Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Joy in Jesus!

[Below, you'll find live stream video of the modern worship service with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. (The video of the traditional service has major video issues. So, I'm not sharing it.) Also below is the text of the message. Have a great week!]

Matthew 11:2-15
Charlie was an old man, a member of Ann’s and my home church. Afflicted with arthritis, he could barely walk. But he was in worship every Sunday and served with the church in many ways. Charlie had painted houses and put up drywall his entire working life, but had been retired twenty years when I got to know him. For many years of his retirement, except for when his daughters spelled him, he took care of his bed-ridden wife. Following a long illness, his wife died. On the day of her funeral, Charlie spent time talking with me and another twenty-something. This man, who would have seemed to have every reason to complain told us, “Mark and Whitie, the Lord has been awfully good to me. All I can do is thank and praise Him.”

What I saw in Charlie at this moment when he was grieving was Christian joy! Joy in the midst of this world’s darkness and fallenness.

That’s what this Third Sunday of Advent is about: joy. It’s called Gaudete Sunday or Rejoice Sunday. It comes to us from Philippians 4:4-5, which was historically used for the procession to the altar on this Sunday of the Church Year. “Rejoice in the Lord always,” the passage tells us, “I will say it again: Rejoice!”

So, what exactly did Charlie, broken down by aging, work, arthritis, and taking care of his wife for long years, have to rejoice over on the day of his wife’s funeral?

And, for that matter, what do we, in a crazy world filled with war, hatred, suffering, and death, have to rejoice over?

John the Baptist may have wondered the same thing. John was the only prophet who was himself the subject of Old Testament prophecy. In about 430 BC, God told His people through the prophet Malachi: “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.” (Malachi 3:1) John fulfilled his call of preparing God’s people and all people for the saving work of the Messiah, the Christ: Jesus. In today’s lesson, Jesus confirms the greatness of John. “...among those born of women,” Jesus says, “there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist…” (Matthew 11:11)

But, as we meet John today, he’s in prison for his faith, hardly a joyful thing.

Whether for himself or for his own disciples, who were undoubtedly reeling, questioning God, as they’ve seen John put in chains, John sends messengers to ask Jesus a question: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:3) Is Jesus the One Who’s finally going to make this sin-imprisoned, death-filled world right? Is Jesus God in the flesh?

A cynical world writes faith in Jesus off as closed-minded stupidity. A brilliant young woman from Brazil named Sarah, who I follow on Twitter, who recently became a Lutheran Christian, reported this past week of the the place where she works, “Today I heard a ton of jokes about my faith…” She held her tongue although the group of men who joked about her faith all are living lives of unrepentant sin.

Sarah might well wonder if Jesus really has conquered sin and death when she, seeking to follow Jesus faithfully, is subjected to such nastiness and derision.

So might Christians in other parts of the world who are persecuted, facing arrest, violence, arson, and death.

Before getting self-righteous though, honesty compels me to say that while I am a baptized believer in Jesus, I only have to look in the mirror to see the same sin and insanity that makes being a disciple of Jesus hard.

I’m a sinner prone to breaking every one of God’s ten commandments, whether by thought, word, or deed.

I daily fail to love God completely.

Daily I fail to love others as I love myself.

I’m still a sinner.

So are you.

Does that mean Jesus is less than God the Son?

Or, are we to look for someone else, something else?

When John’s messengers asked Jesus this question, Jesus didn’t respond directly.

Instead, He pointed them to the things He was doing, things that the Old Testament, at various places, said the Messiah, the Son of God, would do when He brought God’s kingdom into this fallen world: “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.” (Matthew 11:5)

The world waits–we wait–for Jesus’ second advent when He will make all things right.

But, for now, we know that Jesus is our strong fortress and our eternal hope in the midst of a crazy world.

We hold onto Jesus in faith because, sinners though we are, we also know that Jesus has conquered our sin and our death for all eternity! Jesus’ words stand in Scripture: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Many wonder if Jesus really is a conqueror who has overcome the world’s troubles. This appears to be the question that rattled either John the Baptist, his disciples, or both.

If Jesus was the Savior, why was John about to lose his head?

If Jesus is the conquering Lord, why is there cancer, war, despots and dictators, pandemics, ERs, and funeral homes?

A hint to the answer to these haunting questions can be found in our first lesson for today, Isaiah 35:1-10. Isaiah narrates the salvation story. All began in a garden, where God put the first human beings, Adam and Eve, in charge. Of course, humanity fell into sin, that condition of inborn distrust of God, our inborn predisposition to not trust God to take care of us which leads us to individual sins against God and others. Ever since then, God has been about calling us to repent and trust in Him, to trust that one day, beyond death and beyond the end of this cosmos, He will usher those who trust in His Son will live once more in a lush and perfect garden.

It’s a reign or dominion where the blind will see, the lame will walk, the leprous will be cleansed, the deaf will hear, and the poor, those laid low by sin and death, will hear the good news of Jesus that brings us life.

Many of the things prophesied by Isaiah were already seen in what Jesus did when John’s messengers went to Jesus.

But Isaiah said there was to be more even than these things to the kingdom brought by the Messiah.

While at his first advent, in His earthly life which began on Christmas, Jesus came submissively, dying for our sins like a lamb led the slaughter, there will be a time, according to Isaiah, when “[Jesus] will come with vengeance; with divine retribution…to save you…” (Isaiah 35:4)

It will be a time when “no lion…nor any ravenous beast,” not even the sin of the devil, the world, or our sinful selves, will be able to attack or wreak havoc on the lives of those who live daily turning from sin and daily turning to Jesus in faith.

The wilderness will rejoice and blossom, blessing all people with God’s plenty!

So, how can we be certain of Jesus and the Bible’s promises about Him?

How can we have joy in Jesus as our Savior and Deliverer even in the midst of the madness of this world and in the face of our own intractable sin?

When John asked a similar question, Jesus pointed John to what He was already doing, the very works the Old Testament prophets said that the Messiah was going to do when He brought His kingdom to us. “I’m doing the works of the Messiah,” Jesus was telling John, “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” (Matthew 11:6)

And when you and I today, on December 11, 2022, look at what Jesus has done, we can see even more than John could have from Herod’s prison cell!

We can see Jesus crucified for us, praying for our forgiveness with His dying breath.

We can see Jesus risen, showing Himself to be what He claimed to be: “...the resurrection and the life,” the One in Whom we can believe and have everlasting life with God! (John 11:25)

We can see Jesus today in His Word–preached and shared and sung, imparted in water and bread and wine.

We can pray to God in Jesus’ name and know the peace of God that passes all understanding.

We can live with joy even in sorrow and uncertainty, knowing that, though everything around us crumbles in uncertainty, the God we know in Jesus Christ can be counted on to stand by us always, forgive our sin, redeem our lives, and, at the end of all ages, raise our dead bodies to live with God always.

Jesus is the source of unending joy, even now.

With Charlie and all the saints, living and dead, we can join the apostle Paul in saying, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”


The Old Testament Book of Daniel, Part 21