Crushed Before Christ?

Text: John 1:19-28

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

I cannot tell you how many times that I run into strangers in Minot, especially at Walmart, who see my clerical collar and the cross on my neck, and then resort to telling me all about the holy things they have been doing in their lives. Now, obviously, there is nothing special about Matt Richard – I am a sinner just like you. However, the clerical collar that I wear and the cross that I have around my neck seem to trigger sacred thoughts in people. I don’t know if a clerical collar and cross make them think of the church or Jesus but nonetheless when they see religious icons, they feel as if they need to talk about the good things that they are doing. After they have shared, it always seems as if they want me to give them a voice of validation. You know, a pat on the head, while saying,
“There, there, you are doing a swell job!”
But there is also another set of people who see the clerical collar and cross around my neck, and these individuals seem to give me the glare.  In fact, one gentleman once flinched, backed up, turned his back on me while mumbling something. Again, Matt Richard - the person – do not necessarily repulse these people (at least I hope not). But instead, when they see the religious icons, they built up a defense. It seems that they don’t want me to speak to them, and so they do everything possible to put up a metaphoric roadblock.  

Now, why do I mention these two examples? Well, quite simply, in both of these situations, individuals prepare themselves for a Christian interaction. Again, Matt Richard is nobody, but a mere servant, but the white-collar and black shirt causes them to prepare a reaction to whatever I may or may not say to them. 

Dear friends, we must keep in mind that our sinful nature does not like to hear the good news of the Gospel. As a result, this sinful nature will always make obstructions. The sinful nature throws logs, large stones, and piles of dirt on the path, in order to prepare obstacles for the way of the Lord. That is to say; the sinful nature does not want to hear the Gospel; the sinful nature does not want to receive the goodness of Jesus, for the sinful nature enjoys darkness over light. And so, the sinful nature prepares for Christ by building up a defense against Him. The sinful nature works up all sorts of roadblocks and self-defense fortifications. This is why so many people react the way they do to the realm of the sacred – they have prepared themselves with defense tactics against the light of Christianity.  

But what do we make of other individuals who supposedly open the gates and welcome Christianity? It might seem as if these individuals are better off than those who scorn Christianity; after all, it seems as if they have spent countless hours making the necessary preparations and getting everything ready to receive Christ as a guest. But have they really prepared?  

Dear friends, hear this loud and clear, if we build a bunch of roadblocks up against Christ, we are obviously hiding in the darkness and being damnable fools. We are choosing darkness over light. But, if we think that we are rightly preparing the way for Christ by decorating our pathways with all sorts of piety, holiness, and goodness, we are also damnable fools. Do we really think that we are more prepared for Christ than those who scorn Christ when we put a bunch of our self-righteous works on a path? 

Dear friends, I am afraid to say, dragging all of our boxes of spiritual trophies and all of our stacks of religious brownie points out into the pathway is not how we adequately prepare the way for Christ. But instead, our boxes of spiritual trophies and our stacks of religious brownie points are just another roadblock, just like the roadblocks of those who scorn Christ.  And so, this is the reason why we need to consider John the Baptist yet again, during this Season of Advent.  

In today’s reading from the Gospel of John, we hear that John prepares the way for the Lord as being a voice that makes the path straight. That is to say, the proper office of John the Baptist is the same as the function of God’s Law. It is to humble the entire world. It is to level and beat down the track and pathway. The intent and purpose of John the Baptist and the Law are to crush every single roadblock, to destroy every obstruction – to proclaim that everyone is a lost, damned, poor, miserable, pitiable person. John the Baptist, as well as God’s holy Law, are to proclaim that there is “no life, work, or rank however holy, beautiful, and good it may appear, but is damnable unless Christ our God”[1] makes it good.  

Dear friends, do you want to be prepared to receive the Christmas gift of Christ? Do you want to make the way straight so as to receive Christ and His Gospel gifts? If so, beat your chest and confess your sins boldly in repentance.  
Let me be very frank, dear friends. If a person comes into this church and they are offended by our confession of sin at the beginning of the service - good. If they say, “I am not poor, I am not miserable, and I am not a sinner.” Then I am afraid to say that they are not prepared to receive Christ and His gifts. They are not wise but fools. The path has not been leveled but is full of all sorts of obstacles, obstacles such as pride, ignorance, and blind foolishness. In fact, it would be better if they would get offended and show themselves out the doors of the church. Yes, if they cannot agree that they are sinners, they are not only wasting their time at St. Paul’s but are rejecting the essence of Christianity.  

Dear Baptized Saints, obstructing the Lord’s way obviously comes through hard-hearted unbelief, but it also comes through spiritual conceit and pride, when we think more highly of ourselves than we ought to. And so, do not go the way of ignorance, pride, and blind foolishness, but beat your chest boldly and confess your sin even more boldly – for Christ comes for sinners.  

Yes, you heard that correctly! The path needs to be bulldozed. Our roadblocks of unbelief, our barricades of scorn, our boxes of spiritual trophies, and the stacks of spiritual brownie points need to be crushed and trampled down. They need to be leveled. 

Baptized Saints, everything in our hands needs to be knocked out so that we simply cling to the cross. We need to be made helpless so that we rest upon grace alone. We need to be reduced to naked shame so that we look to the Lord for the clothing of righteousness. We need to understand our foul status so that we are washed in Christ alone. 

Make no mistake about it! Even though this Christian faith is hard when our paths are bulldozed, this Christian faith is also remarkably simple. It is simple because after your paths are bulldozed, Your Jesus comes to you not to condemn, punish, rebuke, or chastise, but to give you Himself freely. Do not forget; your Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away your sins.  

And so, hear this! Baptized Saints, prepare the way of the Lord – not by hiding behind roadblocks of sin but hiding yourself in Christ who tramples your sins under His feet.   

Today, with John the Baptist, and in agreement with God’s Law, confess your sins boldly and then in Christ Jesus and His Gospel, receive even more boldly the free forgiveness, life, and salvation that comes to you in the way of a free gift. Baptized Saints, behold the Lamb who takes away all of your sins.  

In the name of Jesus. Amen. 

 [1] Martin Luther, Advent 4 Sermon, (Lenker Volume 1: PDF), 120.0

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