Sunday, December 9, 2007

How Do You Like Your Christianity?

Second Sunday in Advent
Sunday, December 9, 2007
Matthew 3:1-12

If Christianity were like a buffet you could go and pick and choose. You could go back for more of what you like and ignore what you don’t like. Out in the desert John the Baptist was delivering a Christianity that was anything but a buffet. He was the cook serving up three items on the menu: repentance, Baptism, and Jesus Christ. He didn’t ask them what they would like. He didn’t ask them how they would like the items prepared. He simply dished them out.

To be certain, there were some who showed up that didn’t like the way this restaurant was operating. Maybe they didn’t like the cook, or what was on the menu, or simply how it was being served. What is clear is that they would have nothing to do with what John was offering out there in the desert.

This points out to us something very important. How do we want our Christianity? Do we prefer buffet style, where we can pick and choose? Or do we go to the restaurant and simply receive what is dished out? There’s a sharp contrast drawn between those who took the menu as it stood and those who would just as soon have stayed at their own restaurant in Jerusalem. Maybe that’s why John delivered the items on his menu out in the desert—away from Jerusalem and the restaurant of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

There’s no doubt the religious leaders wanted to have their religion their own way. But did all the people who came out to John accept the Christianity John served up exactly as it was on the menu? Three years of Ministry of Jesus show us that they either rejected Him themselves, or simply ignored Him, or at the very least didn’t fully grasp exactly what Christianity was.

Assuming we’re in the category of the crowds and not the Pharisees and Sadducees, we shouldn’t simply assume that we can relax because we don’t fall under the judgment pronounced on the Pharisees and Sadducees. We’re always in danger of falling under it because our Old Adam is always hungry. Our sinful flesh is never satisfied with only what’s on the menu. It always sees something else at the buffet table that looks more appealing.

That’s why the words of John to all the people there—the crowds and religious leaders alike—are words we need to hear for all time. How is this? Because his words never come to a point where they’re no longer applicable in this life. When John said, “Repent”, he meant that this is something we’re continually in need of doing.

We can see how this is so when we look at another command in the Bible: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” We don’t hear that and say, “Oh good, I just have to love my neighbor this one time God tells me to love him.” No, we hear it and realize that He is calling us to love our neighbor and keep on loving him. Same here with repent: we don’t just repent the one time we hear this command of God—we repent and keep on repenting. That’s because we’re in continual need of repentance.

John was pointing people to Christ. He was paving the way for the Savior. While John was still out in the wilderness Baptizing and preaching Jesus came on the scene. It’s telling that when Jesus began His Ministry He preached exactly the same thing John did: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The kingdom of heaven is always at hand. The good new is that it is always at hand in the wilderness, the desert. In other words, the spiritual desert of our lives. “Heaven” comes to earth in the midst of the wilderness, our spiritual need; right in the middle of our sin and guilt.

So how do you like your Christianity? Do you want to check out what else is on the menu when you are served up a strong dose of Law? When you are called on your sin, do you want to pile on heaping portions of rationalization? When you are called to repent of gossiping and saying things of people that will harm their reputation, do excuse yourself to make another trip to the buffet so that you can find some good reason why you need to talk about people behind their back? This is really the kind of Christianity we prefer, isn’t it? Maybe we’re not so far different from those Pharisees and Sadducees.

Our Old Adam is ravenously hungry for anything that’s not on the menu. Our sinful nature feeds on its own desires. We truly are dead in our trespasses and sins. What can be done? John shows us: Baptism. The old man needs to die. In Baptism our Old Adam is drowned. The Holy Spirit gives us new life in Baptism. While repentance is a continual need, Baptism, like birth, is a one-time occurrence. It’s very much like birth, in fact, in that when you’re born you then grow. We grow in faith by repenting of our sins and being forgiven of them.

Notice how immanently practical John is. He’s not giving some sweet mush that’s palatable to them, but concrete actual stuff. Repentance, Baptism, and what it all is wrapped up in, Christ. What Christianity really is is the serving up of Christ. The Old Testament reading did exactly what John the Baptist was doing, turning our vision toward Him: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” This is a promise of the Messiah, the Savior, in whom we have forgiveness and life. John’s calling us to repentance is repentance that is in keeping with bearing fruit. How this happens is through Jesus, He is the vine and we are the branches. We can do nothing apart from Him.

Our Savior Jesus, as the Old Testament reading also shows us, judges us with righteousness. This is the promise to the Christian. Why would we want anything else served us? We are too often caught up in our version of Christianity that we at times engage in things like gossip and not putting the best construction on other people’s actions. A very different picture of the Christian Church is given by Paul in the Epistle: “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is nothing less than a description of the “bearing fruit in keeping with repentance” of the Gospel reading.

The kind of Christianity served up in the Word of God is Christianity that is centered in Christ and comes from Christ, as Paul further goes on to say:

Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy.

It was to the glory of God that Jesus took on human flesh in His birth. What results in this, our God and Lord serving us by becoming a man, is Paul’s concluding thought in the Epistle: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

You are a child of God. You are a member of His Household. You dine at His Table. You receive abundant portions from His hand. Never think that it is because you are holding on to whatever brand of Christianity you have. John’s warning to those who think they’re in apart from what’s on the menu is sobering: “And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.”

Repentance is not something we can bring about of our own will or power. That God can raise up children from stones shows us that He can raise us up from our stony unbelief. “He separates the chaff from the wheat and gathers His wheat into the barn.” This is pure Gospel. It is Jesus serving up what only He can serve. He calls to repentance so that He can make alive.

So how do you like your Christianity? How about the way Jesus serves it up to you? He doesn’t give you what you want or what you think you need. He simply gives you what He has: Himself. And that, dear friends in Christ, is Christianity. Amen.



Anonymous said...

Pastor Willweber: I'm still keeping up with your sermons, I look forward to them. Thanks for posting.
Melodee Rearden
Rockford, IL

rev.will said...

Hi Melodee: You're welcome. Thank you!