First Sunday in Advent| November 28, 2004|Rev. Rolf Preus| Revelation 3:20-22
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
Today is the First Sunday in Advent, which is the first day of the Church year. During Advent we prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ. The first advent or coming of Jesus was when He came in the flesh. He who was begotten of His Father before all worlds came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary and was made man. The second advent of Jesus will be when He comes again with glory to judge both the living and the dead. Jesus came in blessing. Jesus will come in judgment. Jesus came into this world to save sinners. Jesus will come into this world to judge sinners. Jesus came in humility. Jesus will come in glory. Jesus came in such a way that sinners could approach Him without fear and find in Him forgiveness of sins, true pardon from God, and peace of soul and conscience. Jesus will come in such a way that sinners will want to flee from Him in terror, but there will be no escape from that divine judgment and retribution against all the evil and all the evildoers of this world.
He came and He will come. In order to be able to stand before the Jesus who will come to judge the world in glory we need to find our refuge in the Jesus who came in humility. But since we cannot fly back in time to join Jesus at His manger, how can we take refuge in Jesus today? Where is Jesus today? How can we find Him who is the Savior of sinners as the Savior of sinners before He returns to judge the living and the dead?
Today’s Old Testament Lesson gives to Christ’s Church the name: “THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.” What makes the Church the Church is the Lord Jesus. The word Church comes from the Greek word, Kyrios, which means Lord. Jesus is the Lord God. And Jesus is our righteousness. He is the Lord, our righteousness. The righteousness that we need to stand before the Lord is the righteousness that the Lord Himself gives. When Jesus came into this world at His first advent, He came to bring righteousness to sinners. They could find no righteousness within themselves. They needed true righteousness to be provided for them or they would remain sinners forever and forever condemned by God for their sins. This is why God sent His Son, our Lord Jesus, into this world. He came to become our righteousness.
Where is Jesus today? How can we find Him today? Jesus can be found wherever His righteousness is given. The Church of Jesus Christ is not a specific place. You cannot locate the Church on the map. If you want to find the Church you must find Jesus, for He is her head. We confess in the Apostles’ Creed that the Church is a communion of saints. Where do the saints get their holiness? It is from Jesus, the Lord. The Church is the Communion of Saints because the Church has received the righteousness of the Lord Jesus. By divine imputation, the flawless righteousness of Christ has become the righteousness of the Church and all Christians. So if we want to find Jesus we must find the gospel that pronounces us sinners righteous. We will not find Jesus in works of righteousness that we have done. We will find Jesus in the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit through which God justifies us by His grace, clothing us in the righteousness of His Son. We will find Jesus in the Sacrament of His body and blood, given and shed for the forgiveness of sins. We will not find Jesus just anywhere. We must find Jesus where Jesus chooses to be found. He chooses to be found in communion with His holy Christian Church.
Where is Jesus today? He is where the gospel is purely preached and the sacraments are rightly administered. These are means of grace. They are the means by which God brings His grace to us and delivers us from our sins. The gospel and the sacraments of Christ identify the Church of Christ. They mark the Church. Where the gospel is proclaimed and the sacraments are administered, God Himself is reckoning sinners to be righteous by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to them. Where the gospel is proclaimed and the sacraments are administered, the Holy Spirit is creating new and eternal life by establishing true Christian faith in the hearts of those who hear the gospel. We can’t see faith, but we can identify the means by which God creates faith. The Holy Christian Church can be identified even though it cannot be seen. Jesus is present wherever His gospel and sacraments are given out to sinners. Therefore, the Holy Spirit is also present, calling sinners to faith, wherever Christ’s gospel is proclaimed and His sacraments are administered.
Jesus cannot be disjoined from His holy Christian Church on earth. This is why the picture St. John paints for us in our text is so disturbing. It ought to grab our attention and keep it! Jesus stands at the door of His own Church and asks permission to enter. Jesus spoke to the Church of Laodicea through His apostle, John, as recorded in the Revelation of St. John. They were neither cold nor hot. They were indifferent to the gospel. They were self-sufficient, or so they thought. Jesus said to them: “You say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’; and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.” (Revelation 3:17) Nobody wants to be wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked. But if you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked, don’t you want to know that you are? Or do you want to pretend that you’re just fine as you are?
Jesus offers us a meal. It is a meal in which we eat and drink and by that eating and drinking we enjoy fellowship with God. When we eat and drink Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper this is a sacramental eating and drinking. The bread is His body and the wine is His blood. When we eat and drink the bread and the wine with our mouths we also take into our bodies the body and the blood of Jesus. But the Christians in Laodicea were attending the Lord’s Supper! They would not have been identified as a church if they had not celebrated the Lord’s Supper. Yet Jesus invited Himself in to eat with them. Why would He invite Himself in to eat with them if they had already been eating with Him? It is possible to eat and to drink Christ’s body and blood orally without eating and drinking spiritually. The oral eating and drinking takes place through the mouth. The spiritual eating and drinking takes place in faith.
Jesus speaks of this spiritual eating and drinking in St. John’s Gospel, chapter six. He says:
“I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.” The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?” Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven; not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.” (John 6:51-58)
What do you want? For what do you hunger and thirst? Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” But those who don’t hunger and thirst for righteousness won’t find much interest in what Jesus has to give. For the banquet He sets before you is precisely that! He invites you who have failed and He offers you to participate in His success. He says, “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” How do we overcome? St. John writes in 1 John 5:4, “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world: our faith.” Faith is not preparing the meal. Faith is not serving it up. Faith is not even setting the table. Faith is eating and drinking. It is taking in the promises of God, and not just any promises, but the promises that are joined to the flesh and blood of Jesus. Faith takes Jesus in and won’t be content without Him because faith knows how wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked we are without Him. By faith we share in the victory that Jesus won as He set His face toward Jerusalem, rode into the city on a donkey as the promised Savior, and then bore the sin of the whole world on the cross a few days later.
Some of us vicariously enjoyed the Green Wave victory last Friday when East Grand Forks won the Minnesota State football championship. We did not play the game. But we say that we won. We won only in the sense that our team won and we share in that victory in an emotional sense. We share vicariously in Christ’s victory in more than an emotional sense. We share Christ’s victory by faith. Faith should not be confused with any emotion, though it is often attended by deep emotion. Faith is best defined as trust. But it is not a self-centered trust. Faith doesn’t trust in faith. Faith trusts in the flesh and blood of Jesus. It relies on His vicarious obedience and suffering. Faith looks at Jesus’ journey to the cross and sees itself with Him, joined to Him in a bond that cannot be broken. Faith sees itself dying with Christ and rising with Him to everlasting life. Jesus defines faith as a spiritual eating and drinking and he invites us to eat. True Christian faith receives what God gives to it.
The purpose of the Divine Service on Sunday morning is that God may give and we may receive. It is that Christ would dine with us and we with Him. That Christ is here whenever His gospel is proclaimed cannot be denied. That Christ is present with His washing and His holy Supper cannot be denied. That we foolishly, sinfully, and to our own great peril consider other food more satisfying than the banquet of God’s grace should not be denied, either. Instead, we repent of it. We repent in sorrow and our Lord Jesus, the LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS, replaces our sorrow with joy. He invites Himself into our hearts, our homes, and His own Church. He feeds us with the bread of life. May God graciously give us the ears to hear what the Spirit says to the churches that we may always hunger and thirst for the food and drink that our Lord Jesus alone can provide! Amen.