Thy Kingdom Come: Glad Tidings of the King of Kings

Text: Matthew 3:1-12
Date: Advent II + 12/4/16

On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry
Announces that the Lord is nigh;
Awake and hearken, for he brings
Glad tidings of the King of kings! (LSB 344:1)

For those who inquire how one comes to enter the Kingdom of God, the first lesson is to know, as the catechism says, that “the Kingdom of God comes all by itself without our prayers.” That is, it’s never as much about you coming to the Kingdom as it is the King and the Kingdom coming to you. When it comes to you it comes bidding you to repent. “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Mt 3:1). When the Word of the Kingdom comes it brings with it the challenge and the power to do what you cannot do on your own. “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.” It is by the mighty Word of God itself that a sinner first comes to repent of their sin and then to believe. Jesus said, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29).

But today I’d like to ask whether repentance is a sad thing or a happy thing? I’ve never pondered before what sort of emotion was on display on the faces of those who came to be baptized by John. Now repentance consists in two things. First, contrition or sorrow over sin. The effect of God’s Law revealing our sin is a fearful thing, a sad thing. Were the people coming to John arriving with tears of despair over their sin and need? But the second part of repentance is faith, faith in God who comes in grace with forgiveness of our sins. Our Hymn of the Day (which we sang as the entrance hymn today) calls the announcement of John not a sad thing but, “Glad tidings of the King of kings!” How is John’s calling forth repentance at all a glad tiding? I believe it is because true repentance is never either fear or faith alone but both. So I can imagine some, except of course the Pharisees and Sadducees who looked on skeptically, but maybe most of the people coming to John because they were expecting something good, something they needed that you cannot find elsewhere.

“Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to [John], and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” It was not just a small representative group. It was “all,” says Matthew, “all Judea and all the region about the Jordan going out to John.” Today we need to confess our sin and need of God and then to rejoice that there are glad tidings of the King of kings as we say in the psalm, “I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin” (Ps 32:5).

Now, as we said, such confession and faith is not in our power to perform. So it is, first, that the Law of God reveals our sin and its consequences if left on its own. Yes, this is serious business. You ought to have noticed by now how, in the Divine Service as of first importance that the confession and absolution of sins is not part of the Divine Service itself but is preparation for it. Indeed, corporate confession and absolution did not exist in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod until the late 1800s. Confession of sins and Holy Absolution was always done privately, individually. (We even still have a form or liturgy for “Individual Confession and Absolution” on page 292 of Lutheran Service Book.)

We are reminded that confession of sin is serious business as the rubric suggests, “Silence for reflection on God’s Word and for self-examination” before the prayer of confession. It would seem that the more serious we are about it all the longer the silence for reflection will be!

Upon what are we to reflect but God’s Word especially of the Ten Commandments. Think about it for a moment right now. Just take the First and the Fourth Commandments.

“You shall have no other gods.” In what or whom do you trust above all else? In what or whom do you trust most for financial security, for physical safety, or emotional support? Do I fear God’s wrath, avoiding every sin? If not, why not? Why should you?

“Honor your father and your mother.” We know that this command means far more than merely father and mother in the family but all other authorities, such as teachers, employers, supervisors, governmental leaders, and pastors. Have you been angry, stubborn, or disrespectful toward those in authority? Do you obey all the laws of city, state or country? Reflecting on only two of the ten already took longer than we usually observe before the Sunday liturgy.

Should you feel guilty for your sin? Yes you should or else you have not allowed the Law of God to do its part. That sense of guilt, despair, contrition and sorrow is then what urges you to seek relief and release by running to the sure promise of your baptism, of God’s grace, that is, the “Glad Tidings of the King of kings.” And what are those glad tidings, John?

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire,” the fire of His love. Under the hand of blessing, the hand that once poured water over you, and not just plain water, but water included in God’s command and combined with God’s word, water “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” you receive the forgiveness of all your sins all along the way and ever renewed newness of life. Because this is the goal of John’s preaching to repent, it is truly “Glad Tidings of the King of Kings.”

Who is this King? First He is the King of the Jews. At least that’s how the sign read above His head on the cross. He is the shoot from the stump of Jesse, the righteous judge. But He is not King of the Jews only! This righteous King of forgiveness “stands as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire.” As we heard St. Paul say, “Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness…and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.” “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles,” “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people,” “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,” “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.”

Repentance and faith and salvation has been for the whole world from the very beginning, worked out and fulfilled among the Jews but effective for all nations. For Jesus, the King, took not just the sin of the Jews but the sin of the whole world into Himself on the cross where His atoning death has paid the price to ransom us, to buy us back from the tyranny of sin, death and the devil, to belong once again to God for a deathless existence of eternal life. In this repentance and faith even death itself cannot anymore remove us from the life of living in the Kingdom of God.

All of this appeared on Jordan’s bank when John the Baptist announced, “Awake and hearken” to the “Glad tidings of the King of kings!”

