Sunday, December 12, 2021

A Reason to Rejoice!

Here is both today's modern worship service with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio and the text of the message shared. Have a good and blessed week!

Luke 7:18-35
The Third Sunday of Advent has historically been known by its Latin name, Gaudete Sunday. The word Gaudete means Rejoice! The focus of this day, unlike that of the first two Sundays of this season, is not repentance, but joy! With Paul we say: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)

Our Gospel lesson for today doesn’t begin joyfully though. John the Baptist is in prison. There, John sends two of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Luke 7:19) In prison, John doubts Jesus is the Messiah. Friends, even saints sometimes doubt. Even saints sometimes take the wrong measure of God. John, with good warrant, on the basis of Old Testament prophecy, had earlier said of the Messiah, “His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Luke 3:17) 

But Jesus doesn’t seem to be doing much winnowing. Instead, Jesus is reaching out to notorious sinners, trying to bring them into fellowship with God and His people. Jesus is inviting people to repent and believe in Him. John wondered, when was Jesus going to get around to damning people, sending them the wrath of God that comes to all who choose to live apart from God? 

Don’t we, in moments of doubt or self-righteousness, ask similar questions, “When are you going to fix things, Lord? 

"Why do rotten, irredeemable people (or those we think are rotten, irredeemable people), get away with murder?"

When are You going to do something about the ills in my life and the ills of the world, Lord?” 

Some Christians become so consumed with questions like these that, instead of praying that God will do His will in their lives and that God will bring His kingdom into their world, they lose faith in God, some of them turning to things like politics to force their versions of the Kingdom of God on their communities, states, and nations. Political engagement is great, but to do so thinking that you’re going to bring God’s kingdom into the world by your efforts is sinful self-delusion!

When John’s disciples pose his question to Jesus, Jesus points them to what He is doing in His ministry. “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.” “Go tell John” about these things, Jesus tells them. (Luke 7:22) Back near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, after He was baptized by John and underwent the devil’s temptations in the wilderness, He worshiped at His home synagogue in Nazareth and read a portion of the prophecy of Isaiah, written hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth, about the Messiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners  and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19; Isaiah 61:1-2) Jesus scandalized the hometown crowd when, after reading those words, He said that right then and there, those words had been fulfilled in Him. “I am the Messiah,” Jesus was saying.

From that moment in Nazareth, Jesus had gone about fulfilling things Isaiah had said the Messiah would do. But there’s one thing that Isaiah said the Messiah would do that Jesus didn’t mention in Nazareth and had not yet performed…still hasn’t performed. Isaiah said that the Messiah would also proclaim, “...the day of vengeance of our God.” (Isaiah 61:2) Despite all the wonderful things Jesus was doing, John the Baptist observed that  Pontius Pilate and the Roman occupation army were still in Judea, Herod was still putting preachers of God’s Word in chains, the poor were still poor, and God’s people were still exploited and colonialized. So, John asks, are you the Messiah, Jesus, or is someone else coming to get us out of the mess this world is in?

What John failed to understand in his time of discouragement, is something we often forget when we are discouraged, defeated, downhearted. There will come a time when those who have believed in Jesus, will see their faith vindicated as the Lord tells them, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34) And the day will come when He tells those who have rejected or ignored Him: “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25:41)

But out of His charitable love for all of us, Jesus, God the Son, comes into this world not one time, but twice. The first time Jesus comes into this world has already happened. He was born in a stable in Bethlehem, lived a sinless life, proclaimed new life for all who repent and believe in Him, gave signs of His authority to do those things, died for our sins, rose from the dead, ascended back to heaven, and gave the Church the Holy Spirit to tell others His saving good news. One day, He will return to “judge the living and the dead.” That will be Jesus’ second coming. The mission of Jesus’ in these two comings is different.

In the first one, says Bible scholar Arthur A. Just Jr., Jesus brings “the mercy, compassion, and forgiveness of God” to us. And on the cross He “absorbs the wrath” we deserve on the cross. The wrath of God isn’t God lashing out angrily to kill sinners. God does get angry. But the wrath of God is the natural consequence of living away from fellowship with God. “I don’t need God,” some people insist. Or, “I don’t think there is a God. This whole universe just fell into place.” God respects us and lets us choose to walk away from Him. But it doesn’t stop the God we know in Jesus from continuing to bless us with the gifts of life, His Word, His promises, His presence with those who want Him. In Jesus, at His first coming, friends, you see the God Who wants to give you life with Him that never ends, that will be lived out beyond death in an eternity free of evil, sin, loss, pain, or dying. His kingdom hasn’t fully come yet, but because His death and His resurrection are already accomplished, we can live each day with joy, even in the face of pain. And we also can look ahead with joyful anticipation to the day of His return. As surely as Jesus has acted decisively to save you and me from sin and death in His first coming, you can be certain that at His second coming, He will make all things right! As Peter says elsewhere in the New Testament, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

Why hasn’t Jesus yet condemned the proud, insolent, adulterous, idolatrous, unbelieving people of this world? Because He loves them! Just as He loves you and me, not because of our perfect righteousness, but because of His perfect righteousness! In the midst of this sinful world, Jesus invites us to rejoice in His love for everyone, in His desire to save everyone. He also calls us to share our joy with others. The apostle John said that one of the reasons he wrote the letter we call 1 John in our New Testaments was “so that our joy may be complete.” (1 John 1:4) We who have been reached and saved and sanctified by the Gospel Word about Jesus and His holy sacraments know a joy that passes all understanding, a joy in knowing we belong to Jesus whether we’re laughing at a wedding or crying at a wake. And our joy is made complete when we share Jesus and His saving Word with others.

John the Baptist needed to hear what you and I need to hear. Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior of the world, and there is no other. One day He will execute justice on this fallen world. But for now, rejoice that, if you believe in Him, you belong to God eternally, then share your joy with the world. “Joy to the world / The Lord has come / Let earth receive her King!” Amen