“….he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them…” – Luke 3:17b-18
Earlier in chapter 3 of Luke, before our text for today, we read the following about John the Baptist:
“…He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.
5 Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
the rough ways smooth.
6 And all people will see God’s salvation.’”[a]
This really is a most colorful scene. Can you imagine it?
Crowds of people, including a good number of religious leaders, are taking a day-trip into the wilderness to hear John preach… and many of these – for him to help them reform and renovate their lives – will be baptized by him…
Let’s pick things up:
“What should we do then?” the crowd asks [John]…
And John then seems to give out simple suggestions, suggestions which feature acts of generosity: “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”
And to the tax collectors who were coming out to be baptized, he gets specific: “Don’t collect any more than you are required to…” To the soldiers who come he doesn’t tell them to become pacifists, but does say “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”
So what did John the Baptist say to these men and women before they asked what they should do in the first place? How was John interacting with all those folks who took valuable time out of their day to come into the desert to hear him?
Oh, he was just saying things like this, and evidently not just to the religious leaders!:
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire….
“I baptize you with[b] water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with[c] the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire…”
Modern dispensers of good advice might suggest that this is no way for John to effectively build a following or fan-base, but that, of course, wasn’t his goal… He was preparing the way for the Messiah, God’s goal for all men…
We read, after all, right here in chapter 3, “the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness” and so that kind of settles things, doesn’t it?
John’s word, John’s work, is prophetic.
One pastor whose sermons I regularly read put this exceptionally well, echoing the 16th century Reformer Martin Luther:
“…the proper office of John the Baptist is the same as the function of God’s Law. It is to humble the entire world. It is to level and beat down the track and pathway. The intent and purpose of John the Baptist and the Law are to crush every single roadblock, to destroy every obstruction – to proclaim that everyone is a lost, damned, poor, miserable, pitiable person. John the Baptist, as well as God’s holy Law, are to proclaim that there is “no life, work, or rank however holy, beautiful, and good it may appear [which] is [not] damnable unless Christ our God” makes it good…” (Matt Richards)
So John the Baptist means to do just this, making all acknowledge their error, and turning them from their lives of sin and evil to embrace all that the Lord has to offer…
Pardon! (forgiveness!) And the power of His Spirit! A whole new heart, a whole new way of life in Him!
A new way of being created by faith in the life, death, and resurrection of the Son of God!
This involves, of course, perpetually leaving the old behind. Not living in the old way… John’s audience understood that quite well, and hence their inquiries…
How much do we understand this?
That faith in Christ lives in repentance?!
Let’s look at something that John the Baptist said closely again. He said this:
He will baptize you with[c] the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire…”
And right after this, he goes on to say the following: “And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them…”
Here is a good question: what is the good news, otherwise known as the Gospel, specifically?
So it seems like here the Gospel is being inexplicably connected not only with God’s forgiveness and mercy – which we are used to – but also to a word that judges as well…
Perhaps looking more closely at the book of Luke specifically might help us here….
Again, “Gospel” in Greek is connected with verbs like εὐαγγελίζω, which literally means to bring or announce good news….
We might perhaps think right away about what the angel of the Lord told the shepherds on that first Christmas!:
“But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Good news that will cause great joy for all the people, and not just the Jews either![ii]
So, what exactly was so good about this news, more specifically?
Well, no doubt this great deliverance – described also by John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah as “a hornof salvation for us in the house of his servant David” – entailed what men like Martin Luther was to emphasize in the 16h century Reformation of the church (when it desperately needed to be emphasized): the forgiveness of sins. For as Zechariah also said, God’s people were to be given “the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God…”
Just like the angels also announced to the shepherds, right?: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14, NKJV)
And not only was God sending His Messiah to bring forgiveness, joy, and peace to mankind, rescuing us from “the hand of our enemies,” that is particularly sin, death, and the devil.
Zechariah also speaks about how God will “guide our feet into the path of peace” and enable us to “serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”
“Serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days!”[iii]
You see, the Lord has come to His people in holiness and righteousness. That they too might be holy and righteous as well![iv] So bring on this holiness and righteousness – which yes, we know is going to cause conflict as well![v]
Thy Kingdom come!
