The Fourth Sunday in Advent
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson
Bethany Lutheran Church, 10 AM Central Time
The Hymn # 94 Hark, the Herald Angels 3.19
The Confession of Sins
The Introit p. 16
The Gloria Patri
The Kyrie p. 17
The Gloria in Excelsis
The Salutation and Collect p. 19
The Epistle and Gradual
Glory be to Thee, O Lord!
Praise be to Thee, O Christ!
The Nicene Creed p. 22
The Sermon Hymn #90 Come, Your Hearts 3.83
Confessing Truth in the Desert
The Hymn # 103 – Luther To Shepherds 3.82
The Preface p. 24
The Sanctus p. 26
The Lord's Prayer p. 27
The Words of Institution
The Agnus Dei p. 28
The Nunc Dimittis p. 29
The Benediction p. 31
The Hymn #95 Savior of the Nations 3.42
KJV Philippians 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. 5 Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. 6 Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. 7 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
KJV John 1:19 And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou? 20 And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ. 21 And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No. 22 Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself? 23 He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias. 24 And they which were sent were of the Pharisees. 25 And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet? 26 John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not; 27 He it is, who coming after me is preferred before me, whose shoe's latchet I am not worthy to unloose. 28 These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing.
Fourth Sunday In Advent
Lord God, heavenly Father, it is meet and right that we should give thanks unto Thee, that Thou hast given us a more glorious baptism than that of John the Baptist, and hast therein promised us the remission of sins, the Holy Spirit, and everlasting life through Thy Son, Jesus Christ: Preserve us, we beseech Thee, in such faith in Thy grace and mercy, that we may never doubt Thy promise, but be comforted by the same in all temptations: and grant us Thy Holy Spirit that we may renounce sin, and ever continue in the righteousness bestowed upon us in baptism, until by Thy grace we obtain eternal salvation, through the same, Thy beloved Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, one true God, world without end. Amen.
Confessing Truth in the Desert
John 1: 20 And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ. 21 And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No. 22 Then said they unto him, Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself? 23 He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.
23) Thus approached, the Baptist complies. He said, I am a voice shouting in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said Isaiah the prophet. The Baptist uses Isa. 40:3, and himself mentions the prophet whose words he uses when characterizing himself. Compare the author’s The Eisenach Old Testament Selections, 66, etc. The claim that the Baptist here merely appropriates Isaiah’s words and does not mean to say that he and his work are the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy would certainly be remarkable if true. Matt. 3:3; Mark 1:3; Luke 3:4 interpret Isaiah’s word as actually being fulfilled in the Baptist and in his work. Even without this decisive evidence no other conclusion can be drawn from the Baptist’s answer to the committee of the Sanhedrin. He furnishes this committee with more than they had asked when they requested, “What dost thou say concerning thyself?” He supplies them with a divinely inspired statement from the greatest of their own prophets concerning his person and his work. Isaiah’s words do not merely happen to fit the Baptist’s thought, these words constitute the authority for his work.
The fact that the Baptist quotes in a free and an abbreviated way is entirely immaterial. This liberty is constantly used by those who quote. Isaiah writes, “Voice of a crier, In the wilderness prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God!” The Baptist declares not that he is such a voice, not that this picture of a voice in some way fits him also; but that he himself is this voice. He even imitates the Hebrew when he says, literally, “I—voice of a crier.” While the parallelism of the Hebrew lines induces us to connect the phrase “in the wilderness” with the verb prepare instead of with “the voice” (A. V.), this makes little difference. The Baptist evidently understands Isaiah to mean that both the voice and the highway are “in the desert,” and, surely, the fact of the fulfillment shows that this is correct.
Lenski, R. C. H.: The Interpretation of St. John's Gospel. Minneapolis, MN : Augsburg Publishing House, 1961, S. 112.
End of Lenski quotation.
Confessing the truth is vital in the Scriptures. The term is used in the famous confession/hymn/poem of 1 Timothy 3:16.
