Surprising words from John the Baptizer / John 1:29-42 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday January 15th 2023 / Season of Epiphany / Mount Olive Lutheran Church
Surprising words from John the Baptizer / John 1:29-42 / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday January 15th 2023 / Season of Epiphany / Mount Olive Lutheran Church
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is He of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because He was before me.’ I myself did not know Him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that He might be revealed to Israel.” And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on Him. I myself did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”
The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as He walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where He was staying, and they stayed with Him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord. Amen.
Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. Charles Dickens once said, "I know enough of the world now, to have almost lost the capacity of being surprised by much." It this you? Have you come to expect certain things and mainly you just receive what you expect? Nothing really jumps out of nowhere and surprises you anymore?
The people who came out to see John the Baptizer in the wilderness knew what to expect from him. We heard much of it in the weeks leading up to Christmas. John is stern, full of law; He pins people to the wall with their sins and demands that they repent. His baptism was a baptism of repentances for the forgiveness of sins and many of the people in the crowds that came out to be baptized by him were concerned about how their lives were going and some were simply curious to see what he would say: regardless John spoke the law of God to all who came to hear him and you know how it goes, for some, those particularity troubled by their sins – and maybe this is you – it takes no more than a feather to knock them to their knees in repentance while for others it takes a ball-peen hammer just to get their attention so when John saw the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to hear him and be baptized he confronted them saying ““You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” [Everyone in the crowd heard these words and they held these men up as examples of faithfulness so if John spoke this way to the Pharisees and Sadducees perhaps it was hopeless?]
[So] the crowds asked [John], “What then shall we do?” And [John the Baptizer with plenty of hammer but maybe a bit more of the feather in his words] answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to [John], “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers also asked [John], “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”” You’ll notice all of these things are not so much about getting into the good graces of God as much as they are about improving the lives of the people around you, your neighbour: His words sound a lot like the catechism: do not hurt or harm your neighbour in their body, but help and support them in every physical need; a lot like do not take your neighbour’s money or possessions, or get them in any dishonest way and help them to improve and protect their possessions and income. With this in mind perhaps not too surprising question for you might be this, ‘are you more interested in buttering up God with your good works, buttering your personal daily bread with them, or with helping to butter the daily bread of your neighbour who is truly in need? Where is your focus? Are you more concerned with the butter knife in your hand, the feather or hammer in the preacher’s hand, or with the axe laid to the root of the tree?
When we consider the Baptizer's cry it’s clear that John’s words often sounded hard and rough like his clothing, like locusts descending on a field and not like sweet music dripping with honey. As the Scriptures record for us this John who was to ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, [and] make His paths straight,” this John who was “The voice of one crying in the wilderness," was often more hammer than feather. Today however we see something different, today the raggedy, camel hair-covered wild man of the desert says surprisingly sweet words, word that sustain the Christian, words we sing before we receive the Lord's Supper in our Communion liturgy. Our fire and brimstone preacher, boiling with harsh commentary of the World and the people in it sees Jesus coming and says, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" John the Baptizer doesn't say, "Look, see the judge is coming now you're gonna get it" John the Baptizer says “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” These words of good news from our Gospel today may have been unexpected of John and yet here they are.
What do people expect from you, what do people expect from you when they find out that you are a Christian? Are they like Charles Dickens? Who says "I know enough of the world now, to have almost lost the capacity of being surprised by much." Could they say "I know enough of [Christians] now, to have almost lost the capacity of being surprised by [them]." Are you a surprise to people? When their life is broken up into bits, maybe even by their own foolishness and sin what do you think they expect from you? Do they expect an "I told you so!" or "You're gonna get it now." Might they actually be surprised by you. Remember Jesus tells us that the person who has been forgiven of many sins, has much love, "But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” So again the question: ‘What do people expect from you, what do people expect from you when they find out that you are a Christian?’ Do they expect forgiveness?
Jesus was often a surprise to people. They frequently expected one thing and when they came in contact with Him they got something else. Many people expected Jesus to be just like them. The Pharisees for instance thought Jesus should be like them, and since they wouldn't associate with tax collectors and prostitutes and drinkers and publicly obvious sinners they expected that Jesus would likewise avoid tax collectors and prostitutes and drinkers and publicly obvious sinners, when Jesus did associate with these people the Pharisees were surprised and they grumbled at Jesus' disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” By and large, for the Pharisees, Jesus was not a pleasant surprise. Do you expect Jesus to be like you? What do you expect of Him?
Later on Jesus addresses this when disciples of John the Baptizer come wanting to talk with Jesus about His overall suitability to be the Messiah, the Christ, the Saviour. Jesus speaks of expectations when He says, "For John [the Baptizer] came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at Him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” We live in a world of expectations; people are forever drawing conclusions about everything including Jesus and those who follow Him. Many in the world think they know Jesus before they have read even one word about Him from Scripture, they think they know Him before they hear Him preached, and they likely think they know you too. Remember Jesus said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before it hated you." And why would anyone hate Jesus? or you, for that matter, because of Jesus? They hate Him, they dismiss Him because they don't know Him and think they know all there is to know about Him already and the picture they've painted for themselves is not Scriptural, it's not Jesus as we trust Him, not the Jesus John the Baptizer speaks of when He say “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Again I ask “What do you expect of Jesus?” “Who is He to you?”
