WWJTBD? What would John the Baptist Do? If you read the post last Sunday and remember that question, you’ll recall that “what John the Baptist would do,” would be to point people to Jesus. We saw that last week in the Gospel text and we see it this week as well in John 1:6-8, 19-28.
John came to prepare the way for the Lord. He was the one foretold by the prophet Isaiah who would pave the path for the Lord’s arrival in the flesh. John came with the Law to bring people to repentance and to bear witness to the light of Christ. He came to point people to Jesus Christ, the one who came after John and yet ranks before him, because Jesus is the incarnate Word of God through whom all things were created.
This Jesus Christ is the “seed of a woman” promised so long ago by God (cf. Genesis 3:15). He is the true light that was coming into the world: the only begotten Son of the Father, light of light, very God of very God. He is is the Savior come to shine the light of God’s truth on God’s creation and remove the darkness of unbelief and idolatry.
I like to read a lot of classical history from the ancient Greeks and Romans, like Herodotus’ history of the wars between the Greeks and Persians and Thucydides’ history of the wars among the Greeks, between the Athenians and the Spartans. One thing that I’ve noticed in these histories is the superstitious nature of the Greeks at that time. They were living in darkness, because the light of Christ had not yet dawned on them.
Peppered throughout these historical accounts of the wars of the Greeks are instances where the Greeks would consult an oracle or engage in some sort of fortune telling activity before taking any major action. Often, they would send representatives to the oracle at Delphi in Greece to get a pronouncement concerning their actions. It would be like us running down to the local palm reader or tea reader before we made a decision about something.
Now, the priestess at the oracle at Delphi would give to the Greek representatives an oracle that was written in rhyme and could be interpreted in any number of ways. In fact, the same oracle would be interpreted different ways depending upon who was interpreting it and what they wished it to say. Usually after some great event happened, people would look back at the oracles they had received and say, “Oh, that’s what it meant.” One famous oracular statement was giving to King Croesus of Lydia in 560 BC who consulted the oracle to see if he should attack the Persian empire. The oracle said: “After crossing the Halys, Croesus will destroy a great empire.” Halys was a river which separated the Greeks and Persians. Croesus crossed it to attack the Persians and lost, which resulted in the destruction of him and his kingdom. So, either way, the oracle would have been interpreted as being correct.
This was all very superstitious and oftentimes this superstition incapacitated people and prevented them from taking any action at all. Battles were lost and whole cities enslaved, while commanders and generals dallied about looking for a good omen. They consulted entrails, sacred chickens, and all manner of idols seeking a sign. The Greeks lived in darkness and had not yet received the light. They were under the subjection of superstition, false spirituality, and idolatry.
But, lest we think we are more advanced than the ancient Greeks, we often do similar things today. We have horoscopes in newspapers and on the internet that purport to tell us what will happen to us. We have modern day fortune tellers, palm readers, tea leave readers, and tarot card readers who contend that they can tell us the future. We have shows on TV with supposed psychics who promise to tell us about ourselves. We have lucky charms, lucky pennies, lucky rabbits feet, and various other talismans. We too often live in darkness as if we have not yet received the light. We live in the midst of a dark culture of death, not so different than the ancient Greeks after all. We too often have many gods on our altars, looking for one who will tell us what we want to hear.
Sometimes we even try to turn the Lord into an object of our superstition. Think about what the Lord has revealed to us through His Word. He has told us what His will is for our lives. He has given us His Law. But sometimes we incapacitate ourselves by trying to discern His will for us, even though He’s already told us. He’s already told us what is pleasing to Him. We have His Ten Commandments, and He has created us with reason to live our lives in this world. So, we can live out our lives here on earth using our God-given reason and abilities in the light of God’s truth.
But, because we are fallen creatures, we often use our reason and intelligence to sin. We also sometimes elevate our reason and intelligence to almost god-like status, believing that we are the masters of all things, placing ourselves over the Lord and his revelation to us in the Scriptures. We still live in the midst of a dark culture and have the darkness encroaching upon us.
