December 23, 2018
John confessed, he did not deny, but confessed. Jesus said, “everyone who confesses me before men, I also will confess before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my father who is in heaven.” And Romans 10:10 states, “For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” It is clear from these passages and the confession of John the Baptist that Christians confess. We call ourselves confessional Lutherans. That means we confess to believe that the teachings of the Book of Concord are true because they agree with the holy Scriptures. When I was ordained, I confessed that I believed the teachings of the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds as well that the teachings of the Lutheran Confessions are in full agreement with Scripture and I promised to teach them. We confess the Nicene Creed every Divine Service and the Apostles Creed when we wake up each day.
To confess literally means “to say the same thing” or “to agree on something.” When we confess in Church, we do not each confess our own personal views about God and Jesus and ourselves. We confess what God says about himself and about us. And we all confess the same thing, because there is only one God, who reveals all that we need to know about him in holy Scripture.
Yet, confessing is very controversial. Because to confess means that you believe something to be true. Which means that things that disagree with that confession are not true. To say that something someone believes in is not true is rude. So, confessing is rude. And through a bizzare twist of logic, many Christians think that confessing is unchristian. Sadly, although the teachings of Jesus are widely available for anyone to read or be taught, most would rather sit at the knee of their teacher Pontius Pilate, who mockingly asked, “What is truth?” (John 18:38)
“Deeds, not creeds!” has even become a popular slogan among American Christians. This is tragic, because it means that our filthy rotten “good” works are more valuable than faith! For creed simply means what you believe. Well, we confess that our deeds are too wicked and sinful ever to earn for us eternal life, but we believe in one whose deeds have saved us apart from our works, namely Jesus Christ, who died for our sins. No, it is creeds that save, not deeds. Faith in Christ saves, not our tainted works. Also, the statement, “Deeds, not creeds!” is itself a creed. A bad creed, which confesses that our works are more important than faith in Christ.
Yet, it is quite clear from Scripture that creeds are good. Confessing is good. But it is important that what you confess is true. John the Baptist in our Gospel lesson confessed two things. One about himself and the other about Christ Jesus. Both confessions were rooted in holy Scripture.
John confessed of himself that he was not the Christ! All Israel had been waiting for the promised Christ, whom the prophets had foretold many times. Rather, John confesses that he is the voice, as Scripture declares, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘make straight the way of the Lord.” (Isaiah 40:3) And we learned last week how John made straight the way of the Lord by preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Only those who confess their sins to God and repent are ready to receive the Lord with his forgiveness.
John confessed of himself what the word of God said about him. And we are called to do the same thing. When we confess our sins, such as at the beginning of the Divine Service, we are simply agreeing with what God’s word says about us. Scripture tells us that we are poor, miserable sinners. Scripture tells us that we are born in sin and that the desires of our hearts are evil. Scripture tells us what is right: Honor authority; do not commit sexual immorality; do not steal; do not slander, etc. And when we examine ourselves, we see that we have failed and deserve hell. Scripture tells us that our deeds are less than insufficient to rescue us from hell.
Such a confession is humiliating. Most do not want to make such a confession about themselves. They’d rather confess themselves to be something they are not. Yet, if John would have confessed himself to be the Christ, would that have made him the Christ? Of course not. It would have made him a blasphemer. Likewise, if we deny our sins, we are liars. Yet, Scripture gives hope to us who confess our sins. The humble will be exalted. And if we confess our sins, God will faithfully forgive our sins.
John confessed of Christ, “Among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” The next day John said of him, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.” (John 1:29-30) Now, how can Jesus come after John, yet have such a high rank that John is not worthy to unstrap his sandles, a common task of a slave? How is it that Jesus is both after John (having been born six months later and started his ministry after him), yet he is before him? Because Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecy from Deuteronomy 18, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me among you, from your brothers, it is him you shall listen.” This is the prophet, whom John denied to be. This prophet is the Christ.
Jesus is before John, because he is God. He is the Word, who was with God and was God in the beginning, through whom all things that were made were made. He appeared to Moses in the burning bush. He spoke to Abraham and promised him a son. He led the people of Israel by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. He was on Mount Sinai with thunder and earthquake and fiery cloud, terrifying the people of Israel. But now he comes after John, born after him, preaching after him.
Why? Why does Christ, who is before John, come after him? And why does he come as our brother, born of a woman? Listen again to our Old Testament lesson, “Just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see his great fire any more, lest I die.’ And the LORD said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth...”
The people of Israel could not bear God speaking to them, because God is holy and they were sinful. So, God had to hide himself from them. He could only be in their presence through a sacrificial system. Yet, now God speaks to them as their brother. He does not terrify them with fire and earthquake, but speaks plain words. They can see him, touch him, and listen to him. God became man, so that we human beings could receive him through faith, believing in the words he speaks to us.
John confessed Christ to be both God and man. And we make this same confession today. We must make this confession. First of all, because it is true and plainly taught in holy Scripture. Secondly, because it is necessary for our salvation. If Jesus is not truly God and man, then we cannot be saved.
We should know this well, if Jesus were not a human being, he could not obey God’s holy Law in our place nor die for our sins and if Jesus were not truly God, his sacrificial death on the cross would not be a sufficient price to pay for our sins. He would not have had power over sin, death, and the devil. He would not have had the power to rise from the dead or give us power over the grave. For this reason, we must always confess him to be “God of God, light of light, very God by very God, begotten not made, being of one Substance with the Father by whom all things were made, who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man.” And the confirmation students should cherish in their hearts and confess with their mouths what they have learned this past month, “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary is my Lord.”
It matters what we confess about Christ. Every single religion that denies that Jesus is both God and man teaches you to rely on your works to be saved. This is not a coincidence. Unless God becomes man, we cannot be saved. There is no grace for us. Yet, because God has become man, God does not come to us in fire and smoke, but with words of peace and mercy. Just listen to what John says of him, who is ranked so high, he is unworthy to untie his sandles, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
Think of that. By all rights, we should be less than slaves before him. We are not worthy to serve him or even wash his feet. Yet, what does this Jesus do? He bears all our sins. He behaves toward us as less than a slave. He serves us as a sacrificial lamb, who gives his life for sins he did not commit.
This is the true meaning of Christmas. That baby in the manger surrounded by a stoic donkey and adorable sheep is the appointed sacrifice for our sins. He is the lamb provided by God, our scapegoat, the only one, who can take God’s wrath away. He, our God and brother, has come to die for us.
Are you celebrating Christmas with some, who do not confess Christ? Or are you embarrassed to confess Jesus to be true God and man, born to save you, as you celebrate his birth? How strange that this is the situation of many as our entire nation celebrates the birth of Christ while most ignore its meaning. Well, I would like to encourage you to do as John the Baptist did. Confess Christ. Who cares if it’s awkward? Don’t be worried about offending anyone. Confess Jesus to be true God and man, born to save sinners. As you gather as a family to celebrate Christmas, gather everyone around to hear the Christmas story from the Gospel of St. Matthew or St. Luke. Make it a family tradition. Confess the creed. Go to church and hear the Gospel, which was first delivered by the angels.
Whoever confesses Jesus before men, Jesus will confess before his Father in heaven. And with the mouth one confesses and is saved. Yet, even more, you can only receive Jesus and his salvation through faith. And faith comes through hearing the words of Christ. So, be that voice, which confesses Christ. Or bring your loved ones to hear that voice, not just this Christmas, but throughout the year. Let us always confess the Godman Jesus Christ, and rest assured that he is confessing you before your Father in heaven. Amen.