Sunday, December 17, 2023

Jesus is More Than Enough

[Below is the text of the message shared during today's worship services with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio, as well as live stream video of both services.]

John 1:6-8, 19-28
Every Church Year, we listen to an account of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness by Satan. But before that happened, someone else was tempted: John the Baptist. Today’s Gospel lesson written by John the Apostle shows that John the Baptist was also tempted in the wilderness, near Bethany, on the other side of the Jordan. And he endured it in order to point the world to Jesus Christ for forgiveness and eternal life from God.

Apparently, John the Baptist was an impressive person. Of course, we can assume that it was God Who made John so impressive and caused the whole Judean countryside and the city of Jerusalem to go out to listen to John call people to repent and be baptized in preparation for the coming of the Messiah.

When people started saying John was the Messiah, or Elijah returned to the earth, or the Prophet that Moses had long ago foretold, John could have caved into the temptations to accept people’s accolades, to let himself be pampered and treated like a king. He wouldn’t have been the first person to believe what adoring crowds said of him. But John the Baptist didn’t do that.

Our lesson says, “He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, ‘I am not the Messiah’ [and] ‘I baptize with water,...but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.’”(John 1:20, 26-27)

In a hauspostille, a message about the day’s appointed gospel lesson that he shared with his family and guests on a Sunday evening in his Wittenberg home, Martin Luther observed that today’s gospel lesson is “one of the beautiful, glorious [gospel lessons] about the highest article of our faith, where we do not hear anything about the Ten Commandments, or what we are to do, but about something higher; namely, what Christ is and what He has done…” And in this lesson, Luther goes on to say, we hear John the Baptist, certainly a holy man who walked closely with God, as he “freely confesses” that he was unworthy even of untying Jesus’ sandals.

Why did Luther think the passage that makes up our Gospel lesson is such good news for us?

It’s this. This universe in which you and I live for a few years is a dark place. Sin has brought the darkness of death, suffering, human cruelty, disease, and conflict. And none of us is exempt from the sin that brings these ills to us. “We are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves,” we Lutheran Christians often confess to God and each other. The Bible says about the whole human race descended from Adam and Eve: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (Romans 3:23)

What’s more, our sin condition blinds us to the sins we commit because of it. I’ve told the story before, but years ago, Ann and I were talking with our good friends, Pat and Steve. Some mutual acquaintance came up in our conversation and I said, “I find him awfully opinionated.” The room went silent. “What?” I asked everyone. “What? Do you think I’m opinionated?” Finally, Pat said, gently and honestly, “Mark, you’re very opinionated.” I had been blind to this obvious fact about myself. I have to say that, in this area, as in the rest of my life, I’m only a recovering sinner. But from that moment, I became aware of yet another of my enduring sins that I need to bring out into the light of God for him to crucify and raise this old sinner to new life.

The gospel of John says that Jesus is the Light of the world. He also says that “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5) No amount of the darkness that is spawned by sin can extinguish the powerful light that is God! But John also tells us that Jesus, God the Son, the Light of the world “was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him…” (John 1:10)

This is why John the Baptist was sent “as a witness to the light,” sent to point blind people to where the holy God Who reconciles God and sinners can be found. (John 1:8) Now that’s a ridiculous statement on its face. I mean, if you walk into a dark room and flip on the light switch, nobody will have to tell you where the light is…unless you’re blind, which is precisely what we all frequently are, insensitive to how our sin alienates us from God and causes us not love God and not love our neighbor. We can be so focused on ourselves that we can see nothing and nobody else, not even God.

John turned away from the temptation to become a big shot. He pointed others to Jesus, the Light! He was like the apostle Paul who later wrote to the first-century Church at Corinth. “When I came to you,” Paul says, “I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-2)

For John the Baptist, for Saint Paul, and for billions of people who have confessed Jesus as Lord through the centuries and Who confess Jesus as Lord today, Jesus and what He did for us at the cross and what He gave to us when He rose from the dead–forgiveness, eternal life, peace with God and ourselves–Jesus is more than enough.

John the Baptist was executed for his faith–his imperfect and sometimes faltering faith–in Christ.

So was Paul.

But they faced persecution and death knowing that Jesus, the Light of the world, has an eternity of blessings for those who trust in Him.

This is why Paul, on the brink of death for his faith, could write to his young protege, Timothy: “I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:6-8)

Christ, the Light of the world, has appeared.

He will appear again.

He has finished His salvation work at the cross.

He has risen and sits at the Father’s right hand.

He has sent the Holy Spirit by whom we who dwell in the darkness of sin can see and be covered by the light of His great and conquering love, the only love that overcomes our sin, our death, our fears, and that gives to all who, by His grace turn to Him repentance and faith, life with God that never ends.

These are Christ’s gift to you today, given in His Word and in His body and blood in, with, and under the bread and the wine.

One of my favorite promises in Scripture is one you’ve heard me mention many times, promises Jesus first gave to a grieving friend, overwhelmed by the darkness of our fallen world and angry at Jesus for not preventing their grief. “I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus says. “The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)

In a world of darkness, it’s easy to cave into fear, or egotism, or indifference, or hatred, or being a control freak who tries to block reality from view.

But Christ has pierced the darkness and destroyed death and every dark power that taunts us, deflates us, or harms us.

Jesus Christ gives us Himself.

And, for living these days and looking beyond death itself, Christ is more than enough for you and me.

The One Whose sandals we are unworthy to untie long ago decided that we were worth the suffering and death He went through to buy us out of our bondage to sin and death.

And if you remember nothing else today, remember this: That’s how desperately God loves you!

Friends, you can entrust your whole life to Christ and, believing in Him, know that no matter what, you belong to God always.