Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;
There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. John 1:6-8
Now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Christ.” They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.” Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” Now some Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing. John 1:19-28
Songs of Emmanuel – The Agnus Dei
From a sermon by Pastor Tim Pauls
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ;
There’s something compelling about John the Baptizer. Even for you and me, after all what would advent be without taking one Sunday and talking about him. Though, I don’t think that it’s his clothing. Camel’s hair isn’t exactly a popular fashion statement. I don’t think it’s his diet either. When was the last time you heard of a diet guru promoting a diet of locust and wild honey? If that were my diet I’d surely loose weight! But, John is a commanding presence; there must be something about him that draws people’s attention. It has to be because the text says the “all Judea” was going out to see him. They went out to hear his message and to be baptized. Those flocks of people must have seen something more than “John son of Zacharias.”
The Scribes and Pharisees sent people to him because they wanted to know what he was all about. They were probably looking for a reason to kill him for all his attention.
"Are you the Christ?” they ask. He was certainly drawing crowds like they expected the Messiah to do. He had words for even Roman Soldiers. But John answered their question clearly, “I am not the Christ.”
“What then? Are you Elijah?” They wanted to know if John thought he was the great prophet returned from the dead. Elijah was the prophet who spoke God’s word and brought famine, and then again and the rains refreshed the land. He is the one who killed 400 prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. And he even raised the dead. Maybe John saw himself as Elijah. “Are you him?” they asked. “I am not.” John says.
“Are you the Prophet?” came the next question. Israel had for millennium expected a prophet greater than Moses to appear; one to preach like Moses; one to lead the people out of slavery like Moses; one to supply them with their needs like Moses did with manna and quail. John was gathering crowds, maybe he thought he was the Prophet Moses promised. “Are you him?” they asked. “No.” said John, simply.
“Then who?” they needed to know. “Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?"
John’s answer may have surprised them. “I am The Voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Make straight the way of the LORD,” as the prophet Isaiah said.” Oh, so that’s who he is, they may have said to themselves. For all of his talk, all of his crowd gathering, all of his charisma, he’s just “the voice.” He’s just the preparer. But the voice is preparing the way for Christ himself. John’s isn’t the Messiah but if he is the voice then his message is that the Messiah is coming.
If John draws so much attention what will the Christ, who comes after him, be like? Will he stand out head and shoulders above the crowd? Will he come in power and strength and authority? If John is the voice and he draws this kind of attention, the Messiah that he announces will surely draw even more. The Christ is one who is anointed by God to save his people, and govern them and lift them up forever. He must be a strong and powerful person indeed! If he is coming we’ll know him when we see him, right?
The Pharisees ask one more question: “Why do you baptize if you are not any of these people, sent by God?” John says, “I baptize with water, but there is one who stands with us now, he is the coming one, you don’t see him but he is here. I’m not worthy even to stoop down to take off his shoes.”
Those people must have been scratching their heads and looking around. “You mean he’s here right now? “Standing among us,” you say. But we don’t know him? Why doesn’t he stand out? Don’t you think we’d recognize someone who’s greater than Moses and Elijah? Don’t you think we’d recognize someone greater than the Baptizer? Prophecy tells us that when the Christ comes he’ll flatten mountains and rise up valleys. He’s called the Lion of Judah.”
Jesus was there and quiet. And they don’t recognize him. He’s just a face in the crowd. For the Christ that God did send you can’t go by appearance. If you want to know who this Christ is you have to go by what he says and does. John knows and identifies him. Pointing a finger at Jesus he says “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” He was right there with them and John called him the “Lamb of God” not the “Lion of Judah.”
A lamb isn’t what is expected. Lambs don’t bring images of power and glory to mind. They don’t conquer worlds and kingdoms. They are taken care of. They don’t care for others. They are lead to slaughter and sacrifice without putting up even so much as a struggle. But isn’t the Messiah supposed to be strong and powerful, why is he the “Lamb of God?”
