Advent Sermons by Pastor Rank

Advent 3 – December 14, 2003

In Nomine Iesu Pastor Thomas L. Rank

Text: Matthew 11:11-15

Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the prophets prophesied until John. And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!


Dear friends in Christ,

The Jews in Jesus’ lifetime understood that before they looked for the Messiah, the one who would save them, they needed to look for a second Elijah. They knew this because of the words of the last prophet of the Old Testament, Malachi. There we find this word of the Lord: “Behold, I will send Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers.”

The first Elijah had lived during the days of the wicked King Ahab and his wife Jezebel. These two had introduced a renunciation of the true worship of God unequaled in the history of Israel. Hundreds of false prophets of Baal had been given government approval to spread their false teaching throughout the land. Altars and high places were built; even the sacrifice of children in fire was allowed. Into this cesspool of idolatry God placed His prophet Elijah. Elijah’s first task was to proclaim a drought, a time of famine for the people because of their rejection of the true God. Elijah’s message was one of repentance. He was to turn the people away from their sin by a strong preaching of the Law, pointing out to king and queen, to all people, the way of the true God in clear distinction from the false way of the idols. For this Elijah was attacked, rejected, forced to flee for his life as especially the queen sought to destroy him. The violent used violence against Elijah to try and silence this unwelcome prophet.

John the Baptist is the second Elijah, as Jesus says: “he is Elijah who is to come.” John does not come into the blatantly idolatrous times as did Elijah. Yet there was a clear need for his ministry. God placed John at the right time and the right place in order to point to the Messiah, to the Christ, Jesus.

The understanding of the real work the Messiah was to do had become confused. For many of the Jews their Messiah was to be a political leader, someone who would come to free them from the oppression of the despised and hated Roman government. They did not realize that the ministry of the Messiah and His kingdom were not about the power and glory of this world. Therefore John needed to teach the people repentance. In other words, the work was the preaching of the Law, it was about pointing out sin, about condemning the rebellion against God and His laws. It was not about the programs and agendas of this world. John came to prepare the hearts and minds of the people for the true work of the Messiah, the coming of the kingdom of God in the person of the Savior, Jesus Christ.

For this work John would suffer. Like Elijah, the leaders of his day would be pricked by the prickly law he preached. Like Elijah, John would not hesitate to preach against the high and mighty of his day. Like Elijah, John would feel the violence of the violent opponents of the kingdom of God and His Messiah. John’s preaching would stir up hearts, some to repentance, but also many to hardness and rejection. John would be arrested, imprisoned, and killed, dying a violent death.

John did the work assigned to him by God. He preached the word boldly, without being afraid of the cost. His message was not an easy one. He could not massage the egos of the crowd by telling them that their chosen lifestyles were of no matter. He could not say “yes” to behavior about which God said “no.” To do that would have been a betrayal of his office as prophet. To do that would be to work against the Messiah, the coming Savior of the world, and John would not go that way. Instead, he would preach: “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance….even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” Those were John’s words to the spiritual leaders of his day, the Pharisees and Sadducees. You can understand why they would not be to eager to protect him or support him.

John’s death was a warning to Jesus from the powers of this world. This world and its satanic agenda let Jesus know that the same fate awaited Him if He continued to preach and teach as He did. John prepared the way for Jesus not only by his preaching repentance. He prepared the way by dying first and pointing the people to the truth that the kingdom of God suffers violence, even the death of the King’s messenger. And as it went for the messenger, so it would go for the King Himself. John’s death is the prologue to the death of Jesus. As John was killed for preaching the Law and pointing to the need for the Messiah, so Jesus would die by doing the work of the Messiah, and thereby showing Himself to be the Savior, the Son of God come into this world.

As we prepare for Christmas during this Advent time, we are reminded that Christmas, the birth of Jesus, is not a time of cuteness or shallow and trivial displays of sentiment. There is a reason we sing strong hymns and hear strong words at this time of year. The birth of Jesus is about warfare, it is about battles lost and won, it is about suffering, death. It is about what Jesus says: “the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.”

