He Was Here He Is Here
December 18, 2023 Pastor: Rev. George Fyler
John 1:6-8, 19-28 (esp. 26-27) ~ He was there – He is here
Advent 3 "B" – 12/17/2023 @ Christ Lutheran Church, Cleveland, OH
~ In Nomine Iesu ~
26 "I baptize with water," John replied, "but among you stands one you do not know. 27 He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie." John 1:26-27
~In the name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit ~
Dear Beloved of the LORD:
What did John say? "Among you stands one you do not know." You mean Jesus was there? Jesus stood among them there? Jesus, the One so great that John is not worthy to loosen His sandal strap? Jesus was there, in the crowd; but they did not recognize Him?
That is strange! You would think that they would recognize someone who was greater than John, Elijah, and Moses. One who flattens hills and raises valleys is not your everyday Jew from Nazareth. He is the One they named the Lion of the tribe of Judah. Being good judges of character, you would think they would sense someone different was in their midst. But they do not. They do not recognize Him. He had no special form or comeliness that made Him stand out; there was no physical beauty about Him that made Him attractive or desirable. (Isaiah 53) He was just a face in the crowd. Well, their goes that theory — the theory that said He would come on the scene like a mighty, thundering, warrior-king. But a Messiah like this means you cannot go by appearances. You are going to have to watch what He does and listen to what He says to get the picture of who He truly is.
But who is He? Who is the Face in the crowd? They do not have to wait long — only until the next day. In the very next verse after today's Gospel lesson: (John 1:29) John points his finger at the One coming toward him and cries out, "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" There He is — the Savior of the world — He had been standing among them. John just pointed to and called out the mighty Lion of the tribe of Judah …"the Lamb of God." What is this — a lion turned lamb?
When we think in terms of mighty conquerors and kings, the image of a lamb usually does not come to mind. Lambs do not go forth and fight and take care of others. Just the opposite is true. Unless lambs are taken care of, they wander around until they are lost or attacked. Priests select lambs and sacrifice them, shedding their blood. The lambs offer little resistance. "Follow the Lamb!" is not an inspiring battle cry.
Why is He called the Lamb of God? Isn't He supposed to be strong and powerful? He is! He is strong — He is almighty, all-powerful. But He is also meek, and He is going to conquer His enemies with meekness. On that very day He does not declare Himself as superior to others gathered at the banks of the Jordan; instead, He submits to Baptism, just like the rest. He is not going to save by overpowering, but by serving. He will not conscript followers and force them into His army, but will draw them to Himself by His servanthood actions toward them. Rather than punish His enemies until they cower before Him, He will submit to their punishment and scorn. Most of all, He will save by sacrifice — by offering Himself on the cross for the sins of the world. His blood will be shed, like those lambs at the Temple altar. Except that His holy, precious blood will atone for all sin of all humankind for all time. That is why He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
He fulfills the prophecies of the OT prophets. This Messiah who would come with a mighty hand is stricken, smitten, and afflicted for our iniquity. (cf. Isaiah 53) Men who were looking for the Messiah do not see Him standing there. Why? Because sinners do not go by the Word; they go by appearances. The fruit on the forbidden tree is pleasant to their eyes. The sin looks attractive. A Messiah ought to look like a powerful warrior. He should have a palace and throne, not a manger and cross.
Because sinners judge by appearances, many will miss the Savior. They will reject Him intentionally, or just pass Him off as nothing special. However, others will hear His Word. (John 5:24) Hearing His Word, they will believe. Despite appearances, they will look upon the Face in the crowd, or the One pierced on the cross, and say, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world."
Some call this 3rd Advent Sunday “Rejoice Sunday” and mark it by a rose-colored candle on the Advent Wreath. Today we rejoice that God became man bringing a merciful forgiveness to sinners. All of us here today are such sinners. We believe and rejoice that Jesus comes and stands among us. Before we receive His precious Body and Blood we sing with John the Baptist a hymn called the Agnus Dei, Latin for “Lamb of God.” “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world."
John spoke those telling words because Jesus was fully, body-and-blood present then and there. He was humble and meek —hardly outstanding, but He was there to save. He was on His way to the His cross. His Baptism was an important stop along the way. He was present to be baptized with sinners, to wash their sins off them and onto Himself; and He would carry that loathsome load to the cross and die with them there.
On this day, we pray, "O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy on us." We do not sing this only because of past memories, but because of a present Presence. We pray these words because the Son-of-God-become-flesh-to-have-mercy is here. Yes, here — He is just as fully, body-and-blood present with you as when He stood before John on the banks of the Jordan River.
Although He has conquered sin and death and risen victorious from the grave, and although He sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty and rules all things, He still comes to you humbly. He still comes to you to serve. He is present with you today when His Word is proclaimed. He is the Word made flesh; so when the Word is here, He is here. He is present at the font, in the water of Holy Baptism; there, when your sins were washed away, they were washed onto Him and He suffered for them at the cross. He is here in bread and wine, giving you His body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins.
These are humble, common things — words and water, bread, and wine. They are unremarkable elements that you can find in any supermarket. His appearance was unremarkable on the banks of the Jordan; yet He was there. You have His promise that He is just as much here with you, in His Word and Sacraments.
Therein lies the danger. Plagued by the sinful nature that spurns His Word in favor of pre-determined images; many will run to seek God where He cannot be found. They will follow charismatic leaders who voice popular messages that ignore the Gospel. Jesus is not there. They will belittle the Word and Sacraments of God and seek Jesus in their feelings or experiences, claiming that this is the Holy Spirit's will. Jesus never promised to be found there either. They will point to churches judged "successful" in worldly terms like growth in membership, number of programs or emotional appeal. However, if the Word is not preached and the Sacraments are not administered, it is all for nothing.
As Christians, we walk by faith — not by sight. We believe in God’s Word, not in the imaginations of our sinful hearts. Therefore, we rejoice in what Jesus tells us through Word and Sacrament: You are forgiven of all your sin. It does not look glorious … but it is! This, dear Christians, explains much about your life. It is sometimes falsely taught that as a Christian you should expect an extraordinary life. Miracles should be happening giving you glorious proofs of God's love for you. You should enjoy prosperity, good health, and recognition because you are a "good" Christian. Therefore, if your life seems routine and unremarkable, there must be something wrong. But there is not anything wrong at all. As the Lord appeared in unrecognizable ways for your salvation, so He works in unremarkable ways for your other needs as well.
As Jesus, the Lord God Almighty, stood unrecognized at the Jordan River, likewise you may live a life unrecognized by the world. As Jesus suffered temptation, trial, and affliction; so will you — not because Jesus has abandoned you, but because you are His disciple. He stands among you and you do know Him by faith. You hear His Word tell you:
"You are forgiven of all your sin in the name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit."
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
~In the name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit ~Amen~
~Soli Deo Gloria~