This is precisely why, in Luke 1, when the Angel Gabriel speaks to Zechariah about his coming son, John the Baptist, he shares the following which he calls “good news” or “Gospel” (1:19) as well:
“And [your Son John the Baptist] will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
This too, this “holiness and righteousness” that keeps coming, is “good news”[vi]
Do you see how this is good news?
Because the holiness of God, the fire of God, is not meant to judge you and leave you as damnable chaff – even as this will certainly be the end result for many…
Rather, the holiness of God, the fire of God, is meant to convert and refine… to turn us to holiness and righteousness…[vii]
To do this to you in the Holy Spirit’s baptism of fire in Christ![viii]
So in one sense, we can say that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is all about serving in holiness and righteousness before him all our days, turning the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous…
This kind of good news is for all of us! And not just the low, but the high as well!
In our text for today for instance, we see how John the Baptist is being persecuted for confronting someone, someone with power and authority, about the evils and injustices he had done…
And all of this reminds me of something that I heard earlier this week – from a man who was talking about all the conversations about power and authority happening today. He said:
“Power and authority have been all the talk in the news media and in academic circles as of late.
Doubtless, you have heard about being “woke”, about becoming aware of systemic social injustices and inequalities, about that which is called critical theory, and along with it, identity politics. About coming to a realization of the apparent unjust political structures of the world which must be, so it is thought, identified and then compensated for in some way.
Cultural Marxism, also a buzzword for the day. Again, a theory, a set of ideas, about who really has power, who really has authority in society.
We’re going to find out…”
Does this have anything to with what John the Baptist is doing here? If not, how is it different?
First, a similarity. As is often the case with today’s “social justice warriors” John also is not looking to bring Herod to a point of “intellectual submission” through reasoned argumentation and the like. John is no doubt certain that he is right in his moral evaluation, but he doesn’t think Herod needs or even deserves any explanation or argumentation for why this is the case. Herod should just know better!
So how is this different? In a couple major ways.
First, note that even as God is certainly concerned about the abuse and oppression of the poor and the weak, the one sin of a political ruler that we hear about here on the part of Herod is his divorce of his own wife and re-marriage of his half-brother’s wife who was also his niece, Herodias. That is the action Herod had taken that had indeed greatly disturbed and even repulsed much of Judea – and not because of breathless news coverage by the way! – and that John confronted (Josephus, per Lenski, p. 207)…
Second, John is not engaging in these actions in order to undermine Herod’s power and make him weak so that he can eventually be replaced or so that he will submit to John’s political program.[ix] He is doing it because he is holding Herod, like everyone else, to God’s standard, His unchanging and consistent standard! He does this so that Herod can fulfill his vocation – as a provincial ruler – in accordance with God’s will. In other words, John is not trying to usurp authority for himself or others…
Finally, I’d add that we don’t really know the context of how this confrontation happened. Did John mention this in an off-hand fashion publicly? Did he preach a message with Herod and his adultery somehow at the heart of it? Did he simply confront him privately, again, and again?[x] We actually don’t know. The point however, is that John, according to his conscience, believed he had to confront Herod with the truth[xi]… with God’s law… and he did what he had to do….
Evidently no concerns or worries about properly dividing or separating church and state here…
No concerns about striving for worldly influence and power on John’s part either…
And, again, no concerns about using reasoned arguments to drive others into “intellectual submission” – or perhaps, as we are seeing more and more these days, using any kind of rhetorical flourishes that work, even if they are ultimately hypocritical, en route to gaining another’s emotional submission!
No. None of that kind of stuff. God’s law is simply for all… high and low.
It is about John fulfilling his prophetic mission, and, in fact, as the commentator Victor Prange puts it: “[John the Baptist’s] imprisonment for speaking the [Word of God – which is not well received by the sinful world –] is an ominous introduction to the ministry of Jesus, and foreshadows the cross on which he will die…”[xii]
Baptized saints, do you understand that with the coming of Christmas, the world’s powers and authorities were, to say the least, encroached upon – and most all of them, it seems, are not going to take this lying down…
This is why Herod commissioned the killing of all the infants of Bethlehem… trying to kill the Top Power and Authority while still in his cradle….
