The Third Sunday in Advent – “The Signs of Christ”


The Third Sunday in Advent

 

December 16, 2018

 

“The Signs of Christ”

 

Matthew 11:2-6

 

Click here to listen to audio of this sermon.

 

And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to Him, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.”  Matthew 11:2-6

 

God gives a promise and he attaches that promise to a sign.  He makes his promise perfectly clear and he makes the sign unmistakable.  He promised that he would never again send a worldwide flood.  He put into the sky the sign of the rainbow.  The rainbow is God’s guarantee that he will never again destroy this world by a flood.

 

When God attaches his promise to a sign we can hold God to it.  He is faithful to his promises.  We may not demand from God a sign that he hasn’t promised and then hold him to it.  God doesn’t take orders from us.  In today’s Gospel Lesson Jesus points to a number of signs that showed he was the promised Savior. “The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.”  Isaiah foretold it.  He wrote:

 

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.  Then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing… The Spirit of the LORD God is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.  (Isaiah 35:5-6; 61:1)

 

Jesus did the signs Isaiah said the Christ would do.  By miraculous signs he confirmed the gospel he preached.

 

Jesus has given signs to his church.  He instituted Holy Baptism in which he joined water to the Holy Spirit.  He attaches his promise to the waters of baptism saying, “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved.”  Peter’s sermon on Pentecost cut the crowd to the heart.  They cried out for God’s mercy, Peter said, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (John 3:5)  We confess in the Creed, “I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins.”  Listen to the words of Luther’s hymn:

 

All that the mortal eye beholds is water as we pour it.

Before the eye of faith unfolds the power of Jesus’ merit

For here it sees the crimson flood to all our ills bring healing;

The wonders of His precious blood the love of God revealing,

Assuring His own pardon.

 

Jesus attaches his promise to the signs of bread and wine.  He took bread and gave it to the disciples and he told them that this bread was his body, which was given for them.  He took a cup of wine and gave it to them and told them that the wine was his blood, which was shed for them for the forgiveness of sins.

 

We call these signs sacraments.  Today’s Epistle Lesson calls pastors “stewards of the mysteries of God.”  That’s because they preach the gospel and administer the sacraments.

 

John the Baptist sent his disciples to Jesus to learn from him that he was the Christ.  When they asked Jesus if he were the Christ, Jesus pointed them to the signs.  See for yourself!  What did the prophets of God say?  Look and see if that prophecy has come true.

 

They looked and they saw what kind of a ruler or Messiah Jesus was.  He didn’t hobnob with the high and mighty.  He humbled himself.  He went to the weakest and poorest.  He showed them God’s mercy.  Look at the signs and see the Savior.  See God who has come in the flesh.  God chose signs that would show his love and condescension.  Blind beggars could see.  Helpless, lame, and crippled folks could walk and run.  Lepers who were shunned by everyone out of fear of that terrible disease were cured and could go back home once again.  The poor who had nothing of this world’s goods were promised eternal treasures in heaven.  The gospel is wealth beyond compare.  It promises eternal life in heaven through faith in Jesus Christ, the Savior of sinners.

 

The signs identified the Savior then.  The signs identify the Savior today.

 

After identifying the signs by which any Bible believer could identify him, he added, “And blessed is he who is not offended because of me.”  Why would he say such a thing?  Who could possibly be offended by Jesus?  What is there to offend?  He loves the weak, the sick, the helpless, and the poor.  He does nothing but good things for them.  He shows God’s mercy in concrete and helpful ways.  He does nothing to hurt anyone.  Why would anyone be offended by him?

 

Let me tell you why.  Jesus comes in deep humility, under the cover of great weakness.  In so doing, he exposes the idols in which proud sinners put their hope.  They trust in their money, their prestige, their standing, their intelligence, and their wisdom.  Jesus cares nothing for that.  He comes in humility to rescue the poor.  He demonstrates God’s almighty power in weakness, in deep condescension.  He rescues poor, lost, miserable, condemned sinners.  He recues them by taking their place in poverty, misery, and condemnation.  In so doing he dismisses all the religious pretenses of the high and mighty.  He offends the proud.  He offends the intelligent and reasonable.  He offends everyone except those who need him more than their religion, their pride, or their wisdom.

 

This brings us to the two main errors taught concerning the sacraments of Christ.  The one error is the teaching that the sacraments are just signs that identify us as Christians, but these signs don’t actually give us anything.  The bread and wine are only bread and wine and not really Christ’s body and blood.  They remind us of how God forgives us, but they don’t give us this forgiveness.  Baptism is just an outward expression of an inward experience.  It doesn’t save us.  People turn the sacraments into mere symbols.  They don’t bring Christ to us, but only remind us of him.