KJV 1 Timothy 3:16 And without controversy [GJ – literally – confessionally] great is the mystery of godliness:
God was manifest in the flesh,
justified in the Spirit,
seen of angels,
preached unto the Gentiles,
believed on in the world,
received up into glory.
Beginning preachers will look at this text and ask, “Why not something about Jesus?” This text is all about Jesus, the turning point in Biblical history.
From the beginning of time the Savior of the world was predicted by God, starting with Genesis 3:15. Because He would come from Israel, Satan pursued that nation until there was nothing left but a stump, at the birth of Jesus. The rule over Judea passed over from the house of David. The spiritual leaders knew that meant the coming of the Messiah. Herod knew and feared that fact.
The new Isaiah would announce the coming of the Messiah, and John the Baptist fulfilled that expectation as well.
The religious opponents bore down on John to make him deny his role. But he confessed and did not deny, but confessed…In Greek class we thought it was funny that John’s Gospel was so repetitive. But the repetition is there for emphasis, to help us remember, and to create a contrast with the opposite.
How many people are asked to confess the truth, yet they make excuses, water down their response, and even deny what they said before?
That is especially true of witnessing the truth about the Christian faith. The religious opponents are in the visible organization, just as they were at the time of Jesus. We know that the religious leadership of the Jews contained followers of Jesus and opponents. That was revealed at his burial, when two of them helped with the funeral arrangements.
The temptation for John was to deny his role and ultimately to deny Christ, but he confessed the truth rather than deny Christ. That led to his death, because being faithful to the Word was not a matter of convenience.
23 He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.
As Lenski mentioned, the fussy scholars want the Bible to follow APA standards and use verbatim quotations and a correct citation. The Word of God can quote the Word of God without the APA. It is the mark of authority to condense and rephrase the words without changing the content.
False teachers use the correct words and change the meaning – saying – no it really means the opposite of what appears before your lying eyes. Insecure false teachers say, “I studied Greek, so I know what it says, and you don’t. In fact, you cannot question anything I say.” Thus the Word of God is set aside for the claims of a third-rate student at a fourth-rate school.
Verse 23 is a great announcement, but also one filled with danger. To confess Christ in the midst of opponents invites hatred, revenge, and suffering. Yet that is exactly what we are expected to do, because the Word of God works upon opponents in two ways. It always creates rebellion in the Old Adam, and no one is immune from that response.
When the Old Adam, our sinful nature, is disturbed, we think about the disturbance and the Holy Spirit works upon us. Those who sincerely listen to the Word are converted and persuaded by God Himself. This change happens when we first become believers, but also when we wander away from the Gospel and when we fall into confusion.
The other response, in rebellion, is to harden the heart against the Word. The deeper people are sunk into falsehood, the greater the antagonism will be. That is why people fear witnessing to the truth, because they know there will be consequences from hardened hearts. That does not mean we have to court opposition. In fact, that seldom needs to happen. Opposition comes knocking, as the religious opponents did. They came to John and asked.
People will ask, out of the blue, “Do you think Jesus is the only way of salvation?” I quote Jesus on that topic. “I am The Way, The Truth, and The Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” If they want to argue that, they are arguing against Jesus.
I got into a religious discussion in a hospital waiting room. I was not looking for it. The idea of the Law being required for salvation entered the discussion. I pointed out that it was like an x-ray, good for diagnosis, but useless for treatment. A broken bone is seen by an x-ray, but an x-ray cannot heal it. The Law diagnoses our sinful condition, but only the Gospel of forgiveness can heal it.
So many are raised on salvation by works of the Law that this needs to be said.
John 1: 24 And they which were sent were of the Pharisees. 25 And they asked him, and said unto him, Why baptizest thou then, if thou be not that Christ, nor Elias, neither that prophet?
John was the greatest of all – the Forerunner. As Lenski observed, the Pharisees did not quite realize they were talking to the Forerunner himself, the one immediately before the Christ. And today, many religious scholars have the same problem.
John’s answer emphasized his spiritual role in preparing people for the Messiah. The language used before is akin to the preparation before the visit of an Oriental Emperor. The people were to prepare themselves spiritually through the Word in a similar way.