Therefore a right preparation for Christmas includes a sober understanding of what this means. It does not mean a lessening of our Christmas joy, but a heightening of our appreciation for such a gift. This gift of the Christ-child does not come to us without suffering, a suffering that we cannot imagine – suffering for all sins, for all betrayals, all deceit, all traitorous acts, all cowardice, all weakness. These sins in all their fullness, your sins and mine, are on Jesus as He comes to us through the Virgin Mary and begins His way to the violence of the cross of Golgotha.

The ministry of Elijah had to deal with this violence, it was part of the burden of prophet. The ministry of John had to deal with this violence, it was part of the burden of being the Forerunner of the Messiah. The ministry of Jesus had to deal with this violence to such a degree that it is beyond our comprehension; He came to die because of our sins. How can we forget that when we sing and rejoice at His birth? Doesn’t it cheapen our praise of God if our hymns and worship gloss over this truth? The ministry of the apostles and of pastors to this day has to deal with this violence, it is part of the burden of being placed in the Office of the Holy Ministry.

The second Elijah has come. He did his work by pointing to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He pointed to Jesus. And even with the word “lamb” we are given a clue about Jesus: lambs are killed for the Passover. Today you are again pointed to Jesus. Despite the violence directed against God’s kingdom it does not fall or fail. You who are brought into this kingdom by God’s work of salvation need not fear any violence. Not that it may not happen, but that no violence is able to overcome the Christ. No matter how strong the enemies of God are, our Christ is always the stronger man. He showed that by His resurrection from the dead. Even the violence of death could not keep Him down.

Nails, spear shall pierce Him through

The cross be borne for me, for you;

Hail, hail the Word made flesh,

The Babe, the Son of Mary! (ELH 145:2)

Neither will death in its violence keep you down. Jesus has done the work needed to save you from it all. Trust this strong Savior, and rejoice as we prepare to celebrate His wonderful birth once more. God grant this to you all in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Advent Sermons by Pastor Rank

Advent 2 – December 7, 2003

In Nomine Iesu – Pastor Thomas L. Rank

Text: Luke 12:35-40

Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning: and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them. And if he should come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and finds them so, blessed are those servants. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.


Dear fellow redeemed in Christ,

There is much that weighs us down and entangles us these days. The cares and anxieties of life burden us. The possessions of this life entangle us. The result is that the watchfulness to which the Lord calls us is diminished.

Our Lord begins by telling us to have our waists girded. What we should have in mind with these words is the Exodus of the children of Israel from Egypt under the leadership of Moses. As the children of Israel prepared to eat the Passover meal of the lamb whose blood marked their door to keep the angel of death away, they were told: “And thus you shall eat it: with a belt on your waist, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. So you shall eat it in haste.” They were to be ready to leave the land of slavery at a moment’s notice, and to be ready for the journey to the Promised Land. This was not a time for relaxing and being nonchalant. Rather, these were days of readiness, of watching for the Lord to keep His promise of coming to set them free from their centuries of bondage.

To have your waist girded is to be ready to move without tripping over your robes. It means you are prepared. But what does this mean for us spiritually? It means first that we mark and avoid those things which we know hinder us or which entangle us. In the Gospel for today we heard: “But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life.” These are things that prevent us from being ready and waiting for the return of the Lord. They do so by numbing our hearts and minds. Like a shot of Novocaine from the dentist, these activities serve to dull our senses so that we do not pay attention to the times, so that we lose awareness of the condition of our souls, leaving us open to the temptations and lusts of the world.

Remember, repentance and faith are not one time happenings in our lives. But they are the on-going life of the Christian. Each and every day we return to our Baptism by drowning the old man with all his sin and evil lusts, and a new man daily comes forth and arises. This cycle of drowning and rising is the way sin is kept in check and we ourselves grow in readiness and watchfulness. This watchful condition is one that understands sin to be the great obstacle to salvation that it truly is. It is not a matter of making excuses our for sin, but it is a matter of confessing it. Martin Luther emphasized this in the Large Catechism:

Forgiveness is constantly needed, for although God’s grace has been acquired by Christ, and holiness has been wrought by the Holy Spirit through God’s Word in the unity of the Christian Church, yet we are never without sin because we carry our flesh around our necks (LC II, 54).

