spirit, walk in faith, walk in love, not three walks but one walk, one pilgrimage according to His Word, His Law a lamp unto our feet and the Lord Himself the light, in holiness and godliness., Law and promise.  This is walking wet in baptism.   The question is not how many days toward Christmas, but today is the day of His Word, not just Sunday but everyday. Everyday pray. Pray the Word. Pray the Psalms  For us and for our salvation He came down from heaven, still does in His Word, until He comes again in glory, 1 Peter 3: 15:  

 Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; 15 and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation

 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think,according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. (Ephesians 3: 20-21)

 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

COLLECT OF THE DAY

Almighty God,through John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, You once proclaimed salvation.Now grant that we may know this salvation and serve You in holiness and righteousness all the days of our life; through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

READINGS

Isaiah 40:1-5

Psalm 85:(1-6) 7-13

Acts 13:13-26

Luke 1:57-80

Bio:  St. John the Baptizer, the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, was born into a priestly family.  His birth was miraculously announced to his father by an angel of the Lord (Luke 1: 5-23), and on the occasion of his birth, his aged father proclaimed a hymn of praise (Luke 1:67-79). This hymn is entitled the Benedictus and serves as the traditional Gospel Canticle in the Church’s Service of Morning Prayer. Events of John’s life and his teaching are known from accounts in all four of the Gospels. In the wilderness of Judea, near the Jordan River, John began to preach a call to repentance and a baptismal washing, and he told the crowds, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). John denounced the immoral life of the Herodian rulers, with the result that Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee, had him arrested and imprisoned in the huge fortress of Machaerus near the Dead Sea. There Herod had him beheaded (Mark 6:17-29). John is remembered and honored as the one who with his preaching pointed to “the Lamb of God” and “prepared the way” for the coming of the Messiah. (The Treasury of Daily Prayer, CPH)

Reflection:

This is the Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grunewald (circa 1515).  The Lord’s vocation to John is amply shown in the detail of John the Baptist:

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” St. John 1: 29b

The long bony finger says it all:  it is John’s sermon visualized pointing us to Jesus Christ and in particular upon the Cross.  There is our salvation, not in my heart and mind but in Jesus Christ so that the Holy Spirit bears witness to us all of so great a salvation, we must not neglect the preaching (Hebrews 2:3).  The Baptizer’s sermon recorded in John 1: 29 is only one sentence!  Reading carefully the entire text,  John 1: 29-34, and not that the Evangelist reports no other people listening to John in this paragraph.  We are the hearers of the Word and  doers of the Word (Luke 8:21). In fact, the whole world (in Greek, “world” is cosmos), is under the Cross, objectively, existentially and really (John 3:16).  We are all sinners.  John the Baptizer points not to himself, not to man nor woman, not to His blessed Mother, not to our spiritualities but ever and only to Jesus Christ, and by faith in Him, we are His baptized saints, with John, Paul, Mary and the whole company of heaven.  The Lord’s finger pointing at us is His Law and judgment.  The finger pointing to Jesus Christ and Him crucified is His finger pointing us  ever to the  pure Gospel for our lives day by day.

Christ is our steadfastness in these times of immorality and unrest, even near  those who bear the name of brother (see 1 Corinthians 5:11) . John was steadfast in his preaching, especially regarding marriage.  Remember that John  was decapitated by Herod Antipas because John preached the immorality of the ruler’s marriage: See Mark 6:16-18.  The saints are encouragement to the Church to hold the course steady.  Pastor and Professor Johann Gerhard, in his commentary on  Matthew 11:7, well wrote:  

 “…John’s (the Baptist) steadfastness is held up as an example to be followed by all faithful teachers—indeed also by all true Christians. John was not a reed. He did not allow himself to be deterred from the pathway of truth and from his calling by the world’s cunning and temptation.  So also Christians are not to be fickle and erratic like a reed.  Rather, they are to be grounded like pillars and columns in the house of God.   1 Tim. 3: 15, Rev. 3: 12—Johann Gerhard

Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word!