All of this, really, still points to our challenge today….
Nothing has changed:
God’s people look to serve in holiness and righteousness before him all our days, and turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous…
And going along with this, we recognize that even as the world’s powers and authorities will rage against the holiness and righteousness God brings, power and authority are nevertheless very good gifts from God…
…even if those among men and women often abuse it, which means, at one level, that they simply do not uphold the law, the will, of God.
This sermon is beginning to sound a little political, isn’t it? Or at least that this Gospel that we are hearing about in the book of Luke might have some political implications?
Indeed! Fathers and mothers – the most basic level of human government – should wisely govern with the Word of God!
And beyond, building from this core:
Teachers should wisely govern with the Word of God…
Employers should wisely govern with the Word of God…
Political rulers and officials should wisely govern with the Word of God.
Interestingly, the British writer J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of the Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings – and certainly no contemporary “social justice warrior”! – might listen to this and respond a bit negatively…
I heard this past week that he once said:
“My political opinions lean more and more to anarchy. The most improper job of any man, even saints, is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity….”
I get this. I mean, I have six boys and so I am one of those people who might find myself quite readily telling you what you should do…
..and I know how even those who really love me respond…
I’ve got to watch myself.
At the same time, I also, somehow, need to find a way to do what God calls me to do in my various vocations or roles…
We are all to speak the Word of God to one another in every aspect of our daily lives…[xiii] including in the life we “do together” when it comes to the political, that is, power and authority arrangements…
All must repent.
In America even? Even our rulers? Yes.
This is hard. This is personal. This is challenging…[xiv]
The hard choices we have before us have to do with knowing when it is our place and role to speak… and to bring a hard word into this or that situation.
Lord have mercy on us! How then should we live?
Our society is in shambles.
The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
Confusion among the young about love, and with it gender, sex, and marriage.
Social justice warring, fueled by cultural Marxism or critical theory… identity politics.
Even national borders being seen as evil things! With loving one’s nation even considered bad! As our ruling elites drone on about being “citizens of the world”…
Do these kinds of things arise, do these kinds of things happen, precisely because of a lack of courage on the part of the church when it comes to confronting the world with God’s law?
Is that why things decay?
Is that why things come to pass as they do?
I believe so.
Herod knew what he was doing was wrong. Even today, when the sinful world does wrong, it does not do wrong unknowingly. It suppresses the truth to various degrees, and at some level knows that what it does is wrong.
And for the church specifically – not loving God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind – do we lack the virtue to know in our bones that:
…we must pass His Word on, vigorously teaching it to the young…
…that we need to share both His hard and good words with one another…
…that we are the salt and light so that the things that we love and the things that God has given us can be preserved, maintained…
…and not only this but also that some of them might be prepared for their final transformation and refinement?[xv]
Indeed. Our lack of virtue is why things come to pass as they do… At least in part.
I also know that we are all sinners, that people, particularly politicians, might use religion for their own purposes and not God’s, and that there is an element in all of us, in some of us more than others, where we would like to not be God’s leaf on the river, so to speak – being taken where he would take us[xvi] – but where we would be those strive to control, control, control of the situations around us regardless of the costs!
…so that we can shape them to our own whims and what we would like….
Not necessarily in line with what God would like….
Nevertheless, again, control, like power and authority, is not an evil thing.
Good governance, in fact, will maintain control of one’s household for good.
O Lord have mercy!
We know the end must come eventually because of man’s sin and evil, but how fast and hard and painfully does it really need to come upon your people?!
Again, what is going on here in our Gospel text for today?
What does burning up chaff with unquenchable fire have to do with good news?
I hope by this point you have a good idea about the answer.
Again, the holiness of God, the fire of God, comes first and foremost not to damn but to convert and refine… And only Jesus, ultimately, will be the perfect Creator of individual and corporate righteousness, only Jesus will be the perfect Justice-Maker…
To do this to us in the Holy Spirit’s baptism of fire!
What is going on here overall is this:
The God of the Bible is good, good to all, first those He has made His own, and beyond as well.[xvii]
This is the God who is invested in us…[xviii]
It is like the great medieval hymn “Oh love how deep, how broad, how high….” by Thomas a Kempis:
3 For us baptized, for us he bore
his holy fast and hungered sore;
for us temptation sharp he knew,
for us the tempter overthrew.