When we make excuses for our sins we are really saying we don’t need forgiveness for them because they’re not our fault. Then carousing, drunkenness, and the cares of this life have their way with us. Then such things lead us to spiritual apathy – the uncaring life that finally results in not being ready for the Lord’s coming on the Last Day, Judgment Day.

And it is that Day, the Last Day, that the Lord wants us ready for. The first time Jesus came to this world, that first Christmas 2,000 years ago, He came in humility, born of the Virgin Mary, in the little town of Bethlehem. His Second Coming will not be in humility, but in all the glory and power rightfully His as the One who has all authority in heaven and earth. Then He will judge the living and the dead. This is what we watch for. And this is what our Lord is telling us about right now, so that we can be ready and waiting when our Lord comes and knocks at the door. We will be ready to open the door immediately.

There is a great difference between being ready for something about which we know the exact time, and being ready for something that has no specific time frame. Right now most of you have a pretty exact time for your Christmas celebrations. You know that you will meet at a certain time and place. Or you know that your guests will arrive at your house at 1 o’clock on Christmas Day. This allows you to have a definite goal in sight. And you will be sure to have everything ready and waiting for the guests. I doubt that those of us expecting guests at Christmas time wait until they show up and then start cleaning and defrosting some food from the freezer for them. No, we’ve been getting ready for days in advance.

Compare that to being ready for something that doesn’t have a definite time. Perhaps our own death is the ultimate example of that. We know that we all have a 100% chance of dying. That’s just the way it is. But we don’t know the time. The Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ is just as certain. Yet, without that definite time we are told and encouraged to be ready always.

It is just at that point that trouble arises for us. It is hard to be ready always. Our Lord knows that about you and me. That is why He made sure to warn us, not just once, but many times throughout Holy Scripture. He made sure that there would be pastors to preach that Word, to baptize, to administer Holy Communion, to absolve, all so that people would be ready for His Second Coming, His Second Advent. The forgiveness of sins makes you ready for the coming of Christ, for Judgment Day. That great work of God for you, the granting of forgiveness for Jesus’ sake, is what prepares your hearts and minds so that you may stand with confidence on the Last Day, knowing that in Christ you are holy and pure, by God’s grace alone.

So we continue to gather, to hear the preaching of God’s Word. God works among us even today, readying us for the Second Advent so that we will not be overtaken, so that day will not take us by surprise. “Blessed are those servants whom the Lord, when He comes, will find watching.” Amen.

Advent Sermons by Pastor Rank

Advent 1 – November 30, 2003

In Nomine Iesu – Pastor Thomas L. Rank

Text: John 18:33-37

Then Pilate entered the Praetorium again, called Jesus, and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered him, “Are you speaking for yourself about this, or did others tell you this concerning Me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You to me. What have You done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. if My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; not now My kingdom is not from here.” Pilate therefore said to Him, “Are you a king then?” Jesus answered, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”


Dear friends in Christ,

Jesus is a king. What does this mean? We normally think of a king as someone who has great political power in his country. A king is the one who has control; he is the one who has the money, the army; and he can use that power to achieve whatever he wants. There is no one higher than the king in his country. Everyone else is subordinate to the king. These subjects of the king must do his bidding or fear his wrath. Is this the kind of king Jesus is?

On Palm Sunday it sort of looked like it. After all, you have Jesus being cheered by a huge crowd. They ask Him to save them: “Hosanna!” They say that He comes in the name of the Lord. But despite the cheering crowds Jesus does not look like a king. He comes into Jerusalem by Himself. No great army marches with Him. There is no show of great riches or power. All you see is Jesus, sitting on the back of a small donkey.

Four days later Jesus is standing before Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea. There is no crowd cheering Jesus and praying for His help. Instead He has been arrested, slandered, beaten. As Pilate says, “Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You to me.” It doesn’t sound as if Jesus has a country to be king of. It doesn’t look like Jesus has followers that will defend Him and raise Him up as their king and leader. So what kind of king is Jesus?

