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Archive for December 11th, 2012

Meditation:  first paragraph by Pr. Scott Murray and the remainder by Leo the Great (c. 391 or 400 – 10 November 461), both from Pr. Murray’s A Year with the Church Fathers:  Meditations for Each Day of the Church Year, Concordia Publishing House…

The Church lives from the font and the cup. Even when primarily concerned with the person of Christ and the communication of the two natures in one person, Leo the Great comes back to the great fact of the Means of Grace. What flowed from the Savior’s side gives life to His Bride, the Church, who is cleansed by that flood of water and is nourished by the flow of His blood. Font and cup put us in the death of Christ.

“If anyone receives the Christian faith and does not turn his ears away from the preaching of the Gospel, let him see what nature hung pierced with nails on the wooden cross; and when the side of the Crucified was opened by the soldier’s spear, let him understand from what that blood and water flowed so that the Church of God might be watered from the font and from the cup. Let him hear also the blessed apostle Peter, proclaiming that the sanctification of the Spirit takes place through the sprinkling of Christ’s blood (1 Peter 1:2). And let him not read cursorily the same apostle’s words when he says, ‘Knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot’ (1 Peter 1:18-19). Let him not resist also the witness of the blessed apostle John, who says, “The blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin’ (1 John 1:7). And again, ‘This is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? This is He who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree’ (1 John 5:4-8). The Spirit, that is, of sanctification, and the blood of redemption,and the water of Baptism, because the three are one; they remain undivided, and not one of them is separated from this connection.The Church catholic lives and advances in this faith, that in Christ Jesus we do not believe in the humanity without the true divinity, nor in the divinity without the true humanity” (Leo the Great, The Tome, 5)

Lord God, heavenly Father, Your Son, Jesus Christ, began His ministry through a water Baptism in the Jordan River that led Him to a bloody baptism on the cross. Even now, He saves us through the water of Holy Baptism and the blood of the cup of the new testament. Grant us steadfastness to trust in water and blood as the means by which He continues to offer us His gracious presence; for He lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

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St. Matthew 11: 4: “And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see…”  11: 14:  and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.”

             At the beginning of this lesson we face a puzzle:  John the Baptizer was obviously unsure about the identity of Jesus.  “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”  We know from Luke’s Gospel that John’s parents were Elizabeth and Zechariah.  We know the Lord carefully called both at old age to bear a son to her who was said to be barren. Their son, John, would prepare the way of the Lord, the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the living God.  The Virgin Mary is told by the messenger of God, Gabriel to go visit her kinswoman, Elizabeth who is also pregnant.  When Mary speaks to Elizabeth, John leaps in her womb.  John and Jesus might have actually known each other growing-up.  Even more:  John baptized Jesus in the river Jordan.  He was a witness to the Voice from heaven, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  The Gospel of John reports:  And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. How could John, after all that, be unsure, maybe doubting, the Gospel promises that were fulfilled before his eyes and hearing them with his own ears?

            Some of the Church fathers surmised that John wanted his own disciples to hear for themselves, from the Lord Himself of the Lord’s deeds.  I do not know if that was John’s intentions but what those 2 disciples of John heard was good and holy:  the Word of God from God’s own lips.  We too need to hear the Gospel promises of the Lord’s Incarnation, ministry, powerful deeds and finally and fully, His death and resurrection and ascension to rule us and bring in the Kingdom building up His Church and you and I in and through His Word. Go tell John what you hear and see, not see and hear.  First:  hear, listen to the word of God.  John also so needed to hear the Word of God. Depending on circumstances of life, our own waywardness at times, we hear but don’t get it.  When Jesus was telling the disciples of His upcoming crucifixion said to them, “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.”  (St. Luke 9: 44) Sounds like a mother or father speaking!

            John was imprisoned by King Herod Antipas for preaching the Lord’s Word of  marriage to the immoral marriage of said King:  For Herod had laid hold of John and bound him, and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife.  4.  For John had said to him, “It is not lawful for you to have her.”  He was fast bound in prison awaiting the possibility of a death sentence and execution.  John would be decapitated at the whim of the despot’s wife Herodias who despised John for his preaching.

             Prisons are not nice places.  Back then, much worse.  I would suspect windowless, no sanitation and rats and vermin.  Isolated and alone.  John obviously had contact with his disciples…but that was probably it.  Now after the heights of preaching the Lord’s Word preparing them for way of the Lord, the depths. Psalm 88: 

You have laid me in the lowest pit, In darkness, in the depths.

