TWO CHRISTMAS VIPs
Dear friends in Christ,
Today is Nelson Mandela’s final funeral. It has been going on all week. On Tuesday there was a funeral service at an open air stadium in South Africa. To me there was utter chaos - anything but solemn and somber. World leaders were making speeches. It went on for more than four hours. I have never known of a funeral that needed an intermission.
Lots of interesting and even weird things took place including our president acting less than presidential. What was most unbelievable was that there was a signer who got past security. He stood next to all these world leaders and didn’t know the first thing about signing. It was discovered that he was a schizophrenic who has a rap sheet that goes back to 1994 up to 2003. He “faced rape, theft, housebreaking, malicious damage to property, murder, attempted murder and kidnapping charges.” Think what could have happened with the apparent loose security. Those VIPs, those very important people could have been in a grave danger.
As we get closer to Christmas, our attention focuses on some very important people…and it is not Santa. The Two Christmas VIPs we are talking about today are 1) Jesus and 2) John the Baptist and their important role in our lives.
Jesus is the centerpiece of Christmas. Actually this story takes us ahead thirty years after his birth. The Bible says that John the Baptist, the one who prepared the way for Jesus, was in prison. John was a man of conviction and loyal to the Lord. His message was one of repentance. That message really struck home with another very public figure – King Herod. Herod was living a scandalous life. He was openly committing adultery with his brother’s wife. John called him out and he would not let up. Eventually Herod did a power play to shut him up. He arrested John and put him in prison for a prolonged period of time.
Even though in prison John had disciples nearby. He was a man dearly loved by his hearers. He preached what people needed – sin and grace, Law and Gospel. While the prison walls were thick, he was able to keep up with the ministry of Jesus. He asks a most unusual question through his disciples. He sent his disciples to Jesus with the following question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
This question causes problems for students of the Bible. Was John having doubts? Was John confused? Remember John baptized Jesus. He witnessed some spectacular things. He saw the Holy Spirit come down from heaven and rest on Jesus. He heard the voice of the Father, “This is my Son whom I love, with him I am well-pleased.” Even before the baptism John announced Jesus to the world as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” So why is he asking, “Are you the one to come, or do we wait for another?” One would think he would be the last person on earth to ask that question.
There are two possible explanations. First, remember that John was an impressive preacher. Not fancy dancy, but down-to-earth, clear and concise. He was sincere. He was there to do the Lord’s work. His spartan-like life was proof that he wasn’t in it to get into people’s wallets. He addressed what needed to be addressed – sin and the need for forgiveness, baptism that conveys forgiveness to the sinner, the need to produce the fruits of repentance. These disciples looked at him as their spiritual father. They were not eager to stop following him even though he was in prison.
But John knew he needed to fade from the picture. Jesus was the centerpiece. Jesus was the greater and so he sent them to Jesus to see how impressive he was so he could bring them forgiveness of sins.
Even today people get hung up on a church or the messenger more than the message. Remember that Jesus is the message. I am not saying this because this is the pastor’s intention but around here one often hears, “I go to Andy Stanley’s church” or “I follow Rick Warren” or Joel Osteen. Martin Luther was extremely disappointed when his followers were called Lutheran instead of what they really were – Christians.
There is another explanation for John sending his followers to Jesus with the question, “Are you the one to come, or do we wait for another?” Perhaps he was having doubts. He was supposed to be preparing the world for Jesus and there he was in prison. It appears he was there for a prolonged period of time. Let’s face it, the Devil doesn’t stop working on people. As long as we are on this side of the grave, that’s the way it is going to be. He is especially going after those who are not his own.
Our Lord is blessing our congregation in so many special ways. I see a lot of nice things going on. The Living Christmas was intended to bring people onto our campus to create a connection with our church. It does that. But it has done so much more. Members get to know each other. Members have said it is a fellowship event. Last Sunday I was overwhelmed with all the people who were here to help with set up of the set, the decoration of the sanctuary, and getting bags ready to give away to children who would visit. As a pastor, it is so satisfying to see people offer their bodies as living sacrifices in doing God’s work together just like it says in Romans 12.