However, Christ came to shine the light of truth upon us, and the darkness can neither comprehend nor overcome it. This light reveals to us that we are God’s creatures, that He has redeemed us from the eternal death we deserve, and that He has called us together as His people – this is the summary of the Apostles’ Creed. This is the light of truth that Christ brought as God made flesh.
So, this light shows us that we are not helpless masses of matter on this earth, subject to unseen forces, and calling on unseen gods for help. The Greeks, the Romans, and pagans throughout history – even today – feel this way. We do not need to seek the advice of oracles, or look for omens, or place our trust in lucky objects or talismans. And we do not need to treat the Lord as an oracle and talisman, as if He is just one among many gods.
For we have the Lord as our God. The Lord is the one who created all things and orders all things according to His will. He is the living God under whom all things are subject. And He has called us as His people so that He may be our God and so that we no longer live in fear or under the thumb of sin and death.
This is the light of truth that He has shined upon us through Christ. Without this light we would be the same as the pagans, walking about in darkness, unsure of the direction to take and unsure of in whom or in what to place our hopes. We would remain superstitious, grasping about for anything in which we might place some hope and from which we might receive some good. But, this is not what the Lord wants for us. We have no need to remain in darkness, because He has sent His light to us, His Son. And this light has set us free from sin and superstitious idolatry and all evil.
For through Jesus Christ we know God. The Son reveals to us the Father and His plans for us. We know the Father through the Son, and together they send forth the Holy Spirit to reveal the Lord’s truth and light to us. Our Lord is our Triune God who acts for us, and He does so through each person of the Holy Trinity, acting to bring the truth and light to us.
Our Triune God also uses His creation to help do this. He sends people, flesh and blood whom He created, armed with the Gospel. He gives us the Gospel in the waters, which He created, of baptism. He gives us the Gospel and the incarnate Word in the bread and wine, which He created, of the Lord’s Supper. Through these means, God uses His creation to do the same as what John the Baptist was called to do – point people to Jesus Christ. But, even more profound, God uses these elements to actually give us Christ and the forgiveness of sins and life everlasting that is found only in him.
So, what does the Gospel do? And what does Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and God’s written and spoken Word do? Actually give people the crucified and risen Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. For God came in the flesh, not to be served, but to serve. And God is constantly serving you through His Word. That is why we call our worship the “Divine service,” because God is the primary actor in worship. He is serving us, and we respond to what He has first done for us with praise and thanksgiving. God gives, we receive, and then we respond – but God is always the initiator.
In worship, we live out the life of faith. We live out justification by God’s grace through faith in Christ. For in worship, God pours out His grace upon us and then we respond in faith to what God has done for us. Do you see then, that our whole lives are lived in worship? For God is always giving and we are responding through faith.
For we were once the poor, devoid of any righteousness within ourselves. We were once the brokenhearted, wounded by God’s Law and the knowledge of our sins. We were once the captives, slaves to sin. We were once bound in prison, the prison of satan and eternal death. But, the Lord has come to save us. Jesus Christ was anointed by the Father to bring good news to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to the captives, and open the prisons to free us. He came to proclaim the Lord’s favor upon us – He came to proclaim the Gospel – the Good News – of the free forgiveness of sins and reconciliation to God through His name. So, we are no longer under the dominion of sin, superstition, false gods, and death, but now live in the light of Christ (cf. Isaiah 61:1ff).
This is the power of God’s Word. It does what He says, and His Word came in the flesh for you. God says that He has forgiven you of all your sins through Christ’s death and resurrection, and so He has. God says that He has credited Christ’s righteousness to you, and so He has. God says that Christ will return for you, and so He will. God says that He will raise you from your graves to be with Him for eternity, and so He will.
And in a way, in a very real sense, all this has already been done. You have already entered into your eternal life here and now on this earth. For you have been baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. And so although you will die some day, you will also rise on that day when Christ returns for you.
So you have God’s promise that when He raises you from your graves, you will behold His light in full and dwell in His presence forever. And, as Isaiah says, you “will greatly rejoice in the LORD; [your] soul shall exult in [your] God, for he has clothed [you] with the garments of salvation; he has covered [you] with the robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10). Amen.
(Image: Temple of Apollo at Delphi, By KPFC – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39383356 ).