 7.  Your wrath lies heavy upon me, And You have afflicted me with all Your waves. 

 8.  You have put away my acquaintances far from me; You have made me an abomination to them; I am shut up, and I cannot get out;

 9.  My eye wastes away because of affliction. Lord, I have called daily upon You; I have stretched out my hands to You.

 10.  Will You work wonders for the dead? Shall the dead arise and praise You?  

I can understand John’s question in the depths but he is also like someone else.

            Jesus said to His disciples, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. John is likened to Elijah of old.  In the time of the divided Kingdom of Israel, Ahab and Jezebel were king and queen.  Jezebel with her husband’s consent were worshiping false gods in Jerusalem. The Lord called Elijah.  Eventually this climaxed in the great contest on Mt. Carmel, literally a mountain top experience between the lone prophet of the Lord, Elijah and the 450 false prophets of the fertility god Baal.  This is recorded in 1 Kings 18.  The Lord prevailed.  But after, soon after this mountain-top experience, Elijah gets word that Jezebel wants to kill him.  What does Elijah do?  Flees.  The great prophet runs.  At one point exhausted from the long trudge, he lays down under a broom tree:  And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”   An angel, a messenger of the Lord appears and says to Elijah, take and eat and there was bread on a rock.  Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.”  On strength of that bread he walked 40 days and nights to Mt. Horeb and hid himself in a cave.  The Lord asked him what are you doing here, I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”  The Lord spoke His Word to Him, the still small voice and told him he was not alone:  there are 7,000 others who have not knelt to Baal.

 Jesus said to His disciples, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. 

            It’s not only that his disciples needed to hear the word of Christ, the Word of God but the prophet John, the forerunner as well in the depths. Sometimes it does not take much to be plunged into the dark places: a rumor, a bad report, the daily news…a wrong unconfessed festering in the caves of the heart. This separates us from the Lord and each other.   Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that the word of Christ is stronger in my brother than the word of Christ in me. We are fed the bread of life, not self-fed.  God’s Word is bread:  coming to us from the outside.  The Reformers had a Latin phrase for this: verbum extra nos, the word outside of us.    Go and tell John what you hear and see…what did John hear in the depths:  5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”  Not Go and tell John look to yourself and really examine yourself and come to grips with your doubt, or here are the 7 steps to soul freedom. John needed to hear the Word of Promise.  On November 30th, several years ago now,  at a retreat I was attending in Hickory, NC, along with Pr. Beasley with whom I had recently become friends, Pr. Lou Smith was also there and in the night took ill.  He was taken to the hospital.  He had suffered a burst abdominal aorta.  He needed to have an operation immediately.  He did not make it to the operating table.  Before going in, his pastor, Jim Pence of Zion Lutheran, Waynesboro who was there at the retreat was at his side in the hospital.  Jim told me that Lou asked, are the Gospel promises true and Jim told him, yes Lou.  This was a man who could preach and teach those Gospel promises in a couple of languages.  Lou needed to hear. 

                This is the Lord’s mission here:  many are dying to hear.  John was. Elijah was.  The blind, the lame, the leprous, the deaf, the dead and the poor, burdened and heavy-laden need to hear the word of Christ:  the least, the last and the lost.  The Lord did not come for those who are well. The doctor visits the sick, Jesus said.    And blessed is the one who is not, literally, scandalized by Me.  Here is the Lord in the depths of sin and death.  The incarnation, the Word made flesh. And John was no reed shaken by the wind in His ministry:  tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine and conceits of false theologies and ideologies.  Jesus said John was more than a prophet and yet, 11Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.  Jesus came for the least, again, The blind, the lame, the leprous, the deaf, the dead and the poor, burdened and heavy-laden…repent and believe the good promises of Jesus Christ fulfilled in His flesh, in His body and blood for us and for our salvation and we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, Elijah, John, Elizabeth, Zechariah, Lou and many whom are dear to you.  We wait for the day of His appearing.  But today He calls us to Himself.  Many are dying to hear.   As Elijah and John we have a church of those who have knelt to the false gods of false churches.  Those who know the need of their sinfulness can be taught their Savior’s precious Gospel promises.  After this lesson, Jesus  pronounces woes on the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, Tyre and Sidon for their did not repent, did not grasp their sinfulness and dire nature of it and then their Lord.  In the bible “woe” means they were dead.  But life to those who daily repent and grasp their Savior and so then the Lord says to us all,with John, Elijah, Lou and you:

 25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (St. Matthew, chapter 11)

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