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He Has Visited and Redeemed His People. Nativity of John the Baptist/ Presentation of the Augsburg Confession 2018

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The Nativity of John the Baptist (Presentation of the Augsburg Confession)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 1:57-80

June 24, 2018

“He has visited and redeemed His people”

 

Iesu Iuva

 

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

 

Have you ever had—or do you have now—a room that you know needs cleaning?  Or maybe a shed that you moved a bunch of things into and shut the door to deal with later?  Then it’s always in the back of your mind: “That shed needs cleaning.”  But the shed that needs cleaning is always vague; the details are shadowy, until you go and open the door and visit it.  When you visit it, you see the mess in person, in detail, that up until now had been a shadowy idea looming in your subconscious.

 

The same principle applies to people.  When you hear that someone you love is sick, you have a vague idea about what that means.  But it’s a completely different thing when you visit them and see their pale face or labored breathing, their misery and pain.

 

It’s also one thing to say in general that you are a sinner, and another thing to scope out your sins in person, to visit them in the light of the ten commandments.

 

In the gospel reading, Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, proclaims, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people.”  (Luke 1:68)

 

Zechariah is saying that the Lord, the God of Israel, has come in person to visit His people and see the mess they are in.  And at the same time that He has visited them, He has also “redeemed them.”  To “redeem” means to pay the price to free someone from captivity or slavery.  God has come to see His people in their chains, felt their misery, and bought them out of those chains.

 

Zechariah’s song is called the “Benedictus.”  It is a canticle, a song that has been sung at Matins or Morning Prayer for over a thousand years.  With good reason, because few hymns have been written that preach as clearly and beautifully the good news of what God has done for us in Christ.

 

Zechariah was a priest.  He had not been able to speak for the last nine months, because when he was in the temple burning incense, the archangel Gabriel appeared to him and told him his wife Elizabeth would bear a son in her old age, and Zechariah doubted him.  But now when the baby is born and Zechariah writes his name—“John”—his lips are opened and he begins to speak—or sin—by the Holy Spirit.

 

And his song tells of God’s promises in the past and how the Lord has fulfilled them.  God made promises to Abraham, made a covenant, a solemn, binding agreement.  He confirmed His promise and covenant with an oath.  The promise was that God would make a great nation from Abraham’s offspring (even though, like Zechariah, Abraham was old and had no children).  He promised that all the nations on earth would be blessed in Abraham’s offspring, and that his offspring would “possess the gates of His enemies.”  He would be victorious over His enemies and those who hated and oppressed Abraham’s descendants would not be able to oppress and enslave them.

 

Zechariah’s song praises God because He is faithful.  He doesn’t lie.  He doesn’t forget promises He makes.  He always keeps them and always follows through.

 

And now two thousand years after making this covenant and oath to Abraham, God has fulfilled it.  He has visited His people who are enslaved and oppressed and suffering.  He has seen their anguish, and He has provided redemption—the price for their release.  He ahs done this by raising up a horn of salvation in the house of His servant David—a powerful man who comes from David’s line.

 

We know that Zechariah is singing about Jesus, who had been conceived by the Holy Spirit and was in the womb of His mother Mary.  But no one else knew that when Zechariah was singing.

 

There was something else that they didn’t understand.  When they heard Zechariah singing about God’s promise to save from our enemies and the hand of all who hate us, they understood this in a very plain way; that the Lord would destroy people like the Romans who conquered and ruled over them.  Many Jews thought that the thing that kept them from serving God without fear in holiness and righteousness all our days was the threats directed at them by foreigners.  The Egyptians had ruled over them and God redeemed them from slavery so that they would serve Him.  Then after the time of David one foreign power after another oppressed and finally conquered the Jews.  They persecuted the Jews for holding to God’s commandments and not joining in the worship of their idols.

 

So no doubt the Jews longed for God to remember His promise and deliver them from enemies like the Romans, their persecutors and oppressors.

 

But Zechariah prophesies that John is going to give God’s people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.  That is how John will prepare the way of the Lord.  The Lord’s people need deliverance not from earthly persecutors; the enemies that enslave them are not the Romans, but sin and its lord, the devil, and its companion death.

