Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Second Sunday after the Epiphany

Second Sunday after the Epiphany (A)
January 16, 2011
Text: John 1:29-42a

My daughter sometimes mixes up her senses. When something smells delicious, she will often say, “Something sounds good!” When she hears something remarkable, be it a strange sound or beautiful music, she will comment on what that thing looks like. Such is life for a two year old who is still learning about her senses. But theologically, she might be on to something. For this morning St. John the Baptist says “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29; ESV). He would have us behold, see, Jesus as the sacrifice to God for our sins. But of course we cannot see Him with our eyes. We can only see Him with our ears. For the ears are the eyes of faith. We see Him when we hear His voice in His Word and preaching.

The same was actually true for those who heard John in the wilderness that day. Unlike us, they could see Jesus with their own eyes, to be sure. But as the Prophet Isaiah says of Him, “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Is. 53:2). In His state of humiliation, our Lord looked like any other man. You wouldn’t know by looking at Him that you were beholding the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The Prophet of God must speak it into your ears. John speaks, and thus the people in the wilderness, and we in the wilderness of this world, behold the spotless sacrificial Lamb, our Savior. We see Him with our ears. We behold Him by hearing. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). The prophet proclaims the Word of the Lord. We hear. The Spirit works faith through our hearing. And faith sees Jesus for who He is for us.

But what about John? What makes him so sure that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world? Does he know it just by looking at Jesus? No indeed. John says, “I myself did not know him” (John 1:31). John, the cousin of Jesus, who leapt in his mother Elizabeth’s womb upon hearing the pregnant Mary’s voice, confesses that he did not realize Jesus was the Messiah. Not by looking at Him. Not by knowing Him as His cousin. John came to believe Jesus was the Son of God and promised Savior when God told him so. He heard. He saw with his ears. For God told him, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit” (v. 33). And that very thing happened at the Baptism of Jesus, when the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus as a dove, and again John heard the voice of the Father: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). John heard the Word of God, and his eyes of faith were opened. Now, in his office as prophet, John speaks, that others might hear. And this is how others come to faith, through the Word. Faith comes by hearing. The Holy Spirit graciously binds Himself to the Word, so that we will always know whether it is Him speaking to us. So when John wants to direct his own disciples to Jesus, what does he do? He speaks the Word. He preaches. He points to the very ordinary looking Jesus of Nazareth and preaches a one-sentence sermon: “Behold, the Lamb of God!” (John 1:36). The two disciples who hear this immediately follow Jesus. “What are you seeking?” Jesus asks them (v. 38). They respond with a question: “‘Rabbi’ (which means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’” It’s their subtle way of inviting themselves to remain with Jesus. They want to abide with Him. They want to abide with Him so that they can continue to hear the Teacher’s teaching. For just as faith comes by hearing, so faith is nourished and strengthened and preserved by hearing. And not just any hearing, but hearing the Word of Christ.

By the way, one of the two disciples here is Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. Andrew teaches us how to do evangelism. It’s really very simple. We don’t need costly programs or weeklong seminars on witnessing techniques. Andrew finds his brother and tells him that he’s found the Messiah. The Christ has arrived! And then he brings him to Jesus. He brings Peter to Jesus so that Peter can hear for himself. It’s the only way. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ. Do you want to do evangelism? It’s very simple. Bring people to the place where Jesus is. Bring them here, to the Church, where they can hear Jesus for themselves. The results aren’t up to you. There’s absolutely no pressure on you. The Spirit does all the work of converting through the Word of Christ. He works faith where and when He pleases in those who hear the Gospel (AC V). Leave that in His hands. Just invite people to church, and then sit back and see what the Holy Spirit will do with it. The person may come to believe in Jesus. Or they may not. And even though that is sad, it’s not in your hands. Let God be God. You just be His servant. Bring them here. Make them comfortable. Pray for them. Answer their questions to the best of your ability. But then recognize that God alone can convert a person, God alone can give the gift of faith.

And remember, one thing is certain: the only way the "unchurced" will ever come to faith is by hearing. The only way unbelievers will ever come to behold Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, their own sin, in His innocent suffering and bloody death on the cross, is by beholding Him with their ears. And the only way to hear God is by God coming to us in His Word. The prophets were special. They received direct revelations in a mysterious way that we don’t fully understand. We don’t get direct revelations. In His wisdom, God has tied Himself to Scripture and preaching and Sacraments. It is not that He couldn’t work otherwise. But He doesn’t. He chooses not to. Because there are many other voices to be heard, and we, in our fallen and sinful flesh, have a difficult time discerning the voices. The question is, how do you know who is speaking to you? I’ve heard many people say, “God said to me…” What they mean is that they have a gut feeling, or have had a vision, or perhaps have heard a still small voice, or a voice in their head. But how do you know it is God, and not a bad can of chili (Ernie Lassman)? How do you know it is God, and not a delusion? How do you know it isn’t wishful thinking, or the voice of the world calling you away from God’s will and away from the faith of Christ? How do you know it is God speaking to you, and not the devil? There is only one way to know. Listen to God where God has promised to speak. Behold Him with your ears. Behold Him in His Word. He has tied Himself to His Word. It is happening to you now. The preacher is preaching, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Indeed, behold the sacrificial Lamb who takes away your sin. You are beholding Him with your ears.

And even in the Sacraments, you behold Him with your ears. For Baptism appears to the eyes to be only simple water. It’s from the tap. There’s nothing special about it. That is, until the Word of God is spoken. When the Word of God is added, the Name of the blessed Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a lavish washing away of sin. You regard it as such not because of what you see, but because of the Word you hear. You behold it with your ears. So also, the Lord’s Supper appears to the eyes to be only bread and wine. When you take it into your mouth, it feels and tastes like only bread and wine. If you put it under a microscope and dissect it, you will only find bread and wine. And it is only bread and wine, until the Word of God is spoken, the Word of our Lord Jesus Christ on the night when He was betrayed. There, at the Passover celebration, our Passover Lamb, before He was sacrificed, took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to His disciples. And He said of that bread, “This is my body.” So also He took the cup of wine, gave thanks, and gave it to them. And He said of that wine, “This is my blood.” And He meant it. Jesus cannot lie. He is the Truth. He is God. And the Word of God always does what it says. To look at the Sacrament, you only see bread and wine. But Jesus still speaks. And when He speaks His Word over the bread and the wine, the ears behold a new reality. This bread and wine is now also Christ’s true body and blood, the body that was pierced for our transgressions, the blood shed for our iniquities, the risen Christ here distributing Himself to us, to be received in our mouths, for our forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation. You believe, not because you see, but because you hear the Word of Christ. Faith comes by hearing. The ears are the eyes of faith.

It is often said that seeing is believing. But for the Christian, hearing is seeing. It is not that faith is blind. It is most certainly not blind. Blindness is the opposite of faith. Faith is seeing with the ears, and trusting the Word spoken by the Lord. Faith is the ability to see what cannot be perceived by the eyes. Faith is the ability to behold Jesus as Lord, as Savior, as the Passover Lamb whose blood is painted on the doorposts and lintels of your heart. Faith comes by hearing. Faith is the free gift of God bestowed through the Word. It is not your work. It is not your decision. It is all by grace. Behold the Lamb. Behold Jesus. You do not see Him now. Not with your eyes. But you see Him in His Word and in His Baptism and in His Supper. He comes to you to take away your sin. And because of this, on the Day of Resurrection, you will behold the Lamb on His throne with your very own eyes. Come, Lord Jesus. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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