1 Corinthians 4:1-5
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
It’s scary. Even Christians who know that Jesus came to save you from your sins often doubt whether they are truly forgiven. Repent of such thoughts.
They are based on a false teaching that you can save yourself; that you can believe enough for yourself; that God has not done all for you when He sent His Son the 1st time; that if you make yourself miserable enough over your sins then God will have to forgive you; that your sins are so much worse than anyone else’s that you can not be forgiven, that Jesus can not have paid for them with His innocent suffering and death. Repent. All such thoughts are foolishness and arrogance.
For the only judgement that matters is God’s. Not your own. Not that of other people. Your thoughts, your feelings about all such things will shrivel up and fade on that Day. Only Almighty God’s judgement will stand on that Day. His Word will stand. The Word spoken over you when you were baptized. The word spoken over you at the altar. Spoken over you as you kneel confessing that you are sinner and hear Christ’s forgiveness through the voice of the pastor.
For that is the purpose of all whose job it is to prepare the way of the Lord. We call to repentance like John the Baptist. And then we speak comfort. For repentance and the forgiveness of sins is the message of those sent by Jesus Christ. Not self-help, not changing the world, not health or wealth: repentance and forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus.
This is the message that St. Paul served. No one else’s judgement mattered to Paul, except His Lord who declared him righteous. Righteous not on account of his own works or merits, but on account of Christ Jesus’ works and merits given to Paul in Holy Baptism, in the Lord’s Supper, in Holy Absolution. These are the ways Christ comes to you and makes His light shine on the dark corners of your heart. This is how He calls you to repentance and gives you Himself. This is how He examines you and makes all things known to Himself, so that He might uncover your sin, cut it out of you with the surgical skill of a life giving surgeon. For He saves you from sin and covers you with life giving bandages of His righteousness. And on that Last Day He commends you, praises you, and declares His judgement that you are right with God.
That was John’s purpose in sending His disciples to Our Lord. They were still clinging to John. They needed to cling in faith to the Lord. John did not doubt the Lord though he was in prison, though he knew he would die there. He had proclaimed Jesus to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of world. Some of his disciples had followed Jesus then. But many still clung to him. John knew that he must decrease, and the Lord must increase. He knew that His disciples, though they clung to him out of love, had misplaced their love, for Jesus was the saviour, not John. He was the forerunner, sent to prepare them for He who had come.
John knew the works of the Lord. He knew Jesus was the Christ. He knew the Christ is the living God who heals, cleanses, and speaks good news to the poor, both in body and soul so that the blind see, the lame walk, the soiled are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead live all through His mighty Word preached to them.
John knew whom Jesus was. His disciples also needed to know and believe it. For John’s purpose was to preach so that Jesus was believed upon, trusted in, and worshiped as God almighty come to save sinners. John came to preach repentance and forgiveness in name of this Jesus.
That’s how the way of the Lord is prepared: by the proclamation of the good news to those who don’t have it. Hence, they are poor. They need Jesus. His way is prepared by the call to repent, turning from your dead works, and trusting in Christ the living one.
This is not a message that changes like a reed shaking with every wind that blows. It is eternal. Unchanging. It is not influenced by the powerful. This is why, like John, preachers of it are rarely found in the soft clothing of palaces and places of power. For this message can not be influenced by such earthly, passing powers. Rather this message is only found in the mouths of the prophets sent by the Lord to proclaim it. You can’t tell such prophets by their clothing. You can only tell them by their preaching. For they will judge you. They call you to repentance. And then they will comfort you with a new judgement: forgiven, righteous, holy, ready for the Lord’s coming. This is the comfort John and all such prophets proclaim. The good news they preach to the poor.
This Christmas be comforted and free of the fear of judgement for the only judgement that matters has already been heard by you today. You know in advance what Our Lord will say to you when He comes again. Believe it, for in Christ you are forgiven.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock
Epiphany Lutheran Church
Thunder Bay, ON