Read Full Post »

Text:   And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”  St. Matthew 11: 5-6

The prophet of the Lord, John the Baptizer was unsure of Jesus’ identity.  This is a puzzle  that John is not sure regarding the identity of Jesus:  Are you the one or should we expect another?  After all, John and Jesus’ Mothers were kinswomen, cousins.  Mary visited John’s Mother Elizabeth and Elizabeth exclaimed that when Mary’s greetings reached her ears the child in Elizabeth’s womb leapt.  How could you have doubts, John?  One interpretation is  John sent his disciples to Jesus so John’s disciples would be sure; and yet the clear meaning of the text is that John has doubts.   John too needed consolation and comfort.  Tell John what you see and hear, the deaf hear, the blind see, the lame walk, the dead are raised and the poor are preached good news. As the Apostle Paul was inspired to pen:  ” For all the promises of God find their Yes in (Jesus Christ). That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.”  2 Corinthians 1:20  All of the promises of God are fulfilled in the Man who sandals John said he was not worthy to stoop down and untie.  

We all need reassurance, comfort and consolation. John was in a noble company of those who were afraid, tired, frail…even though we hail them as great saints.

  • The Lord sent Moses with His message of freedom to Pharoah: Let my people go.  Through Moses the Lord wrought great signs and wonders, but Pharoah double-downed on Israel by taking away the straw to make bricks, though they had to make more. “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me?23 For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.” (Exodus 5:22-23) This would not be the last time Moses would so pray to the Lord.
  • Later, when by God’s grace and power the false prophets were disgraced on Mount Carmel, the prophet Elijah was on top of his game, if you will.  Then in practically the next verse we read that King Ahab’s wife Jezebel had sworn to kill Elijah.  Elijah fled for fear of life and hid himself in a cave.  
  • Jeremiah was thrown into a muddy cistern, left to die, for preaching God’s Word.  He was hounded day and night, and he cried out cursed was the day when they said to my mother, you have a son, it would have been better I were never born. 
  • St. Paul appealed in prayer to the Lord three times for Him to removed Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”, some debilitating disease, it was not granted.  My grace is made sufficient in weakness. 

The Lord, Emmanuel, God with us, did not let Moses, Jeremiah, Ezekiel or Paul go. He went with them, not necessarily to get them out of the trial and temptation but to guide them through it, for His purpose which is always faith, hope and love, desires all people to be saved.  Likewise, the Lord pursued John.

Why should John be doubting?  He baptized thousands upon thousands, preached the Word of God, led an exemplary life, obeyed the Lord…couldn’t he trust in his own works to give himself comfort? Not when faced with imprisonment, torture and the threat of almost certain capital punishment.  Tell John what you hear and see…Jesus preached the promise:  Go and tell John what you see and hear:  the lame walk, the blind see, the dead are raised and good news is preached to the poor.  It is so clear that good works do not save us, nor give us counsel in the hour of trial and temptation. .   Many times you have heard about my friend and mentor Pastor Lou Smith.  He spoke  in some five languages.  He could preach in German.  He taught Lutheran seminarians in Namibia, Southern Africa.  He was generous with his time to teach and counsel, he was a faithful husband and father and brother in Christ…yet in 2004, before he was taken in for surgery, (he died before he was brought into surgery), he asked his pastor, Jim Pence:  Are the promises true? Yes, Lou, they are true.  We all need to hear God’s Word of promise.  Lou could not trust in his own good works to save him. Good works are obviously good but it is the Word of promise alone, the Gospel which revives the soul, strengthens the heart in true faith, stirs up hope and produces the good fruit of love.

What was the promise Jesus preached to John?  For awhile the disciples of John became Jesus’ disciples:  go and tell John what you hear and see.  They were hearing and seeing the promises fulfilled.  Jesus’ good works are His sermon.  The most remarkable of which is not the dead are raised but the good  news is preached to the poor.  As Luther preached, The Father sent the rightful king to preach to the poor is a far greater miracle.  Jesus’ first formal sermon begins with the beatitudes, the first one being:  Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. Present tense, present tense blessing from the present tense Savior.  The Lord does not ordain the great and powerful, the wise and omnicompetent to preach His Word.  Luther, days before he died, preached, it is true we are all beggars.  Jesus is the beggar king, to raise out of the depths, beggars, sinners.  He preached His sermon through the dead, the lame, the blind, the deaf, the poor, for the dead, the lame, blind, deaf, poor.  He does so gently and sweetly, tell John, what you hear and see, the  sermon of His undying love for John and for you.  Now John, in prison knows, that first beatitude, blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. And he hears another beatitude, And blessed is the one who does not stumble on account of me.  Jesus Christ is Himself the beatitude of the Father to weary sinners.  His manger and His Cross are His sermon to us, the living Christmas card and greeting for you:  telling us what He did, is doing and will do when He comes again at the final Advent.