It was a while later and Jesus’ public ministry was in full swing and the Gospel of Saint Luke tells is how; “the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear [Jesus]. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
So Jesus told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbours, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance."
When Jesus asks them “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?" the logical answer is no man would do that, a rational man would weigh the cost of the lost sheep against the ninety-nine sheep that he has and would cut his losses. The surprise in this parable is that the shepherd goes after the lost sheep. The surprise for us is that we have a Good Shepherd who saves us by becoming a sheep Himself; by becoming, in His incarnation, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world. The One who comes to you with forgiveness, who finds you broken by sin, caught in the thicket of the condemnation of the law, the One who hears your repentant bleating puts you on His shoulder and forgives you. Jesus doesn't accept your sin, Jesus comes to rescue you from you sin, Jesus comes to forgive your sin, to take your sin away. For our part we are like the dog of Proverbs 26:11 “that returns to his vomit [in the same way] a fool ... repeats his folly.” We are in regular need of redemption, in need of our Good Shepherd.
We heard how John the Baptizer sternly warned those who came to him saying “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” This is a picture of the world; everyone from the Pharisees and Sadducees to the Tax Collectors and the Soldiers are trees in the orchard of the world, you are one of these trees and as a baptized child of God Jesus tends to you: He doesn't immediately pick up the axe and start swinging; Jesus is patient, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and while being pruned is not fun it’s meant to help you bear good fruit. Jesus prunes you and He fertilizes your roots with His word, He waters you with the waters of Baptism and with His Supper; Jesus forgives your repentant heart and gives time to you and to me, this dear ones is grace and mercy.
Jesus, the Lamb of God, received no such patience from those who considered Him a sinner even though as Saint Peter confesses, “[Jesus] committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth.” In the end the most powerful of the Pharisees and Sadducees took the axe of Rome to Jesus handing Him over to the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate hoping to cut Jesus down and throw Him into the fire. They could not recognize Jesus’ fruits as good even though they were, and on that first Good Friday Jesus, at the cross of His crucifixion, took the axe in your place, receiving every blow of the axe laid at the root of your tree. With the shedding of His blood the Lamb of God took away the sin of the world, took away your sin. This is the great surprise; Jesus took the wrath of the axe of God’s law in your place. He’s the one John the Baptizer points to.
This Lamb of God is for everyone, you are free to tell others of His surprising forgiveness, of His love. As one who has been forgiven much, as one to whom Jesus has been patient you are free now to be patient toward and forgiving of others, you are free to be a surprise to everyone just as Jesus has been a surprise to you: dear ones when you expected the axe, when you thought you'd be lost forever in the midst of your sin and trouble (to your great surprise) you were saved.
I leave you with the first verse of a hymn that we are starting to get to know here at Mount Olive called “Stay with Us,” the words of this hymn are a prayer, in it we sing to the Lord, to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world these words: “Stay with us, till night has come: Our praise to You this day be sung. Bless our bread, Open our eyes: Jesus, be our great surprise.” Amen.
Let us pray:
Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
 Quotations For The Fast Lane Compiled by Richard W. Pound, McGill-Queen's University Press, pg 518.
 Mark 1:4; Acts 19:4
 Matthew 3:7
 Luke 3:7-14
 Explanations of Fifth and Seventh Commandment from the Ten Commandments; Luther’s Small Catechism, Concordia Publishing House 2017, Page 14.
 Luke 3:4
 Luke 7:47
 Luke 5:30
 Matthew 11:18-19
 John 15:18
 Luke 15:1-7
 Psalm 86
 Luke 13:6-9
 John 18:29–30; Luke 23:2
 1 Peter 2:22
 Romans 5:10
 “Stay with Us” Herbert F. Brokering, Lutheran Service Book, Concordia Publishing House 2006, #879 stanza 1.
Photo Credit: Main photo detail of Maestro dell'Altare di san Giovanni's Battista indica gesù come agnello di dio, (1500) from wikimedia commons; detail of man forging metal with hammer from pexels; detail of feather from pixabay; detail of roots of tree from pexels; Saint John the Baptist Bearing Witness – painting by Annibale Carracci from wikimedia commons; detail of Lamb of God low relief sculpture from pixabay; detail of plate of fruit from rawpixel; details of photos of the Stained Glass windows at Mount Olive Lutheran Regina from Pr. Ted Giese; detail of sheep from pexels; detail of lamb from pexels; detail of Stained Glass window of Jesus the Good Shepherd from pixabay; detail of Axe from pexels; detail of Sculpture of Jesus Crucified tinted from pexels; detail of Stained Glass window of the Lamb of God from pexabay.