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Third Sunday in Advent

John 1:6–8,19–28

James T. Batchelor

Advent 3, series B
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  
Hoopeston, IL

view DOC file

Sun, Dec 14, 2014 

Todays Gospel is sort of a repeat of what we heard in last weeks Gospel.  Last week we heard about John the Baptist from the Gospel according to Mark.  Today, we hear about John the Baptist from the Gospel according to John.  Now, this can get a little bit confusing if we do not remember that John the Evangelist and John the Baptist are two different men.  The Holy Spirit inspired John the Evangelist to include John the Baptist in his account of the Gospel.

The reading that we heard today from Johns Gospel is a fine example of something that literary scholars call step parallelism.  Parallelism compares two people or things that have similar characteristics.  Step parallelism uses this comparison to show that the second person or object has these characteristics in a way that is beyond our understanding.  Basically, we build up someone or something and then we show that a second someone or something is even greater.  Lets see how this works in todays Gospel.

John the Baptist was the last prophet to point forward to the coming Messiah.  John the Evangelist described John the Baptist as an honest, faithful prophet who preached the words that the Holy Spirit gave him to preach.  He was even important enough to have his own prophecies.  John the Baptist described his calling with the words of Isaiah, [Isaiah 40:3] A voice cries: In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. These words were his identity.  He described himself as that voice.

John the Evangelist makes it very clear that John the Baptist is important.  He is faithful, honest, driven, and fearless.  John the Evangelist has made it very clear that John the Baptist is a great man.  John the Baptist is a force of history.

Now comes the step parallelism.  When John had the opportunity to describe the one who came after him, He said, I am not worthy to untie the strap of His sandal. We can easily make the case that John the Baptist was the last and greatest of the Old Testament prophets.  Never the less, he is not worthy to care for the footwear of the one who follows him.  The step parallelism says that John the Baptist is great, but the one who follows him is several orders of magnitude greater.

There is one three letter word that describes the difference between John the Baptist and the one who followed him.  That word is NOT. When the Jewish authorities came to investigate John, they asked, Who are you? 20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, I am not the Christ. Johns three word answer, I am not, is the great difference between him and the one who followed him.  The one who followed him would say, [John 8:58] Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am. He would also say, [John 6:35] I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. [John 8:12] I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. [John 10:11] I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. [John 11:2526] I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. [John 14:6] I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. The one who followed John is the one who spoke to Moses from the burning bush and said, [Exodus 3:14] I AM WHO I AM. The great prophet John could proclaim the blessings, but the blessings became reality in the even greater one who followed him the great I AM.

There is something unusual hidden in Johns proclamation of the one who follows him.  John began his proclamation of the one who follows him with the words: Among you stands one you do not know. The people were used to the idea that the Messiah would come someday.  Johns message was different in that he said that the one who followed him was already there.  The one who followed John the great I AM stood among them and they did not know him.  This fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah. [Isaiah 53:2b] He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.  The one who followed John the GREAT I AM looked like an ordinary man.  Even though He appeared to Moses in the burning bush, He is also 100% human.  He was so human that you could not pick Him out of a crowd.

The one who followed John did not come in the expected way.  We expect important people to come in important ways.  We expect servants.  We expect wealth.  Important people demand service and they get it.  Never the less, this one who followed John who was more important than John said, [Mark 10:45] [I] came not to be served but to serve, and to give [My] life as a ransom for many. The one whose sandal John was not worthy to untie came to serve you. [Philippians 2:8] He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  He came to die for you.  He came to ransom you.  He came to earn eternal life for you.

The delegation that came from Jerusalem to check on John had its answers.  The sad thing in todays Gospel is that the men in the delegation wanted to know who John was, but they didnt want to hear his message.  When John told them about the Greater One who was already in the crowd standing among the people, they werent impressed.  As far as they were concerned, no one in the crowd looked especially Messianic.

The problem is that the men in the delegations had preconceived notions about the coming Messiah and His messenger.  John didnt match up.  He was not what they expected.  They expected the Messiah to reveal Himself in worldly glory and power.  They expected the Messiahs messenger to be a splendid reflection of that glory and power.  This shaggy haired, eccentric did not fit their preconceived notion of the prophet of the Messiah.

Their preconceived notions blinded them to the blessings that God wanted to give them through His servant John the Baptizer.  John the Evangelist, his brother James and all the other disciples of the Baptizer would soon meet the Christ, but the men in these delegations would miss out.  They passed up the opportunity of a lifetime because the Baptizer didnt meet their expectations.

Nothing has changed in two thousand years.  We still let our expectations block our relationship with God.  We expect our religion to teach us how to get along with others even though thousands of years of human history show us that it cant be done.  We expect our religion to teach us how to lead an honorable life even though we have inherited the curse of sin from our parents as we grew in our mothers womb.  We expect our religion to make us happy, healthy, wealthy, and wise.  In short, we expect our religion to teach us how to live happy and prosperous lives here on this earth and how to earn our way into heaven when we leave this world.  Never mind that the Bible clearly teaches us that this is impossible.

The salvation God gives us is unexpected.  The true God is the Almighty Lord of this and every other universe.  Who would expect such a high and exalted God to pay the price of salvation for such lowly people?  Who would expect Him to give it to us for free?  Who would expect God to leave His high throne of glory to take on human nature and live under the authority of the law?  Who would expect a savior to hide His divinity in the womb of a virgin?  Who would expect a savior that was so poor that even in His death He laid in a borrowed tomb?  Who would expect salvation to come out of the blood and bone and sweat and pain of a grisly execution on a cross?  Who would expect the dead author of this salvation to rise from the dead or ascend into heaven?  Never the less, this is the salvation provided by the Great One who followed John the Baptist.

The Great One who followed John the Baptist earned salvation for us when He sacrificed Himself on the cross. This is not the salvation that we would expect.  Never the less, it is the truth.

The salvation of our God is so unexpected that one of the Gospel accounts the Gospel according to Mark keeps it a big secret.  It is not until the one who followed John hangs dead on a cross that a Gentile Roman Centurion becomes the first human to properly identify the one whose sandals John is not worthy to untie. [Mark 15:39] When the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God! So it is that we learn that the Jesus who died on the cross for our sin and rose from the dead is the Son of God the GREAT I AM the one whose sandals John was not worthy to untie.  It is He who is our salvation.  Amen

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