Messengers Announce His Coming (December 10, 2017)
Messengers Announce His Coming
I recently heard a very entertaining comedy skit comparing the differences between when the doorbell rings today vs. 20 years ago. I’ll quickly summarize a bit of the skit. 20 years ago, when the doorbell rang, that was a happy moment in your house. Everyone would jump up and rejoice, “Did you hear the doorbell?! We have company!” And the whole family went to the door. You didn’t even check to see who it was, you just opened the door and warmly greet whoever it was that stopped by. They were probably just in the neighborhood and wanted to see how the family was doing. You would invite them in, break out the nice snacks, throw a cup of coffee on, and 2 hours would fly by as you sat there and chatted face to face! Now when your doorbell rings…. You are thinking, “who on earth could that be?” No one goes to the door. You remain as still as possible, especially if your front door has a window. And you hope and pray that the person – probably a sales person – goes away quickly.
Nobody comes over unannounced anymore. Nobody rings the doorbell unless they are a stranger. What do friends and family do before they visit? They call ahead, or at least text from the driveway. In fact, face to face visits just to chat and catch up seem to be more and more a relic of the past. Now everything is done through messages. Did a package arrive? You’ll get a message. Is someone coming over? You’ll get a message. Sometimes even before someone calls, you’ll get a message. And, for the most part, we like these messages because they allow us to be in control of our own personal time and prevent unexpected intrusions upon our personal space.
This Advent season, we have been talking about the unexpected second coming of Jesus. Today we will see that although he will come at an unexpected time, his coming is not unannounced. Messages announce his coming. They are sent by God. They call you to repent. And they announce that the Savior is here.
Ever since sin first entered the world, God promised and sent messages to draw us back to him. He didn’t have to. He could have left those who drift away to wander in their own wilderness. But he loves you. Even though you may wander and stray, even though you may deliberately disobey, God loves you and wants you to be found ready for when he returns for you. So he sends messengers to announce his coming and remind you of his coming. He sends messengers so that you can be prepared for his coming. If you read some of the descriptions of that day in the Bible, you will quickly realize that for many it is going to be a heart-stopping and terrifying day. The earth will be shaken and leveled. The skies will roll up and vanish. There will be thunder and lightning, a loud trumpet call… and everyone will see Jesus. But how will you see him? Will he be the terrifying judge who just caught you unprepared? Or will he be your long-awaited Savior, who finally brings relief? Before Jesus first came to earth, God sent messengers to announce his arrival. Messengers who announced the coming of someone even greater than they. Messengers so that the people could greet the long-awaited Messiah with open arms.
One such messenger was John. In fact, even this messenger who would be the forerunner of the Messiah was announced by messages. God said long ago through his messengers, “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way – a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” (Mk 1:2-3). After centuries of messages from God, announcing the coming Messiah, this was it. Jesus was “in the driveway” so to speak. To announce his arrival, so that no one would be caught off-guard, he sent messengers who carried his powerful message, but in a far less intimidating package. God wanted the people to be ready to greet him with open arms, not running away in terror.
“And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness” (Mk 1:4), and he had God’s powerful and urgent message to proclaim: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Mt 3:2). “Repent? Just who do you think you are talking to John? These are Israelites. Many of them have been longing for the coming Messiah. Many of them have been upright in their observances of the law from little on. Many of them have been patiently waiting for the King to come and restore them to their rightful place among world powers! And you think we need to repent. Repent of what?”
Isn’t that often our response. “Just who do you think you are talking to. We are Christians! Many of us have been church going Christians from little on. And you think we need to repent. Repent of what?” We often don’t see what’s wrong until someone points it out. And boy are there some powerful messages in the Bible, pointing out our deepest, darkest sins with such accuracy, that you might think they were text messages directly from your own conscience! “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot… You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked” (Rev 3:15,17). “I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God” (Rev 3:1-2). It stings. We writhe in pain not wanting to admit our wrongs, but often in reading God’s Word we find that he knows the human condition, and he can put his finger directly on all our faults.
But that’s not the primary reason he came. He doesn’t simply point out our faults to watch us squirm and writhe and make us feel like worthless, hopeless sinners. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (Jn 3:17). Realize that the very reason God took on flesh and walked among us, was not to point out sin, condemn us, and leave us hopeless. No! God sent his Son to take every sin onto himself. God sent his Son to die and rise so that you and I would not be eternally condemned for sin. But to realize our need for his first coming, he had to point out sin. He had to make us aware of our need for him so that we could trust in and rely upon his work for our salvation.
