It is not now what it once was. For there was a time when there was no sin in the world and with no sin so also no death. There was a time when humanity was free from sorrow and full of joy, when man could walk with God in the cool of the garden and draw near to Him without fear of judgment, without fear of rejection. Yes beloved, there was a time, a long time ago, when God and man were by nature friends. But that time is no more. Sin has entered the world. Death has spread to all men, women, and children. Paradise is lost.
Humanity has a sin problem. Sin doesn’t get us to God. Sin separates us from God. In the garden Adam ate the fruit, sin entered the world, and death spread to all men, women and children. While humanity tends to think the only problem is a death problem, the reality is that we have a death problem because we have a sin problem. Humanity has a sin problem and having such a problem has led us to believe that we have to fix our sin problem to alleviate our death problem. Fixing our sin problem we can get back to God. If sin separates us from God and leads to death and then surely fixing our sin problem gets us back to God and leads to life. That’s what makes sense. That’s we humanity thinks. That’s what our fallen nature believes.
The Lord has a taken a bride for Himself. Israel has a husband. At Sinai He pledged Himself to her with an everlasting love. “I will be your God and you shall be my people.” Sprinkled clean by the blood of the sacrifice, she answered, “We will do all that the Lord commands.” Yes, beloved the Lord has taken a bride for Himself. Israel has been bathed in the promises of Her God and Lord.
How many of you are the first born in your families? Go ahead, raise your hand. Never let it be said that Lutherans don’t raise their hands in Church. J Now how many of you are second born? And how many are third born? Any fourth? Any fifth? Any sixth borns? Any beyond that? God bless your mothers. I’m a first born. Our Old Testament text speaks about firstborns. “You shall set apart to the LORD all that open the womb, that is every first born that comes from an animal which you have, the males shall be the Lord’s. . . . And all the firstborn of many among your sons you shall redeem.” The first born sons were to be redeemed with a Lamb. And their mothers, who were unclean because of the flow of blood in childbirth were also to be presented and cleansed by sacrifice. The sons redemption was to be a reminder of the LORD’s deliverance of Israel at Passover and the cleansing of the mothers was to be a reminder of both the curse upon Eve and her daughters as well as the promise that the Messiah would be born.
These shepherds weren’t anyone special according to the world’s definition of special. They didn’t dress in fine cloths. They didn’t frequent the hot spots of Jerusalem on the weekends. They weren’t chic, or hip, or trendsetters in any way. Nor were they pretending to be. They weren’t worried about their self-esteem. They didn’t doubt their purpose in life. They were simple keepers of sheep, watchers of the flock, defenders of animals too stupid to know the difference between a hill or a cliff. In many ways they were a lot like parents . . . and like parents today these shepherds weren’t much appreciated. They were despised. They were poor. They were unclean. And they shared the same fears that you and I suffer. They were afraid of failure – of losing their sheep to lions or wolves, or gravity. And like all men, they were afraid of death. Nevertheless these shepherds were keeping watch over their flocks by night. They were doing their job, keeping their vocation, working the work they had been given.
It’s all about the babies. We see and hear the mothers, in our text but have no doubt, this text is all about the babies. That’s way it is with our God. Whenever He wishes to work big things for His people He does so through the sending of a baby. Adam and Eve sinned in the garden and what does God do? He promises them a baby, one who would be born of Eve’s seed, who with bruised heel would crush the serpent’s head. In calling Abram out of idolatry what does God promise? He promises a baby. The seed of Abraham would be a blessing to the nations. The same is true for Isaac and Jacob and Judah and Boaz and Obed, and David.
God has a plan, a purpose for John. God has a plan and purpose for you. Right now, John’s eyes are preaching a sermon that John’s heart struggles to bear. Everything he sees tells not of God’s grace but of God’s judgement. Your eyes are preaching to you this morning. What do you see? What is real? John is struggling with reality. What are your struggles? John is in prison.
Jerusalem is the seat of power in the land of Canaan. Herod resides there. Pilate has his quarters there. The Sanhedrin gather there. The temple with her priests are there in its midst. Whoever controls Jerusalem controls Canaan. Whoever controls Canaan controls the trade routes. As with all things where there is money to be had there is power to be exercised. Power and money govern Jerusalem, her temple and her people. And power and money require more power and money to maintain themselves. There is always someone vying for more of each. Herod, Pilate, the Sanhedrin, the Herodians, the scribes, priests, zealots, the pilgrims all struggle against each other each looking for an advantage against the others, each plotting, planning, maneuvering, manipulating. Wherever there is power there is conflict and struggle. And wherever there is conflict and struggle there is fear and anxiety.
“Those days” in our text are the “end of days”, the “last days”, these days. For in many and various ways God spoke to His people of old by the prophets, but now in these “last days” He has spoken to us by His Son. The Bible teaches us that the end of days, the last days, are marked by God’s revelation, God’s speaking through His Son. Those days began 2000 years ago. The last days are these days. And because Jesus is speaking about “these days” He is speaking about “our days”. Nothing could be more important for us to hear these days than the Word of God’s Son in our text this morning.
Though most are unawares, it is a sad day in the midst of a holy week. While pilgrims stream through Zion’s gates in order to celebrate the coming Passover, Jesus departs. He leaves the city and her temple and in so doing leaves her desolate. For no matter how busy her priests, no matter how full her borders, no matter how pious and fervent her rituals, without Jesus, both the time and the space are empty. Without Jesus the city is but a gathering of clanging cymbals. There is much noise but there is no dirge – the Baptist calls no more. There is no dancing – Simeon’s song is but a faint memory. There is no sad song of repentance nor festal celebrations of God’s grace and mercy. Without Jesus all is meaningless.
Our God is the God of the humble, the miserable, the afflicted, the oppressed and those who are reduced to absolutely nothing. He creates out of nothing. He calls into being what does not exist. He fills what is empty. He restores what is broken. He gives strength to the weak and comfort to the mourning. He loves the woman with no husband and the child with no parents. He comes for the sick and for the suffering. He enters the fray and speaks peace to the fearful and gives courage to the timid. He does not avoid the least of these for they are His brethren.
Martin Luther was not the first seek reform in the Church. There were others. Savanarola, an Italian Monk in Florence, sought a return to more fervent preaching of the Word and proclaimed that a new Cyrus would come from the North to reform the Church. He was imprisoned and later hanged. John Hus sought a return of the common cup to the people and delineated the moral failings of the clergy, bishops and popes. He was burned at the stake. John Wycliff sought the truth of God’s Word in one’s own language and emphasized the individual’s interpretation of scripture as the best moral guide.
You have heard it said, “What’s good for the goose is good for gander.” James tells us that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (Jam 1:17 ESV) What is good comes from God and because it comes from God what is good does not change. But humanity is not content with what is good. Wanting to be like God our first parents chose for themselves their own goodness.
Of the four gospels Mark alone sets Jesus’ death and resurrection in the context of Old Testament purity rituals. From the very beginning we find Christ’s herald in the water, baptizing for the forgiveness of sins. We find Jesus, Himself, baptized and then driven to the wilderness to face the Prince of this World. Everything that follows in Mark’s gospel follows these events and is an unfolding of Christ’s invasion of the strong man’s house. It is a battle not just of God and Satan but of Holiness vs. Uncleanness.