Monthly Archives: December 2014

The Holy Innocents, Martyrs – Matthew 2:13-18

With thanks to The Rev. Dr. Norman Nagel for much of what follows. Soli Deo Gloria!

Amid all the joy of Christmas, there is a reality check today. Not long after the birth of Jesus according to the flesh, King Herod trembles for his throne. He has heard of a pretender king named Jesus somewhere in Bethlehem. The way you deal with a pretender king is to kill him. Since you know he’s out there somewhere, but you don’t know exactly where, you might as well cover all your bases. Herod sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men.

These children murdered by Herod were the first to lose their lives for Mary’s baby. The church has sung of them for more than 1,500 years as “sweet flowerets of the martyr band”, as we did in the Chief Hymn. We have been so calloused by the statistics of death pouring from Chicago, Saint Louis, and other places, that we don’t think much about this incident at all. Bethlehem was a small town. There probably weren’t too many male babies under two years old. Some historians have already begun to rehabilitate Herod by saying he is innocent of the murder of the Innocents.

Each mother in Bethlehem bore the whole weight of the loss of her child that she loved. If you’ve been to a wake of an infant or a young child, you know the weight of the loss. Perhaps you have borne that weight yourself. You walk through the receiving line, offer your condolences, and leave. You might think of the family from time to time, but their loss doesn’t affect you as if it was your loss. Tears are not enough for them. Tears are not enough for the Holy Innocents either.

There’s no point to commemorate the Holy Innocents if we merely feel sorry for the children and the parents. There’s something far more sinister at work here. You see this clearly with King Herod. Herod loved Herod. He wanted to be big and powerful. He would stop at nothing to protect his livelihood, even if it meant killing innocent children.

See yourself in King Herod. You put yourself first. Everyone else comes second. Herod has the power to subordinate people to himself. Most sinners don’t have that much power. Yet the basic principle of sin remains the same, though its expression may be limited. When people get in our way, we may not have Herod’s sword, but we do know how to get rid of them.

Granted you may not be King Herod, but you certainly are as hideous a sinner as he was. If sin is only what hurts my neighbor, then it’s not really a problem. I can do what I want as long as others aren’t hurt. That’s the way of the world these days. That’s also pure rebellion against God because it excludes God. We become god instead. You can’t push almighty God like that and get away with it.

When Herod killed those children, he was doing fearful damage to them, to their parents, to himself, and toward God. In each baby that Herod killed, he was guilty of killing Jesus. Herod intended to get rid of Jesus. He killed many more children than necessary. Therefore Herod is guilty of doing away with creatures of God. So he does away with God by doing away with them. Consider also that God is born a man in Bethlehem. God became each one of them and of us. After Jesus takes on flesh it is clear that to harm or damage any person is to harm and damage Jesus. Because He became each one of us, what we do to one another is done to Him.

So why doesn’t God put a stop to it? Why not run interference on Herod and not allow such a travesty? If God is an almighty and loving God, why did He let those babies perish by the sword of Herod? Why does He let innocent children today be slaughtered in their mother’s womb not only in our country, but all over the world?

What happened in a stable in Bethlehem gives the answer. God could have come with a vulgar display of power and slain Herod and all like him. But if he slaughters everyone prepared to put themselves first, there wouldn’t be one of us left. God comes in the way of love. God comes in the way of knowing that we are not made better by force. Force deals with the outside of a person. When God came to save us from sin, He used love instead of force. He used love that brought Him to a stable and to a cross.

Jesus did not put Himself first. He was there for us. His whole life was love, a love that fulfilled the will of God. He lived the life expected of us. He died the death that was coming to us for our sin. Sin is overthrown and answered for in Jesus. In Him alone is there victory over sin.

God could have done away with sin by a proclamation from on high, or even by brute force. Instead He sends His Son to suffer and die for sin. He sends His Son on a journey to Egypt to flee a mass murderer wanting to keep his earthly throne. The Child Jesus returns from Egypt to Nazareth, grows up like any other child except without sin, and begins His ministry to pay for your sin and rise triumphant over death and hell.

