Monday, June 25, 2012

Sermon on Luke 1:57-80, the Nativity of John the Baptist, "Heavenly Visitor"

Sermon Outline:
1.      Nativity of John—not celebrated for the sake of the saint, but for the sake of the Greater One whom he gave his life in service to: Jesus. Also because he draws people to Christ. Sandals. John 3:30: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Living in the shadow of another. John welcomed it, accepted his diminishing role. It was all for the glory of Christ.
2.      Family, friends, and neighbors rejoiced together with Zechariah and Elizabeth. Zechariah’s song/prophecy, glorifying God. Song tells more about Christ and God than about John. So also our lives as saints of God should seek to give glory to God, and not ourselves. Arresting words: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people.” What does it mean that God has visited His people?
3.      Or what would it mean to say that we live on a “visited planet?” Modern fascination with extraterrestrials (lit. from outside earth). “Have we been visited?” Search for artifacts, eyewitnesses, tune in for extraterrestrial communications. Alien visitors. But this is quite different from what I mean when I say we live on a visited planet. Our visitor indeed came from outside this earth in one sense—John said of Jesus (3:31), “He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all.” Jesus is truly a heavenly visitor. As crowds saw His miracles, they said, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited His people!” (Luke 7:16). And we overlook the uniquely divine communication that God delivers in His Word and in the person of Jesus Christ!
4.      God visiting His people is literally God coming in human flesh, in the birth and life of Jesus Christ. Therefore not “alien” or foreign to our existence, but in our very own flesh and blood. The very God who intimately made us in His own image, the God who knew us even before He formed us in our mothers’ wombs (Ps. 139). In Him we live, move, and have our being. So the miracle of this “visit” is that God He came down, not just in a disguise, but truly assuming the human nature of Jesus into His divinity, so that He was God and man in one person. Not a trick, not a charade, not an alien in the uncomfortable clothes of a human being, but truly one with the creation He had so carefully made in His image.
5.      God joined Himself back to the image of God He had first imprinted on mankind. As Col. 2:9 says, “In Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” And in 1:15, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” But as Jesus came to us, there was a problem. Humanity, made to reflect and show forth God’s image, had become fallen and corrupt. The image was shattered and distorted, like a broken mirror. The reflection no longer clear, though God Himself was unchanged. Only shades of the former glory were left. But Jesus came as our visitor in order that He might redeem us. Not a visit to inspect us for proposed destruction (cf. Sodom and Gomorrah), but rather it was a visit with a precise and powerful purpose. To buy back and restore the broken, shattered, sin-ruined creation. To buy back sinners who were a shattered reflection of the glory God intended us to be. To pay His life-blood as the price, so we could be delivered from the hand of our enemies, of sin, death, and the devil, and be presented before Him to serve Him without fear in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days.
6.      This is the gracious, redeeming kind of visit spoken of in Exodus 4:31, when God saw the affliction of the Israelites in Egypt, and “The people believed; and when they heard that the Lord had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshipped.” Again, God’s visiting of His people was cause for reverence and worship of God. It was a redeeming, not a destroying visit. Just like Zechariah celebrating God’s visitation, just like the people in awe of Jesus’ miracles. God’s visit in Jesus was to save His people.
7.      The notion of a visitor also carries with it the idea of someone temporary or transitory. Someone who it’s anticipated will move on. Coming and going. But this is quite different from the kind of visitor that Jesus is. He promises His disciples: “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20) and “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18). Jesus, while not visibly in our sight, is nevertheless truly present, and has not abandoned us. He has not “moved on” but is our ever-present Savior.
8.      Zechariah’s song praises God’s salvation. Redemption and salvation are two closely related Biblical terms: redemption gives the sense of being “bought back” from slavery, from enemies, from captivity. Salvation is a word of deliverance. Being rescued from what harms or endangers us. God’s redemption, or salvation of His people always involves His deliverance from the hand of our enemies, and those who hate us. Enemies in the NT are those who are hostile to God and His Christ. Enemies of God also include especially spiritual enemies—death and the devil. But also of human enemies, we’re reminded by Romans 5:10 “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” Our natural state before redemption/salvation was enemies of God. While they are still living, enemies of God remain targets or better objects of His love. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Jesus is on a constant rescue mission to reconcile enemies to His Father.
9.      But if they persist in hostility to God and reject their only hope of salvation in Jesus Christ, they close the door to God’s mercy and their self-chosen lot is God’s wrath instead. Not because God would not have them, but because they would not have Him and His Christ.
10.  Jesus’ deliverance from our enemies is so we can serve God without fear in holiness and righteousness. To have the knowledge of salvation in the forgiveness of our sins. That is that God rescues us for a godly life, seeking after God and His love, and living in the knowledge of our forgiveness. Only in the forgiveness of our sins by Jesus do we know salvation. In no other way can we be saved. Our sins are the deadly enemy that Jesus faced and dealt with, so we could be “holy and righteous” in His sight. With our sins, we can’t stand before God. But Jesus shed His life-blood as the price to redeem or buy us back from our sins. Brings us back to the reason for God’s visit in the first place—to redeem, not destroy His people.
11.  And this should again be the cause for our celebration and rejoicing. To join in Zechariah’s song to lift up a blessing to our God, and celebrate all that He has given and promised us. John the Baptist’s birth was the talk of the town as people celebrated with Zechariah. So also for us, the news of Jesus’ visitation and redemption of us, His people, should be the talk of the town. Let it be known that we have been visited from on high, and that Jesus our Heavenly Visitor has come to bring us His life and knowledge of salvation! Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. For examples of Zechariah’s song (sometimes called the Benedictus) used in the living song of the church, see LSB 226, 238, 936.
  2. How is the remembrance of John the Baptist really about celebrating Jesus, the greater One he came to serve? How does Zechariah’s song proclaim Christ?
  3. What does it mean to say that we live on a “visited planet?” Describe what Luke 1:68 means that God has “visited and redeemed his people.” How is this visitation different from other examples of “divine visitation” in the Old Testament? Gen. 11:5-6; 18:20-21. What was the purpose of Jesus’ “visit?”
  4. In what way is Jesus intimately connected to humankind, so that He is not something utterly foreign to or “alien” to us? John 1:1-13; Col. 1:15; 1 Cor. 15:49; Gen. 1:27
  5. How does Jesus secure redemption and salvation for us? Luke 1:71, 74-75, 77; John 1:29. How does this free us to serve Him “without fear”? What things might we fear in life? How are we delivered from these fears and given courage to face the spiritual battlefield of our lives?
  6. In verse 71 and 74, who are our enemies, or God’s enemies? Luke 19:27; Phil. 3:18; Acts 13:10; Luke 10:18-19; How was that our natural condition before our salvation? Rom. 5:10. What is God’s aim for those who are presently His enemies? Matt. 5:43-48. If they finally close the door to His mercy, and persist in hostility or enmity toward God, what is their self-chosen lot? 1 Cor. 15:25-26; Matt. 10:33
  7. How is the Word light for us? How does Jesus guide us to peace?

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