He is strong; in fact he is all-powerful. But he is also meek. He is going to conquer his enemies but he will do it by meekness. Just like everyone standing on that riverbank he submits to John’s baptism. He isn’t going to save by being overpowering he is going to save by serving. He will draw his followers by being their servant. He won’t punish his enemies either. Instead he will allow himself to be punished by them. Most of all he will save by sacrifice. He will offer himself as the sacrifice for the whole world’s sins. He will take them to the cross and shed his blood, just like the lambs in the temple. He is indeed the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
Many will miss this Savior because he doesn’t look like what they expect. In their eyes he should be a powerful king. He should have a throne of power that people can look up to. People go by appearances, so many reject Jesus out of hand, and pass him by as if he is nothing special.
But there are some who hear his word and believe in him. They don’t care what he looks like, they don’t care if he’s just a face in the crowd. They look on the one who dies on the cross for them and say, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”
"O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us.
"O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us.
"O Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, have grant us Thy peace."
"Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” John says those words because Jesus was right there the face in the crowd. John spoke what was true; Jesus had come to save the world. He was on his way to the cross to bear the sins of the world and set everything right between God and man.
We don’t repeat John’s song just out of a sense of what God has done for us in the past. We sing it because he is present with us here and now. We sing those words in our worship because the Son of God has become flesh and he promises to be with us here whenever we gather in his name. He is here right now, flesh and blood, just as he was with the people who crowded around John on the banks of the Jordan River.
Jesus Christ conquered sin and death and rose in victory over the grave, he even “sits that right hand of God” and rules all things. But he still comes to you humbly. He still comes to you to serve. He is present here with his Word. He is the Word made flesh, so when his Word is here, he is here. He is present whenever he pours the water of baptism, when he washes away the sins of the world. He is here in bread and wine, giving you himself, his very body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.
It’s rather a humble way to come, isn’t it? The spoken word, water and wine. These are everyday things you can find in the grocery store. Just in the same way he was quietly standing on the banks of the Jordan, he comes to us humbly in common things. That’s his promise to us that he is with us here in Word and Sacraments.
The problem for us is that we often want to look for God where he isn’t found. Our sin makes us want to see him in less common things. There are plenty of charismatic leaders out there, who proclaim a popular message. We want to see Jesus there, but if they don’t proclaim the Gospel, if they don’t point to what Jesus Christ has done for the world, Jesus isn’t there. We want to see Jesus in our feeling and experiences. We say to ourselves that we need to “feel” the Holy Spirit in our lives to know that God is with us. But Jesus never promises that we will feel any different when we become Christians. We don’t look inside ourselves to prove God’s favor to us, our feelings and experiences can be wrong. We look to Jesus Christ and what he promises to do. We want to see Jesus in powerful, growing, successful churches. We want to see him in big programs that appeal to the “felt needs” of people. But if God’s word isn’t preached and the Sacraments are not administered, if the Gospel isn’t found in those programs, it’s all for nothing. Jesus Christ isn’t there either.
We walk by faith, not by sight. We believe in the Word, not what things look like. That’s why we rejoice in the promises of our Savior. He promises to be here in Baptism, Communion and his Word. They may look like everyday things but everyday we need what God promises to give through them: We need the forgiveness of sins won for us by Jesus Christ on the cross. Our Lord comes humbly as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” It doesn’t look very glorious, but it is.
If we think about this just a little more we can see that it explains a lot about our lives, in general. Some people will tell you that when you become a Christian, you should expect an extraordinary life. You should see miracles and wonderful things a proof of God’s love for you. When you hear that and look at your life, that may be very unremarkable, and everyday, you may think that something must be wrong. But, there’s nothing wrong at all. Jesus Christ works in very un-remarkable looking ways for your salvation. He also works in some very ordinary, everyday ways for your other needs also. Instead of using a glorious healing, he may use ordinary doctors and medicine to heal you. Instead of sending manna from heaven he provides you with a job so you can work to provide for your family. These ordinary things don’t point to God’s absence in your life, they in fact point to God working and providing for your every need.
Jesus was just a face in the crowd at the Jordan River, he was unrecognized by the crowds. You too, may live a life that is unrecognizable from people around you. Just as Jesus suffered, you too will suffer. It’s not because Jesus has abandoned you, but because you are his disciple. You are the sheep of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. You are forgiven. You are his. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.