 

The other error is the teaching that the sacraments benefit us by the mere performance of them, even if the benefits of the sacraments are not received by faith.  The Christ who has promised his presence in the sacraments must be received by faith.  Jesus said, “He who does not believe will be condemned.”

 

Both of these errors turn the sacraments into human works.  The Bible teaches that the sacraments are God’s works.  They are God’s means of bringing Jesus to us and saving us.  Listen to how St. Paul describes Holy Baptism.

 

Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.  This is a faithful saying. (Titus 3:5-7)

 

Baptism is a washing in which the Holy Spirit saves us, regenerates us, renews us, and justifies us.  All of this is by grace, by God’s grace alone, as God’s gracious act upon us, without any works of righteousness on our part contributing anything at all.  This offends those who think that their good works make them righteous before God.  It offends those who think that it is not dignified for God to clothe us in Christ’s righteousness in Holy Baptism.  But he does.  As St. Paul put it, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Galatians 3:26-27)  Or, as Jesus said it even more plainly, “He that believes and is baptized shall be saved.”

 

Consider as well the Lord’s Supper.  This also causes offense.  That bread and wine would become Christ’s very body and blood when a pastor says words in church!  What a claim!  But this is Jesus’ clear teaching.  Jesus says that the bread of this Supper is his body.  He warns the unworthy communicant against eating and drinking judgment on himself because he hasn’t discerned the Lord’s body.  Jesus says that the body and blood we eat and drink were given for the forgiveness of our sins.  You eat, and drink, and believe what Jesus says to you and you walk back to the pew having just been forgiven and saved from hell.  You take into your own body Christ’s body and blood.  This is for you the medicine of immortality.  It gives you eternal life.  Of course this causes offense!  But it is true!  It is true because Jesus said so.  He joined his very body and his blood to the sign.  What God has joined together, let not man put asunder!

 

John preached Christ.  He sent his disciples to Christ.  Jesus showed he was the Christ by pointing John’s disciples to the signs.  He directs our attention to the signs.  He is here with us.  He has promised to be with us, his baptized.  He is here because here is his holy gospel and here is his body and blood.  Jesus gave to his church his holy gospel and sacraments and promised that he would remain with his church until the end of the age.

 

Jesus said to John, “Blessed is he who is not offended because of me.”  He says that to us.  Jesus does not call us to advertise ourselves.  Who are we?  We are the blind, the lame, the lepers and the deaf.  We are the poor.  He calls us to deny ourselves and follow him.  He tells us to take his yoke upon us and learn from him, the God who lowered himself to raise us up on high.

 

We will not find him in our pride of achievements.  We won’t find him in what we’ve made.  We find him where his signs signify his presence.  Here are the signs of his presence.  Here is the water by which we are born again.  Here is the body and blood by which we are saved eternally.  Here is Christ.  Here is his salvation.  We are not ashamed to confess it, for it is to us that Jesus says, “Blessed is he who is not offended because of me.”

 

Amen.

 

Pastor Rolf Preus

About Pastor Rolf Preus

Pastor Rolf David Preus grew up on the campus of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, the fourth of ten children, where his father, Dr. Robert David Preus, taught for many years. Pastor Preus graduated from high school in 1971, from Concordia College, St. Paul, Minnesota in 1975 and from Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, Indiana in 1979. He was ordained on July 1, 1979, at Trinity Lutheran Church, in Clear Lake, Minnesota. He served Trinity Lutheran Church in Clear Lake (1979-1982), First Lutheran Church in East Grand Forks, Minnesota (1982-1989), St. John's Lutheran Church in Racine, Wisconsin (1989-1997), River Heights Lutheran Church in East Grand Forks, Minnesota (1997-2006), and First American Lutheran Church in Mayville, North Dakota and Grace Lutheran Church in Crookston, Minnesota from (2006-2015). On February 15, 2015 he was installed as Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, Sidney, Montana and St. John Lutheran Church, Fairview, Montana. Pastor Preus received his Master of Sacred Theology degree from Concordia Theological Seminary in 1987. His thesis topic was, “An Evaluation of Lutheran/Roman Catholic Conversations on Justification." Pastor Preus has taught courses in theology for Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, Concordia University Wisconsin, and St. Sophia Lutheran Theological Seminary in Ternopil, Ukraine. Pastor Preus married Dorothy Jean Felts on May 27, 1975, in Coldwater, Michigan. God has blessed Pastor and Dort with twelve children: Daniel, David, Paul, John, Mark, Stephen, Christian, Andrew, James, Mary, Samuel, and Peter. David, Paul, John, Mark, Stephen, Christian, Andrew, and James are pastors in the LCMS. God has blessed Pastor and Mrs. Preus with sixty-three grandchildren so far.