The figure in Isaiah’s words is that of an oriental king with his retinue for whom the roads are prepared when they are making a royal passage in state. So Christ, now assuming his office, comes. “Such preparation is spiritual. It consists in deep conviction and confession that you are unfit, a sinner, poor, damned, and miserable with all the works you are able to do.” Neither the prophet nor the Baptist are to be understood as intending that men should by their own natural powers make straight the way of the Lord into their hearts, for this would demand the impossible. The power for this spiritual preparation the Baptist himself offered in his preaching and his Baptism, i.e., in these means of grace. Lenski, R. C. H.: The Interpretation of St. John's Gospel. Minneapolis, MN : Augsburg Publishing House, 1961, S. 114.
End of Lenski quotation.
The witness or confession is significant because it is testimony about God’s truth, not man’s opinion.
When people feel obliged to take care of themselves first, they readily compromise and water down God’s truth. That is always the safe bet in the short one, and it will be rewarded.
But where does it end? People imagine they can take one strand and discard that for the moment, because that is the popular thing to do. Where closed communion is the battle, they step away from the clear meaning of the term and invent a new variation. Many like that because it shows an open-mindedness. I remember Klemet Preus discussing it in class at Ft. Wayne. He was teaching. It was obvious from his comments that the issue was open for debate and decided both ways in the LCMS. And yet they said they supported the historic practice of closed communion. They gave lip service, but actual practice was 50/50.
The danger is not so much in the bad practice, but the attitude behind it. Once the attitude is wrong, anything after that can happen. Therefore, doctrinal indifference causes open communion and welcomes a host of other difficulties, until nothing is left.
That reminds me of the Methodist leader who defended a radical (about 80 years ago) by saying, “We can afford one person like that.” That was a clever evasion. It was meant to flatter the denomination – we are so big and strong, so powerful, that one self-destructing radical will not hurt us. We are rich in everything so he cannot hurt us. In a few years the conservative Methodists became the leaders in every radical cause, from Communism to gay ordination. The same author thought it was comical that some Methodists would not pray with a minister who denied the Virgin Birth. How narrow! I am not sure what he thought Christmas involved.
One WELS pastor said, “Everyone knows Larry Olson is a heretic, so he’s harmless.” And yet this harmless heretic has run a synod-wide program based on false doctrine – for decades.
We never know when that moment comes and a witness for the truth will make a significant change in a person’s life. That chance may come and go. Confidence in the truth allows us to speak, knowing that God works through His Word and accomplishes His purpose.
I annoyed a Jewish lady by saying most Reformed rabbis were atheists who believed in nothing. That prompted her to ask her rabbi, and he confirmed what I said. A period of distrust in me led to more trust. She asked a famous liberal theologian about heaven and he had nothing to say. He missed that moment because he had abandoned the Word of God while achieving fame. Now she is a Christian believer. I am not sure when that happened, but she welcomes orthodox Lutheran material.
Gifts can be important. One member gave me “What Luther Says,” and I used that to help with sermons and doctrine. Staying close to Luther made it relatively easy to leave the LCA and to fight Church Growth.
I gave my favorite set of Luther to a Catholic priest at Notre Dame, around 1980. He wrote to say he still reads it. I imagine he reads it more than most Lutheran pastors do.
One Catholic layman said, “Why don’t you join us?” I said, “Because of what you say about the crucifixion.” He wanted an explanation. I said, “According to Catholics, Jesus did not do enough. He died on the cross for forgiveness, but my sins are not paid for. Therefore, His work was incomplete. I have to finish it myself.”
The layman said, “I never thought of that.”
The Word conveys Christ to us and to others. We do not have to be memory experts or theologians to witness the truth God has given us. “Faith makes us bold,” as Luther said. Trusting in the Word lets us speak that truth without excuse or compromise. What people reject is Christ, not us. What people receive with joy is Christ, not us. Yet we have the privilege to share in what the Word does and to see its progress.
"Melanchthon, the Hamlet of the Reformation, shrinking from action into contemplation, with a dangerous yearning for a peace which must have been hollow and transient, had become more and more entangled in the complications of a specious but miserable policy which he felt made him justly suspected by those whose confidence in him had once been unlimited."
