I rejoiced with those who said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord.” Psalm 122:1

Make Straight the Way of the Lord

Fourth Sunday in Advent – Pr. Anderson sermon
St. John 1:19-28 “Make Straight the Way of the Lord”
December 24, 2023 | Christ Lutheran Church

In Nomine Iesu
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Lord God, heavenly Father, it is good and right that we should give thanks to You, that You have given us a glorious baptism like that of John the Baptist, and that therein You have promised us the forgiveness of sins, the Holy Spirit, and everlasting life through Your Son, Jesus Christ: We beseech You, by Your grace and mercy preserve us in such faith, that we never doubt Your promise, but be comforted by our baptism in all temptations; and grant us Your Holy Spirit that we may renounce sin, and ever continue in the righteousness bestowed on us in baptism, until, by Your grace, we obtain our eternal salvation; through the same, Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen. (Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary, by Veit Dietrich, p. 148)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. (Rom. 1:7, etc.)

The sermon text for today is taken from the 1st chapter of the Gospel according to St. John. We read selected verses in Jesus’ name:

And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” …. John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands One you do not know, even He who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

These are Your words, heavenly Father. Sanctify us by Your truth, Your Word is truth. Amen. (Joh. 17:17)

In Christ Jesus, who came down from heaven and walked the path of this world perfectly for us, who continues to be with us, preparing our hearts and minds as He comes to us through the Means of Grace, dear fellow redeemed:

In the winter at recess, there was a game that the school liked to play. The game was called fox and goose. To start the game, we would head out with shovels out onto the playground and we would shovel a big circle. There would then be a shoveled path across the circle one way. And then another would be formed. The fox then started in the middle of the circle where the lines intersected and everyone else lined up on the outside. The game was simple, don’t get tagged and you can’t leave the path, or you are out. The paths were pretty straight forward. There was no reason to miss the path in the depths of the snow. Now these fox and goose paths were straight forward and likewise the path that leads to heaven and destruction are also straight forward. Like in the game, it might be pretty easy to try to cut corners and to make that leap to the other trail. It is innocent for children to miss the trail and land in the snow, but it is not so much when we miss the path that leads to salvation. We see how God makes plans for us. His first plan is to prepare us as John said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’”

God has done a few things to make the way straight and to prepare people for His coming. He first prepared the way by finding those who were holding onto His promise. Noah and Abraham were sinners but believed that God would keep His promise and save them. The line of the Savior continued through these men and they would prepare the next generations. Those generations would need more guidance. God would send Moses to lead His people and Aaron to be His spokesmen. Moses then brought down the written law. Generation to generation, the people were the same. The majority would ignore the ways and the people who would try and make the path straight. Even the religious leaders, the priests and Levites would take the path of destruction. So, God sent different men. The prophets were called by God and they prepared the people with even more visual cues. Their testimony would hold, God would send another to prepare the way before His great visitation. “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes” (Malachi 4:5).

Now the religious leaders of Jesus’ day had a misunderstanding of the prophecy of Malachi. They were looking for Elijah because as the Old Testament states, Elijah never died. To investigate the leaders further, St. John records who went out into the wilderness to see John the Baptist. “And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from
Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ.’ And they asked him, ‘What then? Are you Elijah?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet?’ And he answered, ‘No.’” (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) Why would they be so concerned about John? They don’t care about John’s message as much as they cared his baptism. The religious leaders were in charge of all of the rites and telling the people what to do. John has started to change that by baptizing in the Jordan River.

If the baptism of John began to unravel what the Pharisees were doing power, they are not going to like who is coming next. When asked again who he was John told them, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” He is not only a man crying in the wilderness, he is fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy. The fullness of time had come, and the world needs to be prepared for this great day. As God was preparing the world for this time in history, God also has been preparing the world since the fall into sin. John’s message of repentance is the same message of repentance. The Law has always been on man’s heart. The Law is good, it is needed, it is God’s Word. It points out that we are sinners. There is no way for us to keep the law.