Jesus asked the the crowd, What did you go out to see?  A reed shaken by the wind? Luther called preachers shaken by a reed, by popular opinion in order to “…temper the truth to the sensitive fastidiousness of fashionable hearers”, ”reed preachers”.  John was no reed-preacher. Then there are those preachers who teach that yes, Jesus will sure help you do the good deeds to get into heaven, if you just do good works, are purpose driven, witness to 10 people this week, give God the glory everyday.  I will call them “deed preachers”.  And there are those who preach Jesus Christ for weary sinners, those who mourn, who are poor in spirit, who make for peace, all whom Jesus blessed in the Beatitudes.  The Church catholic and confessional which preaches Jesus Christ, the fullness of God, the fullness of man, who came down to heaven, who’s Advent we celebrate as He drew near in the Womb of the Virgin Mary. The Church with those preachers are Creed preachers.  Reed, deed or Creed preachers.  John was no reed preacher, with his polling numbers in hand to tailor the message, to make millions and live in soft clothing in a mansion built by ministry dollars.  John preached the Creed that the Messiah is coming, the Coming One and out of the Creed, faith,  comes forth deeds, maybe not as great as John’s, but the fruit of love, joy and peace endures in families, churches, societies and cultures.  John was steadfast in the Word.  He did not blow with the prevailing wind, yet he could be shaken. Living the creed in our daily vocations, but even if they are outstanding deeds, they do not save the soul, only one deed has and will,  the deed of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. And like Isaiah preached God’s Word another time:

The Lord God has given me
    the tongue of those who are taught,
that I may know how to sustain with a word
    him who is weary. Isaiah 50:4

We too can sustain the weary with a Word, God’s Word.   We know only God’s good work:  Jesus Christ.  The violent, like Herod who killed all the male children under two to kill the Christ, lay violent hands on God’s reign to stop it.  They can not.  His good work won’t allow it.  It’s stupid to try to take Christ out of Christmas, the Lord has not allowed it. He seeks us to find us.  John prepared the way.  John was Elijah in every which way, including being in the cave of doubt and worry.  Oh, for a love that will not let me go.   He held John in His promises fulfilled is what He wills for you as well.

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

 

Read Full Post »

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.  St. Matthew 3: 12

Flour is made from wheat.  The fruit, that is, the wheat must be separated from the chaff.  Before the great agricultural inventions of the  19th-20th Centuries, this was done by hand with a winnowing fork.  As we see above the harvester tosses the wheat into the air with his winnowing fork and the wind blows away the light wheat husks and the grain falls to the ground.  Then the harvester gathers the wheat for the mill and the chaff to burn.  The Holy Spirit, and the word “spirit” as in Latin, Greek and Hebrew can also mean “wind” or “breath”.  The Holy Spirit blows away the husks to separate the useless chaff of sin to be burned and gather the fruit into the granaries of the Lord.  John the Baptizer points us to the last day. The work of the Holy Spirit is to teach us Jesus Christ, the chaff to burn, the fruit to ripen in daily repentance and forgiveness. No human has the lung capacity to blow away sin, nor death, nor the power of the devil. All the self-help advice in the world can not. When we try we are fooling ourselves and the result will either be despair or overweening spiritual pride. I don’t have the lungs for it.  The Lord, the Holy Spirit does and He has the means, the means of grace on account of Jesus Christ.  If we are not separated from sin, repenting,  then we will burn, and hell fire does not compare to any fire on earth. The Lord desires no one to so burn.

