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Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptizer (2018)

“Prophets Old and New”

St. Luke 1.57-80
24 June 2018

Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor

+ In the Name of Jesus +

And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied…

Zechariah is permitted with his loosened tongue to prophecy, to preach the Word of God, filled by the Holy Spirit, and out comes what we today call the “Benedictus”, this wonderful song of God’s deliverance, celebrating that the Redeemer of all was there at John’s birth, for He was there, in the blessed Virgin Mary, three months pregnant, who had come to see her cousin Elizabeth. Now Elizabeth has given birth safely to John in her old age, the baby born to announce the Redeemer’s arrival.

Zechariah had been put under orders by the Angel of the Lord in the Temple. Zechariah initially questioned God’s angel, and paid for his doubt of God’s Word with nine months of divinely enforced silence. Common custom of the time was to name your first son after your father, and then after yourself if a second son was given, so maybe because Zechariah was old and his father long dead, or maybe he shared his father’s name, so the neighbors and relatives gathered for the baby’s circumcision and naming suggest the name “Zechariah” for the baby – and it’s appropriate! “Zechar-yah” in Hebrew means, “the Lord remembers.” Certainly the Lord had remembered this faithful couple, granting them the gift of a safely delivered baby in their old age, a miracle baby to a couple who had been barren until now.

But the hand of the Lord was with this miracle child, and Zechariah more than anyone else knew it, and had nine months to think in silence about what it all meant. “John is his name,” Zechariah writes definitively on the little tablet. “Yah-channon” in Hebrew turns to “Johannan” in Greek, to “Johann” in German, to “John” in our English – it means, “the Lord has been gracious” or “the Lord is a gracious giver.” That was Zechariah’s first prophecy, which is preaching God’s Word. Zechariah’s tongue was loosed. And God had much more to say through him. Zechariah said,

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old…” (Lk. 1.68-75)

God spoke from “the mouth of His holy prophets from of old” – the prophets of old were God’s mouthpiece, God’s messengers, they conveyed God’s Word to His people here on earth. We tend to think of the word “prophet” or “prophecy” and think “predicting the future.” But in God’s Word, prophecy is the preaching of God’s Word, which indeed may deal with the future, but also deals with the past and the present. When we hear “prophet” we ought to hear, “preacher of God’s Word.”  So we think of all the canonical prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Hosea through to Malachi at the end of the Old Testament. But this also includes all of the other prophets chosen by God to speak His Word, such as Noah, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses and Aaron, Samuel and Nathan, David and the psalmists, Solomon and all the sages. They spoke however, one driving message:

There would be coming one day a Savior, the one promised to Adam and Eve in the garden after the fall into sin, who would crush the head of the serpent while having His own heel struck. This savior would save God’s people from real enemies, who have real hatred for God and those who love God – from sin, death, and the power of the devil and all his wicked demons who afflict God’s people. The fathers of old had been promised this great mercy, that one offspring of Abraham and David would take the place of all men, take and bear the punishment due for sin, to die and suffer the pangs of hell all men deserved for their sin.

God is gracious. God is a great giver of gifts, as John’s name implies. The wait is over, the Savior and Redeemer is here. God has raised up a horn of salvation, says Zachariah. The trumpet blast from heaven has come.

Now that note will sound through more preaching. Zechariah turns to his own child, and says:

“…And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Lk. 1.76-79)

God sent John, the last and greatest of the Old Testament prophets, and the first of the New Testament prophets at the same time – one who was to be the “prophet of the Most High,” who would “go before the Lord to prepare His ways,” speaking no milquetoast soft pedaled weak kneed law that is no Law – no he preached an in-your-face, locust breath, no-time-like the present: “Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance!” To prepare the way for the Lord, for every mountain and hill to be made low and to make uneven ground level and to make rough places plain, to make the straight way for our God – hearts must turn from their ways and repent, and bear the fruit of faith that keep with that turning away from sin.

