During the Advent season, we spend a lot of time looking at John the Baptizer. He was a very colorful, perhaps even eccentric character. Never the less, he seemed to be very popular. Our text tells us that all Judean countryside and all Jerusalem came out to see John. People who have done historical research on John estimate that John baptized hundreds of thousands of people. John was a phenomenon. He even stood up to King Herod Antipas concerning the king's adultery. He was a great prophet.
When people came out to see John, they did not come out to see wonders or be healed. Instead they came to confess their sins. Surely, the Holy Spirit was working through John. He was filled with the Holy Spirit before he was born, and he was the last and greatest of the Old Testament prophets.
But John was only the warm-up act. He was the Advent man. He preached, saying, "After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. As mighty as John was, he preached that the one who followed him was even mightier - so much so that John wasn't even worthy to be Jesus' slave. John's expression of Jesus' might is so powerful that something often slips by our notice in John's statement. Jesus has sandals.
Jesus is God in sandals. He has feet. He also has hands, legs, eyes, ears, and all the other things that we human beings have because Jesus is God incarnate - God in our flesh.
John preached Jesus as God incarnate in order to terrify those people who haven't really thought through what it means that God wears sandals. What happens to us when we are not ready to meet God incarnate - the God who wears sandals?
Oh we're very ready to deal with the warm fuzzies of the incarnate God. We get a warm feeling when Luke tells us that [Luke 2:7] she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. We like to hear Jesus say, [Matthew 19:14] "Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven." We are all about the Jesus who said, [John 8:11] "Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more." We love to see Jesus' compassion in word and action.
The hard part is that there is another aspect to God walking around in sandals. The same Jesus who said all those warm fuzzy things also said terrifying things as well - things that we don't like to hear. We get offended by the Jesus who ends His parables with words such as, [Matthew 24:51] "The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." We would rather that our pastors didn't mention the time that Jesus said, [Mark 9:47, 48] It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, "where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched." We would rather not hear that on the last day some people will hear Jesus tell them, [Matthew 25:41] "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels." We don't like it when Jesus talks about sin and the punishment of hell. Such words upset our nice, warm, comfortable image of Jesus; so we don't like them. We want a nice, comfortable Jesus.
Too often we get too comfortable around Christ to fear him. This is a false comfort. We would never say it was our doctrine. We would never say we were actually having problems with our faith. Everyone who claims to be a Christian and is comfortable dodging devotions, skipping church, and avoiding Bible class claims to have correct doctrine and plenty of faith. But it's false doctrine. It's false comfort. It is faith dying.
If this sounds familiar, we have a problem. Too often we really don't believe John's preaching. We don't buy his doctrine of the incarnation. We don't really believe that Jesus Christ is both [Athanasian Creed] perfect God and perfect man, with reasonable soul and human flesh, equal to the Father with respect to his divinity and inferior to the Father with respect to his manhood. Too often we fulfill the words of Jesus that He quotes from the prophets, [Matthew 15:8-9] "'This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.' "
John preached Jesus as God incarnate in order to terrify those who were ready to reject Jesus and His teachings. John's teachings offend those who have a false god that makes them feel comfortable. They offend those who have created a false god who conforms to their own expectations. John's teachings terrify those who forget that they are God's creatures and not God's creator.
John also preached Jesus as God incarnate in order to comfort terrified sinners. Sometimes, especially when we suffer, we talk about God as though he didn't know anything about human suffering, as though he were above it, as though he didn't still have crucifixion scars to go along with his sandals. The doctrine of the incarnation is that God in the highest - in a body like yours, in his humiliation of being inferior to the Father - was made complete through suffering. His suffering is more important to you than your own.
Sometimes, especially when we get impatient in our struggle with temptation, we talk about Jesus as though He is not aware of our struggles. The doctrine of the incarnation is that God in the highest - in a body like yours, in his humiliation of being inferior to the Father - was sorely tempted in all temptations that you have suffered. His resisting temptation actually has more to do with your future than your giving in to temptation.
God incarnate, mighty in sandals, walking into the punishment that we deserved; mighty in thorns, to keep our heads crowned with innocence and glory; mighty in blood, with which he washed our sins away; mighty on the cross, more human, more dying, more guilty than any of us; mighty, risen, and ascended, bone of your bone, flesh of your flesh, still God incarnate, and still coming. [Isaiah 40:11] He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.
Here's the real comfort. There is coming the man mightier than you. His human life is mightier than the record of your past, and His human crucifixion is mightier than all your sins. His human resurrection is mightier than your death, and His human intercession is mightier than every power ranged against you, and His body and blood are mightier than all your doubts!
The Son of God came to us as God incarnate - God in the flesh of the man Christ Jesus. The Son of God took up human flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus has been both God and man ever since. He came once in His incarnation and He continues to come to us in the blood and flesh of the Altar. As God and man He will come to judge and as true God and true man, He will take all believers to live with Him forever.
Jesus Christ - God incarnate - perfect God and perfect man - not two persons, but one Christ - all the fullness of God and all the fullness of man - the God who wears sandals. Amen
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