A Mighty One Whom You Do Not Know–Advent 4 2016
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.