Advent 4 Midweek (Vespers)
St. Peter Lutheran Church
December 21, 2016
The Regime of the King of Peace—adapted from Stoeckhardt’s Adventspredigten, “Siebzehnte Predigt”
Jesus is a King. That is what His name means: “Christ”—anointed one. King.
But where is Jesus’ kingdom? Do you know? Even those who can tell you the right answer are often embarrassed to say it, because it seems so impossible.
Yet there is nothing greater that a person could desire than the Kingdom of Jesus. Isaiah just pictured Jesus’ kingdom for us in the reading—as Paradise. And that is what it is to be part of Jesus’ Kingdom—Paradise. To be in Jesus’ Kingdom is to be in God’s gracious presence; and it is to have—peace.
But the problem with Jesus’ kingdom is that we can’t see it. He said this a long time ago to some fools who thought it was impossible that the Kingdom of God could come without them seeing it a long way off. The Kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you—or perhaps within you (Luke 17:20-21).
The Kingdom of God can only be seen through the Word of God. Otherwise we will see it and despise it. Isaiah prophesied 700 years before Jesus about this Kingdom and its King. He describes Jesus as the King of Peace and Jesus’ Kingdom as a Reign of Peace.
Unless a person has eyes to see, he will laugh at Jesus’ Kingdom.. Isaiah foretold that this is how it would be. Jesus’ Kingdom looks like nothing in our eyes because its king looks like nothing in our eyes.
Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Isaiah wrote: There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. Jesse was King David’s father. David became the King of Israel, and God promised that one of David’s descendants would sit on his throne and reign forever. Yet Isaiah says that David’s house would be torn down and left desolate, like a stump in the ground.
Imagine a big, five-hundred year old oak tree. It’s beautiful. Its branches spread far and wide; it give shade in the summertime. Someone ties a rope to a branch with a tire on the other end. Kids swing on it and laugh. When they get thirsty they run to the porch and their mom gives them a Dixie cup of Kool-Ade.
Then one dark day the family gets evicted and someone comes with a chainsaw and cuts that big tree down. What is left? Only a stump. Now when you go out to see that big old tree that you loved all that’s left is the stump. If it ever grows back, it won’t be in your lifetime. That tree is gone, along with the tire swing, the Kool-Ade, and the happy memories.
That is what happened to David’s house. The house of David was a big beautiful tree that had been cut down. And the Son of David that brings peace never came.
But Isaiah says: There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. A little branch came up from the stump of David’s house. If you came out to see the tree that had been there before, you wouldn’t even look at it. You’d say, “If only we could have the old oak tree whose shade we played in as children.” You wouldn’t even see the twig sprouting from its roots.
That little twig was Jesus. His mother Mary and his stepfather Joseph were from the house of David. They weren’t kings and queens anymore. The glory of David’s house was a thing in the history books; nobody remembered. Nobody cared.
When they went to Bethlehem to be taxed by a foreign king there wasn’t even a place for them to stay. Mary gave birth to Jesus in a barn or maybe a cave where they kept animals. Jesus was just a little twig growing from the stump of a once great tree.
But Isaiah prophesied that this branch from Jesse’s roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him—the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. (Is. 11:1-2) Jesus would “bear fruit” because He had something that the great branches of David’s house that had been before Him did not have. The Spirit of the Lord rested on Him. The same Spirit that hovered over the empty waters at creation, in which there was no life, the same Spirit who caused order to come out of the chaos and life to spring forth out of barren darkness—rested on this little branch.
Though He was small and unimpressive as humans see things, in this little shoot was all the glory and power of God. “In Him all the fullness of [God] dwells bodily”, St. Paul wrote in the epistle to the Colossians [2:9]. “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…all things were created through Him and in Him all things hold together…” [Col 1:15-17].
This twig is the living God in our flesh, the God of abundant life in the body of a newborn. And so this little branch that seemed like nothing bore fruit that the great tree of the house of David, with all its grandeur, had not been able to bear.
The fruit Jesus bore was a life of complete obedience to God, of utter purity, a life that earned God’s seal of approval, His honor. And this priceless gem, never before seen by the world—a human life lived in unity with God—Jesus gave away. He offered up this precious life on behalf of those who had sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. He offered it in exchange for the lives of all who had rebelled against God, of whatever stripe… He laid that life aside as though it were not His, and took up the guilty verdict that belonged to all of His brothers, and was condemned for our unfaithfulness. He endured the agony of body and the anguish of soul that was the just reward for the lives we have lived. In Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether in earth or heaven, making peace through the blood of His cross. (Col. 1:19-20)
That is how Jesus is the king of Peace. He made peace for us with God. It is a perfect peace that cannot be added to or undone by you or me. Upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed, Isaiah prophesied in a later chapter [Is. 53:5].
If you’ve lived long enough, I am sure that there has been a time when you longed for peace—when your heart was full of anger or anguish or fear. Many of us have repeatedly cried out to God for peace. And some of you have probably had the experience of longing to feel that you were at peace with God.
That longing need no longer gnaw at you. This King, this little shoot from the stump of Jesse, has made peace with God for all people.