“My kingdom is not of this world.” Here Jesus separates His kingdom from all earthly kingdoms. His kingdom is different. He doesn’t mean it is in outer space. But rather it is not a kingdom that can be defined by borders on a map. His kingdom does not have the agendas of worldly kingdoms: the point is not to amass riches, nor to become the strongest, nor to conquer all other countries so that Jesus is the great political leader of a vast kingdom here on earth. None of that. Jesus’ kingdom is the kingdom of “truth.”

Earlier Jesus had told Thomas: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except by Me.” Jesus is the truth, and He is opposed to the ‘lie.’ The ‘lie’ was first spoken to Eve when Satan said: “You can be like God.” This great lie continues to bring ruin and death to people of all races, of all countries. This great lie is at the heart of all human attempts to achieve spirituality of some kind or another.

When Jesus tells Pilate: “For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice,” He is telling Pilate what His kingdom is about. This kingdom first of all is dependent upon Jesus, upon His witness, upon His voice. Without the voice of Jesus there is no kingdom of Jesus. Without the voice of Jesus there is no truth. This makes the kingdom of Jesus exclusive; in other words, the only kingdom that lasts is that of Jesus, no other kingdom, no other religion, will stand. They will all fall. But not through the power of the sword. The kingdom of Jesus does not come when people decide to blow themselves up and kill others along with them. Jesus had told Peter to put away his sword. And Jesus tells Pilate: “if My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight.” The kingdom of Jesus does not come when we are able to get the right laws passed in the United States congress, nor does the kingdom disappear if the wrong laws are passed. The kingdom of Jesus does not come when we keep the nation of Israel safe from her enemies. These are all kingdom of the world issues. They have importance, politically; and they impact us, our society. But not spiritually, not eternally.

It is the voice of Jesus that brings truth, and where that truth is, there you will find the kingdom of Jesus. Remember the Second Petition of the Lord’s Prayer:

Thy Kingdom come. What does this mean? The kingdom of God certainly comes of itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also. How does God’s kingdom come? The kingdom of God comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and live godly lives here in time and hereafter in eternity.

The voice of Jesus is the Word of God. He is the Word that became flesh. And the Holy Spirit works through the Word of God so that we believe the Word and live godly lives.

It is easy to become seduced by the ways of this world and its kingdoms. It is easy to think of the kingdom of Jesus in terms that apply to this world. Think of the churches that are attractive to the world. They are the big churches. They are the churches where you can be influential in your community through the contacts you make there. They are the churches that have great outward displays of wealth and power. Think of the Crystal Cathedral in California, think of St. Peter’s basilica in Rome, or consider local churches. If you were to list the influential churches in Winnebago county, the ones that you join in order to have influence and to make good business and social connections, where do you go?

It is easy to question the rightness of what we believe when it looks like all that happens is that we get smaller and smaller. This does not excuse us from doing all we can to spread the truth, to preach Christ, to pray for the kingdom of God to grow so that others will know and believe in the Savior. This also does not mean smaller churches are holier or better. But the point is: don’t look at size, listen to the voice. Do you hear the voice of Jesus? Is His word in its truth and purity the center? That voice alone is what defines the Christian Church, the kingdom of Jesus. We do not want that voice of Jesus muted or distorted. For that voice is truth. Nothing else is truth.

Today we start a new church year. Today is the start of Advent, the time of preparation for the great festival of the birth of Jesus, the Son of God, born of the virgin Mary. We use these days before Christmas to prepare our hearts and minds by heeding the voice of Jesus. This voice keeps calling us to repentance, to put aside the seduction of the kingdoms of this world with their riches and power, to gather around the Word of God, preaching, sacraments.

Jesus is a king. This king works among us now by His grace, by bringing us forgiveness for our sins of envy for the power and riches of the world, forgiveness for our lack of love for His kingdom, forgiveness for all sin. This is what the kingdom of Jesus is all about. And that is why at the start of this new church year we always see Christ on the cross looming in the distance. That is where Jesus would end up after talking to Pilate. And that is why He came: forgiveness comes with that cost of Jesus – death on the cross . He paid. We’re saved. “The kingdom of God comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and live godly lives here in time and hereafter in eternity.” That is our prayer at the start of Advent. In Jesus’ name. Amen.