4 For us he prayed, for us he taught;
for us his daily works he wrought,
by words and signs and actions thus
still seeking not himself but us.
5 For us, by wicked men betrayed,
for us, in crown of thorns arrayed,
he bore the shameful cross and death;
for us he gave his dying breath.
6 For us he rose from death again,
for us he went on high to reign;
for us he sent his Spirit here
to guide, to strengthen, and to cheer.
All of this, for us. All of us – near and far, high and low. Because He loves us. Because He fully identifies with us, fallen man who needs to be re-created in Him…
Our final answer, really, is to be found at the end of our Gospel and Epistle today.
The real meaning of baptism – not just the baptism that John came preaching, but the baptism that incorporates the completed work of Jesus Christ on earth… is the key…
When we as evil men and women are confronted by God… we are submerged by the flood and die, buried with water….
And then, in resurrection, in rising from the water, a whole new way of life comes forward!
A whole new way of being!
Because of everything that He has done for us.
In our Gospel, we read:
“21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
These words are for us who identify with Jesus Christ.
Those of us who long to be free from the sin that continues to cling to us.
Those who are not ashamed to be those who cling to Him…
Who look to Him, sometimes even feeling great, great desperation… perhaps crying out: “I am yours Lord… save me, save us…”
These words are for all those who want to be with Him, not just to be seen but to be a part of all the goodness that He both is and offers… to become more and more a part of that goodness He spreads and would spread…
The words are for all of those who want to be found in Him, to say not so much I was baptized, but I am baptized, I am among those who have been baptized into Jesus’ death…
To us, our Lord indeed says not only to Jesus, but to us:
“You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased….”
[i] Excised (was going to be first part of the sermon):
Baptized saints, with the coming of Christmas, the world’s powers and authorities were, to say the least, encroached upon – and most all of them, it seems, are not going to take this lying down…
Not long ago I heard someone talk quite powerfully about what happened in the city of Bethlehem when the baby Jesus, the long promised-Messiah of the Jews – the King of the Jews – was born…
One of the world’s rulers – the one who was currently known as the King of the Jews! – realized his “riches, [his] position, [his] place within society, or, in other words, [his] power and authority…” was under threat.
And so what did he do? He hatched and dispatched a plan to kill the threat.
To kill a baby. The baby Jesus. In his efforts, he killed many babies…
This man went on to say more, speaking very eloquently… demonstrating for all to see just how wrong the powers and authorities of our world can go…
He said this:
“…History is replete with man’s quest for power, for authority, for control. Holy Scripture itself hints at the machinations of the Babylonian and Assyrian empires with their assassinations and their overthrows. And what is the history of Israel itself but one king after another assuming power, assuming authority, and then wielding it as he chooses? A vision of the prophet Daniel explaining the dream of Nebuchadnezzar was one of power and authority. As it looked forward to the rise and fall of Alexander the Great… then the Roman Empire. The Roman Empire too eventually fell just like Alexander the Great did… And then various kingdoms in Europe and the Far East.
Rise and fall. Rise and fall. Rise and fall. Quest after quest after quest after quest for what?
Power. Authority. It seems like almost every major nation in Europe for example, has had its turn on that pile. If you know your history: Italy, Spain, France, England, Germany… all taking turns, all wielding power and authority over the rest. In the 4,000 years of Chinese history there have been no less than 83 dynasties with five hundred and fifty-nine emperors. 559. Ghengis Kahn could also be mentioned here. The rise of Japan and so on and so forth. Power. Authority. That is what man wants, and as history shows, man is willing to do what it takes to get it and keep it and almost always it involves blood, it involves death, it involves destruction….”
These are some hard truths. They show just how wrong, just how evil, the rulers and authorities of this world can be… And yet, we might recall Jesus’ exhortation to His own disciples not to be this way, to be in the world but not of it…:
“The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in authority over them call themselves benefactors. But you shall not be like them. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who leads like the one who serves….” (Luke 22:25-26)
So far Jesus and His crew. Back to the world and its “best”.
Looking more closely at the actions of the powerful in the world, we see it is not just murder and mayhem that these men get involved in.
