Advent One Sermon
“Born to Bear Witness to the Truth”
Today is the first day of the
church year. It is the
First Sunday of Advent. Advent
means coming. There are
three advents of Christ. His
first advent was when He was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of
the Virgin Mary. His second advent will be when He returns to judge the living
and the dead. Christ also
comes to His church today wherever and whenever His gospel is purely
preached and His sacraments are rightly administered.
At Christ’s first advent, the shepherds learned to identify Him
by the sign that God gave to them through His angel.
They were to look in Bethlehem for a Baby wrapped in strips of
cloth and lying in manger. Had
they looked for a baby lying in a crib in an inn they would not have
found their Savior for they would have been looking in the wrong place.
They had to listen to God.
Being a faithful Christian is
not a matter of personal strength, intelligence, or even devotion.
Many fight valiantly in their spiritual struggles only to fail
again and again. Others are
blessed by God with amazing intelligence but they remain locked inside
of spiritual prisons of their own making from which they can find no
release. Still others
devote themselves, their time, their talents, and their treasures to a
regimen of religious devotion and prayer and yet find themselves bogged
down in one debilitating error after another.
No, being a faithful Christian is not a matter of personal
strength, intelligence, or devotion.
It is a matter of listening to the truth that God speaks.
Consider the crowd that praised
Jesus at His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. What did they cry out? “Hosanna
to the Son of David. Blessed
is He who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest!” Why
did they see in Jesus their Savior?
They listened to the word of God.
Jesus was fulfilling the words of the Holy Scriptures.
He said and He did what the Bible, the word of God, said the
promised Savior would say and do. God
spoke through the prophets. Listening
to the prophets, they saw Jesus as their Savior from sin. God spoke through His Son.
Listening to Jesus, we also cry out, “Blessed is He who comes
in the name of the Lord. Hosanna,
hosanna, hosanna in the highest.”
Then the Lord Jesus comes to us and gives us to eat and to drink
of His body and blood as His words clearly teach us.
The reason we kneel down at the Altar and take into our bodies
the body and the blood of the Lord Jesus is not because we are strong,
smart, or devout. We are
weak, foolish, and prone to every error.
We are invited to eat and to drink Christ’s body and blood by
Him who speaks the truth. He
says concerning the sacramental bread and the wine, “This is my body,
which is given for you for the remission of sins, this is my blood,
which is shed for you for the remission of sins.”
He speaks the truth. Jesus
speaks the truth.
Pilate was no fool.
One did not ascend to such an important office in the government
by being stupid. He was an
intelligent and educated man. And
he wasn’t completely lacking in character. After all, he tried to save Jesus’ life.
He did his best to calm down the mob.
He publicly declared that Jesus was innocent.
When that did not persuade them, he had Jesus’ whipped in the
hope that seeing Him suffer would cause the bloodlust of the mob to
dissipate. Pilate did not
set out to do any harm to Jesus. He
only caved in to the demands of the crowd when he saw that he could not
persuade them. He must have
reasoned to himself that if Jesus refused to speak out in His own
defense he – Pilate – had no obligation to do so.
Why should Pilate care about this truth to which Jesus was
willing to testify and for which Jesus was willing to die?
In St. John’s Gospel – more
than in the other three Gospels combined – Jesus speaks of the truth.
In his prologue to the Gospel, St. John writes of the Word become
flesh, “We beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the
Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
Jesus taught of true worship as worshipping the Father “in
spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24) Jesus told the Jews the same thing that He later told Pilate,
that He had come to bear witness to the truth.
He promised that His disciples who continued in His word would
know the truth. (John 8:32) He
called Himself the way, the truth, and the life. (John 14:6)
He referred to the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of truth (John
14:18; 15:26; 16:13). He
promised that this Spirit of truth would lead His disciples into all
truth. This is how we know
that the apostolic writings – what we commonly call the New Testament
– are God’s own truth. Jesus
promised it. When Jesus was offering up to His Father His so-called High
Priestly Prayer – interceding for His church on earth – He prayed,
“Sanctify them by Your truth. Your
word is truth.” (John 17:17)
Right after Jesus spoke the
final words of our text to Pontius Pilate, Pilate replied with the
famous and cynical question, “What is truth?”
This is what our generation
asks. But it does not
expect an answer. What is
truth? People don’t
believe that truth can be known. There
is my truth, your truth, his truth, and her truth, but the truth is not
objectively true. It is
only true if I make it true for me.
For about two hundred years the
western world was dominated by a way of thinking known as Rationalism.
Rationalists argued that what was not reasonable could not be
true. Rationalism rejected
the miraculous because miracles cannot be explained in a rational way.
Rationalism took over the minds of many opinion makers,
university professors, leading theologians, and political leaders
throughout the western world during the eighteenth, nineteenth, and
twentieth centuries. It did
a great deal of harm to the church, as preachers no longer taught
God’s people the holy and saving mysteries of the faith.
Rationalists rejected the Bible as God’s word because they
couldn’t figure out a reasonable explanation for the many miracles
taught in the Bible. Rationalists
had no use for the teaching of the Holy Trinity because they could not
understand how God could be three persons and yet only one God.
They denied also the teaching of the incarnation of the Son of
God. How could this man
Jesus who could hunger and thirst, suffer and die, be at the same time
the almighty God who created all things?
It wasn’t reasonable so the Rationalists denied it.
How could the suffering of Jesus on Calvary pacify God, take away
His anger against sinners, and bring to us all salvation?
It simply made no sense to Rationalists so they rejected it as
primitive and outdated. The
sacraments suffered the same fate.
