A sermon preached at New Hope Lutheran Church, West Melbourne, FL on December 7, 2014 by Pastor Dale Raether
Please visit our Synod’s website at www.wels.net
God Gets Us Ready Through His Messengers
Mark 1:1-8
Have you heard about this billboard put up by atheists? It says, “All I want for Christmas is to skip church! I’m too old for fairytales.” Actually, it isn’t just atheists who skip church. Believers do that too sometimes, because there are things that are more important at the moment. Maybe it’s getting their house cleaned and decorated for the holidays. Or, Sunday morning is their only chance to get some baking done, or maybe they just need to get caught up on their sleep. Others are skipping church for a much deeper reason. They’re angry with God for not helping them with a problem or a sadness they’re going through. Or, maybe it’s the flip side of that coin. They skip church because they feel they have their problems under control and they’re moral, loving people. And besides all that, when they do go, they feel like they’re not hearing anything they haven’t heard before.

Do you see a little bit of yourself in any of these groups, or do you know anyone who is? If you do, here’s something else to think about. Are you ready for Jesus to come in glory, and is His coming going to be your happiest day ever? A lot of us deep down might answer, “I hope so.” God’s Word this morning is about how He gets us joyful and confident to see Jesus face to face. He Gets Us Ready through His messengers. 1. They are sent from Him. 2. Their message is His message. 3. Their power to save is also His.
                                                                                                                1. They are sent from Him.
Our text reads: It is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way”— “a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’” – Mark 1:2-3                                                                                                                                                                                                               The Gospel of Mark was first written for Roman gentiles. The Romans were no nonsense, can-do people. They were also very much into law and order, which came from their belief that the gods controlled everything. And so, they thought that if people did what the gods wanted them to, things would go well for the empire. But if people didn’t do what the gods wanted, that usually spelled trouble for the empire. Since the Romans believed that the gods were in control, they also believed in prophecy. And so, if anything was prophesied and it happened, they would pay close attention to that, which why Mark begins his Gospel by telling them about a prophesy fulfilled.
What about us? The Romans believed in many gods and were being led by the one true God to worship Him alone. We DO believe in the one true God, but do we pay close attention to His prophecies? We should. In our text Isaiah had prophesied the coming of John the Baptist 750 years before he was born. However John was just a forerunner of Christ. There were hundreds of prophecies in the Old Testament about Christ Himself, and every one of them was fulfilled. Because of this, we know that God wants us to listen to the message of John the Baptist, and to the message of the Apostles, whom Christ had trained and sent out. This also means God wants us listen to pastors and teachers today whom He sends to relay their message.

On the other hand, if we choose not to listen His messengers, we are choosing to live apart from God. Jesus put it this way: Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me. – Luke 10:16 When pastors and teachers today draw their message from the prophetic and fulfilled Word of God, the Bible, their message is from God! And now let’s talk about the content their message.
                                                                                                             2. Their message is His.
Our text reads: And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. – Mark 1:4-6                                                                                                           Baptism isn’t a mere rite or tradition people go through to make God happy. Baptism is God’s working in that person. You see, the word repentance means to have a change of thinking. We are to stop thinking that sin (any sin) is okay even if everyone else is doing it. Instead we are to believe that that sin brings death. Likewise we are to stop thinking that we can somehow make up for our sins, because sin stains even the good we do. Rather we are to believe that the only way we can be spotless and blameless before Him is through faith in His shed blood for us. And finally we are to stop thinking that we had strength in ourselves to choose to believe these things. We couldn’t, we are by nature spiritually dead. However, God Himself makes us spiritually alive.
One way He does that is as we listen to His messengers. Another way God makes us spiritually alive is through the water of Baptism. There He washes away our sins, adapts us into His family, and pours His Spirit into our hearts. In other words, as we keep listening to the Word, God strengthens our faith in what He promised us through our Baptism. And by remembering what He promised us through Baptism, God strengthens our faith, so that we want to keep listening to His Word and do what it says. And then, when we see Jesus face to face, it will be our happiest day ever.
On the other hand, those who forget about the blessings of their baptism, often stop paying attention to the Word, until they completely lose sight of their baptismal blessings. As a result, when they see Jesus face to face, it might not be their happiest moment ever, but their scariest. Now, all who believe these things do not dispute the important of hearing the Word and being baptized. What they may dispute, however, is what kind of messenger is able to bring the most people to faith.
                                                                                                            3. Their power to save is God’s
We read on in our text: John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Some people prefer what’s sometimes called “High church”, with lots of chanting, robes, and rituals, and so on. John the Baptist was the total opposite of that. Now in his day, many did feel that God’s power was in the showy things. But by living the way he did, John was showing them that God’s power is in the message alone.
Today there are some who gone the total opposite of the church in John’s day. They have no robes or rituals or liturgy, because they say, all they want or need is to have the Spirit. Actually John the Baptist wouldn’t agree with that either. His message wasn’t powerful because of how simply he lived. In fact even with his simple living, He said that he didn’t deserve to stoop down and untie Jesus’ shoes; and neither did he give the Holy Spirit to anyone. All he did was speak God’s Word and pour the water of baptism on people. But Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit.
So, then, whether you’re talking “high church” or “low church”, are the outward forms of worship important? If not, why do we follow the forms that we do? The value of any form of worship is only to the extent that it points people back to the message. And the message is simply this. Repent, turn from your sins, and believe that God has paid for your sins in Christ, and now in the peace of forgiveness, live a new life. That message runs through our whole liturgy, is on our altar clothes, it’s in our windows. Also, we follow a pericope, which a series of readings for each Sunday of the year, so that in the course of a year we will cover every major teaching in the Bible. That’s important, because every teaching in the Bible is in some way connects to the basic message of the Bible and strengthens us in it, and that’s another reason why God wants us to listen to His messengers week after week.
There is yet one more reason why God wants us to listen to His messengers in church. Yes, we can read the Bible on our own, and we should. But when we listen to His messengers, God gives additional spiritual blessings. He makes us stronger in all of the Bible, and strengthens us against temptation and the bumps of life, and then the flame of our faith will never go out.
But what if at times it’s hard to get something out of a worship service? Well, let’s go back to Isaiah’s message and John’s message and the Apostles’ message: Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him. – Mark 1:3 When we live in daily repentance of all of our sins, we are eager for their message of forgiveness. And as we soak that message up, whether it’s from a great speaker or a not so great speaker, we will be spiritually blessed even more.
On the other hand those who feel they have it all together and are spiritually full, or those who feel that God doesn’t have it all together, and so they’re not hearing in church what they want to hear, they will be missing out, because they won’t be hearing God’s messengers, through whom God Himself works.
May God use this message this morning to open our hearts to see our needs and all that God has done for us through His Son. Then we will be ready to keep on listening, and then we will be ready to joyfully see Jesus face to face. And finally when we’re living each day in that readiness, we will be truly ready to celebrate Christmas, even if the decorations aren’t all up or the cookies all baked. The true joy of Christmas is the joy of Word and the joy of our hope in seeing Him. May God keep us in that joy! And may God make us messengers and sharers of that joy! Amen.

 

Please visit our Synod’s website at www.wels.net