This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time.  1 Timothy 2

Read Full Post »

 

When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?–St. Luke 7: 24

St. Luke 7: 22-23 “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. 23And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

 Blessed are those who are not scandalized by Me. Jesus is definitely the reason for the season; but the Lord Jesus is also  the scandal of the season.  Why do so many want to take Christ out of Christmas?  Excise Him from the public square?  Excise any mention of Him from public discourse?  No one would dare do that with Muhammad, say.  If that is true, why? One reason, some folks would be scared about a fatwa against them.  The actual reason:  Muhammad is a dead false prophet and the world loves falsehood and lies.  Muhammad can do nothing today.  Jesus Christ is risen.  He changes us by the preaching and teaching of the Word:  absolving, forgiving, filling and renewing. Those holding onto their sin stop up their ears to the joyful noise of the Coming One as did the Pharisees and scribes who would not be baptized by John.  Jesus Christ is the Coming One.  Everyday cannot be Christmas but everyday can be Advent: come, Lord Jesus, come, enlighten the darkness of our hearts.  He sees and blesses in the worst distresses.  Muhammad cannot. There is no agape, love in Muhammad.  Jesus Christ is love’s pure light.  The world knows that and wants to hide Him to be hid from Him. As the Israelites said of the prophets in days of Isaiah (chapter 30: 10-11):

“Do not prophesy to us what is right;
speak to us smooth things,
prophesy illusions,
leave the way, turn aside from the path,
let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.”

The world was scandalized by both John and Jesus because John primarily preached the Law of God and Jesus the  Gospel of God primarily and worse for the world: they preached it truly.  John said everyone needs baptism.  You cannot escape. Flee for refuge to His infinite mercy.  All are sinners, all have been warned about the wrath of God against all ungodliness and those who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth (Romans 1: 18). but those who were dead, blind, lame, leprous, are cleansed and forgiven and cling to Him in true faith for He has done that, raise the dead, give sight to the blind, the lame to walk, the leprous to cleanse.  Pr. Johann Gerhard preached it well:

“All His outward miracles—as he healed the blind, the deaf, the mute and raised the dead—point to what He wanted to accomplish inwardly for the soul’s health.  With this, He wants to show He had come to heal the inward damage of the soul—the fount from which all these physical ailments flow, namely sin.  He did not primarily and solely come to take care of the body’s well-being; for other holy men of God like Elijah and Elisha also had done this.  They had miraculously healed the physical ailments of the body.  Instead, Christ came to heal the entire person…He  principally came to help the soul from the misery of sin,which no holy man of god had ever done, nor could do.  Tthat’s also why the outward miracles ceased, but His inward work of grace still endures forever. “ Gerhard, pp. 26-27

He comes to us to save us, the coming one to work grace within and by doing so faith, hope and love.  We so need Him these dark days.

 Joy to the world the Lord has come…not joy of the world.  There is little joy in the world, the flesh and certainly not the devil. It is set in upon itself.  Incurvatus se, is the Latin saying describing sin at the time of the Reformation: curved in upon oneself and that is darkness. On a sunny school day in Newtown, Connecticut, this past Friday,  we saw that darkness again:  20 children massacred. When Jesus was born the rage of Herod the Great was such he killed all the male children in Bethlehem age 2 and younger.  The Holy Innocents. Herod the Great was bent in upon himself.  We do not know how many Holy Innocents there were. The Bible does not tell us but it tells us this:  one child murdered is one too many:  in a classroom or in the womb.  The incurvature of the soul is monstrous these days in so many ways. A curved spine is impossible to heal but so is a curved soul but with Him all things are possible. It is the curved soul that wreaks way more harm and horror than a curved spine, maybe not murder, but say infidelity in marriage, or…You name it and it has been named by the Lord in the 10 commandments.  The One who was the only one who ever walked on earth not curved in upon Himself at all can heal the soul. John preached to show the people their sin within and Jesus came to show them His mercy to turn them without:   

…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. 23And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” 

Blind, lame, leprous deaf and dead is poor in the spirit indeed.  Preached Good News of the Word that comes to us outside of our bodies and souls to heal them and seal them with the Holy Spirit.  People were scandalized that God could so mightily forgive in such a weak vessel as Jesus of Nazareth.  For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

Today’s opening collect is a one sentence prayer:

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

This prayer is so needed these days by us all. Jesus will not dance to the tune of the world. People say to Him: You did not take much notice of how much we have done and have done for You. You did not dance to our tune.  They imagine that God owes them eternal life for their merits and holy life (Johann Gerhard). It is as if the Lord says:  My people please believe what I have done for you!  Show me your wounds and I show you My Hands, scarred for all time by the Cross and I give you life. 