The Distinction of the Righteous

Text: Malachi 3:13-18
Date: Last Sunday of the Church Year + Proper 29 + 11/20/16

“Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.”

This is the last Sunday of the Church Year. What have you learned since Advent 2015, how have you changed, Continue reading The Distinction of the Righteous

The Day is Coming

 

Text: Malachi 4:1-6
Date: Pentecost 26 + Proper 28 + 11/13/16

The day is coming. What day? The Day of Judgment.

You know there are only two eternal alternatives, heaven or hell. The problem is we forget that. We Christians tend to forget that mainly because, though we’ve heard and believe that there is a place called hell we don’t think about it much. And that for good reason. Because we have also heard and believed in our deliverance from hell. We never hear sermons totally about judgment and hell because the point of the Christian sermon is to proclaim the answer, God’s answer to the threat of the punishment of our sins, namely, that Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, has already endured God’s punishment of sin on behalf of the whole world, your sin, my sin, all the sins of others. He saved us from all that and has given the gift of eternal life through the forgiveness of our sins. Continue reading The Day is Coming

Another Loud Voice

Text: Revelation 7:2-17
Date: All Saints Day (Observed) + 11/6/16

You can’t have All Saints Day without Reformation Day. Even though the Reformation is commemorated now for only 499 years since 1517 and All Saints was first attributed to having begun 1,643 years ago by St. Ephrem the Syrian in 373 ad, still you can’t have All Saints without Reformation. For the reality is more than a calendar issue, the celebration more than the mere commemoration, the spiritual transformation more than just signing up on the dotted line of the required document. Continue reading Another Loud Voice

With a Loud Voice

Text: Revelation 14:6-7
Date: Reformation (Observed) + 10/30/16

The best comment I’ve seen about Martin Luther and the Reformation lately shows Luther hammering his 95 Theses to the Wittenberg Church door. Apparently, some men have asked him what he was doing. Luther turns and looks at them and responds, “Oh, the door is fine, I’m just fixing your theology!” It was the eve of All Saint’s Day in the year 1517, 499 years ago. It was but the beginning of fixing or reforming the Church’s theology. It was not an easy or short process. In fact, it wasn’t until another 13 years passed that the Lutheran Augsburg Confession was delivered in 1530, and yet another 63 years that the entire Book of Concord was published in 1580. Continue reading With a Loud Voice

I Trust When Dark My Road

Text: Genesis 4:1-5
Date: Pentecost XXIII + Proper 25 + 10/23/16

This day we entered into the gates of God’s presence singing, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you” (Ps. 56:3), and in the Collect of the Day we prayed, “forgive us those things of which our conscience is afraid” (Collect). Afraid. Fear. It seems we never run out of things or occasions to be afraid of, to make us fear. To come here and sing and pray rightly we must first admit our fear and need of forgiveness and mercy. Some will not make such an admission but instead will put on a proud face, deny any such weakness as fear with the result of remaining deaf to God’s invitation of mercy and quite defenseless when troubles multiply. The Pharisee in today’s Gospel could not admit his need or even recognize it taking pride in his own self-righteousness. Only the penitent lowly tax collector was moved simply to plead for God’s mercy because he knew his need of forgiveness. The result says our Lord, only the tax collector was justified before God and not the other who exalted himself. Continue reading I Trust When Dark My Road

I Will Not Let You Go

Text: Genesis 32:22-30
Date: Pentecost XXII + Proper 24 + 10/16/16

Almighty God has not only commanded us to pray but also has promised to hear us. Jesus’ parable, says St. Luke, is meant to teach us not only always to pray but also never to lose heart (Luke 18:1-8). Our prayers arise out of an awareness of our need. But they are not to dwell on that need. Rather they must attach themselves firmly to the promises and power of God to meet that need. Therefore, today’s Introit began, “Remember your congregation, which you have purchased of old, which you have redeemed.” “Have regard for the covenant,” that is, God’s own word and purpose and promise of grace and mercy. The mini-drama of the widow continually pleading to the unrighteous judge reminds us how faith never gives up even when it seems either that God is not listening or that He is slow to respond. The strange story of Jacob wrestling with God was chosen as commentary on Jesus’ parable. Continue reading I Will Not Let You Go

Amazing Faith

Text: Ruth 1:1-19a
Date: Pentecost XXI + Proper 23 + 10/9/16

We have been hearing a lot about faith in recent weeks, especially that it’s not the so-called “strength” of our faith that makes any difference but the fact of faith in the promises of God. Today when we speak of “Amazing Faith” therefore we are not implying that some faith is more amazing than others but the fact that any faith is an amazing thing. Continue reading Amazing Faith

Living by Faith

Text: Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
Date: Pentecost XX + Proper 22 + 10/2/16

Dearly beloved, I pray that God working through His Word before us today will give you not only an increase of faith but also an increase of great peace, patience, calmness of heart and mind even and especially in the midst of all the various challenges before us. Continue reading Living by Faith