Remember those Holy Innocents as you bask in the Savior’s birth. Jesus died for them as well, for they were sinners in need of a Savior as you are. The murdered children of Bethlehem proclaim Jesus is Lord with their blood. Where there is blood, there is life. Because Jesus lives, you live, even if you never shed blood for Him. They, and you, are witnesses that God has arrived to put an end to death forever. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.


Christmas Day – John 1:1-14

Last night it was rude and bare. Bethlehem. No room at the inn. Lay Jesus in the manger. Yet the angel preached about Him: For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. So why should you believe in the lowly-born Infant Jesus as your Savior? If you put Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus next to the prologue of John’s Gospel there’s no doubt that John opens up the transcendence of Jesus’ birth. Luke gives us the immanence of His birth. Jesus is up close and personal in Luke chapter two. Jesus is out of this world, literally, in John chapter one. The two accounts are enough to make you wonder whether or not this Jesus really is the Savior. One writer has Him spiraling into our world from outside the cosmos. Another has Him right there, in your face, with the animals and the shepherds.

John’s account of the birth of Jesus shows us that He is a great and wonderful Savior. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. Jesus has come not merely in time. Jesus is from eternity. Here is the second Person of the Holy Trinity, the Son of God; God Himself; the Creator of all creation, now in flesh appearing.

Hard to believe, isn’t it. Whoever heard of God becoming man in order to pay for the sin of the world? You believe it. You’re willing to die for it. You’re willing to forsake everything for it. God becomes man. It’s that simple. It can’t be explained or measured. It is believed.

Jesus is also the only Savior. Spiritual life and light for mankind is only in Him. Mankind is in death and darkness without Jesus. John the Baptist had the task to indicate to all men this one Light. What is sad about John the Baptist’s witness of Jesus is that not all who heard his preaching believed it, especially among the Jews. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. As a result the Jews excluded themselves from being children of God. They forfeited eternal life.

Jesus comes for both Jew and Gentile. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. Jesus is for you because God wills it. You weren’t born into His redemption. You are not a blood relative. You can’t will yourself into eternal life. Neither can your family or your neighbor or even your pastor. Only God gives you the right to be called a child of God. Only God does the heavy lifting of creating and sustaining faith in Jesus Christ. Only God bestows the birth from above and makes you an heir of eternal life.

Jesus is also a kind and loving Savior. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. He pitched His tabernacle among us. God becomes man. Although the glory that He revealed that holy night of His birth was a divine glory, this glory was not a consuming fire or a glory of an angry judge.

The glory of God was full of grace and truth. Jesus Christ is full of grace, full of the heavenly Father’s undeserved love toward sinners. Grace is not a thing. Grace is a state of being. It is how God is because of Jesus Christ. It is how the Father is when He sees His Son’s blood and righteousness that covers you. He is well-pleased when He sees you in Jesus.

Jesus is also full of truth. The truth is that you deserve eternal death and condemnation because of sin. Nevertheless, Jesus becomes sin for you that you receive His righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. Hearing Christ’s gift of forgiveness and life for you brings you what the Israelites longed for many years. You have life in the Name of Jesus, the God Who saves. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Believe it for Baby Jesus’ sake.

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Christmas Midnight (at 6:00 P.M.) – Luke 2:1-20

The one true God is a giving God. He gives. We receive. He gives everything good. We receive it sometimes as good, sometimes as bad. Nevertheless, what He gives is good. Tonight the giving God gives the best that He can give: His only-begotten Son in the flesh from the womb of the Virgin Mary. The first to receive the message of this Gift are shepherds watching over their flocks at night. Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us…. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.

We have lost the wonder of the shepherd’s testimony. God is doing a new thing here, but it’s not necessarily new. He repeatedly promised through patriarchs and prophets that He would send His Son to redeem the sinful world. His chosen people lived in that promise. Everything they thought, did, and said prepared them to receive this promise. Passover recalled not only how they left Egypt, but also how they would leave death. The blood of an innocent lamb would spare them from death. What does John the Baptist call Jesus? The Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.