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

You did not expect to see in the desert a reed shaken in the wind, a man who falls prey to every new idea that comes down the pike.  A man who is tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine. 1 Timothy 3:  15if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth Revelation 3: 12: The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God.. Lord Jesus Christ, we implore You to hear our prayers  and enlighten the darkness of our hearts by Your gracious visitation.

For those who mourn, Lord Jesus Christ, we implore You to hear our prayers  and enlighten the darkness of our hearts by Your gracious visitation.  

For those who do not know where to turn:  Lord Jesus Christ, we implore You to hear our prayers  and enlighten the darkness of our hearts by Your gracious visitation.

For the Church that she may preach His unvarnished truth the light of His Word:  Lord Jesus Christ, we implore You to hear our prayers  and enlighten the darkness of our hearts by Your gracious visitation.  

 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4: 7

 

Read Full Post »

St. Matthew 11: 4: “And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see…”  11: 14:  and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.”

             At the beginning of this lesson we face a puzzle:  John the Baptizer was obviously unsure about the identity of Jesus.  “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”  We know from Luke’s Gospel that John’s parents were Elizabeth and Zechariah.  We know the Lord carefully called both at old age to bear a son to her who was said to be barren. Their son, John, would prepare the way of the Lord, the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the living God.  The Virgin Mary is told by the messenger of God, Gabriel to go visit her kinswoman, Elizabeth who is also pregnant.  When Mary speaks to Elizabeth, John leaps in her womb.  John and Jesus might have actually known each other growing-up.  Even more:  John baptized Jesus in the river Jordan.  He was a witness to the Voice from heaven, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  The Gospel of John reports:  And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. How could John, after all that, be unsure, maybe doubting, the Gospel promises that were fulfilled before his eyes and hearing them with his own ears?

            Some of the Church fathers surmised that John wanted his own disciples to hear for themselves, from the Lord Himself of the Lord’s deeds.  I do not know if that was John’s intentions but what those 2 disciples of John heard was good and holy:  the Word of God from God’s own lips.  We too need to hear the Gospel promises of the Lord’s Incarnation, ministry, powerful deeds and finally and fully, His death and resurrection and ascension to rule us and bring in the Kingdom building up His Church and you and I in and through His Word. Go tell John what you hear and see, not see and hear.  First:  hear, listen to the word of God.  John also so needed to hear the Word of God. Depending on circumstances of life, our own waywardness at times, we hear but don’t get it.  When Jesus was telling the disciples of His upcoming crucifixion said to them, “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.”  (St. Luke 9: 44) Sounds like a mother or father speaking!

            John was imprisoned by King Herod Antipas for preaching the Lord’s Word of  marriage to the immoral marriage of said King:  For Herod had laid hold of John and bound him, and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife.  4.  For John had said to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.”  He was fast bound in prison awaiting the possibility of a death sentence and execution.  John would be decapitated at the whim of the despot’s wife Herodias who despised John for his preaching.

             Prisons are not nice places.  Back then, much worse.  I would suspect windowless, no sanitation and rats and vermin.  Isolated and alone.  John obviously had contact with his disciples…but that was probably it.  Now after the heights of preaching the Lord’s Word preparing them for way of the Lord, the depths. Psalm 88: 

You have laid me in the lowest pit, In darkness, in the depths.

 7.  Your wrath lies heavy upon me, And You have afflicted me with all Your waves. 

 8.  You have put away my acquaintances far from me; You have made me an abomination to them; I am shut up, and I cannot get out;

 9.  My eye wastes away because of affliction. Lord, I have called daily upon You; I have stretched out my hands to You.

 10.  Will You work wonders for the dead? Shall the dead arise and praise You?  

I can understand John’s question in the depths but he is also like someone else.