Comments

The Third Sunday in Advent – “The Signs of Christ” — 8 Comments

  1. Fine sermon, Pastor.

    A bit of confessional hairsplitting about this:

    “Consider as well the Lord’s Supper. This also causes offense. That bread and wine would become Christ’s very body and blood when a pastor says words in church! What a claim!”

    For Lutherans it is the entire action of the ordinance that makes a sacrament. The pastor’s words are a consecration for use, not a confection.

    “This His command and institution have this power and effect that we administer and receive not mere bread and wine, but His body and blood, as His words declare: “This is My body,” etc.; “This is My blood,” etc., so that it is not our work or speaking, but the command and ordination of Christ that makes the bread the body, and the wine the blood, from the beginning of the first Supper even to the end of the world, and that through our service and office they are daily distributed.“ (Luther, SD 7, 77)

    “…when in the Supper we say, according to His institution and command: “This is My body,” it is His body, not on account of our speaking or word uttered [because these words, when uttered, have this efficacy], but because of His command-that He has commanded us thus to speak and to do, and has united His command and act with our speaking.” (Luther, SD 7, 78)

    “However, this blessing, or the recitation of the words of institution of Christ alone does not make a sacrament if the entire action of the Supper, as it was instituted by Christ, is not observed (as when the consecrated bread is not distributed, received, and partaken of, but is enclosed, sacrificed, or carried about), but the command of Christ, This do (which embraces the entire action or administration in this Sacrament, that in an assembly of Christians bread and wine are taken, consecrated, distributed, received, eaten, drunk, and the Lord’s death is shown forth at the same time) must be observed unseparated and inviolate, as also St. Paul places before our eyes the entire action of the breaking of bread or of distribution and reception, 1 Cor. 10:16.“ (Chemnitz, SD 7, 83-4)

    “For although the papistic consecration is justly rebuked and rejected, in which the power to produce a sacrament is ascribed to the speaking as the work of the priest, yet the words of institution can or should in no way be omitted in the administration of the Supper…” (Chemnitz, SD 7, 121)

  2. “You take into your own body Christ’s body and blood. This is for you the medicine of immortality. It gives you eternal life. Of course this causes offense!”

    While not intentional, this is the position of Osiander. Christ’s living, divinely righteous presence in us is our justification and eternal life.

    In contrast, objective justification teaches that we are justified, forgiven, and reconciled through the death and resurrection of Christ outside of ourselves. Faith is the illumination of the Holy Spirit that through water and the word we have knowledge of Christ as our Redeemer, assurance of our salvation through Christ’s obedience alone, and trust in Christ as our Mediator and Savior.

    “Medicine of immortality” should not be understood from a Lutheran perspective as meaning we are raised up on the last day by eating and drinking the flesh of Christ. Rather, Christ gives us his true body and blood to eat and drink to grant us the consolation of the New Testament that our sins are forgiven, and to join us to him and work in us through his Holy Spirit.

  3. In the 1960s, this was a major point of contention between Hermann Sasse and the faculty of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. Since then, the LCMS has in general gravitated more and more towards Sasse.

  4. The words of institution effect the real presence of Christ’s body and blood. The words you quote above, “when in the Supper we say, according to His institution and command: ‘This is My body,’ it is His body” show this. The power does not lie in the speaker who consecrates, but in him who instituted this sacrament. The body and blood of Jesus are present, distributed, and received in this Sacrament. We do not teach that the consecrated bread and wine are ~not~ the body and blood of Jesus until they are received by the communicant. They are what they are because of what Jesus says. The words you cite to refute what I said were written in opposition to the papist practice of severing the consecration from the distribution and reception. They do not refute what I wrote, but rather support what I wrote.

    The Lord’s Supper is the medicine of immortality precisely because it give us forgiveness of sins. Where there is forgiveness of sins there is also life and salvation. When we Lutherans use the term, “medicine of immortality,” we are confessing that the forgiveness of sins, resurrection of the body, and life everlasting are all bound together. The words, “medicine of immortality,” do not teach Osiander’s teaching. I did not advocate for Osiander’s error.

  5. You are reading SD 7,78 in isolation.

    You read:

    “…when in the Supper we say, according to His institution and command: “This is My body,” it is His body“

    and then stop.

