Sermon for Advent Midweek Service – God’s Visitation Now (based on Acts 1:15-26, I Corinthians 11:23-32, John 12:44-50)
Dear people who are visited by God: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Last week we heard of God’s visitation of Old – how His visitation of unbelievers throughout history meant curse, suffering, plague, and death, but how His visitation of believers throughout history meant blessing, salvation, and life.
Today, instead of looking back into history, we look to the present. We look to how God visits us now.
After Judas had betrayed Jesus and killed himself, Peter quotes Psalm 109 verse eight, “Let another take his office.” Matthias was chosen to take his office. What is interesting, is that the word translated as “office” in English is the same word as “visitation” in both the Hebrew of the Psalm, and the Greek in which Peter cites it. The office or position to which Judas had been called, is an office of oversight or supervision, but it speaks specifically of the act of watching over with special reference to being present, of visitation.
This makes sense, because it is through the office or position of His ministers that God visits His people. God sends His ministers to do His work, and through them, visits His people. Thus, Ephesians four tells us, “When [Christ] ascended to the highest place, He took captivity captive, He gave gifts to men… He Himself gave the apostles and the prophets and the evangelists and pastors and teachers, for bringing the saints to completion, for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” (Eph. 4:8,11) Christ gives pastors to His church to work in the church for the benefit of His people. Pastors continue the work that Christ started.
Of course, it is Christ Himself who works through pastors. Thus Jesus says to His ministers, “He who hears you, hears me.” (Lk. 10:16) Pastors in themselves can do nothing. Indeed, Jesus says to all believers, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5) It is God who works through His Word. It is God alone who turns us away from our sins in repentance. It is God alone who creates faith. It is God alone who saves.
Yet, God saves through the preaching of the Word. God saves through water with the Word. God uses these means to save. God uses these means of grace to visit His people, and He calls ministers to dispense these means of grace.
As with God’s visitation of old, His visitation today can be for good or for ill, for blessing or for curse. For those who trust God’s Word, His Word is a blessing and the path to eternal life. For those who reject God’s Word, His Word is a curse and the path to eternal damnation.
Thus Jesus says that whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe in Him is condemned already (Jn 3:18). He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. (Jn 5:24) “The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.” (Jn 12:48)
Jesus is speaking of the very same Word. His visitation by means of His Word means life for believers and judgment for unbelievers. His Word does not judge believers because they pass from death to life, but His Word does judge and condemn unbelievers.
We see this also in the Lord’s Supper, where Christ visits us with His true body and blood. The same body and blood of Jesus can be received for forgiveness or for judgment. Whoever eats and drinks in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. We are therefore told to examine ourselves before partaking.
You must examine yourself to see whether you are sorry for your sins, whether you plan with the help of the Holy Spirit to change your sinful life, and whether you believe in Jesus Christ and His words in the Sacrament. If you aren’t sorry for your sins, you receive the Lord’s Supper to your harm. If you have no intention of turning away from your sins but returning to them upon receiving the Sacrament, you receive the Lord’s Supper to your condemnation. If you do not believe in Jesus or you do not believe His Word that He truly gives you His body and blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of sins, you eat and drink judgment on yourself.
This once again serves to point out that the same visitation of God is a curse for unbelievers and a blessing for believers. For the faithful, God’s visitation is a Gospel event, but for the godless it is Law.
This also serves to point out that faith alone saves. It is not a question of how many sins you have committed. It is not a question of how many sins you struggle with or how many times you have fallen into temptation. Faithful reception of Christ’s true body and blood means being sorry for your sin and desiring to do better, and believing that Jesus gives you His true body and blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of your sins.
Christ visits you humbly with forgiveness. He sends pastors to His church who are in the office of visitation, visiting you with His Word and His body and blood.
Since faith alone saves, God has given you faith. He visited you by washing you in the waters of Holy Baptism, joining you to Himself. He visits you by speaking His Word to you through His ministers to call you to repentance and to strengthen you in the faith. He visits you in the Sacrament of the Altar where He nourishes you to life everlasting.
God visits you in His Word and Sacrament. His visitation of you is not in wrath or anger, but forgiveness. He gives us His Word for this purpose. Christ also specifically instituted the Lord’s Supper for the very purpose of increasing and strengthening faith. If you are weak in faith and struggling with your sins, the Lord’s Supper is for you to give you forgiveness and strengthen you in your fight with temptation. As for all believers throughout history, God’s visitation of you means blessing, salvation, and life for you. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.