This week on LampLight Conversations, Pastor Clint Poppe joined our conversation on the lessons for the Third Sunday in Advent. Pastor Poppe serves as Senior Pastor at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Lincoln, NE, and also as the Chairman of the Association of Confessing Evangelical Lutheran Congregations (ACELC).
The conversation began with the Gospel lesson, Matthew 11:2–15. Pastor Poppe led off by giving a bit of context concerning St. John the Baptist, how he has been busy fulfilling his ministry – preaching, teaching, and pointing people to Jesus; he’s been clear calling people to repentance; he’s had the opportunity to baptize our Lord, pointing to Him as the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. John, now in prison for his strong preaching against Herod, sends his disciples to Jesus to ask Him a question.
Pastor Poppe makes note that for around 2,000 years, the Church has taught and proclaimed this lesson in a certain way, but within the last generation or two, there has been a completely different view as to how this lesson is treated. And so, Pastor Poppe urges both pastors and hearers alike to pay close attention to how this lesson is preached and taught. In the Sixties, there was a general movement to psychoanalyze the characters in Scripture.This treatment moves away from considering the identity of Jesus, rather it attempts to guess at what is going on in the mind of John the Baptist – what are his feelings as he languishes in prison. This treatment of the lesson questions whether or not John has doubts, does he question Jesus’ identity; his own identity, and so on. But this is not the way the Church has traditionally taught and understood this portion of Scripture. No, the Church has looked at this lesson, not as being about John the Baptist, but rather about the identity of Jesus.
While John’s disciples might question who Jesus is, John sends them to Jesus, that they might know the identity Jesus, as he himself knew. John had preached about Jesus, baptized Him, and continually point to Jesus.
Pastor Brad Rick points out that if St. John the Baptist is really questioning who Jesus is, then he is also questioning who he is. If Jesus is not the Christ, then John is not the forerunner of the Christ, thereby calling into question his own identity. Pastor Rick ties this to us. If we want to find out who and what we are, we have to start with the identity of Christ and who and what He is, for all things flow to and from Christ.
John knows that he must decrease and that Christ must increase. So John points his followers to Jesus, that they might hear it right from Jesus’ mouth that He is the Christ. Jesus’ message here is not for John, but rather for those whom John sent to Him.
Pastor Rick notes that as you look at words of Isaiah, about what the Messiah would do, the words Jesus, the acts of Jesus affirm and confirm that Jesus is who He says He is – He is the Christ, the Messiah.
The identity of a Christian flows from Christ, that we are justified by Him by grace through faith. Understanding this, we can develop a relationship with God. God the Father is our Heavenly Father. God the Son is closer to us than a brother. God the Holy Spirit is our Counselor.But this relationship can become easily confused, and Pastor Poppe goes into wonderful depth as to how this confusion occurs. We must never slice-n-dice Jesus, that is to say, we ought to preserve Christ in His fullness.
Jesus deals with these disciples of John in a relational way, speaking to them where they’re at. But He does so in a faithful way that they may learn of Jesus’ identity, that He is, in fact, the Christ.
Pastor Rick, noted that it is good for us to remember that as Jesus speaks about the eyes being opened, the ears being unstopped, the tongue being loosed to sing for joy – all these things happen because God, by His grace, has given to us the gift of faith. By faith, we can see Christ where others do not – in the waters of Baptism, in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, the Word of God. So also we can stand in the presence of God and hear His voice and His words. Likewise, our tongues are loosed, properly praise God.
The kingdom of heaven, Pastor Poppe notes, is marked by violence, that is to say, there are people who attack the kingdom of God. He then goes on to briefly sum up the cycle we see over and over again in the Old Testament: The people of God are redeemed, forgiven, restored; they’re called to live and walk the way of the Lord; sadly, false gods, false worship come into their lives; God, then in His love, corrects, reproves, punishes; the people of God are driven to their knees, calling out to Him in repentance; God, again in His love is there, once again with forgiveness. Such is the context of the Old Testament lesson, Isaiah 35:1–10. But in the wider context of the Old Testament lesson we see a strong connection not only to the season of Advent, but also the whole life of the Christian.
Another interesting point that Pastor Poppe makes is that while the prophets proclaim the inspired, inerrant Word of God, the prophecies they proclaim are not always set up in a chronological order. In reference to the Old Testament lesson, Isaiah prophecies not only about the Incarnation of Christ, but also His Second Coming, and the Real Presence of Christ in Word and Sacrament.
In James 5:7–11, the Epistle lesson, St. James speaks to us who are in-between Christ’s First Advent and His Second Advent. He speaks to who we are, and our identity in Christ. Pastor Rick reminded us that our identity in Christ governs what we ought to be doing, how we are live the Christian life.
There is so much more to the conversations on the Gospel and Old Testament lessons that I haven’t even touched upon here in this blog. I would encourage you just to click here and listen to the whole show. And after listening, why not join the conversation with your comments and questions below.
Also, we at LampLight Conversations would be honored if you would, by means of comments and questions posted below, join us in our conversation of the following lessons: Isaiah 63:7–14, Psalm 111, Galatians 4:4–7, and Matthew 2:13–23. These are the next lessons our conversationalists will be unpacking the next time the mic is on.
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