    Read on:

    “it is His body, not on account of our speaking or word uttered [because these words, when uttered, have this efficacy] but because of His command“

    “it is not our work or speaking, but the command and ordination of Christ that makes the bread the body, and the wine the blood“

    “the recitation of the words of institution of Christ alone does not make a sacrament if the entire action of the Supper, as it was instituted by Christ, is not observed“

    “the papistic consecration is justly rebuked and rejected, in which the power to produce a sacrament is ascribed to the speaking as the work of the priest“

    This last quote doesn’t refer to a severing of sacramental action, but the speaking of a priest as producing a sacrament.

    The confessions teach that the elements are sacramentally united with the body and blood from consecration to reception as an unseparated, inviolate action. If, and this is an important if, there is no complete sacramental action, there is no sacrament. This precludes both receptionism, which doesn’t recognize the distribution of the body and blood, and consecrationism, which is a subtle form of papistic consecration.

    The main reason Lutherans historically had a short communion rite was to say the words of institution, and get the communicants to hurry up and eat the sacrament. Nothing ideally was to be left over after the sacramental action.

  6. There is no sacramental union in a sham celebration of the Lord’s Supper in which the elements are not consecrated, distributed, and received. On this we have perfect agreement. We don’t have the authority to mutilate the sacrament at will while claiming that it is still the body and blood of Christ.

    Your comments, however, appear to be self-contradictory.

    You write:

    “The confessions teach that the elements are sacramentally united with the body and blood from consecration to reception as an unseparated, inviolate action. If, and this is an important if, there is no complete sacramental action, there is no sacrament. This precludes both receptionism, which doesn’t recognize the distribution of the body and blood, and consecrationism, which is a subtle form of papistic consecration.”

    If “the elements are sacramentally united with the body and blood from consecration to reception as an unseparated, inviolate action,” then the bread and the wine are Christ’s body and blood when they are consecrated, but you call this “a subtle form of papistic consecration.”

    Make up your mind. Are the bread and wine Christ’s body and blood from the time they are consecrated to the time they are received, or is this a subtle form of papistic consecration?

  7. They are indeed, but this may not be attributed, as Luther says, “on account of our speaking or word uttered [because these words, when uttered, have this efficacy].” It is rather due to their being part of the entire ordinance and command of Christ (“that He has commanded us thus to speak and to do“).

    Subtle consecrationism is treating the spoken words as efficacious in confecting a sacramental union.

    “It is not our work or speaking, but the command and ordination of Christ that makes the bread the body, and the wine the blood, from the beginning of the first Supper even to the end of the world.”

    Remember, what I’m nitpicking since we both like theological debate, is the statement, “That bread and wine would become Christ’s very body and blood when a pastor says words in church!“

    Why does he command us to speak and to do?

    “Do this in remembrance of me.”

    “For although the work is accomplished and the forgiveness of sins acquired on the cross, yet it cannot come to us in any other way than through the Word. For what would we otherwise know about it, that such a thing was accomplished or was to be given us if it were not presented by preaching or the oral Word? Whence do they know of it, or how can they apprehend and appropriate to themselves the forgiveness, except they lay hold of and believe the Scriptures and the Gospel?“ (Luther, LC V, 31)

  8. I don’t like theological debate. I like theology.

    I said in the sermon that bread and wine become Christ’s very body and blood when a pastor says words in church. You have taken issue with this. Yet you have written that “the elements are sacramentally united with the body and blood from consecration to reception as an unseparated, inviolate action.” When you wrote that, you were agreeing with what I wrote when I said that the bread and wine become Christ’s body and blood when a pastor says words in church. If “the elements are sacramentally united with the body and blood from consecration to reception as an unseparated, inviolate action,” then the elements are sacramentally united with the body and blood when a pastor says the words of consecration.

    I agree with you when you say that the elements are sacramentally united with the body and blood from consecration to reception as an unseparated, inviolate action. Well said! Since the sacramental union exists “from consecration” as you rightly say, then the bread and wine become Christ’s body and blood when the pastor consecrates them. We’re not separating the consecration from the distribution and the reception and we are certainly not disjoining it from Christ’s institution — indeed the words of consecration ~are~ Christ’s words of institution. It is Jesus who speaks the words. The words Jesus spoke when he instituted the Sacrament are efficacious wherever and whenever the sacrament is administered. I have no special pastor power to make bread and wine Christ’s body and blood by my say so. Christ is the real host of this Supper and when the minister speaks the words of Christ we should believe what Jesus said is true.

    It was the Word that spake it
    He took the bread and break it
    And what his word doth make it
    That I believe and take it.

    I invite other comments. I have to teach a class on Baptism, and then go to Vespers and preach a midweek Advent sermon. I likely won’t get back until tomorrow.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.