Tonight the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world becomes man. Not just any man. Perfect man. His conception is miraculous. His life is perfect. Not once did Jesus Christ sin. He loved God and His fellow man to the letter of the Law. All this He did for you, not as an example for you to go and do likewise. You can’t love God and your neighbor as Jesus did. Your love for both fall way short of the mark. That is why Jesus bestows this Gift upon shepherds, upon noblemen, and especially upon the worst of society.

Jesus comes for both the greatest and the least. The Gospel writers show that the least recognize the Savior of the nations for Whom He is. The blind man screams out, Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! A blind man, no less. He need not be able to see Jesus to believe Jesus. The blind man speaks for us. Outside of Jesus we are blind about salvation and eternal life. Because of Jesus we see Him and walk with Him, even when we are physically blind or physically lame. Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed.

The giving God does not leave this Savior to twist in the wind, letting His redeemed children discover Him as they will. The giving God gives the gift of the mouth house, the holy Church on earth. In this mouth house you hear proclaimed the treasure for troubled and anguished consciences which Christ has earned for and committed to his Church. The treasure is the forgiveness of sins and everlasting peace. This is why the angels sing the hymn: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!

Is He pleased with me? Good question. In Christ, the answer is “Yes” and “Amen”. Because of Jesus’ innocent suffering and death, the giving God is pleased with you. He gives His Son to die for you. He gives you the gift of Baptism, Absolution, Gospel preaching, and the Lord’s Supper. He is most certainly pleased with you because Jesus Christ has satisfied everything for your redemption.

With forgiveness of sins comes everlasting peace. We think of the manger scene in romantic terms. All is calm, all is bright. Sleep in heavenly peace. See amidst the winter snow. Whether or not that was the scene in Bethlehem that night, there is peace for you in the manger. The Prince of Peace promised through Isaiah is born to bring you peace. His peace reconciles you to the Father. His peace calms your anxiety over what happens when you die. You shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.

You’ll exchange presents tonight, and again tomorrow. You may already have received your gifts. You may have to wait a while if gifts are still in transit. You don’t have to wait for the finest Gift given by the giving God. He gives you the very best right here, right now. Salvation is not in heaven. You don’t have to climb the ladder of holiness. It is on earth, where the Savior was born. Heaven is not some distant place. It is here, on earth. You don’t need to conquer heaven by sneaking in, or by charming the Lord. Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, Who is Christ the Lord. Right here. On earth. For you.

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Jesus Flees Bethlehem Because He Is A Human Being

[Jesus Christ] did not want something more extraordinary than others, but because he was determined to be an ordinary human being, he lived and behaved like a human being, allowing himself to be wrapped in swaddling clothes, nursed at his mother’s breasts, and all the rest; learned to pull himself up on chairs and benches, ate and drank, and, in a word, stood in the same relationship with all other things as other children, with the sole exception that he never committed a single sin – and was so much more wonderfully wise, chaste, and prudent than other children, that his elders surely knew that he would attain to something quite out of the ordinary. For he willed to veil his majesty and deity, until he had accomplished the redemption of mankind. Although upon entering upon his office he did great miracles which no other human being ever did, yet soon thereafter he died, manifesting his divine purpose. For he did not come to destroy the world and to defend himself with the sword. No, he acts as other human beings, is warned of danger by the angels, and flees from it.

This was written for us as an example and to instruct us to be more assured and convinced of the article of our Christian faith, that Christ is by nature true man, born of a virgin, who experienced life on earth as any other man. He made no difference between himself and others, but behaved and suffered as other men do, with the exception of sin. As often as we read in the Gospel that he took refuge from danger, he intended to demonstrate himself to be a true man, keeping his deity under cover, to hide it away from the devil.