There is much more: greed leading to all kinds of clever thievery, pride leading to all kinds of blindness, and lust leading to all kinds of sexual sin.
And that last one, in particular, is at the heart of our text today, and we’ll get back to it in a moment.
First of all, however, let’s look a little bit more at what happens right before our Gospel text for today….
[ii] In Luke 4, while Jesus is riding a wave of popularity as he preaches in Jewish synagogues, He hits a bit of a roadblock in his hometown when he reads the following from Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
…after reading this, Jesus then rolls up the scroll, gives it back to the attendant, sits down, and insists as all the eyes in the synagogue are fastened on him “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
…and things go downhill from there, as the hometown crowd eventually is upset enough to try to throw Him off a cliff for insinuating that God’s mercy – God’s “good news” that is – certainly extended not just to the Jews but to all those who were far off and saw their need for Him!
Where is the judgment for the Gentiles we want?!
Scandalous stuff this Jesus guy is teaching!
[iii] And this, of course, is meant to go hand-in-hand with the kind of hope that John the Baptist is bringing, as well as Mary’s jarring words to her cousin Elizabeth (we call this the Magnificat) about God bringing down rules from their thrones and sending the rich away empty while the hungry are filled with good things…
Angel to Mary about Jesus: “[Y]ou will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end…”
[iv] And this “holiness and righteousness” being lived out, being enacted throughout history, is precisely why when the old man Simeon sees Jesus in the Temple, when his parents bring him there to be circumcised, he essentially says, “Lord my eyes have now seen your salvation, and I can die in peace now…”
[v] Simeon basically tells Mary that the baby in her arms is going to bring a sword even to her own heart as he divides Israel… the thoughts of many hearts being revealed!…. there is no fear here, but peace and joy.
[vi] And Lutherans – even though we again have a reputation for focusing on the forgiveness and mercy of God – have never denied that this is the case. In the 1580 Book of Concord, which all Confessional Lutheran pastors subscribe to, we read:
“…sometimes [the term Gospel] is employed so that there is understood by it the entire doctrine of Christ, our Lord, which He proclaimed in His ministry upon earth, and commanded to be proclaimed in the New Testament, and hence comprised in it the explanation of the Law and the proclamation of the favor and grace of God… And in this sense… the description of the word Gospel… is correct, when it is said that the Gospel is a preaching of repentance and the remission of sins. For John, Christ, and the apostles began their preaching with repentance and explained and urged not only the gracious promise of the forgiveness of sins, but also the Law of God.Unedited quote:
“…sometimes [the term Gospel] is employed so that there is understood by it the entire doctrine of Christ, our Lord, which He proclaimed in His ministry upon earth, and commanded to be proclaimed in the New Testament, and hence comprised in it the explanation of the Law and the proclamation of the favor and grace of God, His heavenly Father, as it is written, Mark 1:1: The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And shortly afterwards the chief heads are stated: Repentance and forgiveness of sins. Thus, when Christ after His resurrection commanded the apostles to preach the Gospel in all the world, Mark 16:15, He compressed the sum of this doctrine into a few words, when He said, Luke 24:46,47: Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations. So Paul, too, calls his entire doctrine the Gospel, Acts 20:21; but he embraces the sum of this doctrine under the two heads: Repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.
5 And in this sense the generalis definitio, that is, the description of the word Gospel, when employed in a wide sense and without the proper distinction between the Law and the Gospel is correct, when it is said that the Gospel is a preaching of repentance and the remission of sins. For John, Christ, and the apostles began their preaching with repentance and explained and urged not only the gracious promise of the forgiveness of sins, but also the Law of God.”
[vii] See, e.g., Is. 4:4, Ezek. 36:24-27, Is. 30:27. Chad Bird, https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=3118202221788823&aggr_v_ids%5B0%5D=3118202221788823¬if_id=1641304979735383¬if_t=watch_follower_video&ref=notif
[viii] God’s final chaff-revealing-punishment falls outside of Christ, as He takes that hit… those inside the Son of God, however, are not damned but refined…
[ix] When it comes to Marxism and neo-Marxism, they aim at the heart of authority, the natural law, the will of God (and here, it starts with the first government, the family) because, I think, the world simply hates the law of God and being told there is, in fact, a boss of sorts, especially one who might not fully endorse their own ideas of when and how it is appropriate to challenge governing authorities… (just thinking that we call the last evil person at the level of a video game a “boss”….)
