Advent 3 2021
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
December 12, 2021
Zephaniah 3:20-21, Philippians 4:4-7, Luke 7:18-35

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Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com 
itunes:                        bit.ly/pastorjud
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            A terrible and wonderful thing about Christianity is things are often not what they seem to be.  For example, here you sit amongst this odd collection of people.  Some you know well, some not so well, some you don’t know at all.  There is that fussy child interrupting quiet moments.  There the guy who sings loudly and off-key.  There is that kid crawling under the pew.  There are people staring up at the ceiling seemingly disconnected from what is happening.  It is a strange collection of people.  And they are people with secrets.

The people sitting around you do not want you to know what they have done, and you do not want them to know what you have done. This is a motley gathering of sinners, especially the sinner up front wearing the weird white robe as if he is somehow pure and holy.  Looking around, this does not appear to be a holy gathering – and yet – and yet, that is exactly what it is.  This is a gathering of the holy ones of God. 

            You are the saints of God.  Despite your sin, you wear the white robe of Jesus’ righteousness.  Even though you are a poor miserable sinner…even though you are, by nature, sinful and unclean, despite that, you are a saint.  You don’t look like a saint.  You don’t act like a saint.  But you are a saint.  Things are not what they appear.  You are a saint because Jesus has declared you to be holy, innocent and blessed because you are washed in His blood.

            Things are not what they seem to be.  John the Baptist has been a faithful prophet of Jesus his whole life.  He leapt in his mother’s womb at the presence of the unborn baby Jesus.  John is the new Elijah who is prophesied by Isaiah and Malachi.  Luke 3:4–6 (ESV) 4 … “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ ”   John declares when he sees Jesus, John 1:29 (ESV) 29 …“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”  John baptizes Jesus and sees the Holy Spirit descending like a dove and hears the voice of God the Father saying Luke 3:22 (ESV) 22 … “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” 

            John is a prophet of Jesus, the Christ.  John is a bold, strong prophet who speaks the truth of God.  And because of that, John is in prison.  He is chained to the wall in the pitch black, stifling dungeon of Herod Antipas’ palace. John spoke the truth to Herod that it was not right for him to be sleeping with Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. John spoke the truth of God and now is in prison.  Whenever he hears a guard coming to the door he does not know if they are coming to feed him or cut off his head.  Things are looking very, very bad for John, this faithful prophet of Jesus. 

John’s disciples send word to John that Jesus has healed a centurion’s servant and raised a widow’s son from the dead and the people are amazed.  Luke 7:16 (ESV)  16 Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!”  Jesus is doing incredible miracles.

            You know the feeling John the Baptist is having.  You have had that feeling.  “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” You know the feeling of “Lord, things do not look right.” 

            And John sits in prison.  Why?!?  Why!?! Why doesn’t Jesus do something?  Jesus is God in flesh.  Jesus is the Son of God.  Jesus has the power of God, why doesn’t Jesus free John from prison?  Things do not look right.

            So John sends two of his disciples Luke 7:19–20 (ESV) 19 …to the Lord, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 20 And when the men had come to [Jesus], they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’ ”  John is saying to Jesus, “Things do not look right.”

            You know the feeling John the Baptist is having.  You have had that feeling.  “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” You know the feeling of “Lord, things do not look right.” 

            You stare down at the big, red “F” on your test paper that means you have failed the test, the course and out of the major you thought was your destiny.  What has happened?  “Lord, things do not look right.”

            You take off your wedding ring as you walk out of the courtroom.  You are no longer married.  Your spouse has left you, and divorced you despite all your prayers for reconciliation.  “Lord, things do not look right.”

You are at the hospital bedside of a loved one who is not going to get better. You prayed for healing, but it did not come.  “Lord, things do not look right.”

            You are visiting your loved one who is in prison despite your prayers for them to find the right path.  “Lord, things do not look right.”

You are sitting in prison and you pray to be freed.  “Lord, things do not look right.”

You stand at the graveside as the casket is lowered into the ground. “Lord, things do not look right.” 

            Jesus’ response to John the Baptist in prison is such a powerful message to us that even when things do not look right, Jesus is still Lord. Jesus is still in control.  Jesus is still on the throne.  Jesus still reigns.  Jesus’ gift of forgiveness first given to you in your baptism, and poured out continually in His Word and in His body and blood, is still real and still effective, even when things do not look right. 

            Jesus shows John’s disciples that He has the power of God; that He is the one who is to come.  They do not need to look for another.  Luke 7:22 (ESV)  22 And [Jesus] answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.” 

            That is convincing evidence that Jesus is Lord, and you have a greater sign than any of these.  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed, alleluia!  Jesus rose from the dead.  Jesus conquered death for you.  Jesus died on the cross for you and rose from the dead for you.  You indeed are in this world with all of its trouble and turmoil but you do not belong to this world.  You are a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven.  You are a baptized child of God so you can believe the promises of Jesus even when your experience fights against it. 

Jesus greatest gift is the forgiveness of sins and this is what people are most offended by.  How can Jesus forgive sins?  Why do I need forgiveness?  Is Jesus saying that I’m not good enough?  Is Jesus calling me a sinner?  It is offensive that Jesus hangs out with sinners; tax collectors and prostitutes.  How can Jesus forgive those kinds of people; people who do not deserve forgiveness. 

            Praise be to God that Jesus forgives people who do not deserve forgiveness and calls them to follow Him.  Being a follower of Jesus is not a promise of an easy life, it is a promise of forgiveness.  It is a promise of eternal life.  Matthew 16:24–25 (ESV) 24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  

            John the Baptist is bearing his cross in prison.  He is a faithful prophet of God and he will be beheaded.  You bear the cross of the sufferings of this world and in the trouble that comes from speaking the truth in love.  Life is hard.  Life is a struggle.  Life is short.  1 Peter 1:24–25 (ESV) 24 for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, 25 but the word of the Lord remains forever.” Things are not what they appear.  This assorted collection of sinners gathered here are the holy saints of God.  No matter how things may look, God’s promise to you remains.  You are a forgiven child of God.  You are an eternal citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven.  Amen. 

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