The Voice Crying in the Wilderness

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent based on John 1:19-28

Dear hearers of the voice crying in the wilderness: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

John the Baptist confessed, and did not deny, but confessed that he is not the Christ, that he is not the Elijah the Jews expected, nor is he the prophet foretold by Moses of Whom we heard in our Old Testament lesson.

For four hundred years, God had sent them no prophets. The last prophet, Malachi, had foretold of the coming of Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord (Mal. 4:5). The angel Gabriel says that John will go before the Christ in the spirit and power of Elijah (Luke 1:17), and Jesus confirms that John is Elijah who is to come (Matt. 11:14; 17:11-13). John was not, however, the falsely interpreted Elijah the Jews were expecting, and thus he denies being that Elijah.

Neither was John the the prophet foretold by Moses. The prophet foretold by Moses is none other than Jesus Himself.

John rather quotes this prophecy concerning himself, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” He is different from all the other prophets. He was not pointing forward in time to the future coming of the Christ. He was pointing to Jesus who was there present, standing among them, and saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” He was not a prophet who gathered people to teach them and advise them, but he gathered them to bring them to Jesus, who was there present. He was the forerunner, running directly in front of the Lord of all prophets, telling people to step aside and make room.

John preached, “Make straight the way of the Lord!” This must mean that the way of the Lord was not yet straight among them. They were crooked. They had neither the Lord nor His ways. Where the Lord is not, nor His way, there is only man’s way, the world’s way, the devil’s way.

This was John’s preparation of the Lord’s way. He was to humble the whole world and to proclaim that they are all sinners – lost, damned, poor, miserable, pitiable people. He was to tell them that all their works are nothing but sin and they all deserve eternal punishment in hell and can only be saved by the grace and mercy of the One whose way he was preparing.

This humbling is necessary, for whoever is full of himself has no room for Jesus. This therefore John preached to prepare the way of the Lord, telling everyone to give way and make room.

There are two responses to the preaching of John. Some confess that his preaching is true, that they are sinful. These are the people to whom the Lord comes. In them His way is prepared and made even. As Scripture teaches, God gives grace to the humble (I Pet.5:5), and the one who humbles himself will be exalted (Luke 18:14).

The other hearers deny John’s preaching. They see their way as being straight. They think that they do enough good in the community and are generous enough in helping the needy that they are not poor, miserable, or deserving of hell. They say they are not sick, and thus have no need of a physician. They think John and his preaching are crooked.

Such hearers cannot endure such preaching. No wonder John had to be put to death, and His Master after him.

Having heard John’s answer that he is not the Christ, he is not Elijah, and neither is he the Prophet, those sent by the Pharisees ask, “Then why are you baptizing?” Who do you think you are? We are the rulers and leaders of the church. We are your superiors according to the Law of Moses and you have to answer to us. You can’t go off on your own and do your own thing without our knowledge and permission.

Here they reveal their hypocrisy. The Pharisees did not send the priests and Levites to ask who John is so they could hear his preaching, learn from him, and be baptized by him. They went to him to tell him to stop doing what he’s doing, no matter who he thinks he is. Really, that could be recognized from the outset, because the Pharisees didn’t go themselves to hear John preach or be baptized by him. They sent their goons. If they had actually believed that John was the Christ, Elijah, or the Prophet, they would have come themselves to hear him preach and be baptized by him, as others did.

But John is no reed shaken by the wind. Neither their hypocritical flattery nor their threats deter him. He responded, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even He who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” He may not have had authority from the Pharisees to baptize with water, but he had authority from the One whose way he prepared. The Pharisees didn’t know Him, otherwise, instead of questioning from where John had authority to baptize, they would have come themselves to be baptized. They did not know Him, but among them John says that He stands.

Thus John continually pointed his hearers to Jesus. What good is it to preach and humble the whole world by calling them sinners and then leaving them in their poverty, misery, and damnation? He must also preach comfort and tell how we can get rid of our sins. This is done by pointing to Christ, who came to redeem us from our sins.

Thus John preached, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” He is how you get rid of your sins and in no other way. He alone takes upon Himself not just your sins, but the sins of the whole world. Not just some sins, but all the sins of the world, be they great or small, many or few.

This is the message of comfort, that your sins are not yours anymore; they no longer lie on you, but they were taken by the Lamb of God. Innocent though He was, He was condemned for your sins and died for your sins. But He could not be held by sin and death. He rose from the dead, vanquishing sin and making it nothing. Likewise, death and hell, being the reward of sin, must be vanquished also.

Sin naturally makes a conscience timid, which fears God and flees as Adam did in Paradise. Such a conscience knows that God is an enemy of sin and severely punishes it. Hence it flees and is afraid even to hear God mentioned.

With sin taken away by the Lamb of God, the conscience is not timid, but is bold even to pray and make requests of God. The conscience rejoices and loves and praises the Lamb of God, and you will become cheerful and willing to do His divine will, as best you can, with all your strength. Then you won’t ask, “What do I have to do for my neighbour?” but you will continually look for ways to help and serve your neighbour. You will realize the great, rich eternal blessings bestowed on you by Christ, and instead of offering your meagre help and service to your neighbour, you will realize that Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matt. 25:40)

May God our Father according to His infinite mercy continue to send into the world and to us the voice of John who calls us to repentance and points us to Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away our sins, freeing us to serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days (Luke 1:74-75). Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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