            Jesus said to His disciples, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. John is likened to Elijah of old.  In the time of the divided Kingdom of Israel, Ahab and Jezebel were king and queen.  Jezebel with her husband’s consent were worshiping false gods in Jerusalem. The Lord called Elijah.  Eventually this climaxed in the great contest on Mt. Carmel, literally a mountain top experience between the lone prophet of the Lord, Elijah and the 450 false prophets of the fertility god Baal.  This is recorded in 1 Kings 18.  The Lord prevailed.  But after, soon after this mountain-top experience, Elijah gets word that Jezebel wants to kill him.  What does Elijah do?  Flees.  The great prophet runs.  At one point exhausted from the long trudge, he lays down under a broom tree:  And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”   An angel, a messenger of the Lord appears and says to Elijah, take and eat and there was bread on a rock.  Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.”  On strength of that bread he walked 40 days and nights to Mt. Horeb and hid himself in a cave.  The Lord asked him what are you doing here, I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”  The Lord spoke His Word to Him, the still small voice and told him he was not alone:  there are 7,000 others who have not knelt to Baal.

 Jesus said to His disciples, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. 

            It’s not only that his disciples needed to hear the word of Christ, the Word of God but the prophet John, the forerunner as well in the depths. Sometimes it does not take much to be plunged into the dark places: a rumor, a bad report, the daily news…a wrong unconfessed festering in the caves of the heart. This separates us from the Lord and each other.   Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that the word of Christ is stronger in my brother than the word of Christ in me. We are fed the bread of life, not self-fed.  God’s Word is bread:  coming to us from the outside.  The Reformers had a Latin phrase for this: verbum extra nos, the word outside of us.    Go and tell John what you hear and see…what did John hear in the depths:  5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”  Not Go and tell John look to yourself and really examine yourself and come to grips with your doubt, or here are the 7 steps to soul freedom. John needed to hear the Word of Promise.  On November 30th, several years ago now,  at a retreat I was attending in Hickory, NC, along with Pr. Beasley with whom I had recently become friends, Pr. Lou Smith was also there and in the night took ill.  He was taken to the hospital.  He had suffered a burst abdominal aorta.  He needed to have an operation immediately.  He did not make it to the operating table.  Before going in, his pastor, Jim Pence of Zion Lutheran, Waynesboro who was there at the retreat was at his side in the hospital.  Jim told me that Lou asked, are the Gospel promises true and Jim told him, yes Lou.  This was a man who could preach and teach those Gospel promises in a couple of languages.  Lou needed to hear. 

                This is the Lord’s mission here:  many are dying to hear.  John was. Elijah was.  The blind, the lame, the leprous, the deaf, the dead and the poor, burdened and heavy-laden need to hear the word of Christ:  the least, the last and the lost.  The Lord did not come for those who are well. The doctor visits the sick, Jesus said.    And blessed is the one who is not, literally, scandalized by Me.  Here is the Lord in the depths of sin and death.  The incarnation, the Word made flesh. And John was no reed shaken by the wind in His ministry:  tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine and conceits of false theologies and ideologies.  Jesus said John was more than a prophet and yet, 11Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.  Jesus came for the least, again, The blind, the lame, the leprous, the deaf, the dead and the poor, burdened and heavy-laden…repent and believe the good promises of Jesus Christ fulfilled in His flesh, in His body and blood for us and for our salvation and we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, Elijah, John, Elizabeth, Zechariah, Lou and many whom are dear to you.  We wait for the day of His appearing.  But today He calls us to Himself.  Many are dying to hear.   As Elijah and John we have a church of those who have knelt to the false gods of false churches.  Those who know the need of their sinfulness can be taught their Savior’s precious Gospel promises.  After this lesson, Jesus  pronounces woes on the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, Tyre and Sidon for their did not repent, did not grasp their sinfulness and dire nature of it and then their Lord.  In the bible “woe” means they were dead.  But life to those who daily repent and grasp their Savior and so then the Lord says to us all,with John, Elijah, Lou and you:

 25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (St. Matthew, chapter 11)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: