June 24, 2017
Verse: Luke 1:76
Christ Lutheran Church
June 25, 2017
by: Rev. Dean Kavouras
Nativity of St. John the Baptist
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways. Luke 1:76
The special circumstances of St. John's birth are in keeping with the singular person the Baptizer was, and the exclusive ministry God gave him to perform.
Critics might think the whole affair to be over blown, but they would be wrong because according to our Lord, John is a unique man in all history. He is the one who brought the Old Testament to a close, and by his ministry introduced the Cup of the New Testament to the world. He was the last of a long line of remarkable men who foretold the coming of the Savior. Who kept the promise alive in the darkest night. Who risked life and limb to assure a dazed and hopeless world that the Light of Life overcomes the Darkness of death. That when "every earthly prop gives way, he then is all our hope and stay." A message still sorely needed, and still preached in the name of Jesus, by his church today. Is it any wonder, then, that Jesus says that "…among those born of women none is greater than John!"
But John's stature did not arise from the circumstances of his Samuel-like birth; or from the diet of locusts that winged his thoughts to heaven; or the honey he ate that caused sweet sentences to flow from his golden mouth. Those were all preparatory. But his pre-eminence came from the baptism of repentance he administered, which previewed Christian baptism, and from the witness he gave which in a word is this. "Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world!"
It is a message so towering; and a gospel of such surpassing greatness that the church could not help but embed these words into Liturgy; where we, too, behold with our eyes, and receive on our tongues, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is the Baptizer's message, and let us learn it now.
First is the word Behold. By it John summons all people to turn the eyes of their hearts to Jesus, who is God's own sacrificial Lamb, and who alone takes away the sin and the sorrow of the world. We should note that in worldly terms the church has a very limited arsenal to defeat these mighty enemies. Limited, but potent! For it is nothing less than the Word of God, which is the Sword of the Spirit, and which accomplishes the thing it utters. And not only a sword but a double-edged sword.
One edge wields Judgment. The very real threat of retribution for those who will not repent, will not Behold this Lamb, or trust in him for remission, life and salvation. Those who would continue to live out their days following the dictates of their own hearts. Who worship at the altar of culture. And who keep the cross of Jesus at bay. That is one edge of the sword.
But the other is Salvation. The promise of future glory such as no eye has seen, no ear ever heard, nor has ever entered into the heart of man, the things that God has prepared for those who love him. (1 Corinthians 2:9)
That said, a warning to the church is needed. She should not get overly enthusiastic, as is so common today. She should not attempt to bring people into the church with gimmicks, or under false pretenses, or try to impose her faith on others.
Nor need we fear that the church will become extinct if we don't do something positive and constructive, and do it soon. Remember John! Remember where his base of operations was. In the desert. Many obscure and perilous miles from Jerusalem the religious capitol. From the place where modern “church planters” would have advised. And remember his tools. A word, Behold! A river named, Jordan. And the sacrificial life of Man dedicated to God, and to God alone.
Then what is the church to do today in the face of shrinking numbers, waning influence, and the immense rise of hatred and hysteria in the world? Nothing other than stay the course. By her steady proclamation of the God's Word, her example of patience in suffering, and her unfeigned love for all men even her enemies, the Spirit will continue to work through her. To call, gather, enlighten and sanctify sinners, and give them “Salvation! O Salvation.” (TLH #495)
What does John invite the world to Behold? The Lamb of God, or said another way, God's Lamb. That is to say the sacrifice that God himself put forth to remove, lift away, and otherwise bring a conclusion to the disaster wrought by the Snake. To the sin, sorrow, misery, blood-shed, greed, faithlessness and utter injustice that defines the world today.
Throughout the Old Testament countless lambs were brought for sacrifice, but none was an end in itself, but served as a prophecy pointing to this Lamb. To God's one and only Son, whom God himself put forth as a propitiation to protect and defend the world from the contagion of sin, and the tyranny of the devil. To make men holy, and to make men free by the Truth of Jesus. You are those men.
St. Paul says it like this: For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so also by the one Man's obedience the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:19) Jesus is the One, and you are the Many made righteous by him. Restored to the Way of Peace by him.
Being heirs of such a Great Salvation, then, let us take up the words of Zechariah, John's father, onto our own lips. "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people , and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David … to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace." Amen.