Sunday, December 20, 2009

Fourth Sunday in Advent

Christ is born, by Norma Boeckler

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 Absolution
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        
The Gospel              
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

Confessions True and False

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.

Confessions True and False

KJV John 1:19 And this is the record [literally – witness] 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.

The Gospel for today uses a verb which was also in the reading from Thursday. The verb is the base for our English word homiletics (preaching):

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.

In the Gospel, John confessed and did not deny, but confessed…

KJV 1 Timothy 6:12 Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession [confessed a good confession] before many witnesses.

KJV John 12:42 Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: 43 For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.

The Gospel of John is the capstone of the four Gospels, written last, assuming knowledge of the other Gospels, drawing together those narratives, and adding essential revelations about the life and ministry of Christ.

People talk about witnessing to their faith, and this language usually comes from Evangelicals influenced by the law. For example, last night one of my Biblical students wrote about how she had to “earn her faith” and “earn salvation” and “be worthy” while I tried to gently teach her fruitfulness by abiding with the True Vine, not by law but by God’s grace and the Gospel.

One supposed Lutheran told me, “If I don’t witness, God will not let me grow spiritually.” That was entirely law-based, viewing witness as a law requirement encouraged by punishment from God! I tried to show that person how the Gospel naturally produces those opportunities, that God does not have a quota, punishing when the quota is not met.

A true witness, as the Gospel of John shows, is one where the truth is affirmed and falsehood is rejected.

We can see that in John the Baptist’s witness, testimony, or record. Our English word martyr is a transliteration of the Greek word for witness. The traditional meaning for martyr is “one who has died for the Christian faith.” There were many martyrs in the past and there are even more today, because the Christian faith is being persecuted with great violence in various parts of the world.

John the Baptist was a martyr, believing in Christ, executed for daring to oppose the ruler’s vengeful bride.

KJV Matthew 14:1 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus, 2 And said unto his servants, This is John the Baptist; he is risen from the dead; and therefore mighty works do shew forth themselves in him. 3 For Herod had laid hold on John, and bound him, and put him in prison for Herodias' sake, his brother Philip's wife. 4 For John said unto him, It is not lawful for thee to have her. 5 And when he would have put him to death, he feared the multitude, because they counted him as a prophet. 6 But when Herod's birthday was kept, the daughter of Herodias danced before them, and pleased Herod. 7 Whereupon he promised with an oath to give her whatsoever she would ask. 8 And she, being before instructed of her mother, said, Give me here John Baptist's head in a charger. 9 And the king was sorry: nevertheless for the oath's sake, and them which sat with him at meat, he commanded it to be given her. 10 And he sent, and beheaded John in the prison. 11 And his head was brought in a charger, and given to the damsel: and she brought it to her mother. 12 And his disciples came, and took up the body, and buried it, and went and told Jesus.

The form of a confession is clear in this Gospel lesson.

John rejected false labels – such as
1.    The Christ.
2.    Elijah
3.    The Messianic prophet (very much like the Messiah – there were various expectations during that time).

John denied being any of those three. Who are you then?

John 1:23 He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.

John’s answer came straight from the Scriptures, so they asked him about baptizing. Why did he do it?

John 1:26b 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.

We are inclined to think John had the easiest prophetic role of all, but Luther said otherwise. The Old Testament prophets spoke of someone to come. John had to point to an ordinary person, someone standing in their midst, and say, “This is the Christ.” When we speak of an event in the future, each person can imagine something different. If we say, “This is now happening,” people have all kinds of reasons to disagree.

A famous video shows one person saying, “The sky is failing in the financial markets. All the signs are there.” The panel of experts openly mocked him. One of them, Ben Stein, said a stock was so cheap it was like a free prize in Crackerjacks. Later he confessed, and did not deny, but confessed that he never saw it coming, that he made many foolish mistakes.

So the worst part of this witness is the present, when people can see the current events and draw opposing conclusions.

Anyone can picture this. There is a vast difference between saying, “This would be wrong,” in the future – and “This is wrong” in the midst of it happening.
A true confession of faith is marked by affirming the positive and rejecting what is false. That is exactly what John did. We know his true role from both parts of his confession. He denied three different expectations as applying to him. He then affirmed that he was fulfilling what Isaiah the Prophet wrote.

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness” is very significant in the New Testament.

