It Is Good That You Are Not The Savior

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Last week we heard about an odd man, a man dressed in camel hair and a leather belt.  Yes, we heard about John the Baptist who ate grasshoppers dipped in honey out by the Jordan River. 
Regardless of his appearance and bold message, large groups of people did come out of Jerusalem into the wilderness to hear and see him.  This interaction with John resulted in people being confronted with a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin.  Indeed, John’s message and baptism were intended to rattle the cages of the people in order to prepare them to receive the coming Kingdom of God; the people were being primed to receive the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. 
As it can be expected, all of this attention that John the Baptist was receiving didn’t go unnoticed.  His activity by the Jordan River surely caused a great stir in the Jerusalem area and began to affect the bottom line of the religious enterprise in Jerusalem.  As a result of this disturbance coming from the Jordan River, the Jews of Jerusalem wanted to know more.  Therefore, they sent out priests and Levites to investigate who was taking their customer base and who was cutting into their religious market share.[1]  They wanted to know what the Baptist was about and who he was.
Who are you John? 
What are you about?
We don’t understand you; we don’t get the clothes; we don’t get you.
What are you trying to accomplish?
Now, as we have heard in today’s Gospel reading, John’s answer to the question of ‘who he is’ seems a bit odd.  John the Baptist’s answer is odd because he defines himself by contrasting his identity with the coming Messiah.  Otherwise stated, he defines himself by comparing himself to Jesus. He says, “I am not the Christ!”  He also says that he is not worthy to untie the sandals of the one who is to come.  In point of fact, John the Baptist’s answer to the religious inquisitors was not a simple autobiographical reply, but rather “it was a full, complete, clear-cut confession.”[2] 
Dear friends, please do not brush this aside.  Instead, take a second look at John the Baptist’s reply.  Is it not a profound confession?  Who are you John?  Answer: I am not the Messiah and furthermore, I am not even worthy to untie the Messiah’s sandals! 
What we are hearing in this confession is that John knew that “he had no right or claim to the honor which belonged to the Christ alone.”[3] 
With all this said, the challenging question that was placed before John the Baptist is also an important question that you and I need to consider as well.  In other words, “Who are you, and what should you say about yourself when the world puts you on trial?”[4]
Taking cue from John the Baptist we note that John answers in a way that does not draw attention to himself, but rather he gives answer to his identity by pointing away from himself.  Likewise, the same answer and identity of John can be your answer and identity as well, especially when you are asked, “Who are you?”

Naturally, “People will question us, saying, “Who are you?” as if who we are or what good works we do should convince them of our religion.  But no, our religion is Christ.  So follow John the Baptist’s example.  Refuse to talk about yourself.  Instead, tell people about Christ, as if He is the most important person who ever lived, which He is.”[5]

Indeed, confessing that we are not the Christ and pointing away from ourselves “is the true witness of any pastor, and any Christian.  We do not witness to ourselves.  We do not say how we have cleaned up our lives and made ourselves good believers.  No, we point away from ourselves to the Lord who is in our midst.  “There He is!” we say.  “He is in Word and Sacrament.  He is on the Altar in His Supper.  He is in the waters of Baptism, clothing us with His righteousness.””[6]

“If you must mention yourself, say only, “I am not worthy to crawl in the dust before Christ.””[7]

This is not false humility because this is actually the way that it is.  “…He is holy.  We are unholy.  He is all-powerful.  We are impotent in our sinful uncleanness, since even our so-called righteous deeds are bloody rags.  Christ knows all things.  We are blinded by our sinful flesh.  He is immortal, and no one could take His life from Him unless He laid it down.  We are deservedly mortal, receiving the wages of our sins in the eventual death that we must suffer.”[8]

“We must confess this reality – not only that we are flawed and mortal, but that we deserve everything we get and more.  We are not the bright, shining examples that the pharisee inside us wants us to think that we are.  Instead, we are crooked sinners.”[9]