 

In the Bible the word used for “forgiveness” literally means “to loose”—the way you loose a chain or a rope that holds a captive.

 

When God forgives someone’s sins, He looses that rope.  He unties sin from binding them for condemnation.  He sets sinners free by forgiving them.  The word “redemption” is a related word.  It refers to “the price paid to loose someone” from their chains.

 

God has graciously visited us and paid to loose us from captivity to sin and the devil.

 

This was the major point that the Lutheran princes in Germany were trying to make to Emperor Charles V on June 25th, 1530.  Christianity is based on God’s gracious forgiveness of our sins through Christ alone—and this loosing from the guilt of sin comes not through working to free yourself, but as a free gift from God, received as a free gift—that is, only by believing that God has given it to you in Christ’s death.  By faith alone.

 

Today, if you listen, people all around us cry out that they are oppressed and enslaved.  They try to find different people to blame for their oppression.  And we do the same thing in the Church.  We try to find the reasons, the culprits, behind the decline in people who come to Church, who are willing to hear the Gospel.

 

We forget, and we doubt, that our real enemies, who hold us, by nature in complete bondage, are not bad people outside the church, not unfavorable circumstances for churches, but sin and the devil.  The Augsburg Confession puts it like this in its second article: It is also taught among us that since the fall of Adam all men who are born according to the course of nature are conceived and born in sin.  That is, all men are full of evil lust and inclinations from their mothers’ wombs and are unable by nature to have true fear of God and true faith in God.  Moreover, this inborn sickness and hereditary sin is truly sin and condemns to the eternal wrath of God all those who are not born again through Baptism and the Holy Spirit.

 

That’s not who we think our enemy and oppressor is.  But it is—sin, in which we are born, and which holds us in slavery.

 

But now the good news, proclaimed by Zechariah in the Benedictus, then by John, then by the confessors at Augsburg five hundred years ago—is that we are loosed.  God has paid the price to loose us from the guilt of our sin.

 

He has visited us by coming into our flesh and blood and taking upon Himself the curse and misery of the sin in which we were born.  He saw the mess and misery of your bondage in first person.

 

Then He alone paid the price to make you free from it.  He bore the condemnation of God against sinners, against your specific birth in sin, the sins you personally have committed, in His own flesh and soul on the cross.

 

And, in doing so, He took possession of the gates of His enemies, who are also our enemies and oppressors.  He stormed hell, broke down its doors, and emerged as the master of sin, death, and the devil, leading them forth as prisoners.

 

All this was done by the person who had not even been born yet when Zechariah first sang the Benedictus—the baby in Mary’s womb.

 

God has visited and loosed you from your enemies’ power.

 

The name “John” means “The Lord is gracious.”  That means—“He shows undeserved kindness.  He is forgiving.”

 

He has visited us and seen our miserable condition.  He has visited us and seen our slavery.  And He has paid for you to be loosed—paid with the suffering and death of His own body and the anguish of His soul.  So that you may be free to serve Him without fear.

 

We remember the birth of John the Baptist because He was the one who went before the Lord to prepare His ways and teach who the real enemies of God’s people are.  And then to point to the One who redeems and releases us from those oppressors.

 

This is what the preaching office Jesus instituted still does.  It gives knowledge of salvation to His people in the forgiveness of their sins. 

 

The God who is gracious is still causing His dawn from on high to rise on us who are in darkness and the shadow of death; still proclaiming to us our release from sin through the blood of Jesus; still sealing this covenant with us by giving us the body to eat and the blood to drink that paid, once and for all, for our release.

 

God has visited us and paid for our release from sin and the devil.

 

The peace of God that passes understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

Blessed art Thou that Beholdest the Depths. From the Song of the Three Holy Children.

three holy children

23.  And the king’s servants, that put them in, ceased not to make the oven hot with rosin, pitch, tow, and small wood;

24.  So that the flame streamed forth above the furnace forty and nine cubits.

25.  And it passed through, and burned those Chaldeans it found about the furnace.

26.  But the angel of the Lord came down into the oven together with Azarias and his fellows, and smote the flame of the fire out of the oven;

27.  And made the midst of the furnace as it had been a moist whistling wind, so that the fire touched them not at all, neither hurt nor troubled them.