It’s a lesson for us. If we can flee for refuge, we ought not despise this expedient, as certain enthusiasts do, who as a challenge to the devil refuse to flee, though they could. Similarly, there are many today who do not go to church or wish to make use of the stated means of grace which God has ordained, but want something out of the ordinary. but God gave you worldly rulers, princes, lords, and the rest, with pastors, preachers, the Word, baptism, the Sacrament, and many other things, everything that belongs to physical and spiritual life. If you order your life in accord with these things, as other people do, then you will not go wrong. But if you insist on some peculiar innovation, you act contrary to God’s will and command. Christ adhered to the common manner of children, willing to be like them, not a changeling – as Manichaeus makes him out to be, who stripped him of his human nature entirely – but instead willed to be in everything exactly as he was and in everything he did, as St. Paul says, that he was found in fashion as a man. And that means he would here have lost his life, if he had not been warned by the angels.

– Martin Luther, House Postil for The Day of the Holy Innocents (Matthew 2:13-23)

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A Christian’s End Purpose

True it is that Christians live their lives here upon earth, eat and drink in this world, just as Christ, their King, also ate and drank and shared in life here. But Christians do this as pilgrims and strangers, as guests in a lodging place, as Christ also did. In an inn the master of the house sees to it that there is food, drink, bread, meat, wine, beer; the guest is not in charge of that. He does not instruct the landlord how to run the house. He does not tell the manager how to go about buying food stuffs; rather, he asks the innkeeper whether there is bread and meat for him that he might eat, since he is weary from travel. So also, Christ has not come to earth in order to seize power from Caesar Augustus and teach him how to rule. But he uses the worldly realm and the manger, until he has fulfilled the mission for which he had been sent. This is what St. Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 7:29-31:

This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

In other words, a Christian’s end purpose is not his life on earth, to marry and be given in marriage, eat, drink, be clothed, rejoice, buy and sell – though like a guest for an hour or two these things satisfy life’s need – but he pursues another goal which endures once this all ceases.

This distinction must be carefully noted: finis politiae est pax mundi; finis ecclesiae est pax aeterna, that is, the end purpose of the government is temporal peace, while the ultimate end of the church is not peace and comfort on earth, nice homes, wealth, power, and honor, but everlasting peace…. Let this be the goal and purpose for which the Christian realm strives and aims: to proclaim the treasure for troubled and anguished consciences which Christ has earned for and committed to his church, namely, the forgiveness of sins and everlasting peace.

– Martin Luther, First House Postil for Holy Christmas Day

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Advent 4 – John 1:19-28

John the Baptist’s preaching is simple: Make straight the way of the Lord. It is appropriate to prepare for the birth of the Savior of the nations as you would prepare for any birthday celebration. Except this birthday celebration is a unique occasion. Never before, and never again, will God become man to save His Father’s people from their sins. No wonder John preaches, Make straight the way of the Lord.

So how is the way made straight for Baby Jesus’ arrival? One way is for you to answer the question posed to John, Who are you? That’s a rather personal question, isn’t it? It’s not good to ask others that question, let alone pose it to yourself. The Jews ask John this question because his preaching and baptism displeased them. When you pose that question to others, more than likely it is to humiliate someone and lift up yourself. “So you call yourself a Christian, eh? How come I see you do this and that and yet you’re in church? Some kind of Christian you are!”

Pose that question to yourself now. Who are you? You are man. Consider what the Scriptures say about man. You are a sinner, an enemy of God. Let’s let Saint Paul speak the truth: None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one…. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness…. The way of peace they have not known…. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. How do you even begin to respond to what Scripture says about who you are? The answer is, God, be merciful to me, a sinner. Blessed are you, for now you are properly prepared for Christmas.

Not so fast, though. Ask yourself again, Who are you? You are a Christian. Yet your way of life is not in the way of Christ? You don’t crucify your flesh and die daily to sin in order that the new man may emerge and live in the Good News of forgiveness of sins and eternal life. You love the world. You love your own flesh. You are afraid of death. You do not trust the Psalmist when he sings, I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord. How do you begin to respond to these true accusations? You answer in the way of John the Baptist: “I am not worthy to untie His sandal strap. I am a poor, miserable Christian. I cling to Christ as my hope for salvation.” Blessed are you when you answer this way, for you are properly prepared for Christmas.