Your sentence has been served in full by this strange king of peace, when He was forsaken by God for your sins, and when He shouted in victory “It is finished.” [John 19:30] God is reconciled to you by this King, and desires you to no longer hide from Him, flinch at His presence—but be reconciled and enter back into Paradise through the gift of His Son.
That is how Jesus won His Kingdom of Peace. After He conquered in the battle with Satan, He ascended to His Father’s throne and began to reign.
But of course we don’t see Jesus reigning. What we see is those who refuse to accept Him as King behaving as though the world was theirs. How is Jesus reigning?
Isaiah says: He shall not judge by what His eyes see, or decide by what His ears hear, but with righteousness He shall judge the poor and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth and with the breath of His lips He shall kill the wicked. [Is. 11:3-4]
In paintings a king often holds a scepter or a staff in his hand. It symbolizes the power by which a king maintains justice, defending the innocent and punishing those who oppress the weak.
Jesus does not hold a staff in His hand. His scepter comes from His mouth. The rod of His mouth by which He reigns in justice is His Word.
That sounds like a joke to the world and even to our own flesh. We know very well that evil is not restrained with words—it takes guns, tanks, missiles, armies.
But the rod of [Jesus’] mouth and the breath of His lips are not like everyone else’s words. With the rod of His mouth He laid the foundations of the earth; by the breath of His lips He stretched out the heavens. By the breath of His mouth He breathed into Adam’s nostrils and the man of dust became a living being. He speaks and it comes to be. His Words spoken in time are reality now and forever. Whether people listen or refuse to hear, the judgment Jesus pronounces through the Scriptures, through His preachers, will endure until it becomes visible on judgment day. The one who rejects me and does not receive My Words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day, he said in the gospel of John [12:48].
Jesus reigns. When He condemns the evil one, the demons, false teachers, unbelievers, it is not just an opinion. He slays the wicked with the breath of His mouth; the reality of His judgment will appear on the last day, In the same way, He gives justice to the poor by the rod of His mouth. Poor sinners who come desire relief from the oppression of sin and the devil receive a favorable decision from the King of Peace. He finds in their favor. He declares them innocent of all Satan’s accusation, free from condemnation and sin. From heaven Jesus extends the scepter of His Word and justifies us, the ungodly. When you hear this happening, you can be sure that you are in the presence of the King of Peace as He reigns. And when you believe His judgment, you know that you are in His Kingdom. And though His Word seems insubstantial to our eyes, be sure that it is more powerful and more real than the barrel of a gun, than an open grave. This Word is the power of the living God. What it declares, happens. When it justifies you and says you have peace, rejoice! It is more sure than the ground beneath your feet.
Soli Deo Gloria
Fourth Sunday in Advent—Rorate Coeli
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 1:19-28
December 18, 2016
“The Mighty One Comes to You”
O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai’s height
In ancient times didst give the Law
In cloud and majesty and awe.
God is omniscient, all-knowing. He is wise and knows the right way. God is omnipotent. He has all power. He is mighty. He not only knows what needs to be done but is able to do it. But we are not mighty. How often have you sat down and said to yourself, “I can’t do this anymore,” found your strength insufficient for the difficulties you had to face in your life? How often have you become tired, exhausted by life?
If we get exhausted and confused when it comes to the things of this life, how much less is our knowledge and strength sufficient for the things of God! We know God’s commandments, but often we don’t know how to apply them. And even when we do know, we don’t fulfill them. Not well enough to be able to rest easy at night and know that we have done God’s will without leaving anything out.
But from the beginning of the Bible God has made a promise to weak and foolish human beings—that His wisdom and power would come to save us. A son would be born to a woman who would be wise and powerful, and His great wisdom and power would be our salvation. So God’s people before Christ’s coming and those after did not despair over their weakness, nor pretend that it didn’t exist. They prayed and cried out, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel! Come, mighty One, and save us!”
Out in the desert by the Jordan River, John the Baptist is preaching and immersing people in the dark water. Some men have come from Jerusalem to talk with him—priests and Levites, appointed by God to serve in His worship in the temple. They ask John, “Who are you? Which of the people that God told us would come are you that you are doing this new thing, washing the people of God, saying they are unclean and must repent? Are you Elijah? Are you the prophet that Moses said would come after him?”
John replies, “I am none of those.”
So the priests and Levites say, “Who are you then?” “I am the voice of one crying, ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord’, the one Isaiah talked about. I am not somebody that you expect; I am just a nameless voice that says “the Lord is coming.”
“If you aren’t anyone important, why are you doing this new thing that no one has ever heard of—baptism? Why are you washing God’s people, who are circumcised and marked with the seal of his covenant, telling us that we are unclean, even though we do not worship idols, even though we avoid unclean meat, even though we have God’s Law?”
John answers, “My baptism is only with water. It can’t make you clean to stand before God. It is only a picture. But there is one standing in the midst of you that you don’t know. You are looking for someone great and powerful. This one you don’t know is so mighty, so glorious, that I am not fit even to untie His shoe, much less take them off and wash His feet. I have come as a messenger so that when He begins to preach and reveal himself you will not miss Him. Even though you have God’s Law and His promise, you are unclean, just like the Gentiles who worship idols. But the One who is standing among you is powerful enough to make you clean before God.”
