Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Fourth Sunday in Advent, 2012.

The Fourth Sunday in Advent, 2012

Pastor Gregory L. Jackson

Bethany Lutheran Church, 10 AM Central Time

The Hymn #477   Lord Jesus Thou            3:90
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

Beyond Jordan

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.

Beyond Jordan

Luther made an important point in his explanation of this passage – about the words – beyond Jordan.

This is his point – in his discussion of the spiritual meaning of the passage, “beyond Jordan” refers to John the Baptist being on the opposite side of the river, that is, taking another view of the Scriptures than those who were sent to grill him.

This is a major point, because every single confession starts with the Word of God. The Scriptures are the foundation for every heresy. The really abusive ones (WELS, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the mainline denominations) offer the Bible, but the Bible in their own words, because they cannot stretch the words enough to fit their dogmas. Therefore, new words are added and traditional verses are removed. Most modern “translations” fit this definition.

Inerrancy is one issue. There is no reason to discuss the Christian faith with those apostates who view the Bible as just another creation by man. There is no standard for them and they have already departed from the historic view of the Christian Church.

The most important issue is the Gospel itself. Justification by faith is the Chief Article of Christianity, the Master and Prince of everything else. Therefore, the Roman Catholic Church, ELCA, the SynCons (LCMS, ELS, WELS), and all mainline groups are on the wrong side of the Jordan. They reject justification by faith, no matter how able their theologians are in defining, side-stepping, explaining, and waffling.

Therefore the best way to see this text, and all others, is to view it from the opposite side of the Jordan, to see it as resting upon the righteousness of Christ and no other, understanding that faith and forgiveness go together always, that lack of faith is the foundation for all sin.

The only purpose of the Bible is to teach us faith in Christ. The Bible brings Christ to us in the Word, so we have the blessings of faith in Him as our Savior. Anything else is subordinate to that singular purpose.

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?

The leaders of the nation sent a delegation to John to ask about his mission. This alone was quite flattering. It showed how important he was at that time. His followers made the leaders uneasy.

The Shiloh prophesy was two-fold. First the kingship had to pass from the House of David. That happened when Herod was put on the throne. But the Jews did not like that and fought against him for 30 years. He finally subdued and subordinated them. The second part was now true. The scepter departed and he had control of Israel. Herod’s Temple was his peace offering to them.

Genesis 49:10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh comes; and to Him shall be the obedience of the people.

Knowing this prophecy, all the leaders were anxious about John and what his great following meant for them.

John could have been tempted to confirm any of those titles that were offered to him, but he did not cave in.

20 And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ.

First year Greek students find this repetition strange, but it is an emphasis upon John’s mission both in the positive (confessed) and the double-negative (denied not). Thus there can be no doubt – he was not calling himself the Messiah (anointed king). The answer is first described and then quoted.

This is best explained in the context of his vast following at the time, the turmoil caused by it, and the presence of Jesus – still unknown.

False religious leaders are always afraid. They realize their security and luxuries come only from being in complete control. They look for information and manage it to suit their needs. These leaders were under Herod’s power, so they were serving him as well as their own needs.

21 And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No.

Because they relied on righteousness through the Law, they wanted to pin down John and place him in a role. Elijah was a prophet of great importance at that time, because he ascended to heaven in a chariot. For that reason he was expected to herald the Messianic age.

John said, “I am not Elijah.”

Another expected role was The Prophet – similar to being Elijah, the forerunner of the Messianic Age. The inter-testamental literature was full books about the Messianic age. They were not Scripture but written as if they were, so they had an impact on the thinking of Jewish leaders at that time. There are collections of the literature of that time.

The question itself rests on Mal. 3:23 (in the English and the German versions Mal. 4:5) as understood by the rabbis regarding the return of Elijah in person to prepare the Messianic kingdom. Perhaps something in the stern preaching of repentance by the Baptist, aided by his austere dress and mode of life, may have prompted the surmise that this rabbinic expectation was fulfilled and that the Baptist actually was Elijah returned to life. In this sense the Baptist utters his denial: “I am not,” omitting any pointed ego (I), which would add the wrong implication: I am not, but another is or will be. The Baptist’s denial, therefore, does not clash with what was promised regarding him in Luke 1:17, and with what Jesus afterward said of him in Matt. 11:14; 17:11, three statements which correctly interpret Malachi.
Lenski, R. C. H.: The Interpretation of St. John's Gospel. Minneapolis, MN : Augsburg Publishing House, 1961, S. 109.

