Midweek Advent 3: He Shall Defeat Them as One Man

Lessons: Psalm 42, Judges 6:11-24, Judges 7:2-9, Micah 5:2-5
Hymns: LSB 389, 666, 937, 352

Listen to much of the service here (the sermon alone is above; the opening portions and prayers did not get recorded)

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

      In tonight’s first reading, we heard of a Judge whom God raised up to deliver His people. The Judge’s name is Gideon, and his account has some striking parallels to Christ’s ministry and his situation provides comfort for us today.

      The Angel of Lord appeared to Gideon and said, “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.” Now remember from last week, the Angel of the Lord is a theophany—a visible manifestation of God. And the Angel of the Lord is the preincarnate Christ—the Son of God. So Jesus appears to Gideon with a stunning greeting, “The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor.”

      Gideon certainly would not have felt that he was a mighty man of valor. After all, he was hiding from the Midianites, who were oppressing Israel. They would come up like locusts on the land and destroy Israel’s crops and steal their animals (Judges 6:1-10). The Israelites made dens in the mountains and caves to protect themselves from the plundering Midianites. What little Gideon could gather for grain, he had to thresh it in secret in a winepress to hide it from the Midianites.

      Gideon also felt he was no mighty man of valor, for his clan was the weakest in Manasseh, and he was the least in his father’s house.

      Gideon’s reply is not surprising. He said, “Please, my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian.”

      There are times today when we feel like Gideon. If God is really with us—our Immanuel—why is the Church ignored or mocked? If God is with me, why are things such a mess? Why do I feel alone? Why am I sick or suffering? Like Gideon, we may feel forsaken.

      And deep down, we know that our messes are sometimes our own making. That’s how it was in Gideon’s day. God allowed the Midianites to plunder Israel because the Israelites had done evil in God’s sight. They were worshipping other gods. The cycle repeats itself several times in the Book of Judges. The Israelites forsake the Lord and run after other gods, figuring these gods will give them more of what they want. God’s anger is roused against His people, and He sends their enemies against them. In their distress, they call upon the Lord and God raises up someone to deliver them. Then land then enjoys a time of rest until the Israelites repeat their history, become complacent, and go after other gods yet again to their hurt.

      This serves as a warning to us. When everything goes well, we are tempted to become complacent in matters of faith, forgetting the Lord and forsaking Him for the things of the world. It should not surprise us, then, if the Lord allows hardship to come upon us so that we can become aware of our spiritual decay.

      God does this for our good. He is seeking to work penitence in our hearts so that we might call upon His name yet again and cling to Him at all times in faith. After all, whom the Lord loves, He chastens. He is gracious to us when He turns us from our idols and draws us back to Himself. And like the Israelites after God raises us a Judge, so we also enjoy a time of rest yet again.

      God chose Gideon to be a Judge over Israel. God raised him up to drive the Midianites out of the Promised Land, which resulted in 40 years of rest in the days of Gideon. This was so, even though Gideon was the weakest and the least in his clan. After all, Gideon was the man the Lord chose for the job.

      The Lord refused to let Gideon have a huge army to fight against the Midianites. God reduced the army from 32,000 men to a mere 300. And these are the men who got down and lapped up water like a dog. God wanted it this way to show the victory was not won by human strength, but solely by the hand of God. God did not want the Israelite army to boast in their strength or numbers.

      God’s power was hidden in the weakest man and the tiny army. In the same way, at Christmas, God’s power was hidden in the Baby Jesus. With no room for Him in the inn, He was laid in a feeding trough as His bed. He appeared to be a poor peasant boy. The first people who come to worship Him were not royalty but lowly shepherds. When King Herod sought His life, He was hidden away in Egypt for a time. When He began His public ministry, He was dismissed as the carpenter’s son in Nazareth.

      Jesus, our mighty man of valor, appeared to be vulnerable and helpless, not only at His birth, but also in His death. Forsaken by His Father in Heaven for bearing the sin of the world, He was beaten and crucified among the transgressors.

      Hundreds of years earlier, He said to Gideon, “I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.” He was saying, “You, Gideon, as one man will take on all the Midianites—all of them. I will work through your little army and will bring peace to Israel.”

      God did just that. The Midianites, in their confusion at the sound of the 300 hundred trumpets blown by the 300 men in Gideon’s army, along with the sound of breaking jars, began to turn on one another. As the Midianites fled, they fought one another.

      That is what our Lord Jesus Christ also did when He became Man. Out of lowly Bethlehem—too little to be among the clans of Judah—came the One to be the ruler and deliverer of all. In His one Body, He became the sin of the entire world. He single-handedly destroyed our enemies of sin, death, and the devil once and for all. As it is written, “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:19). And Jesus turned death and Satan against themselves on the cross, delivering us forever from the power of sin. His victory over sin, death, and the grave counts as victory for all people.

      The name Gideon means “one who breaks or cuts down.” Jesus, our Gideon, has broken and cut down all false gods and the devil himself by being born in Bethlehem and paying for our sins on the cross in Jerusalem.

      The Angel of the Lord first appeared to Gideon when he was threshing wheat in a winepress and vanished from his sight after Gideon offered up bread and meat on a rock and they were consumed by fire. Jesus now comes to us in His Body and Blood in the Lord’s Supper through the simple elements of bread and wine, coupled with His Word. Even though Jesus departed by ascending into Heaven, He remains our Immanuel, God with Us. We rightly sing Simeon’s song after we have gone to the Lord’s altar and received the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ: “Lord, now you are letting your servant[e] depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32).

      When the Angel of the Lord consumed the offering prepared by Gideon and vanished, Gideon realized he was in the presence of God, saying, “Alas, O Lord God! For now I have seen the Angel of the Lord face to face.” He figured he should die. But God gave him a word of peace, saying, “Peace be to you. Do not fear; you shall not die.” Then Gideon built an altar and called it, “The Lord is Peace.”

      So, also, we are given the peace of God. After the Words of Institution are spoken, you are given a general absolution as the Pastor holds up the elements and says, “The peace of the Lord be with you always.” We rejoice that God’s strength is hidden in this Sacrament and all the blessings of God are granted to us through it. He has chosen us to receive His peace.

      We may sometimes feel like we are forsaken. But we never are. We are reconciled to our Father through Christ. We are members of God’s family through our Baptism. We can say with Mary in her Magnificat, “He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate.” God is with us. Through One Man, the fullness of God dwells. And He is our Immanuel. Amen.

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