A great and mighty One is coming to you to make you clean.
It seems like the story from John’s gospel doesn’t have much to do with us today. The Messiah has come already. We all believe this in the Church. We look for Him to come again on the Last Day to save us.
But John’s preaching to the Jews is also a word for us. Among you stands one you do not know, he said.
Jesus is among us as He was among the Jews. St. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 13: You seek proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you…do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? (v. 3, 5) Even though Jesus had already come and ascended into heaven, He was in the midst of the church in Ephesus. He still is among the gathered people of the Church. He is present in the church through the ministers of the Word when they preach His Word—present not in weakness, but in power. He is present in His Word when it is joined to water and to bread and wine—in the Sacraments. He is also present in those who believe the Word.
Among you stands one you do not know. Christians, of course, do know Jesus. Jesus is not unknown to you. And yet we don’t fully know Him. And what we do know, we often forget. The One who is among us in the preaching of His Word, in Baptism, in His Body and Blood, is so great that John the Baptist was not worthy to untie his shoe or unbuckle his sandal. He is great with a greatness that goes far beyond anything human beings recognize as great. He doesn’t have the honor of a great family name; He isn’t a powerful, effective leader; a moving speaker; a great organizer.
He is the eternal Son of the Father. The mighty One, God the Lord, whose word creates the earth, creates us. The all-knowing One, who by wisdom formed the heavens and laid the foundations of the world. That is who is in our midst.
But often we forget about Him. So easily He becomes a stranger to us. We don’t see His power and wisdom. We look at a preacher on television who fills a basketball stadium and say, “Surely that is a work of God.”
But this mighty One who is in our midst accomplishes a much greater work. I baptize with water, St. John said, I baptize only with water. You have God’s holy Law. You know His name. You have His covenant and promise that He has chosen you out of all the nations on the earth to be His own people. But despite this you are still as unclean as all the nations that worship idols. You fall short of the glory that God has promised you.
The One who is in our midst, Jesus, accomplishes something far greater than John, who was the greatest of all men who lived on earth and who had great crowds coming to hear him. The best John could do was preach repentance, show people that they were unclean, unable to be God’s people, unable to make themselves clean.
Jesus, however, who is in our midst, makes us clean, makes us holy, makes us God’s people and able to receive His glory.
He brought that about by shouldering our debt of sin and uncleanness. By His agony and suffering, He brought our uncleanness to an end. He blotted it out from before God’s sight by suffering God’s judgment against us. And now even though we feel and see this uncleanness, it has been brought to nothing. It does not stand against us. Nor does it rule us or define our lives.
God’s testimony that this is how it is is given to us in Jesus’ Baptism. The Baptism you have received is not merely water, an outward sign of something that still needs to be accomplished. Your Baptism is water joined with God’s Word, a life-giving water, a washing of new birth in the Holy Spirit, in which you were joined with Jesus’ death to sin and His resurrection to live before God.
Jesus, the mighty and wise, the eternal God comes and visits us. He comes to open our eyes to see Him in our midst when they so easily become closed to Him. And He is coming soon to finish what He began when, however many years ago, you were baptized, born again, and cleansed to be a Son of God. When He comes He will come not only to cover your uncleanness, as He has already done; He comes to cleanse and resurrect your body in the image of His glorious body.
A great and mighty one, Jesus, is coming to make you clean.
We know this. We know Him, and yet we don’t know Him. Our hearts are always closing up again so that we cannot see Him. We forget Him and go back to the old life of the flesh, the life that ends in death. And when the wages of that life come to us, when we are laid low and suffering, we make things worse by looking for another Savior. We think, “If Jesus and His Baptism was enough, I wouldn’t be where I am now.”
So we look for something else to save our families, something else to deliver us from the destruction that falls on our churches, something else to save us from our wayward hearts that constantly lead us into sin.
The great and mighty one, Jesus, comes to make you clean.
But there is no one else to deliver and save us. Jesus comes to us. He will come soon and make us completely clean. But He comes to us week in, week out, Sunday in, Sunday out. And why does He come? He comes to put on us the white robe He gave us long ago in Baptism, and to open our eyes to see Him.
He is mighty, far stronger, far greater than your sin and uncleanness. He is wise. He knows what you need, what this Church needs. As foolish as we are, we are not more foolish than Jesus is wise. He is from of old. His eyes saw this day from eternity and planned how He would guide us through this valley of sorrows.
He comes again. He puts on you the garments of salvation, the robe of purity and righteousness without any spot that He prepared for you in His death on the cross. He leads you down the aisle to kneel and eat and drink the food of the wedding feast, the food that gives immortality and righteousness.
And though you cannot know Him perfectly in this life, know and trust this: He is powerful. He will not allow anything to harm you. He is wise; He is leading you and He knows where He is going and how best to lead you. John and all faithful preachers are no one—they are just a voice crying in the barren desert of this world, but the one who comes to you to help you is great, and comes to share His glory with you.
O Come, Thou Dayspring from on high
And cheer us by thy drawing nigh.
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to Thee O Israel.