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LSB Advent 3B Sermon – John 1:6-8, 19-28

December 23, 2014

December 14, 2014 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.”

John comes as a witness. And he proves to be a trustworthy witness. He gives testimony about the light that was coming to the world, the salvation that the Incarnate Word brought with Him. John points to the Messiah. When asked about his identity, John notes: “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” When questioned about the baptisms that he was performing, John declares: “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.”

These statements from John move the focus away from himself. Yes, the people were to listen to him, to hear his testimony: “He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.” But the purpose of his work was not to make disciples for himself. And it was not to bring salvation. No, that is what the Messiah would do. So the Gospel Writer notes: “[John] was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.” By hearing John, the people could then receive the benefits that the Messiah was bringing.

John’s work makes known what the people did not know. His somewhat cryptic statement given to the priests and Levites and Pharisees includes that: “…among you stands One you do not know, even He who comes after me….” John is a revealer. He will show the people who the Messiah is, if they will hear and believe his testimony.

Now the people weren’t ignorant about the Messiah. They were quite familiar with the prophetic statements that the LORD had given through His spokesmen. Isaiah’s prophecy that you heard this morning wasn’t some secret knowledge for only a few. No, it was read in the synagogues for the people to hear with frequency. The promised actions were anticipated. The people wanted to see the One who would have the Spirit of the Lord GOD upon Him. They longed for One who was anointed and sent by the LORD “to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.” A nation under foreign rule clung to the LORD’s promise: “They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.”

But the identity of this Messiah was not known. Some had claimed that title before. They had tried to bring liberty. Others attempted to be dispensers of the LORD’s favor and vengeance. Some of the ruins and devastations had been restored. Yet, none of these were the Messiah whom the LORD promised. These individuals proved to be failures and frauds.

But the LORD does send His Servant. He does anoint One with His Spirit, sending Him with authority and power to carry out the objectives that the LORD determined. That is the One whom John spoke of: “…among you stands One you do not know, even He who comes after me….” But to know Him requires hearing the testimony of those whom the LORD sent as witnesses. For the people in First Century Judea, that meant hearing John’s testimony, as he revealed the Messiah’s identity. Ignoring him would lead to not receiving the Messiah and His work.

This activity of revealing the Messiah’s identity did not end with John. The Messiah did appear. He began performing the activities that the LORD assigned as His duties. This is what Jesus accomplished as the Incarnate Word who dwelt among mankind. Jesus’ revealing of the LORD’s will through His teaching; His overcoming the curse of death that mankind’s sin incurred; His casting out the ruler of this world; His healing of illnesses; His displaying of divine compassion: these activities all fulfill what the LORD had spoken through Isaiah concerning the Messiah. He is the One who had the Spirit of the Lord GOD upon Him.

But how do you know this about Jesus? And how do you know that you are recipients of His work? Have you seen these activities carried out? Have you touched Jesus? Have you sat at His feet and listened to Him? No, that has not taken place. And yet, you believe in Him. You make confession about His identity—that Jesus is your Lord and Redeemer. You state your hope of possessing salvation. But how is this so?

Going back to the Gospel Reading, the answer is found. It has taken place in a similar fashion to what was said about John: “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.” Witness has been born about Jesus, the Messiah. Through that witness you have come to your belief about Jesus. That is what leads you to declare that He is Lord. It causes you to say: “My hope is to be saved, since I trust in my dear Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, true God and man, who died for me and shed His blood for me on the cross for the forgiveness of sins.”

That confession of faith which you make is rooted in the testimony about Jesus that you have received. It has been given to you by a man sent from God. Or to be a bit more accurate, by men sent from God. The same description about John the Baptizer describes John the Apostle and the other Twelve, the Evangelists Mark and Luke, Paul and Barnabas who were sent to the Gentiles. These were not the Messiah, but they bore witness about Him, that all might believe through them. And the testimony continued through men like Timothy and Titus, Clement and Ignatius, Ambrose and Augustine, Patrick and Boniface, Martin and Philip.

Throughout the generations, there have been men sent by God who came as witnesses to the Messiah. When you go down into the Education Wing of our parish building, you see pictures of others who stand in that line: Edward, Paul, and Thomas. They were not the light, but they bore witness about the light. They confessed: “I am not the Christ.” Yet, they revealed the Messiah’s identity. And you have received their testimony about Jesus, so that you might believe in Him through them.

That is how you know of Jesus. And it is how you recognize that Jesus is the One whom the LORD has sent for your benefit. So you believe that Jesus has spoken good news to you, that He binds up your broken hearts, that He has freed you from captivity to sin, that He has shown the LORD’s favor to you and will bring divine vengeance upon those opposed to Him, that He brings gladness in place of your mourning.

Without hearing the testimony about Jesus, none of this would be known to you, none of this would define your faith. But you have heard the witness borne about Him. That drives you to this place to receive what the Messiah brings. You come here to listen to the good news of your salvation. You come here to receive the declaration of forgiveness that lightens guilt-burdened hearts. You come here to receive the baptism that brings you from slavery to freedom, the absolution that undoes sin, and the meal that recounts how this was done. You come here to hear how the LORD has looked upon you favorably and will bring judgment against evil. And you come here in the face of death and mourning to receive the promise of resurrection. None of this is given by having a preacher declare himself the Messiah. But it is given as men sent from God point you to the Christ, speaking about His work, and delivering the benefits of His actions done for you.

And what does receiving this cause for you? The prophet Isaiah spoke of it: “I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” This is the result of receiving the testimony about Jesus. You have the salvation and righteousness that He has brought. Even in the midst of trouble now, you can rejoice. This is yours because the Messiah’s identity has been made known to you.

The trustworthy witness has been borne. You have believed what the men sent from God have disclosed in their testimony about Jesus. The great things done for you by the LORD has restored your fortune. And so you can say: “I am not the Christ, but I know who He is and what He has done. So I will rejoice and be glad and bear witness to what He has done for me.”

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

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