That’s why, along with John’s powerful message of repentance immediately comes a powerful message of forgiveness! “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn 1:29). And now, in this mindset, people are finally ready to meet Jesus. Yes, he comes in power, but not to destroy the sinner. He comes in power to destroy sin and save the sinner! His messages, carried by his messengers, prepared the people to meet him in a right way.
God still comes to you. Through his word and the working of the Holy Spirit, he still comes through his messages and messengers to assure you of your forgiveness. He comes, not to terrify you of your own sin, but to help you realize your need for him. He comes into your crushed heart to build you back up the right way – teaching you to trust in forgiveness and the salvation which can only come from God! And just like the sin, which is too bad to admit, so the forgiveness is too good to be true! So God sends that message to you again and again through his Word, through his messengers today, and through repeated reminders in life and in worship.
It’s hard to believe. Even when repeated again and again. How could a God who requires perfection before we approach him, instead approach us, wretched sinners, with the free gift of forgiveness? It’s because God loves you. God knew this would be hard to believe so he connects a physical action with the message that’s “too good to be true.” God commanded John to reinforce his message with a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. That same baptism, reaffirmed by Jesus, that we still use today. Yes, we are wretched sinners, but God has forgiven you. He washes your sins away, completely cleansing you from all unrighteousness. Now, since God approached you first with the unbelievable message of forgiveness, you can approach him, holy and blameless through Christ.
So God has sent you messages and messengers which come directly from him. It’s his word to you. His messages help you realize your need for him. And as he works in your heart through his messages, he brings you to repentance. Finally, the stage is set. He has gotten you ready. Now you are prepared to meet your Savior.
One thing that I really got a kick out of from that comedy skit I mentioned was that today people will often text you from the driveway before they even approach the door. It’s like they forgot that doorbells even exist! It’s especially funny because its true! I’m sure I’ve done it a number of times too. But as I think about it, there would be one situation in which I would really appreciate a text from the driveway or even from a few blocks away. I would want that text if someone really important was coming to my house. Someone like, the president of the United States, or some other powerful person. I’d appreciate that text because it’s much less terrifying to be warned by a message first rather than the unannounced shock of opening up your door to such a person. Then, I’d have at least a few minutes to throw toys into cupboards, fluff the pillows, and throw nicer clothes onto as many kids as I can catch. I’d want that small amount of time to prepare. Well, if that’s the kind of shock we might get from the arrival of a fellow human being, imagine how much more startling it would be to suddenly have the Almighty God show up on your doorstep. That’s exactly why God sends messengers and forerunners; so that you can be prepared and composed to meet your God.
I think John points out this role quite well when he says, “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie” (Mk 1:7). “Get ready!” he says, “because you are going to meet someone even greater!” And yet, in this very special role of John’s, being a messenger sent by God with a message of repentance, he did not think of himself more highly than he ought. If you look at the accounts surrounding John’s ministry, he had it all! He had a large following of very loyal followers. People even asked him if he was the promised Messiah. He could have took that and run with it! But he realized his role. Even though Jesus at one time called John “the greatest in the kingdom of God” (Mt 11:11), John knew that his role was not to draw attention to himself. He was only a witness to the greater one to come. He was to point people to Savior and explain to the people what kind of Savior this was to be. “He must become greater; I must become less” (Jn 3:30) John said. Because it would be foolish for people to focus so much on the messenger, that they forget all about the one being announced: the real Savior.
Just as John’s role was different than Jesus’ role, so also his work was different. John was merely God’s instrument. John merely preached a message from God and applied the waters of Baptism. He didn’t craft the message himself, nor did he give baptism it’s power. Rather, it was the work of the Savior to fulfill the message preached by John. It was Jesus who would bring the forgiveness of sins to all who believe in him. It was the work of Jesus that allows any messenger of God to announce the forgiveness of sins. And it was God who gave John’s baptism its power. “I baptize you with water,” he said, “but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mk 1:8). And that’s exactly what God does to this day. Though you see me standing up here Sunday after Sunday, my prayer is that you hear Jesus. I’m but another messenger. And although you have called me to announce the forgiveness of sins, administer the Lord’s Supper, and apply the waters of Baptism, know that it is God alone who gives them power – who makes these action meaningful.
John had the joy and privilege of pointing people directly to Jesus, who gave his work power, and who was the one everyone was waiting for! Today we eagerly await Jesus’ arrival once more. This time not to conquer sin, but to rescue you from its enduring effects. And as we wait, Jesus doesn’t leave you with nothing. Just as messages from loved ones light up your phone – and it’s a joy to receive them – so also God lights up your world with messages from his Word. He has something to say about every situation in life. And he reminds you that he’s coming soon!