Charles P. Krauth, The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology, Philadelphia: 1913 (1871), p. 85.
"If we would be Christians, therefore, we must surely expect and reckon upon having the devil with all his angels and the world as our enemies, who will bring every possible misfortune and grief upon us. For where the Word of God is preached, accepted, or believed, and produces fruit, there the holy cross cannot be wanting. And let no one think that he shall have peace; but he must risk whatever he has upon earth--possessions, honor, house and estate, wife and children, body and life. Now, this hurts our flesh and the old Adam; for the test is to be steadfast and to suffer with patience in whatever way we are assailed, and to let go whatever is taken from us."
Large Catechism, The Lord's Prayer, Third Petition, #65, Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 715.
"That forbearance which is a fruit of the Spirit retains its characteristic kindness whether directed toward friend or enemy, toward rich or poor."
Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed., John Nicholaus Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, VI, p. 103.
"Prayer is made vigorous by petitioning; urgent, by supplication; by thanksgiving, pleasing and acceptable. Strength and acceptability combine to prevail and secure the petition."
Sermons of Martin Luther, VI, p. 107.
"The Lord's Prayer opens with praise and thanksgiving and the acknowledgement of God as a Father; it earnestly presses toward Him through filial love and a recognition of fatherly tenderness. For supplication, this prayer is unequaled. Hence it is the sublimest and the noblest prayer ever uttered."
Sermons of Martin Luther, VI, p. 107.
"This, mark you, is the peace of the cross, the peace of God, peace of conscience, Christian peace, which gives us even external calm, which makes us satisfied with all men and unwilling to disturb any. Reason cannot understand how there can be pleasure in crosses, and peace in disquietude; it cannot find these. Such peace is the work of God, and none can understand it until it has been experienced."
Sermons of Martin Luther, VI, p. 111.
"The reference [the Votum] is simply to a disposition to trust and love God sincerely, and a willingness of heart and mind to serve God and man to the utmost. The devil seeks to prevent this state by terror, by revealing death and by every sort of misfortune; and by setting up human devices to induce the heart to seek comfort and help in its own counsels and in man. Thus led astray, the heart falls from trust in God to a dependence upon itself."
Sermons of Martin Luther, VI, p. 111.
"Thus we have two parts, preaching and believing. His coming to us is preaching; His standing in our hearts is faith. For it is not sufficient that He stand before our eyes and ears; He must stand in the midst of us in our hearts, and offer and impart to us peace."
Martin Luther, Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., xd., John Nicholas Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, II, p. 355. John 20:19-31.
"For the devil will not allow a Christian to have peace; therefore Christ must bestow it in a manner different from that in which the world has and gives, in that he quiets the heart and removes from within fear and terror, although without there remain contention and misfortune."
Sermons of Martin Luther, II, p. 380.
"Joy is the natural fruit of faith. The apostle says elsewhere (Galatians 5:22-23): 'The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness, self-control.' Until the heart believes in God, it is impossible for it to rejoice in Him. When faith is lacking, man is filled with fear and gloom and is disposed to flee at the very mention, the mere thought, of God. Indeed, the unbelieving heart is filled with enmity and hatred against God. Conscious of its own guilt, it has no confidence in His gracious mercy; it knows God is an enemy to sin and will terribly punish the same."
Sermons of Martin LutherVI, p. 93.
"To rejoice in the Lord--to trust, confide, glory and have pride in the Lord as in a gracious Father--this is a joy which rejects all else but the Lord, including that self-righteousness whereof Jeremiah speaks (9:23-24): 'Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he hath understanding, and knoweth Me.'"
Sermons of Martin Luther, VI, p. 95.
"Now, suppose some blind, capricious individual intrudes, demanding as necessary the omission of this thing and the observance of that, as did certain Jews, and insisting that all men follow him and he none--this would be to destroy equality; indeed, even to exterminate Christian liberty and faith. Like Paul, in the effort to maintain liberty and truth, everyone should refuse to yield to any such demand."