But wait, there’s more. Ask yourself one more time, Who are you? Consider your station in life. Do you live in a Christian household? Do you pray without ceasing as Scripture says? Do you read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest Sacred Scripture every day? Are you rebellious against authority figures? What about your children or other members of your family? Where do you stand compared to what Scripture says? Your answer must be with the Psalmist, If You, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? Your answer must be that of Job: If one wished to contend with [God], one could not answer Him once in a thousand times. Blessed are you when you answer this way, for you are properly prepared for the Savior’s birth.

Now that you have examined yourself and discovered once again you are in need of a Savior, listen to John’s testimony: I baptize with water, but among you stands One you do not know, even He who comes after me, the strap of Whose sandal I am not worthy to untie…. Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.”

John’s testimony brings great comfort as Christmas approaches. The Christ Child comes to bear the sin of the world, even your sin. You are a great sinner, but you have an even greater Savior Who becomes sin for you that you might become the righteousness of God. Jesus is a man, but also God. Do not fear. He conquers all for you. Though you are a weak Christian, our Father in heaven still delivers salvation for you day after day. He bestows new grace that richly, daily, and abundantly forgives your sins. You deserve death and hell, but on Christmas night the heavens burst open over the sinful world. You shall not die, but live.

Your preparation for Christmas finds its ultimate fulfillment in receiving the Gifts Jesus gives His Church for the forgiveness of sins. You hear the Good News of sins atoned for in the all-availing blood and righteousness of Jesus. You are baptized into Christ; baptized into His perfect life, perfect death, and perfect resurrection. You eat and drink Christ’s true Body and true Blood in His Supper for the forgiveness of sins. So you are actually preparing as much for Jesus’ first coming in Bethlehem as much as you are also preparing for His final coming on Judgment Day. Martin Luther’s Christmas hymn says it well:

Welcome to earth, O noble Guest,
Through Whom the sinful world is blest!
You came to share my misery
That You might share Your joy with me.

In other words, Make straight the way of the Lord.

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A Christmas Hymn That Had Better Make The Cut for the Next LCMS Hymnal

(sung to the tune of “O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright)

O Prince of David’s lineage born!
O Bridegroom of my soul forlorn!
My Life and my Salvation:
How can I e’er give thanks to Thee,
Who in my mis’ry soughtest me –
How make due reparation?
Now is / All bliss:
Grief, man seeth, / Wholly fleeth;
Joy is thriving
For the Prince of Peace arriving.

Though full of gladness now I sing,
No fitting gift I know to bring
The Child of God’s selection!
Receive, dear Son of God’s own heart,
My heart, and claim it, every part,
And kindle mine affection!
Let me / Kiss Thee,
Son and Savior! / Hold me ever,
Fill and move me,
That I ever hold and love Thee.

Stay, worthiest Treasure, Crown of pride!
O Thou my Bliss, with me abide,
Thou Hope of hearts afflicted!
Thou Dew of heav’n, Thy fruit endow;
O sweetest Manna, visit now
The humble and dejected!
Keep Thy / Light nigh,
Lest earth darken; / Let us hearken,
And forever
See it shine and lose it never.

– P. von Zesen (+1689), translated by Matthew Carver

from “Walther’s Hymnal“, Hymn 38

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Crushing Law and Soothing Gospel from 1888

C.J. Otto Hanser was the long-time pastor at Trinity congregation in the Soulard neighborhood in St. Louis, MO. Part of the time he served alongside C.F.W. Walther. He was a prolific submitter of outlines (Dispositionen) to the homiletics magazine of the Missouri Synod. Here is a portion of my translation of his outline for the Fourth Sunday in Advent. Any errors of translation are mine. DMJ+

Ask yourself: “Who are you actually?” Answer: a man. Excellent, do you believe also what a man is according to God’s Word, namely a sinner, an enemy of God, under the curse of the law, a child of the devil, a victim of hell and damnation? For we have all turned aside, all men are liars, filled with all unrighteousness. Is your heart scared, do you speak in truth: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner”? Blessed are you, you are properly prepared.

