Sermon – John 1:19-28 (Advent 4 – 2020)

Lord God, heavenly Father, it is good and right that we should give thanks to You, that You have given us a glorious baptism like that of John the Baptist, and that therein You have promised us the forgiveness of sins, the Holy Spirit, and everlasting life through Your Son, Jesus Christ: We beseech You, by Your grace and mercy preserve us in such faith, that we never doubt Your promise, but be comforted by our baptism in all temptations; and grant us Your Holy Spirit that we may renounce sin, and ever continue in the righteousness bestowed on us in baptism, until, by Your grace, we obtain our eternal salvation; through the same, Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.

Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

  19 And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”  20 He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.”  21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.”  22 So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”  23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

  24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.)  25 They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”  26 John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know,  27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”  28 These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

These are Your words heavenly Father. Sanctify us by the truth. Your Word is truth. Amen.

Know Thyself

Dear fellow redeemed,

Do you know who you are? What do you say about yourself? This is an important question for Advent, even in these last hours of Advent before we begin the celebration of Christ’s birth at sundown. Who are you? Really there are two classes of people in the world. There is the One who is the Christ, and then there is everyone else.

Last week we heard about John the Baptist sending his disciples to Jesus Himself to ask him whether He was the One they were waiting for, or if they should look for another. This week, we see that the Jews were wondering if John was the Christ, or the Messiah they had been waiting for, or at least they were wondering if John would say that he was.

John wasn’t commissioned by the Jewish religious leaders to baptize. So they were wondering by what authority he was baptizing. Is he some special person that has authority in himself to baptize? Was he the Christ? Was he the promised one, the one they were waiting for, and by such an office would have the authority to baptize? And so they had to find out.

And the first words out of John’s mouth was, “I am not the Christ.” It might not sound like a tempting thing to do, but it is a common temptation for us all, to take for ourselves the title “Christ.” I’ll explain how in a moment, but for now, let’s’ consider John’s situation.

John was a special man. Jesus said, “Among those born of woman there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist” (Mt 11:11). John was prophesied in the Old Testament. He had the special privilege of being the forerunner of Christ. He lived a very strict lifestyle in the manner of the Nazarites. And such a life could easily lead to pride, thinking, “’see how I’m living and the sacrifices I’m making.” I’m pretty great. Jesus warned that many false Christs will arise. Will John be one of them?

But John does not assume the title Christ. Wouldn’t it at least be fun to just let them think for a little while that he is the Christ? Rather, with an immediate response, John puts to rest any idea that he is the Christ.

“Know thyself.” This statement originates from ancient Greeks in Delphi, who had a list of 147 aphorisms or proverbs, that they said was handed down to them from Apollo, who one of the gods of their mythology. “Know thyself” was one of those aphorisms. It was carved in the temple of Apollo in Delphi, and has become the most popular of the aphorisms. It has been used in numerous ways. One of the ways that it was used was knowing one’s place before the gods.

John knew himself. He was not the Christ. He was merely the forerunner of Christ. He baptized with water. He was merely the instrument, the hand that applied the water. But it was Christ who powerfully gave the Spirit and the forgiveness of sins through the water. John was a lowly servant of Christ. He didn’t consider himself worthy even to do the lowliest of a servant’s task such as untying the strap of his sandal.

John simply was the herald preparing the way for Christ. And in a way, you can say his message was, “Know thyself.”

Know who you are. There is the Christ, and you are not he. He is the Savior. You are the sinner.

Let us not make any false claims about ourselves deliberately or unintentionally. One of the things we are prone to do is to compare ourselves to others. When we hear the commandments, we first think about how so and so needs to hear this and clean up their act, rather than letting the commandments convict ourselves of sin. And so we begin to think a bit too highly of ourselves. We are tempted to think that there is a righteousness that we have produced that makes us acceptable to God. And so if we think that we have earned a favored status before God because of what we have done or how we have lived, then we have displaced Jesus from the status of Christ, and have made ourselves saviors. That is a severe misjudgment of who we are. A damning error to be sure.

The Christ is called the Prince of Peace in God’s Word. He makes peace between God and man. We cannot produce that peace. We have destroyed that peace with our sin and disobedience. By our sin, we have rebelled against God and set ourselves up as His enemy.

We may fall into this same trap when we know our sin, but continue in it and refuse to repent of it. Such impenitence is a rejection of Christ, because you do not let Him be your Christ who comes to take away your sin. So the impenitent must rely upon another way to be saved. They must find another Christ, a false Christ, and usually it is again one’s self.

Or when we neglect the reading and hearing of the Word of Christ, we essentially think that we can stand in faith without being connected to Christ, as though a branch could live while being separated from the vine, who is Christ. We trust then in our word, in our thinking, in our reasoning. We make ourselves to be Christ, and that it is our word that is the power of God unto salvation rather than the gospel of Jesus Christ. Who do we think we are?

But know thyself. We are not Christ. We are sinners. Know it. Own up to it. We cannot save ourselves. We cannot earn peace with God, rather we are the destroyers of peace, because of our sin against God. Instead each and every day by our sins in thought, word and deed, we earn God’s wrath. We cannot live apart from Christ and His Word.

Know thyself. Know that you are a damned sinner that needs Christ as your Savior. John proclaimed Christ as the Savior of the world. We confess Jesus as the Christ, our Savior. And knowing and repenting of your sins, then the path is made straight for Christ to be your Christ and your Savior.

It was for you, a sinner, that He came into the world. It was for you, a sinner, that He lived a perfect life under the Law. It was for you, a sinner, that He suffered and died on the cross. It was for you, a sinner, that He instituted and sends out his ministry of word and sacrament. He came to be the Savior of sinners. And if you are able to say, “I am a sinner”, then you can say, “Jesus came for me, to be my Savior.”

So know thyself. Know who you are—and here are the key words—in Christ. Know who you are in Christ, know who you are as one who believes in Christ as your Savior. Paul uses this language often in his letters, “in Christ.” In Galatians, he writes, “In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ… and if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise” (Gal 3:26,27,29). You are baptized into Christ. You are clothed in His righteousness. You are called children of God. You are heirs of the heavenly riches Christ has won for you! Paul calls the people of Philippi, who are in Christ, saints!  In Romans, he says, “For there is therefore, now, no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Right now, you are not under God’s wrath and judgment. But in Christ, you are delivered from it! Do not be afraid! This is God’s judgment not just when He returns on the last day for believers, but it is God’s Word to you every time you hear the words, “your sins are forgiven!” Your sins are gone! You are clothed in Christ? What is there to condemn you for?!

“Simil iustus et peccatur.” These Latin words sum up well, who we are. Simil iustus et peccatur. At the same time saint and sinner. “Know thyself.” I am a sinner, and even better, we admit the kind of sinner we are and the sins we think, say and do. Think about that for a moment. And repent of them that the way be straight for Christ to enter. And now know that in Christ, you are saint. For He has come for the exact kind of sinner you are. He shed His blood to wash away your every stain. In your baptism, He clothed you in His righteousness, the glorious robe of righteousness that you wear by faith. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord. And blessed are you, because of Him. Amen.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be; forevermore. Amen.

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