KJV Matthew 11:14 And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come.

KJV Luke 1:17 And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

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.

The questions were not offered in a sincere spirit but in an effort to pin down and blame John in some way. The delegation was sent in the wrong spirit and would only use whatever answer they received in the wrong spirit. That John ended up executed is a good sign of how much they wanted to learn from him. They knew the power of his preaching, but they did not like it.

John identified his only role as pointing to the Lord, preparing the way for him. The one who tells the people to repent is not God, not the Savior. When the ancient monarchs visited, heralds went before him, so that everyone knew he was coming. They gave the news, but they were not the emperor, or monarch, or  lord.

John said, “I am preparing the way of the Lord.”

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.

John is teaching nothing more than faith in Jesus. They are to look for the Lord. As great as they imagine John to be (as reckoned by the crowds), he is nothing at all. He is not worthy to take off the shoes of Jesus.

Although Jesus is after John, He is before John in importance. (The Bible says so much in so few words.)

John is now pointing to the true Savior, the One who should have everyone’s allegiance, love, loyalty, and faith.

This is why Luther said that John was no longer a prophet. Prophesy ended with John, because all the Old Testament prophets were fulfilled in Jesus. That made John more than a prophet, because he had the most difficult job, to point to an ordinary looking man and say, “There is your King. Not a man riding on a charger and leading us into battle, but the Lamb of God who bears the sin of the world.”


I thought about this passage during the week, about the LCA pastors complaining about being limited by the historic lessons. That is why they, Missouri, and WELS all follow the Vatican now – the three year series, invented by the Church of Rome.

John the Baptist keeps coming up as the lesson in Advent. They could not cope with that. But John the Baptist is not the main topic – faith in Christ is. “There’s the rub,” as Shakespeare said. Someone lacking in faith does not want to talk about faith. It is something to be avoided or slighted with faint praise.

Why did the ancient church leaders find this so important in Advent? The season is aimed at repentance, and John’s role was to encourage repentance in the people, before Jesus came. And John clearly told his audience that Another was coming.

To repent means to lay aside all our concepts of righteousness and despair of our own merit. The false teachers want to turn repentance into self-torture. Join Opus Dei and they will sell you some barbed wire to wear around your leg and a nice whip to use on your own back. Roman Catholic orders with whips are called flagellant orders. A Holy Cross priest said the flagellant orders also drink a lot. I looked at the rosy nose of the priest who told me that and thought, “More than your bunch?” But I did not say it out loud.

Luther was raised with the wrong kind of repentance, and he realized that as he was guided by Staupitz and the Word into the true concept of the Gospel. Repentance certainly means sorrow for sin, or godly contrition, but it does not mean self-torture to earn forgiveness. That easily becomes a work of atonement or appeasement, the old Roman system. Extreme versions are practiced in many countries today. They make a small whip seem mild in comparison.

To be on the other side of Jordan with John means to place all our trust in Christ Jesus alone. That means that we see the Gospel of forgiveness in all the texts, and the Gospel of forgiveness is the Gospel of faith.

Luther repeatedly said there were two doctrines – one of faith and one of the Law. We are justified by faith or by the Law. The Law may be from the Old Testament or from man’s own human reason. But that does not matter. All justification apart from faith is justification by the law and therefore false.

All justification apart from faith is man-centered and works centered. It can only lead to doubt and despair. Universal forgiveness without faith (UOJ) may seem to be all grace, but it really means that nothing matters. It is the spirit of atheism. First one says, “God loves so much that everyone is forgiven.” The old Unitarians were quite moralistic and at least confessed God the Father. But this great expression of grace (so-called) gives way to an antagonism toward God and all religion, because universal forgiveness teaches that nothing matters ultimately – only the self.

In contrast we have the truth of God’s Word. This Word shows us in an instant that we do not believe. If we did believe utterly in Him, we would not fear. We would not be anxious. We would rejoice in the forgiveness given to us through the Gospel promises. But we rest our confidence in ourselves and our abilities, our sanctity rather than the holiness of Christ.

When the Word shows us this truth, it also teaches us Christ, the Lamb of God, who appeared in the crowd as meek and mild, non-threatening except to the religion of works. He taught with divine authority, not like the Pharisees, and the people knew, long promised Good Shepherd was as anxious for each one of them as they were for Him. So the believers longed to hear His voice and come to Him.

Even so today He guides us to the green pastures and quiet waters of eternal life.

Advent IV

"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)

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