KJV Isaiah 40:3 The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

It appears in all four Gospels. Since two Gospels normally agree about significant details, the agreement of all four shows us how important it was to record this fulfillment of Isaiah 40:3 and to quote the verse.

Many NT passages paraphrase or summarize Old Testament  verses. All four Gospels quote the verse itself.

Whenever doctrinal clarity is needed, the pure Word of God is the best resource to use.

Luther groups all heresies into three categories:
1.    Against the humanity of Christ.
2.    Against the divinity of Christ.
3.    Against justification by faith.

False teachers will make positive affirmations but they are opposed to anyone rejecting falsehood. Sometimes they do this in a not-so-subtle way, by saying “We have to stop bashing Christians” or “We should not be negative.”

Using John’s witness, what could we conclude from a positive statement alone? He was a voice crying in the wilderness, and he was also the Messiah.

Unionists are always false teachers, but they keep their unionism out front where it appears to be virtuous. They do not want to fight, but want to work with others. Spener began this among Lutherans. People did not wear Pietist tattoos or leave the Lutheran Church. They organized and anaesthetized everyone against the Lutheran Confessions. Unionism turned into Unitarianism and Universalism in only one generation at Halle University, the capital of Pietism, created to promote Pietism. Halle was the origin of many great charitable projects, but without the mooring of a sincere confession of faith, Halle became known for good works and no faith. Tholuck, a Universalist, was known as the last of the Old Guard Pietists, and he was already a goner. Before him, Knapp denied the Biblical witness to the Trinity, and Knapp was valued as a Protestant theologian on both sides of the Atlantic.

In matters of faith, it is easy to see where this leads.

Christ is present in Holy Communion. If this is not defined, those who favor “spiritual presence” only are happy, and so are those who defend the Real Presence. However, denying the Real Presence by omission is also a rejection of the Two Natures of Christ.

In practice, open communion means “We do not care what your confession of faith is. You may not even know what this sacrament means. But we cherish warm fuzzy feelings from doing this together.”

Missouri liberals and ELCA pioneers went to town on closed communion for decades. They could not commune at home with their fellow Unitarians? Yes, but they were offended, scandalized by sound doctrine.

To soothe the feelings of the apostates, Lutheran clergy came up with “close communion.” I had no idea this was a code word. I thought it was the same as “closed communion.” But it really means open communion which not really open, more like semi-demi-closed communion. Once ELCA clergy commune at a Missouri, WELS, or ELS church, everyone might as well, too. The Church Growthers love open communion because it makes them feel better about going to Fuller Seminary and Willow Creek for their theological education.

The Growthers advocated open communion (don’t ask, don’t tell version) and saw their missions shrink. Meanwhile, the Eastern Orthodox, who are very strict about this, saw their congregations grow with former Lutheran members. I am not championing Eastern Orthodoxy at all, but a clear confession—even when wrong—is more compelling than warm fuzzies.

No one is against prayer. Every world religion has prayer or meditation. If no one addresses the topic of prayer, everyone can be happy. But there is a world of difference between the Reformed concept of prayer and the Biblical teaching.

The Reformed reject the Means of Grace. They do not “downplay” the Means, as David Valleskey said in a publication, with the approval of his own seminary colleagues. The Reformed believe and teach that someone prays Jesus into his heart. They teach people to “complete the transaction.” God has done this for you – now you must do something – make a decision, ask Jesus into your heart.

The Reformed do not only reject the Means of Grace. They mock the Means of Grace. Their testimonies against the Biblical Means of Grace are endless. Naturally, they also reject the efficacy of the Word, which is foundational for all Biblical doctrine.

Because the Gospel Promises are always effective, God accomplishes what He wills through the Word. Denying that truth is equal to giving man a power supposedly lacking in God. That will always lead to apostasy from the faith. Man can create a certain aura of success, but the supposed blessings do not last. A dishonest confession of faith is more basic than common dishonesty. “All men are liars.” That is a truth of Scripture, not a prescription for success. If we do not subject ourselves to an honest confession, a dishonest profession will take us down the wrong path fast, as many current atheists know (who were once conservative Lutheran pastors).

Proof of the efficacy of the Word always follows a discussion of sound and false doctrine. Orthodoxy is accompanied by opposition, as Chytraeus said.

The Christmas Eve service will be at 4 PM 
Central Standard time on Thursday.

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