This makes what John is doing special because he is preparing the way with the same law and great conviction that someone else is coming. The One coming was the Lamb of God. We know that the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, is the One who can live out the law perfectly. This sinful world doesn’t want to be prepared or accept it. They believe that the path isn’t that hard, they can make the leap. If they fail at making the leap, or if they don’t accept it, how could destruction possibly come to fruition if they don’t believe in it? There is also a false hope that since Jesus came into the world, this means that sins won’t affect us that much. With Christ doing “His thing”, the path is so much easier to be on. The paths have never changed. The same two paths, the path of righteousness and the path of destruction, are the same two paths that those who lived in the Old Testament walked on. Many walked on the path of destruction then just as many walk on it now. We can’t pull Christ off of the top shelf, to make it easy to participate in our sins. If we try to cut corners, to take that leap, it won’t be snow that we fall into.

As we try to jump and leap, failing at every turn, John preaches to the world that with the message of repentance God hears the penitent. John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands One you do not know, even He who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” His baptism brought comfort, and it pointed to the One coming. John also notes that he himself needs this comfort. Jesus brings comfort to all as He tells the penitent, not only does He hear them, not only does He see that they have gone the wrong way, but He pulls them back, forgives their sins, and restores them to God’s heavenly kingdom.

Jesus comes down from heaven, with the same message as John. As He preached repentance, here is what makes this time in history so special. John prepared the way of the Lord, and the way to heaven, came down from heaven and was standing on the river bank. The Old Testament waited and looked ahead to this event. The law had to be obeyed, so God would obey it Himself. The sins of the world had to be paid for and atonement made. God made atonement for the sins of the world Himself. What is a hard path to follow, Jesus comes down and walks the path perfectly. He doesn’t cut corners. He didn’t do it for Himself. In great humility, Jesus walked the path of righteousness so that all might be saved.

As you hear how Jesus walked down the path, it is easy to look at the times that you have fallen off the path and wonder if Jesus can really take all of your sins away. Some sins might even be holding on to you more than others. Is Jesus that good? Can He really get rid of them all? Jesus teaches you just how great God’s love is. God knows all of your sins; He knows how many times you have tried to jump from one path to the other. He was never blind to it. His holy Law continues to prepare you. It is because of these events and Jesus coming down from heaven that when you hear that your sins are forgiven, it is so much sweeter. You don’t have the anticipation of the first coming, your Savior came down for you. He walked the same hard path of life, and He bore all your sins as His own.

To make it even clearer, all you have to do is look back to the Garden of Eden. The first declaration of the Savior coming was made there and Jesus was also there. He witnessed the fall. He knew what He was getting into. He watched mankind commit sin after sin, and in great love, a love that no one can ever fathom, He left His heavenly throne for a humble human body. You think this path is tough, what if all the sins of the world were placed on your shoulders? Jesus tells you the way for your salvation has been prepared for you. It comes to you through Him. You will make mistakes and sin, and the love of God comes down to you from heaven through the gift of the Son of God.

This gift, come down in human flesh is for all. This is why even after Jesus coming down to earth from heaven the first time, the way still needs to be prepared. The law is still used in this preparation, it cannot be ignored. The first coming has happened, and now the world can rejoice. Jesus provides Himself for the world. He takes away their sins with His sacrifice on the cross, and He continues to bring comfort. He lights up the path of righteousness with His holy Word. He provides comfort for you as you walk on the path with your baptism. Here He clothes you with His perfect obedience of obeying God’s Holy Law. Your corrupt Old Adam doesn’t stand a chance against what Jesus did for you. He feeds you with His body and blood, the pledge that your sins are remembered no more in the eyes of God. Christ work has brought you into His Kingdom.

This is the love and joy this season brings. When you see the snow that has fallen, it is a reminder of what Christ has done for you. His blood has washed you white as snow. The path of life is much harder to travel than one that is shoveled across the parking lot in the snow. The way has been properly prepared. The Old Testament looked ahead to the One who would come. John prepared the way through a message of repentance. He was the voice that cried out Jesus’ first coming. Jesus now continues to prepare your hearts by continuing to come to you through the Means of Grace. The strength for looking ahead to when He comes again is only found in Him. There is no other place to turn. So, rejoice, and “Hark the glad sound! The Savior comes, The Savior promised long; Let every heart prepare a throne And every voice a song” (ELH 109 v. 1). Amen.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.
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