Ask yourself again: “Who are you?” and answer: “A Christian.” Excellent, if it is true. What kind of Christian are you? Are you truly converted, born again, are you in the true faith? Are you ruled by the Holy Spirit or by the flesh? Do you aspire for higher things, or for what is on earth? Do you crucify your flesh, do you renounce the world? Do you surely hope to be saved or are you frightened at the thought of death? Blessed are you if you can answer humbly with John the Baptist: “I am not worthy that I should untie the sandal strap of my Jesus, that I am called according to the name of Christ, because I am such a poor, miserable Christian that I am ashamed of myself. Then you are properly prepared.

Ask yourself further: “Who are you?” Are you a father, mother, son, daughter, master, mistress, manservant, maidservant? What are you all in your station in life? Christian parents, do you lead a Christian household, do you have prayer and God’s Word in the family? Are your Christian children and servants according to the Fourth Commandment obedient or rebellious, humble or arrogant and headstrong? Blessed are you when you answer: “If You, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” “One could not answer him once in a thousand times.”

John testifies about Christ that He is man, but also God (“preferred before me”); for this purpose He became man, that He Who is the Lamb of God bears the sins of the world; the testimony of Christmas confirms it. You should faithfully embrace this and say: I am a great sinner, but I have a great Savior, for He is God, I fear nothing; I am a weak Christian, but God Himself says:Rejoice,the Savior brings salvation every day, new grace that abundantly, daily, forgives my sins. I deserve death and hell;but on Christmas the heavens over the sinful world have opened up, therefore I shall not die, but live. “Welcome to earth, O noble Guest!” etc. In other words, prepare the way for the Lord.

– Otto Hanser (1832-1910), Outline for a sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent (John 1:19-28)

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Advent 3 – Matthew 11:2-10

The phrase “He comes” resonates in the promises of God all the way back to the Garden of Eden, where the promise of a Savior first sounded. From that moment on, all prophets proclaimed “He comes.” Moses proclaims, The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen. David sang about the Savior, You are the most handsome of the sons of men; grace is poured upon your lips; therefore God has blessed you forever. Isaiah, Jeremiah, and all the prophets affirmed with one voice, “He comes.” Jesus Christ is the promised Savior Who comes to us to save us.

We see this from the miracles He performed. The question of John’s disciples to Jesus was an Advent question: Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another? The Advent of the Son of God is near. Has John made a mistake? Did he prepare the way for an impostor? How could that be possible? John is the one who leapt in his mother’s womb in the Lord’s presence. He is the one to whom God revealed the person of the Messiah by the appearing of the Holy Spirit at the Jordan. John is the one who pointed his finger at Jesus and said, Behold the Lamb of God! John, whose endurance Christ praises so highly in Matthew chapter 11, mistaken about Christ? Never! The two disciples were sent by John because they thought more of John than Jesus. They are the ones who need convincing. Christ’s answer to their question leaves no room for doubt.

Go and tell John what you see and hear. The fame of Jesus’ miracles had filled the land of Judea. It even penetrated into the tower at Machaerus, where John was imprisoned. The disciples whom John sent were now eyewitnesses and even ear witnesses of it. Saint Luke tells us when these disciples of John appeared, In that hour Jesus healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. It’s as if Jesus looks at these disciples of John, performs miracles, and says to them, is that good enough for you? Satisfied now?

Add to this that it was precisely these marvelous works that were already known in the prophets as the certain characteristics of the Messiah. Isaiah prophesied about Messiah’s coming: The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert. Every dead person who rose from the dead, every blind person seeing, every leper who was cleansed by the mere word of Christ, gave testimony in their healing: See, hear, Jesus is the One Who should come, and no other! Jesus is the promised Savior!

Yet the disciples of John had been angry at Jesus. The harsh forerunner of Messiah appeared to them to shine in greater holiness. That is why the warning is precisely for them: Blessed is the one who is not offended by me. The warning is for you as well when you doubt that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. The warning is for you when the world, your sinful flesh, and Satan tempt you to look elsewhere for your salvation. Do not doubt that you have a Savior, the Promised One, Jesus Christ. Believe in Him and don’t wait for another Savior.