The prophet of the Most High gives straight 100 proof Gospel too for the repentant heart, shining light for those struggling in darkness: “To give knowledge of salvation to His people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the compassionate mercy of our God…” John comforted the people – the warfare with sin, death, and devil is over, iniquity is pardoned, the Lord gives double for all sins, not giving you, the sinner, to pay for your own sin, but paying the double-price of His only-begotten Son for you, in your place, giving that wonderful Son of Mary for whom John leapt in the womb to be the Redeemer of all. Said John: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

Zacharias, by the power of the Holy Spirit, prophesied concerning his son, John. John’s importance wasn’t that he would do miracles. No, John’s life was one of solitude and humility, a wilderness life like his forerunner Elijah, living off the land. John’s importance wasn’t that he would be a great king. No, indeed John’s life would be taken violently at the hand of a drunken, low-life fake “king”.

No, John’s importance lay in the fact that he was the forerunner to Our Lord Jesus. John’s job was to give knowledge of salvation by the remission of sins. He was the prophet both old and new, joining the past to the present and pointing us all to the future, a future made sure by the real miracle, the real King, the Babe of Bethlehem who stooped down for us men and for our salvation from heaven to do what no mere mortal man could do: save you and me and all men from their sins through His innocent suffering, death, and glorious resurrection.

Nowadays, many men try to be prophets out there. Preachers abound in this world. They preach many messages. Some even preach Christian-sounding messages. The “Joy Lady” in her column in yesterday’s paper did extol Christ as Lord and that He paid for her sins. But then she took it all back and said that “no sermon” could ever say anything to people out in the world who need hope better than if we Christians would just be joyful, happy, and have smiles on our faces, and laugh our way through life. In other words, preaching the Word of God is inconsequential unless we act happy and put on a happy face to make Christianity more attractive to people. Now I’d hope Christians would have joy and good times in life, but I know also we live under the cross, and not everything for the Christian is rainbows and sunshine and happy. Ask John the Baptizer.

Some preachers out there try to preach a very milquetoast, half-hearted Law with little Gospel. Many sermons not too far from here today, and 98% given on the television and Christian radio, will maybe acknowledge Jesus Christ, and might acknowledge Him as Lord and Savior, but for too many preachers today, the message of the cross, that’s old history, that’s done now. Today, they’ll say, let’s talk about some things you can do for the Lord, so they give people coaching on how to be happy, healthy, wealthy, well-adjusted, with happy marriages and children, and some will say, if you bless God by doing this or that pious work, God will bless you back with material blessings. This milquetoast coaching material, this therapeutic talk, is no real Law, not like John the Baptist preached, and the Gospel is not there to comfort at all, most of what passes as preaching today is designed to give people something to do to so that the listeners can feel better about themselves – affirming them as “good people.” That’s not the message John was born to give, not the message of the Savior from sin He gave His life for.

But what the Christian pastor does is supposed to be what John did. He may not eat locusts and wild honey for his diet, and he may not have to dress in camel’s hair and live out in the wilderness. But he will have that diet and that location theologically, metaphorically speaking, because the preacher of Christ is not the preacher of this world, nor its therapist. The prophet and preacher of Christ is to have a strict diet of prophetic locusts and apostolic wild honey. That’s why pastors wear clerical collars, not just a uniform, but a reminder that they are bound to God’s Word. Your pastor is to teach you from these words. He is to give you the knowledge of salvation in Jesus Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone. He is to give you the forgiveness of sins in so many different ways on Sunday morning and during the week, in Word and Sacrament. That’s not how the world sees “ministry” today, led astray by false prophets galore, and that’s why things are different for the congregation and pastor who really believe the Word of God and take it seriously, and who really practice what the Word of God preaches!

It’s ordination season now that men have received their calls. Friday was Kantor Schulz’s tenth ordination anniversary. Today is my eleventh anniversary. Former Vicar Stecker will be ordained on July 8 in New Haven near Fort Wayne. Christ the King, Mooresville, Indiana is installing that congregation’s first called pastor today, and this congregation is now part of our circuit, so I will attend this afternoon. Next Sunday the congregation in Crawfordsville, also part of our circuit, is installing a new pastor and by God’s grace now has a solid preacher and teacher of God’s Word. It’s all a reminder, this day six months from Christmas Day, that God is the great giver of grace to you, His Church, who gives preachers of God’s Word, preachers of salvation in Christ, like John the Baptist, who call the faithful to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

Heavenly Father, You sent John as a Forerunner of Jesus, the prophet of the Old and New Testaments. Send us preachers who will teach Your Law and Gospel rightly, calling sinners to repentance and bestowing on Your behalf the forgiveness of sins You have paid double for through the blood of Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +

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