God is blessing in so many other ways too. The percentage of members while not near 100% who come receive Word and sacrament is almost double the national average of an average church. I love Pastor Fedke’s Bible classes that are so well done. Like church attendance we should be shooting for 100% but percentages are way above average for churches. With God’s help we are looking to the future. People are behind it. God’s people have been supporting the work here. For eighteen straight months we have been above our budget. The music and talent God gives our members is being utilized. Our Sunday School staff is superb and any parent ought to be more than willing to have their children enrolled here. There has been a steady stream of new people who are so nice. We have people who are part of this body who have roots in foreign lands. We all get to see how universal God’s church is. As a pastor there hasn’t been a whole lot to keep me up at night except what happens when a guy gets a bit older. Messiah members, this is FUN! God is blessing us.
But you know something? Satan is out there! He can’t be pleased. We ought be ready for any and all onslaughts just like John experienced. Remember whom we have on our side – the most important of all VIPs – Jesus! Jesus gave those followers of John quite the answer. “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”
Remember when Jesus was gathering his apostles. Andrew invited his brother Peter; Jesus invited Philip with the invitation, “Follow me!” Philip in turn wanted his friend Nathaniel to follow, but Nathaniel was skeptical. He insulted everyone who grew up in Nazareth where Jesus grew up. But Philip didn’t get into an argument. He simply said, “Come and see!” That’s what Jesus said to answer the question, “Are you the one who was to come od do we wait for another?” Take a look! “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised.”
One of the great prophecies about the Christ was written by Isaiah. Isaiah wrote, “And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” He was mighty God all right - “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised.” It wasn’t just talk, was it! Jesus proved who he was.
Because Jesus proved who he was how true it is, “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” John’s life at the moment was rough. It wouldn’t get better at least from an earthly perspective. He was martyred. But you know what Jesus was his Savior and God too. Now he rests from his labors in heaven. “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” Blessed is the right word, all right! That’s his promise to us too. So he is the number one VIP
Let’s talk about the other – John. Jesus has a lot to say about John. We said when it comes to faith is the main course. Yet John was like the appetizer.. “As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: “‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’
There is a lot of consternation in Washington these days. We really have a lot of polarization between the left and the right. People who sit in the middle are expressing how angry they are because there isn’t any compromising going on. Many would like to think that compromise is a strength and not a weakness. Yet if they made campaign promises not to raise taxes or whatever, that’s what they promised.
God is not a compromiser; a true spokesman for the Lord ought not be either. God can’t compromise because he is 100% right 100% of the time. Yet the apostle Paul said as we approach Judgment Day there would be those who have itching ears. Their ears itch for something they want to hear rather than what they need to hear. Paul went on to say, “They will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” Ears that itch yearn to hear about things that flatter the ego. Ears that itch don’t want to hear about “No’s” but only “Yeses.”
People need a good dose of the truth, good solid truth. Good meat and potatoes truth. Years ago I was serving on a committee that necessitated my attendance at a meeting in New Orleans. It is a wonderful town for food. Louisiana is supposed to have one of the highest obesity rates in the United States. If you spend time there you can understand why. The host pastor from New Orleans said he wanted to take us out to lunch. The French Quarter was west of his church. Pastor took us east and then south. We turned this corner and that corner and ended up right across the street from an oil refinery. It was filled with workers from across the street. When we walked in those refinery workers were not eating French pastry. Nor did we. The place was filled and the tables were filled with empty longnecks. It was a buffet of meat and potatoes.
You women can argue all you want about salads and how that’s good for you. You can say that I am going in the wrong direction with the meat and potatoes. But I say John came to give us the meat and potatoes. It sticks with us. It is the law and the Gospel – sin and grace, law and Gospel. Yes, we are sinners but saved by the one that Jesus sent. Just like John it needs to be preached clearly and boldly.