The Unknown Christ–4th Sunday in Advent 2014
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 1:19-28
December 21, 2014
“The Unknown Christ”
“Among you stands one you do not know…” John 1:26
We preach an unknown to the world.
The world is ready to receive great men. That’s why the Jews from Jerusalem made overtures to John the Baptist. They saw in him the marks of a great man, perhaps a prophet.
But John was not coming to be a great man. He was there to prepare the way for someone else. He was there to prepare the way for the LORD.
The world understands human greatness, but it does not understand the Lord. The Lord is above human greatness. As Luther puts it in His Christmas hymn:
Worldly honor, wealth, and might,
Are weak and worthless in His sight. LSB 358, st. 12
The Lord is not coming to do anything the world thinks is great. He comes to establish no empire, build no company, make no money, win no Super Bowl.
He is coming to destroy the kingdom of the devil. But what is that to the world? The world does not believe that it is under the power of the devil and cannot free itself.
The Lord cannot be known by fallen people. It doesn’t matter whether they are spiritual or religious or not. Unless we receive a new heart we cannot know Him or the work He comes to do.
That’s why John’s work was to preach “Make straight the way of the Lord.”
That means the pride of men’s hearts must first be extinguished. We are eager to receive great men because we are arrogant and proud. Proud and arrogant hearts cannot know the Lord, because He is meek and gentle.
“For thus says the Lord who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in a high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.’” (Is. 57:15)
The Lord does not dwell with hearts that are assured of themselves, of their own worth and goodness. For the high and exalted Lord dwells with the lowly.
The Jews, though they were religious, didn’t know the Lord, because their hearts were lifted up. We struggle against the same sin in the church today. It pains us that Christianity doesn’t come with earthly benefits, or even with respectability anymore. Instead we are forced to join with a small bedraggled band of believers who seem to be abandoned by God rather than chosen by Him.
This sin of pride, together with its cohorts—self-righteousness, despising of God, love of the world–are what make the Lord of the world and unknown. They keep people from seeing the Lord and from valuing what He has come to do, that is, set us free from our sins. The world despises the Lord’s work because it doesn’ t believe that it is in bondage to sin and the devil. It doesn’t believe that no one can free it but the Lord.
The world thinks that it is already right with God, or that by making good choices it can make itself right with God.
And by nature this is what we believe too. We insist on believing it, because if it is not true we cannot save ourselves.
This makes us, too, idolaters who don’t know the Lord. We don’t recognize Him or His work. We despise and reject Him in our proud flesh. This is how every one of us is by nature, and we have no power to free ourselves.
We understand human greatness but do not regard the works of the Lord.
But to crushed sinners who fear when they hear John’s preaching, the mighty Lord is revealed. He is no longer an unknown.
He makes Himself known in His might and His gentleness to save those crushed and burdened by their sins.
He reveals Himself as God in the flesh who has come to fulfill the demands of God’s law for us. He comes with the power to love God with His whole heart and His neighbor as Himself, so that not a jot or a tittle of God’s law remains unfulfilled. It’s not a false self-righteousness He accomplishes, that simply pretends to itself that it is good enough for God. He accomplishes the righteousness that God accepts. He accomplishes the whole burden of the law. And this spotless, flawless righteousness He comes to bestow on us.
He comes with divine power in our human flesh to remove the curse of sin. Sin blinds us so that we do not know the Lord. It also divides us from God. God does not have fellowship with sin and those who commit it. Instead His anger remains on sinners. But the Lord comes to do what the world doesn’t understand and doesn’t think it needs. He comes to remove our sin and its curse so that we are not divided from God anymore. He comes to bear sin and its curse for us. He receives God’s wrath against all our sins. He lets Himself be divided from God. And now all who believe in Him are reconciled to God. God no longer counts their sins to them, but regards them as having fulfilled His will.
The Lord comes in His might to reconcile us to God and at the same time takes away the devil’s reign over human beings. Without Christ’s work the devil holds us in iron chains. All he has to do is remind us of our sins and God’s wrath against them and we are enslaved to despair. But Jesus put His heel on the ancient serpent’s head. By suffering for our sins He took away the devil’s argument. He broke the chains with which we were held. And now He frees us by the preaching of His cross and the forgiveness of sins, causing our hearts to believe that we are set free from condemnation. He teaches us to defy Satan and say, “Yes, I am a sinner, but Jesus has paid for sinners with His blood.”
And with might Jesus makes Himself known as death’s destroyer. He is the Lord of life. “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.” When the Lord of life entered into our flesh and tasted death, He wrecked and ransacked death as He did the kingdom of Satan. And now He gives us back death, and it is no longer death. It is a rest, a sleep, a rest for the flesh in the earth, and a rest for the soul with the Lord, awaiting the resurrection.
The mighty One who is in our midst is unknown to the world, but not to sinners who mourn. The one whose shoes John was not worthy to untie is the Lord who is mighty to save the sinful and lost.
But He comes in gentleness to those who are terrified by their sins. He does not shake the earth and tear the heavens open and thunder in His glory. He comes meek, among us as one of us, as a man also subject to weakness and pain and death. The world despises His gentleness as weakness. But to us who are terrified by our sins His gentleness is consolation.
See, He comes in every way like us, even though He is high, holy and mighty, so that He might console us and soothe our terrified hearts.
Do you grieve because you are a sinner? He doesn’t come to shame you or destroy you because of your sins. He comes to bear them.
Do you grieve because you are sick or in pain? See, the mighty one lays His majesty aside and takes your suffering and sickness on His own body. He sweats feverishly in Gethsemane. He hobbles in pain up to the platform after His beating. He thirsts on the cross. And if He who suffered for you still lets you have pain, it is not to hurt you but to heal you. It is as if He has taken a stripe off His wounded body and applied it to you as a spiritual dressing.
Do you grieve because you are poor, always struggling to make it? See, the mighty One comes in your image. He has no place on the earth to lay His head. He will be born in a stable and laid to sleep in a manger. He is poor, but His poverty is your wealth. He hasn’t come to bring you money but heavenly treasure, so that you may see the face of God. One day you will see it in heaven, with no more sin or tears to cloud your eye. But also today you may see God’s face in the midst of your suffering, in the face of Jesus, who bears your image of weakness, poverty, and sin. One day you will also see His glory and your face will reflect it.
The Lord is unknown to the world, but not to terrified sinners. He shows His face to us. He shows us His might, breaking the power of sin, death, and the devil. But He also shows us His gentleness, preaching that our sins are forgiven through His wounds and death.
Soli Deo Gloria