How can water be joined to Christ’s blood that washes away all
How could the speaking of a man impart God’s forgiveness and
actually give to the penitent the absolution of God?
could bread and wine be Christ’s body and blood and the means by which
God saves us from death and hell? Impossible!
Rationalism attacked historic Christianity at every point.
But then something happened.
It happened within the past generation or so.
Rationalism went off into the corner and died.
Rationalism could only criticize traditional Christianity.
It could offer nothing of value in its place. It could only tear down.
It could not build up. It
had no life. It led only to
empty churches and the destruction of faith.
Christians who had lost confidence in the saving mysteries of God
ended up without anything. They
could not find God by their own reason or strength.
No one depending on his own fallen human reason can find God.
The most brilliant thoughts of which the human mind is capable
cannot lead to the truth about God.
Rationalism did not succeed in convincing people that the truth
about God is reasonable, knowable, and available to everyone who learns
how to think. To the
contrary, Rationalism succeeded only in convincing people that the truth
about God is utterly unknowable. So
we have witnessed in our generation an abandonment of both reason and
the revelation of God’s truth in the Holy Scriptures.
What is truth?
It is unknowable. So says the modern religious seeker who will take a little
bit from Hinduism here, from Christianity there, from secular humanism
over here, with perhaps just a dash of pop psychology for flavoring, and
that mixture of contradictions becomes his faith.
And, of course, nobody has the right to challenge anyone’s
faith! One faith is as
valid as another! So says a
generation that has lost faith altogether.
It is to our generation that
Jesus speaks. He speaks of
a kingdom. The very idea
seems strange at first. The
world has learned that power comes either from the barrel of a gun or
from a free election in which the majority decides what is good and bad,
right and wrong. Where does
a king or a kingdom fit into all of this?
Well, it doesn’t. But
that won’t silence Jesus. He
came to testify to the truth of His kingdom and He won’t remain
Christ’s kingdom is not of
this world. This doesn’t
mean that it is not in this world.
It most certainly is. And
it doesn’t mean that His kingdom is not for this world.
It is. Rather,
Christ’s kingdom does not depend on any power or authority that comes
from this world. It is a
heavenly kingdom. Heaven is
where God lives. Christ’s
kingdom is heaven come down to earth and remaining here on earth among
us. But where do we find
heaven on earth? We don’t
find it in any human institutions or systems of human philosophy.
We find heaven on earth where we find Christ.
Listen to St. John again from
his prologue to this Gospel, “For the law was given through Moses, but
grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in
the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.” (John 1:17-18) The kingdom of God is not of this world, but it is in this
world wherever Christ reveals to us our heavenly Father. We cannot find our heavenly Father by means of our own
reasonable speculations as the Rationalists imagined.
And we cannot find our heavenly Father by inventing our own
so-called spirituality by picking and choosing from whatever strikes our
fancy. We can find God, our
Father, only in Christ. Jesus
is the King to whom God the Father has entrusted the Kingdom.
Jesus does not govern His
kingdom by laying down the law. He
governs His kingdom by fulfilling the law.
He governs His kingdom by bearing the penalty the law imposes
upon those who disobey it. Pontius
Pilate put a title above Christ’s head on the cross that read,
“Jesus of Nazareth, The King of the Jews.”
It was written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin.
The chief priests of the Jews were outraged by this and demanded
that Pilate replace that title with one that said, “He said, I am the
King of the Jews.” Pilate refused. On
that single issue the cowardly politician stood his ground.
He said to them, “What I have written, I have written.” (John
19:22) Pilate was speaking
for God whether he knew it or not.
The point is not just that Jesus is identified as King of the
Jews. It is where and how
Jesus is identified as King of the Jews.
It is on the cross! It
is in His suffering! It is
as Jesus, the truth incarnate, reveals the true God to the world.
You cannot see God, embrace Him in faith, confess His truth, or
know Him as a loving Father except as you see God in the suffering of
His only begotten Son on the cross.
Some think of the truth as an
intellectually coherent system of doctrine that fits neatly together
like a refined machine. Others
say the truth is centered in a personal relationship with Jesus in which
you by an act of your free will surrender yourself to Him and promise to
make Him Lord of your life. Still
others say the truth is made known in spiritual gifts flowing through
you, empowering you toward victory over life’s obstacles.
But you come to know the truth only in the crucifixion of the Son
of God in your place. That
is where the truth of God’s word is centered.
Jesus submitted to the law that condemned us all.
See in His submission your righteousness.
There, in that humble obedience you are made righteous.
See in His suffering your punishment.
There, as He suffers in your place, your sins are punished and
you are set free from them. In Jesus’ crucifixion is the truth that makes you free.
There it is that you are forgiven, justified, and delivered from
every evil of body and soul.
“My kingdom is not of this
world,” Jesus said. “If
My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should
not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.” His servants did not fight.
He fought against all the power of evil on the cross.
The grace and truth that Jesus brings He brings only by way of
the cross. In bearing the
deceit of all sin He brings His truth to us.
In satisfying the demands of all justice He brings His grace to
We are here where we belong this
morning. What brings us to
church to hear Christ’s gospel and to receive His sacraments is more
than a religious urge or devotion to our Christian duty.
We come to church because the same Jesus who won the kingdom on
the cross rules as King of the kingdom where the fruit of His holy
passion to given to sinners who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Here He satisfies our every spiritual hunger.
Here He quenches our thirst.
Here His righteousness is reckoned to us so we go home justified
and at peace with God. Jesus
was born and came into this world so that you would know this truth,
believe it, and find eternal joy in it.
That is the truth that we confess.
Rev. Rolf D. Preus