Advent 3: Confessing the Truth in Love

John in Prison
While in prison, John the Baptist sends his disciples to see if Jesus is the coming Messiah. In the background, Jesus is teaching the disciples about John (Matt. 11:2-11). From a book by Viet Dietrich summarizing the entire Bible (1562).

Lessons: Isaiah 40:1-11, 1 Corinthians 4:1-5, Matthew 11:2-11
Hymns: LSB 344, 345, 347, 334, 346

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

      Everyday, we make decisions on when to speak. Sometimes we are conscious of our decisions to speak, sometimes we are not. If we are trained well, we will say “please” and “thank you” without giving it thought. We will also refrain from using God’s name in frivolous ways and we will not throw around four-letter words and other vulgar language. These ways of using our God-given voice ought to come easily if we have been training for years to speak rightly. Without any training, however, we will naturally give in to Satan’s temptations.

      Of course, without thinking, we may find ourselves doing the opposite of what we should. A sudden—and bad—surprise may result in unwholesome exclamations. We may forget to say, “thank you.”

      And some things require more thought. Do we say something if a neighbor kid is engaging is potentially harmful activity, or have the parents already addressed the child? Should we remind someone that something may be sinful? When people apologize to us, we need to be conscious that we are saying comforting words—words of forgiveness and reconciliation—back to that person.

      Many times, we do not say things when we should. We fear we are going to be “that person.” We don’t want to create waves or ruffle feathers. We figure standing up to what is right will only cause hurt. As a result, we often don’t tell people their sin is a sin, or we don’t tell people that their ways are leading them to eternal death. We often look the other way until a person becomes so entrapped in his sinful ways that it may kill him, if not temporally then eternally.

      As we celebrate Christmas with family, we may find ourselves doing this. A relative comes home, bringing his life-in “significant other” with him. Instead of telling them of their violation of the Sixth Commandment, we conclude it’s Christmas and it’s not the time to say anything. So, we welcome them both, permitting them to share the same bed in our own homes, welcoming filthy immorality into our own homes. Or we house loved ones for the holidays who have no interest in matters of God, and we permit them to stay home from Church. Or even worse, we stay home with them.

      Now some do this because they’re embarrassed by the Church’s Biblical teaching on Closed Communion. Rather than teaching the loved ones why they may not commune, we avoid it altogether and forget that Christmas is primarily about going to Church to hear God’s Word, that He fulfilled His promise to send His Son into the world as a Baby Boy to take away the sins of the world. We practice Closed Communion not to judge others, but to prevent others from receiving the Sacrament to their harm. St. Paul wrote that some were dying because they wrongly used the Lord’s Supper, while others were condemned for not recognizing the Body and Blood of Christ in the Sacrament (1 Cor. 11:27-30). Closed Communion also reveals the sad reality that sin has caused—that many do not agree on the Bible’s teachings. There are churches in our area who publicly support abortion, divorce, same-sex activity, crossdressing, and harboring illegal aliens. There are churches in our area which go against God’s Word and ordain women into the ministry, deny that Christ’s Body and Blood in the Lord’s Supper, refuse to baptize babies, and teach faith in Christ as unnecessary to obtain salvation. If we commune people who hold membership in churches which teach unbiblical things, how are we not but profaning the Sacrament and violating our Lord’s teaching?

      Oh, but we’re supposed to say nothing! We aren’t supposed to create waves! We’re supposed to be “nice,” whatever that means! But when we play “nice” in these ways, are we being faithful to our Lord?

      God calls on us to speak the truth in love, that we may grow up in into Christ, our Head, in every way (Eph. 4:15). In fact, love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth (1 Cor. 13:6).

      Stewards of the Gospel are to be found trustworthy (1 Cor. 4:2). They are accountable to God as they faithfully proclaim the saving Word of God. This faithfulness comes with hardship and suffering, but it is worth it. For when souls are brought to Christ, they escape eternal punishment in Hell and receive an eternity with Christ in perfection. St. Paul writes to the pastor named Timothy, “Do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling… which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:8-10). It is written, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). Paul himself was imprisoned and beaten many times for being faithful. His sufferings often came from the Jews—his own people! In Acts 5:41, the Apostles were beaten for preaching Christ Jesus as the Way. Their response? They “rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” of Christ.

      They could have kept their mouths shut. They could have weighed the consequences and, from a worldly standpoint, determined if such faithfulness was worth it. But they did not. Souls are more important than potential consequences. And plus, we believe, and so we speak (2 Cor. 4:13). When we pray Matins or Vespers or “An Order for Daily Prayer” as printed in our bulletins, we pray with King David, “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth with declare Your praise.” The psalmist also wrote, “I will also speak of your testimonies before kings and shall not be put to shame” (Psalm 119:46). If we are so bold to speak God’s Word before kings, we are, with that same boldness, to speak God’s Word to our family and friends!

      Many won’t hear the Word, but that doesn’t stop us. Governments have tried to stop the proclamation of the Word, but God’s people will not stop. We cannot allow our government to stop God’s people from singing God’s praises. We cannot allow our government to force Christian business owners to violate their consciences. We cannot allow our government to close our lips when addressing moral issues. Recently, a man pretending to be a women set an Ivy League women’s swim record. Last week, Canada passed a law that prevents churches and therapists to deal with same-sex attraction in a Christian manner. And sadly, 20 states in our country have similar laws. Psalm 2:1-12 says, “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.’” And God’s response to such evil rulers who are opposed to the saving doctrine of Christ? Psalm 2 continues, “He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, ‘As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill…’ Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”

      This also explains why we want to be so bold. God is still in charge. God “has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” (Heb. 13:5-6). Blessed are all who take refuge in Christ. Blessed are all who believe in Jesus, for He alone paid for our sins and reconciles us to our Father. He alone grants eternal salvation to all who believe. For Jesus alone paid for the sins of all people when He died in our place on the cross. Jesus is the Coming One—the Lord’s Christ—the King who came as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus loves us and laid down His life for us. Jesus brings joy and gladness to us, for He lives and reigns.

      John the Baptist was a bold proclaimer of the Truth. He could have calculated his words to keep himself out of prison. He could have withheld the unpopular proclamation, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 3:1-12). He could have kept his mouth shut before King Herod, instead of saying, “It is not lawful to marry your brother’s wife” (Mark 6:17-18). But John’s faithfulness to Christ—which means he was faithful to God’s people—landed him in prison. John would be executed—beheaded—for standing up to King Herod.

      This type of boldness is needed today. We ourselves cannot be wishy washy, for we have promised before God at our Confirmation that we will suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from Christ. This means we will always say the right thing, instead of keeping our mouths shut. We will do the right thing when our families whom we love dearly attempt to bring their sinful lifestyles into our homes. We will confess the right things even when they take offense over our doctrine or practice. Our aim is not to somehow make ourselves out to be better than others. John wasn’t trying to prove to King Herod of John’s righteousness. John was proclaiming what was right. And we, as God’s people do the same. Jesus prayed that we would agree in doctrine (John 17:8-11). This has always been a prayer of the Church, for in Psalm 133:1-3, we pray, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.” God grant that we remain faithful, just like John the Baptist, who has been received into God’s eternal kingdom. Amen.

      The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting.  Amen