Dear friends, even though this offends our sinful old Adam and is surely demoralizing, there is a gift to John the Baptist’s great confession and our confession as well.  Permit me to explain. 
John the Baptist was praised by Christ as the greatest among those born of women up till that time.  However, as we have heard, John’s confession is that he is nobody compared to Jesus, which is very true.  Now, think about this for a moment.  If the greatest of those born of women—John the Baptist—is nobody, this means that all religious ranking is truly futile.  This confession absolutely eliminates and destroys any hints or attempts of religious ranking or religious categories.  That is to say, if the great John the Baptist is unworthy to untie the sandals of Jesus, who is worthy?  Was Mother Teresa worthy?  Is Billy Graham worthy?  Is the Pope worthy?  Was Martin Luther worthy?  If John the Baptist was unworthy, I can assure you that these people are also unworthy and you are too.
What this means, practically speaking, is that this Christian life and your identity is not based on mankind’s greatness or a religious status that one has acquired.  This Gospel reading shows us that ‘all’ of us are on the same level no matter how much has been accomplished in the eyes of the world.  No one is worthy to untie the sandals of the Messiah.  No one period, for this is the essence of John’s message.  To quit pretending that we are not sinners and to simply agree with scriptures is at the heart of John’s message in the wilderness. 
Because no one is worthy to untie the sandals of Jesus, this means that salvation is not by works or our doings. What is more, your salvation is not based off of ‘your’ identity, your spiritual resume, your accomplishment plaques, or how high you have climbed.   Notably, in John the Baptist’s confession we see that there is no such thing as worthy Christians and unworthy Christians.  The leveling of the field is essentially bad news to our sinful nature and the old Adam’s spiritual projects that are designed to earn religious kudo points; however, it is good news because it causes us to look away from ourselves to the Messiah.  Yes, there is a silver lining in this.  There is a Gospel handle in this confession; there is good news for us to consider and receive. 
With regards to the silver lining, when we confess with John the Baptist that we are not the Christ, it means that you are not the Savior of the world; it means that you are not the Savior of your family; it means that you are not the Savior of the church; it means that you are not the Savior of your friends; and it means that you are not the Savior of yourself.  In other words, you and I are not the ones who do salvific work; we are not the ones who will rescue this world and ourselves from sin, death, and the devil; we are not the ones others should look to for eternal hope; we are not the ones others count on to remove the guilt and condemnation of sin; we are not the ones who have made a payment for sin.
Due to you not being the Savior, weight should be lifted from your shoulders.  Please listen, you are not the Savior and you cannot and do not have to carry the kingdom of God upon your shoulders, for Jesus is the Savior—your Savior.
Praise God that this is the case, for we must confess that even if we could somehow be the Savior, we should not even want to be the Savior. That’s right, we do not want anything left in our own hands, anything that pertains to salvation.  The reason why?  Our conscience would never be at rest if we had to be our own Savior.  Furthermore, imagine the weight that we would have to carry being a Savior to others, as if our sins were not heavy enough.  Finally, we could not even pay for even the smallest amount of sin and if we could—which we can’t—it would rob Jesus of his credit.
Baptized Saints, it is good that we are not the Savior and it is good that we cannot untie the Savior’s sandals.  It is good that our salvation has been taken out of our hands.  It is good that our salvation is taken out of the control of our will and put into the hands of the true Savior, Jesus Christ.  For, if our salvation was in our hands, we would simply mess it up and all would be lost, thus pulling us not only into treacherous despair by eternal damnation. 
Undeniably, it is good news that we are not the Christ.
So, if you and I are not the Christ and are not worthy to untie the sandals of Jesus, who are we then?
You are the one Christ came to serve, the reason why Christ was born of the Virgin. 
Who are you?
You are the chosen ones in Christ, the reason why Christ did not consider it a humiliation to become Man so that He could suffer and die and rise—for you.
Who are you?
You are Baptized Saints, people baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection.   
Who are you?
You are the forgiven, people whom Jesus gave up His life on a tree for.
Who are you?
You are those crucified with Christ, people whom the Lord will never leave nor forsake.
Who are you?
You are those who will be raised someday incorruptible when Jesus reveals Himself once again.
Who are you?
You are those who belong to the Lord, people who cannot be snatched from the Lord’s hand.
Who are you?
You are those whom the Lord provides for, loves, leads, sanctifies, and preserves.
Who are you?
You are not the Christ, and that is o.k., for the Christ is for you in His life, death, and resurrection.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
[1] Kurt Hering, “Who Are You?” (22 December 2013) (13 December 2014).
[2] R.C.H. Lenski, quoted in “Buls Notes on the New Testament.” (13 December 2014)
[3] Sermon studies on the Gospels: Series B, ed. E.H. Wendland (Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Publishing House, 1987), 26.
[4] Kurt Hering, “Who Are You?”
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.

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