28.  Then the three, as out of one moth, praised, glorified, and blessed God in the furnace, saying,

29.  Blessed art thou, O Lord God of our fathers: and to be praised and exalted above all for ever.

30.  And blessed is thy glorious and holy name: and to be praised and exalted above all for ever.

31.  Blessed art thou in the temple of thine holy glory: and to be praised and glorified above all for ever.

32.  Blessed art thou that beholdest the depths, and sittest upon the cherubims: and to be praised and exalted for ever.

https://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/The-song-of-the-three-children_1_1611/

http://wn.elib.com/Library/Religious/AP/Apocry_child.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Prayer_of_Azariah_and_Song_of_the_Three_Holy_Childre

Saints in our Weakness. All Saints’ Day 2015.

November 1, 2015 Leave a comment

All Saints’ Day

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Matthew 5:1-12

November 1, 2015

“Saints in our Weakness”

Iesu Iuva

Today is All Saints’ Day. What is a saint? A saint is a holy person. “Holy” means “set apart for God.”

On the altar, veiled by a cloth, is bread and wine. Later it will be consecrated, hallowed and made holy by God’s Word to be the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. The consecrated bread and wine are holy things. We treat them with reverence, not like common bread and wine. In the same way saints are holy people. They are not normal, common, unclean people. They are God’s people, set apart for Him, filled with a treasure that is not of this world—the Holy Spirit of God.

And where do you find these holy people, these saints? You find them where the thing God uses to consecrate and make holy is. You find the saints where God’s Word is, because it is God’s Word that sanctifies, cleanses, and makes the saints holy.

That means you find the saints of God not in a monastery somewhere, or out in a cave fasting. You find them in this congregation and others like it, where God’s pure Word is proclaimed and taught.

Yes, you yourself are a saint, you who are baptized and believe that Jesus died for the forgiveness of your sins. That is the way the Bible addresses and describes Christians, people who only believe in Jesus. The first reading from Revelation says the saints are those who have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:14) In the epistle John does not tell us to doubt and question whether we belong to God. “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God! And that is what we are.” (1 John 3:1) And whenever Paul starts his letters he addresses the churches he writes to as congregations of saints. “To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints,” Romans 1:7. “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” 1 Corinthians 1:2. “To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus,” Ephesians 1:1.

Why are we saints? Not because of our works, but because of the works of Jesus. All our sin was given to Him, and He wore it as His covering on the cross and bore God’s wrath against us. Scripture doesn’t say merely that Jesus bore our sin, but that He became sin for us. “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21) Just as surely as God made Jesus to be sin, so surely are we righteous for Jesus’ sake. And if we are righteous, then we are also saints.

This is why so much of our effort at witnessing is misguided. We look at our unbelieving neighbors as if they had something to give us, by making our numbers larger or by adding to our offerings. No! We are God’s saints through Christ. We long for the salvation of our neighbors for their sake, not for ours. We don’t need the help of the world; we already have everything, because we are God’s saints.

This is where worldly wisdom barges in with scornful laughter. “You are God’s saints? You don’t need anything the world has to give? Are you crazy? Look how few of you there are! See how you are barely paying your bills, and you are only doing that with the gifts people left you when they died! And look at your sins—your own private sins that no one knows about as well as the obvious sins that afflict the congregation—disunity, disregard for God’s Word, pride, factions and jealousy. You are supposed to be saints, and you have everything? Then why does God let you be weak and suffer and be dragged through the mud?”

Surely you know that voice as well as I do. Sometimes it comes out and speaks openly. Other times it is present as nagging doubt. Whether we are speaking of the congregation or ourselves as individuals, we don’t often feel like saints who have everything. The reason is because we are weak, we suffer, we see our ongoing sinfulness. This shouldn’t happen to saints, says our reason. They should be like the saints we see pictured in Revelation, who are dressed in white robes, carry the palm branches of victory, and sing hosannas. God should lead the saints from victory to victory, from glory to glory. If we are really saints, there must be something wrong with our sainthood.