Sermons of Martin Luther, VI, p. 98.
"Christ's kingdom grows through tribulations and declines in times of peace, ease and luxury, as St. Paul says in 2 Cor. 12:9 'My power is made perfect in weakness, etc.' To this end help us God! Amen."
Sermons of Martin Luther, II, p. 99.
"The ultimate purpose of afflictions is the mortification of the flesh, the expulsion of sins, and the checking of that original evil which is embedded in our nature. And the more you are cleansed, the more you are blessed in the future life. For without a doubt glory will follow upon the calamities and vexations which we endure in this life. But the prime purpose of all these afflictions is the purification, which is extremely necessary and useful, lest we snore and become torpid and lazy because of the lethargy of our flesh. For when we enjoy peace and rest, we do not pray, we do not meditate on the Word but deal coldly with the Scriptures and everything that pertains to God or finally lapse into a shameful and ruinous security."
What Luther Says, An Anthology, 3 vols., ed., Ewald Plass, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959, I, p. 18.
"The church is recognized, not by external peace but by the Word and the Sacraments. For wherever you see a small group that has the true Word and the Sacraments, there the church is if only the pulpit and the baptismal font are pure. The church does not stand on the holiness of any one person but solely on the holiness and righteousness of the Lord Christ, for He has sanctified her by Word and Sacrament."
Martin Luther, What Luther Says, An Anthology, 3 vols., ed., Ewald Plass, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959, I, p. 263. Matthew 24:4-7.
"When you preach or confess the Word, you will experience both without, among enemies, and also within, in yourself (where the devil himself will speak to you and prove how hostile he is to you), that he brings you into sadness, impatience, and depression, and that he torments you in all sorts of ways. Who does all this? Certainly not Christ or any good spirit, but the miserable, loathsome enemy...The devil will not bear to have you called a Christian and to cling to Christ or to speak or think a good word about Him. Rather he would gladly poison and permeate your heart with venom and gall, so that you would blaspheme: Why did He make me a Christian? Why do I not let Him go? Then I would at last have peace."
Martin Luther, What Luther Says, An Anthology, 3 vols., ed., Ewald Plass, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959, II, p. 928.
"We have no intention of yielding aught of the eternal, immutable truth of God for the sake of temporal peace, tranquility, and unity (which, moreover, is not in our power to do). Nor would such peace and unity, since it is devised against the truth and for its suppression, have any permanency. Still less are we inclined to adorn and conceal a corruption of the pure doctrine and manifest, condemned errors. But we entertain heartfelt pleasure and love for, and are on our part sincerely inclined and anxious to advance, that unity according to our utmost power, by which His glory remains to God uninjured, nothing of the divine truth of the Holy Gospel is surrendered, no room is given to the least error, poor sinners are brought to true, genuine repentance, raised up by faith, confirmed in new obedience, and thus justified and eternally saved alone through the sole merit of Christ." (Closing of Formula of Concord, Triglotta. p. 1095)
Francis Pieper, The Difference Between Orthodox And Heterodox Churches, and Supplement, Coos Bay, Oregon: St. Paul's Lutheran Church, 1981, p. 65.
"When a theologian is asked to yield and make concessions in order that peace may at last be established in the Church, but refuses to do so even in a single point of doctrine, such an action looks to human reason like intolerable stubbornness, yea, like downright malice. That is the reason why such theologians are loved and praised by few men during their lifetime. Most men rather revile them as disturbers of the peace, yea, as destroyers of the kingdom of God. They are regarded as men worthy of contempt. But in the end it becomes manifest that this very determined, inexorable tenacity in clinging to the pure teaching of the divine Word by no means tears down the Church; on the contrary, it is just this which, in the midst of greatest dissension, builds up the Church and ultimately brings about genuine peace. Therefore, woe to the Church which has no men of this stripe, men who stand as watchmen on the walls of Zion, sound the alarm whenever a foe threatens to rush the walls, and rally to the banner of Jesus Christ for a holy war.”
C. F. W. Walther, The Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel, trans., W. H. T. Dau, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1928, p. 28.