[x] See Mark 6:18 (and Matthew 14:4): “For John had been saying to Herod, ‘It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.’”
[xi] We don’t even need to talk about being right about politics or morality per se. Just the desire to be right about anything is at issue in every age and especially ours today. This desire, while it may indeed be ugly as sin infects, is nevertheless not a bad thing, correct?
Paul, after all, does talk about exposing deeds of darkness and Jesus does also say that every lie will be revealed. Again, everything in this life that is hidden will be brought to light.
How does that figure into our calculus about how we daily interact with others? We are right to insist that Jesus talked about making disciples, not “changing the culture”. Still, He did speak of making, that is teaching or indoctrinating disciples, and of *all nations* at that! (Is that important too?)
And just intellectually speaking, how would we ever know if what some see as a desire for “intellectual submission” – which they associate with violence when “rational argumentation” is involved (Edward Said?) — is in fact really *more* a strong desire to know truth and live by it and hold others accountable to it, more or less artfully, as the cases might be?
[xii] Of John the Baptist, one Roman Catholic writer points out:
“St. John the Baptist…. stands as somewhat of an oddity among Christian martyrs in that he preceded Christ in death. He also didn’t die as a direct result of his faith in Christ, nor was he asked to deny Christ. Yet he is reckoned as a Christian martyr by the Church. Why should this be?
St. John the Baptist died not because he refused to deny Christ but because he refused to deny the truth, and ultimately this boils down to the same thing. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6). Anyone who proclaims truth proclaims Christ. Anyone who denies the truth denies Christ.”
[xiii] Jesus’ words in Luke 8:17-19 are profound in their implications for life and governance: “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. 18 Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they think they have will be taken from them.”
[xiv] This is deeply uncomfortable isn’t it? This makes us think about things like Jesus telling us the parable about building the tower or deciding to fight in a war… because that is exactly what this should make us think about. Not necessarily that we will need to physically fight but that political fighting – done either with contempt or civility present – is a necessary part of life even as power and authority are not the only thing that life is about, as if they were to overshadow the truth of God’s law, the standards that He has for all persons!
[xv] I’ve wrestled with these questions about preserving certain things, particularly things like nations, and I must ask rhetorically ask the question, it seems, again and again: “Is it simply wrong for a dominant culture—even a culture that many find highly attractive on a number of levels—to attempt to maintain and sustain itself through time? Can this necessarily be the case?” (see page 251 in this published paper: https://www.lsfm.global/uploads/files/LMM%2011-19__Rinne.pdf)
Does Jesus necessarily think that this is the case? That trying to keep your culture, your nation, your heritage, is always wrong?
“Rise and fall, rise and fall, rise and fall” indeed, but are the nations worth trying to preserve in any sense? And have some, in fact, not been better overall than others – even as all nations must ultimately confess their sins and bow before God, confessing His Christ? Is such speech simply always proud and sinful and to be avoided?
[xvi] From Dr. Douglass Frank.
[xvii] Not in some kind of abstract way. In very concrete ways, in various concrete ways that have been displayed throughout history…
And He is interested and invested in not only His own beloved people Israel – but He also, being the strongest and the best of them all – can afford to be interested and invested in all persons in the world!
Even as in our text from Isaiah today, He makes clear His preferences, insisting for example that Israel’s enemies will be sold as a ransom for their sakes (see Is. 43:4).
But this should assure us even more that He is good!
For He loves those He makes His own most strongly!
And He urges us to do the same… (Gal. 6:10, I Tim. 5:8) while also caring so very deeply about all persons in the world!
[xviii] Excised: “I take it you, like me, want to be invested in Him to, so listen carefully to this. When John the Baptist quotes Isaiah saying:
The crooked roads shall become straight,
the rough ways smooth.
6 And all people will see God’s salvation.’”[a]
Know that, first, this is talking about Jesus’ work. It is all about His coming and His mission – His perfect life and salvation, lived for us.”