But if we paid attention to our Lord’s words in the Gospel reading today, we would see that the reasoning of our flesh is incorrect. In the beatitudes, the “blesse are’s” that Jesus speaks at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus describes the saints on earth in terms that contradict our reason. He calls blessed not the spiritually rich but the spiritually poor, not the happy but the mourning, not the church that is loved by the world but the one that is persecuted by the world and cast out as evil.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” says Jesus. The saints are not rich in

spirit. They don’t come to God with their own righteousness, with something to boast about. We come

before God with the awareness of our ongoing sinfulness and spiritual poverty. But in our ongoing

struggle against our sinful flesh we have the kingdom of heaven. That’s because our righteousness, our

spiritual riches, are outside of us. Jesus is our “wisdom form God, righteousness, sanctification, and

redemption.” (1 Corinthians 1:30) We have no righteousness in ourselves that could save us. We

possess the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus. We believe that all Jesus is and has done is for

us.

But we believe that in the midst of sin’s raging and storming within us. That is why Jesus says, “Blessed

are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” We mourn because we are constantly afflicted by our own sinfulness and unbelief. In addition we live in a world of death and suffering. We long for the day when we will be in Paradise and the Lord Himself will “wipe every tear from our eyes.” (Rev. 7)

 

And so throughout the beatitudes Jesus describes the saints not as living what might be called a “victorious life”, but as living with weakness and suffering. We are blessed in the midst of that weakness. In fact Jesus says we should rejoice in our weakness. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12) It’s one thing to bear with weakness and suffering, and something else to rejoice in it. But Jesus says to rejoice in weakness and suffering. It is not a sign that you are not a saint; it is the normal experience of saints.

There should be no surprise in this if we thought according to faith in Christ and not according to the flesh. Because what happened to the Holy and Righteous One, Jesus? He exemplified these beatitudes. He was poor in spirit because He bore the sins of the world. Look at Him going down to the Jordan to be baptized with sinners. Look at Him in agony in Gethsemane and crying out, “My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” from the cross. He was meek and lowly in heart, so meek that He would not cast away the most unworthy sinner but invites them to come to Him so that He may stoop down and wash their feet. He was pure in heart, as no sinners are except through faith in Him. He, the Son of God, was the peacemaker, because He made peace with God for us by His suffering and the shedding of His blood. And He was persecuted for righteousness. Because as He fulfilled the Law for us and gave righteousness to the sinful and lost, the leaders of the Jews reviled Him and spoke all manner of evil against Him until finally they had Him put to death as a criminal, as a blasphemer.

So you are a saint, baptized into Christ. And it is not a shock when you are weak, you suffer, and you continue to struggle against sin. You are born again into Christ in your baptism. You were remade into His image where you used to have the image of Adam. Adam was proud and tried to snatch the glory of God for Himself. But you have put on the image of Christ, who was “a man of sorrows and familiar with grief” (Is. 53). Your proud Adam died with Him and dies daily, so that you might be raised up with Christ in the glorious image of His resurrection.

No! says your sinful flesh. No, I do not want to live by faith. I want to see the glory that is supposed to be mine as a Son of God. I want to experience it. I want to see signs that Christ is really among us, not just receive His promise that He is when He gives me His body and blood.

Repent. Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is yours now in your poverty of spirit. He calls you a saint. He gives you everything. “The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. Beloved, we are God’s children now.” (1 John 3:1-2) Do you want something greater than what your Lord experienced on earth? “A servant is not greater than his master” (John 15:20). But even under the cross and weakness you are a saint through faith in Him. You have the kingdom of heaven.

That is what we Christians rejoice in. In the midst of our suffering, sin, and weakness, we already have God’s kingdom. God is pleased with us. Jesus gives us His very body and blood which was crucified and poured out for us on the cross to assure us that the kingdom of heaven is now ours, that our sins are forgiven. “And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:2) We rejoice not only that we have God’s favor now. We rejoice in the sure promises of our Lord of what is to come for us. We will be comforted when the Lord wipes away every tear from our eyes. We will be satisfied with righteousness. We will receive mercy on the day of judgment. We will see God. We will be called His Sons before all creation when He judges the living and the dead.

Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

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