Sermon based on John 1:6-8, 19-28 for the Third Sunday in Advent
Dear people being pointed to Christ: grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
You are being pointed in many different directions, especially at this time of year. Store windows have signs pointing to sales for those not quite done their Christmas shopping. Bosses point to work that still needs to get finished before the year is done. Spouses point to work around that house that still needs to get done before visiting family arrives. There’s a lot of competition pointing you in a lot of directions.
There are also various kinds of spirituality that point you in different directions. Some point you to your works to please God. If only you would do a few more good things for your neighbour, then maybe God would be pleased with you. Many other religions of the world, including Roman Catholicism, point you to your works. They teach that access to God can be achieved through your personal efforts or attempts to improve yourself. This is so tempting to us because it tells us we have the power to do good. After all, it is a temptation to do good, not evil. The good things you do make a better world.
Of course the problem is that no matter how hard you try to do good; however good your intentions are, the good is never done. You continue not to do the good you want, but the evil you do not want to do is what you keep on doing (Rom. 7:19). It is a continuous battle, but in this life, we will never do enough good. We cannot undo our sins by doing something good. We cannot earn God’s favour by any works that we do.
Other errant fingers point you to your feelings. They say if you want to know God, you have to experience God. Discover God through what you feel. Follow their newfound steps and you can find God in the feelings of your heart. These religions, often calling themselves Christianity, teach that direct knowledge of God can be attained through your subjective experiences of God or something godlike. This is so tempting because we want to feel good. We are always in pursuit of touching, emotional experiences. We’re happy singing hymns with no substance because they conjure up certain emotions in us. Yet the Lord’s Supper isn’t desired every Sunday because it doesn’t give those feelings that are being chased. Why wouldn’t God want me to feel an emotional high? Surely I can feel the good, warm, tingly presence of a good God in what I experience.
Those who point their finger to feelings thus work hard to create the right kinds of feelings in you. They need the right mood lighting and motivational speeches and creative musical arrangements to manufacture these experiences. You need to hear the things that tug at your emotional heart strings. Your feelings need to be manipulated to put you into the right mood.
Third, there are fingers that point you to your mind to find God. Let’s be reasonable and think about it. Let’s observe what we see and come to logical conclusions about God. Everything can be explained by the advances in modern science. If you cannot prove it through science and reason, it cannot be true. This is so tempting because we think that we are smart people. Everything must make sense to us because we’re just so stinking smart.
With our reason, then, we decide what is true and what is not. Miracles cannot be explained through science or reason, so throw them out like the other Lutherans have done. Instead of listening to what God says about Himself in the Bible, we use our reason and logic to decide what God is and what He is not. Jesus’ body and blood must not be in the Lord’s Supper because that doesn’t make logical sense to us. How can the word of Absolution actually forgive my sins? What is sin anyway? I can do whatever I want to do. It’s not reasonable that someone else’s morals should mean anything for me.
All these fingers pointing in all these directions: some point to our works; some point to our hearts; some point to our minds. They all point wrongly. Do not look where these fingers point you. Look to where John the Baptist points.
John the Baptist did not point people to anyone or anything except Jesus. The elite of society came to him asking who he was. They tempted John to take praise for himself and accept the glory of men. But John humbly points to Christ whose sandal strap he is not worthy to untie. He doesn’t even refer to himself as a person, but merely a voice. He is the voice crying in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord.” John pointed to Christ by the Jordan River and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
John did not point to himself, but said he is not even worthy to untie the strap of Jesus’ sandal. He said he must decrease and Jesus must increase (John 3:30). He did not point people to their works as a way to please God. He pointed to Christ with whom God is well pleased. “Good works cannot avert our doom, They help and save us never.” (LSM 555 st. 1)
In Galatians 2(:16) it is written, “We know that a person is not declared righteous by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.” A little later it says, “If righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” If we could save ourselves by what we do, Jesus died for no reason! But in fact, Jesus died because we cannot save ourselves by our works. They don’t even help us in any way.
John the Baptist also does not point people to their experiences. He points them to Christ. Peter does the same when he writes of his experience on the Mount of Transfiguration. He was an eyewitness of the majesty and glory of Jesus as His face shone like the sun, and Moses and Elijah appeared, talking with Him. Peter heard God the Father’s voice from heaven say, “This is my beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” Peter fell on his face terrified of his experience (Matt. 17:1-5). However, when he writes about his experience, he writes, “When he received honour and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory… we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have more fully confirmed the prophetic word” (2 Peter 1:18-19). The prophetic Word of God is more fully confirmed and reliable than the experience that Peter had. The experience left him terrified. But the word of Jesus to him was, “Rise, and have no fear” (Matt. 17:7). Thus Peter points us to Christ and His Word. So also John points us to Christ and His Word.
There are several problems with pointing to your feelings. Feelings are fickle. Feelings change. Feelings fade. You need to “up the experience” to get the same feelings. You need to find God in something more edgy to get that same feeling. Soon, you are ready to find God anywhere and everywhere except where He has promised to be found. The Word and Sacrament, where God has promised to be found, are cast aside for some feeling being chased. The Bible never tells us to search for God in our feelings or in our hearts. We are not told by God to pursue emotional experiences in search of God.
Finally, John did not point to human reason. Human reason has limitations. Our minds are polluted by sin and we are woefully incapable of understanding God. God says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Is. 55:8-9) Also, Romans 11(:33-34) says, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counsellor?”
Our reason cannot help us find God. Thus John points to Jesus. If you want to understand God, look to Jesus. In Jesus we see God’s heart towards us. In Jesus we see the love of God. Jesus showed you the love of God when He gave up His life for you. He willingly died in your place, for your sins. He earned forgiveness for you and gives it to you freely.
You cannot find forgiveness in your works. You cannot find forgiveness in your heart. You cannot find forgiveness in your mind. You can only find forgiveness in Jesus. And He gives this forgiveness to you in Baptism. He gives this forgiveness to you in Absolution. And He gives this forgiveness to you in His holy Supper.
So in this world where everyone points you somewhere else; during this time leading up to Christmas when there is much competition with pointing in all kinds of directions and to all kinds of things; during this time look to where John the Baptist points. Look to Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Look to Jesus, your Saviour. Look to Jesus, who has earned forgiveness for you and gives it to you freely. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your kinds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.