February 5, 2019 Agnus Dei: Behold the Lamb of God! Isaiah 40:1-5, John 1:19-34

agnus dei.jpg

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her
that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 40:1-5 (ESV).

*********************************************

And this is the testimony of John, (meaning John the Baptist) when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”  He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.)  They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”  These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “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.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” John 1:19-34 (ESV)

********************************************

What beautiful solace Isaiah gives us- Comfort, comfort my people! Your iniquity (sin) is pardoned!

Our pardon, our comfort, our peace, came at an unimaginable cost- the suffering and death of Almighty God Himself. The One upon whom the Spirit descended as like a dove, the One with whom God was well pleased, the God-Man, had to be given to die.

The concept of penal substitution – the theological premise that Jesus was given as a sacrifice to save us from our sins- seems foreign and archaic to modern ears.  Yet the sacrificial system of the Old Testament pointed to Jesus.  The blood on the door frames on the night of Passover lead to lives being spared because they are covered by the blood of a lamb.  (Exodus 12:1-13)

John the Baptist was the man appointed by God and foretold by the prophet Isaiah to point the way to Jesus- the Agnus Dei- the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  John didn’t come into the world to build himself up or to tell everyone how great he was. His entire life was spent pointing others to Jesus.

Nothing we can do can make us right before a holy God- there is no other path to salvation and life than by faith in Christ, by trusting that we are covered by the blood of His sacrifice.

John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. Repentance is simply turning away from the things that we know are contrary to God’s will for us.  When we are baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, our old nature is drowned in the water.  In baptism we are buried with Christ, and we are made alive in Christ.  This is a daily experience for the Christian, turning from our sins, drowning that old man in the ongoing promise of our baptism, and clinging to our new life in Christ.

The blood of the Lamb covers us and makes us clean. (Revelation 7:9-17)  Jesus had to die and rise again so that we can be alive in Him.

The very son of God died and rose again. For you. For us.

Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

December 14, 2017- Nothing is Impossible with God- Luke 1:26-38, Isaiah 40:3-5

immaculate-conception-jose-claudio-antolinez

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.  The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.  He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.  And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren.  For nothing will be impossible with God.”  Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. Luke 1:26-38 (NRSV)

People with analytical, rational personalities like to stick to proven science and fact. It’s hard for us analytical types to look beyond what we can see and touch, document and quantify.

As to the credibility of this part of the Christmas story, most of us learn the mechanics and the science behind procreation sometime in middle school, if not sooner. It’s common knowledge that a woman who is a virgin cannot conceive a child. Yet we are supposed to believe that a young girl turned up pregnant and no human male was involved.  Hmmm, sketchy indeed.

God is not following the accepted rules of science here. First Elizabeth – who was barren and likely even post-menopausal – finds herself to be carrying a long-desired son, in spite of her husband’s doubts.  Then Mary, who had never been with a man, was to give birth to the very Son of God.  God is putting forth a powerful statement here. He will bring about His purpose through any means He chooses, whether it seems plausible to humanity or not. God thinks outside our boxes- because He can.

This account of Jesus’ conception and birth creates a dilemma for those who only accept what is proven through the scientific method. How can such a conception take place? Are we really supposed to believe in a virgin birth, and why is the virgin birth so important that it is clearly mentioned in Scripture and affirmed as a core teaching of the Christian church in the Apostle’s, Nicene and Athanasian Creeds?

What we believe about the conception and birth of Jesus reflects what we believe to be true about God.

If God is truly omnipotent (all powerful,) then why can’t the Author of creation cause a barren woman to conceive? What would be so impossible for the I AM God to put together a child in a virgin’s womb?

If we believe God is truly omnipresent (everywhere at all times,) how can we wonder where He is, or think that He is limited in any way? We creatures may be constrained by the rules of science and the laws of physics, but God is not confined to our linear, three dimensioned world.

If we believe God is truly omniscient (all knowing,) then how can we fail to have confidence in His good plans?

A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 40:3-5 (NRSV)

In this waiting time of Advent, perhaps we should examine our expectations and our understanding of God. Do we try to put Him in a box? Maybe we can look at all the ways- both mundane and extraordinary- that is He present with us?  How does He make Himself known?