Advent 3 December 17, 2017
62, 63, 60, 55:4
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
PRAYER OF THE DAY: Stir up Your power, O Lord, and come. Help us by Your great might, so that whatever is hindered by our sins may be accomplished by Your great mercy, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever, Amen.
But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth. For he will be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink. He will also be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
In Christ Jesus, Whose birth and second coming we joyfully proclaim, dear fellow redeemed:
This evening we consider the last in our series of Nazarites who are types, or pictures, of the coming Christ. Thus far we have considered Samson, who, as a deliverer of Israel, was a picture of the coming Savior of all people; we have considered Samuel, a prophet who prayed for the people, and taught them what the LORD has done for them, even as Christ prays for us and teaches us through His Word what He has done for all people by paying for the sins of the world.
This evening we consider another type of Christ—John the Baptizer. John also was a Nazarite, who took a special vow before the LORD to be set apart from the people, for our text says he “shall drink neither wine nor strong drink,” which was one requirement of the Nazarites.
Already at his conception and birth, we find a parallel between John and Jesus. Though Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in the virgin Mary, with no human father, both births were miraculous. When the angel brought the message that the LORD would answer the prayer of Zacharias and Elizabeth with the birth of a son, it was a message of joy, for as Luke notes, up until now, “They had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years.” (Luke 1:7)
As we near Christmas we find another parallel in the births of John and Jesus. In connection with Christ, like John: MANY REJOICE AT HIS BIRTH
Naturally, John’s parents, Zacharias and Elizabeth, would rejoice at his birth, along with their relatives. But the angel says that many will rejoice at his birth. Not only would John’s family rejoice, but when John began his public ministry the faithful of Israel would recognize that this powerful preacher of repentance heralded the coming of the Messiah. They would rejoice, our text says, for he would be:
While John dedicated his life to the work of proclaiming God’s Word, he would be no ordinary preacher. He would be filled with the Holy Spirit, “even from his mother’s womb.” We see evidence of this when Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus, came to visit John’s mother before his birth. Following Mary’s greeting Elizabeth said, “As soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.” (Luke 1:44) Already the Holy Spirit was at work in John, as promised by the Angel Gabriel.
The reason that John was great in the Lord’s sight was that he was the Forerunner of the Messiah, the fulfillment of the prophecy found in Malachi, recorded in our text by the Holy Spirit, “He will also go before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
The fact that the second Elijah had come, fulfilling the prophecy, signaled the coming of the Messiah, the Savior from sin. John was great in the sight of the Lord on account of what the LORD God was working through him, namely, to prepare the people for the coming of the Savior.
Like John, Jesus would also be great in the LORD’s sight. As we have noted in past weeks, Jesus was also filled with the Holy Spirit. Jesus also dedicated His life to serving His heavenly Father. But as Jesus would later note, He is greater than John. Jesus would be greater than John for, while John was the Forerunner of the Messiah and still only a man, Jesus Christ is that Messiah, true man and true God, the fulfillment of God’s promise to send a Savior from sin. Jesus would be great on His own merit, not only for what God would work through Him, but because He was sinless and perfect. Of Jesus Christ the heavenly Father said, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17)
As the Forerunner of the Messiah many rejoiced at John’s birth. The cause of their rejoicing became apparent to all when John began his public ministry, for John the Baptizer was:
Our text tells us that John would “be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God. He will also go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children,’ and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
The LORD worked all of this by the Holy Spirit, through John’s preaching. We are told in Luke 3:2f, “The Word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.”
Although we have noted that many would rejoice at John’s birth on account of his preaching, much of John’s preaching seems to give little reason for rejoicing. We read that he said to the multitudes that came out to baptized by him, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance …And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and cast into the fire.” (Luke 3:7ff)
These are hardly words of comfort. But the law of God is not supposed to be comforting. It is condemning. The people at that time needed to hear such words, for they had grown lax in love for God and for their neighbor. Work-righteousness and self-reliance had replaced reliance upon God’s grace and mercy. By the law John would turn the hearts of the people away from self-reliance and back to God.
John would make parents realize that their chief responsibility to their children was to see to their spiritual welfare, that their little ones would be brought up in the nurture and instruction of the Lord. He would show the disobedient their sins and instruct them in righteousness.
These things that were so lacking in Israel at John’s time are still the things lacking in the world today. How many who formerly trusted in the true God have since turned from the faith to rely upon themselves? How many parents seek to further their children’s academic or sports careers at the expense of instruction in God’s Word? How often haven’t each one of us been disobedient to God’s Word, grieving our Lord in thought, word, and deed? Luther answers these questions in the Small Catechism. He says, “We daily sin much and indeed deserve nothing but punishment.” John’s message is still a timely one today: “Repent!” Turn from sin and return to the LORD your God!
By the preaching of the law John made ready a people prepared for the Lord. Having prepared them through the law, John directed the people to look away from their own works and to look to the grace of God revealed in the coming Messiah.
Before Jesus began His public ministry John directed the people to look to the Messiah who was coming after Him, the One greater than John, who would baptize “with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Matthew 3:11) When Christ Jesus appeared, John immediately began to direct the people to Him, saying, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29)
Like John, Christ preached repentance and forgiveness, Law and Gospel. Unlike John, who was only the tool of the Holy Spirit, Christ is the One who sends the Holy Spirit into hearts through His Word to actually turn people to repentance of their sins, and to believe in Him as the Savior who has come.
Whereas John could only proclaim unto the people the grace of God, Christ Jesus actually won that grace and favor of God. Christ Jesus was great in the sight of the LORD by making Himself lowly, of no account, being made under the law, that He might live the righteous life in our place. He suffered a lowly death in the place of all people to pay for the sins of the world, as it is written, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)
As a result, “God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9ff)
While John prepared the people for the coming of the Messiah in lowliness, Christ prepares sinners for His second coming in glory when He will judge the living and the dead. Christ won for all people the forgiveness of sins. Through His Word Christ preaches the Gospel, seeking to delight hearts by turning them to God’s grace, revealed in the Savior from sin. In this grace, God also delights in us, for Christ has made each one of us great in the Lord’s sight. In Him there is laid up “the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge will give to [believers] on that Day.” (2 Timothy 4:8) Only in this Savior can sinners be prepared for the coming of the Lord on the Last Day, for He is “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
In Christ alone sinners are prepared for the coming of the Lord. And He says, “Surely, I am coming quickly.” (Revelation 22:20) Rejoicing over His birth we also rejoice as we give thanks for His first, lowly coming, and think on His second coming, when He shall glorify us and all believers in everlasting life. Even so, come Lord Jesus, Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.