We also see Jesus as Savior in the office and vocation of John the Baptist. He was a prophet. Elijah was a great prophet, yet the preaching and miracles of Elijah were nothing compared to the last and greatest of all prophets. John was the other Elijah promised by Malachi. In order that you might not think of John in contempt compared to Christ, Jesus has words of praise for His forerunner. What did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. People did not go into the wilderness in order to see a reed shaken by the wind or a soft servant of a king’s court. They admired the severity, the crushing seriousness, the incorruptibility, the resistance, the power and the force of John, in whom was the Holy Spirit.

John also is the forerunner of the Messiah. This is what Jesus means when He calls John more than a prophet. John reports the arrival of Christ. He draws attention with a loud voice of a herald to the Savior, the coming One. He prepares the way for Him in the hearts of the people of Israel as His messenger. Jesus relies on John in order that you believe Jesus is the One Who should come. You don’t need to wait for another Savior.

When the morning star shines, then the sun is near. When the morning star turns pale (in this case John in prison), then the sun is in full glory and bright radiance in the sky. John’s Savior, his disciples’ Savior, your Savior has come. Jesus has come to pay the price of your sin. He drinks the cup of woe to the dregs, not shrinking or shirking from His duty. Jesus comes today in the preaching of His Word and in His holy Supper for the forgiveness of your sins. Once He came humbly. Even now His coming among us is humble. His coming again, His final Advent, will be triumphant. All will see His glory. Not all will rejoice in His glory. All will see the Savior. Not all will want to see Him. They wish they could wait for another. There is no other.

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come/ Let earth receive her King.” These words are more than a Christmas hymn. These words are truth because what you sing about in this hymn will happen. The season of Advent is a season of new, yet old, blessings. It brings us new, yet old, grace; new, yet old, blessings; and new certainty of our faith in Jesus Christ. Joy, new joy, yet old joy, is yours because Jesus comes as your Savior King.

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Law, Gospel, What Next?

But let the Law do its work, and let the Gospel follow; then we face another strategic question – what should come next? A popular answer, offered by some of the really big names in LCMS history, is that you go back to the Law! “Sanctification,” some call it! “Evangelical admonition,” others say! Still others refer to “Gospel imperatives,” and yet more point to the “Third Use of the Law.” And all of the above are ready to label as “antinomian” those of us who say “no!” to these answers, however worded. Be assured that I believe in the third use of the Law, precisely and especially in the sense that it is discussed in FC VI, namely, that the third use is one of the ways in which God uses the Law….

Two things need to be noted, as we discern what should come after the Gospel. First, what many people want, and what many pastors deliver, is NOT the third use of the Law, which is purely informative in nature, indicative and not imperative. Rather, many people want and many pastors deliver the first use of the Law! What they desire is the law which modifies behavior, by curbing the continuance of anything that does not comport to what ought to be in the lives of Christians. That is the first use, not the third!

Moreover, whatever else the Law is doing, it is always accusing! Lex semper accusat! This is because, as the Formula says while discussing the third use, “to reprove is the real function of the law.” Now, if proclamation is what Lutheran preaching is about, and if identification of my  new being as a child of God is what the Gospel gives me, and if “good works are bound to flow from faith,” as our confessions assert, why would we want to put our hearers back under accusation and the terrors of conscience once again at the end of the sermon?

Instead, let me propose that Lutheran preachers consider “Gospel application.” Gospel application is where one goes beyond the statement of Gospel facts, such as “Jesus died for you,” or “in Holy Baptism, people are reborn into the kingdom of grace.” Gospel application occurs when, on the basis of the Gospel facts, the preacher actually forgives sins, when he actually declares, “you are God’s child!” “You are forgiven!” “No one will pluck you out of My hand!” Such Gospel application is simply relieving reflective reasoning of a necessary role in proclamation. We ought not to leave the hearer to draw the immediate application from the general principle. Instead, make Gospel application the summation of your sermon.

– Rev. Robert Schaibley, “Lutheran Preaching: Proclamation, Not Communication”


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