Monday, January 21, 2008

"A Faithful Pointer." John 1:29-41

In the Name of Jesus
Dear Brothers and Sisters washed white in the blood of the Lamb:

The dictionary gives several meanings for the word "pointer," ranging from a star in the Big Dipper to a long tapered stick; from a breed of hunting dog to the hands of a clock. But regardless of the details, a pointer is, simply, something that points. It is an indicator, an arrow. It functions as a guide, as a compass.
And whether it is composed of burning gas or sharpened wood a pointer is judged to be a good or a bad pointer based on just one thing: the precision of it's point. No one wants a sloppy pointer. No one wants directions from someone who keeps his hands in his pocket and answers, "I think it could be over there somewhere — I think." We want to know if it's nine o'clock or eleven o'clock, if it's northwest or northeast, if it's something to shoot or something to shoo, if it's the woman with the ponytails or the man with the baseball cap. If a pointer is going to be a good pointer, it must point to something, something definite and specific. It must be accurate.
That's why only a handful of watches are given the name "chronograph." That's why hikers these days use GPS units and not bread crumbs to find their way home. That's why law enforcement personnel match DNA and not shoe sizes. Sometimes — often — it just not good enough to be "somewhere in the ballpark" or headed in a general direction. Except for horseshoes and hand grenades, "almost" counts for very little.
Now when it comes to people being pointers, there are always an uncountable array of guides out there running around and saying, "It's not over there, it's over here!" And when it comes to the realm of salvation, just when we think we've seen and heard it all, up jumps another self-proclaimed spiritual expert yelling, "Hey, everybody, this way!"
This morning God through his holy Word comes to get our attention, that it might be placed upon his only-begotten Son come in the flesh. And this morning he does that life-and-death work through the mouth and the finger of a man named John.
Generations have watched the old television series with Raymond Burr as master defense attorney Perry Mason. And like other classic "who-done-it" dramas, the court case suddenly comes to a head as Perry scans the room, casts his eyes upon the unsuspected culprit and says, "My client actually didn't commit the crime he is accused of. Isn't that right Mr. Phillips?"
And so it was with John the Baptist. He was called by God himself to guide others through his riveting look and boney finger. He was to be "a voice calling out in the wilderness" — a prophetic pointer.
For the evangelist of the fourth Gospel, the life and death and resurrection of Jesus played out much like one of those courtroom dramas we listened to on the radio and watched on television. The scenario is similar, but those who take part in the biblical drama are even more real. Saint John presents the setting, and we are called to be the jury as we hear and watch Jesus on trial. Witnesses are called to testify — to give witness. The attorneys make their next move as they announce, "Your honor, for the next witness, I call — John the Baptist."
The Holy Gospel According to Saint John, the first chapter:
The next day [John] 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 1:29-34 ESV)
This faithful testimony of John the Baptist is one of the most endearing statements in the entire Scripture. It doesn't begin with a "Hey!" or a "Yo!" or a "Look guys!" It begins, intentionally, with the distinctive word "behold," the announcement that the words just about to be proclaimed are from none other than the Lord of heaven himself. "Behold!" he says. "I come with the Word of God. This is the one who has come to bring comfort to repentant hearts! This is the holy Lamb of God, provided by heaven as the eternal sacrifice for sin — for you and for the world!"
By the grace of God, John the Baptist was allowed to do more with his little right index finger than many of us have done with our entire lives. The same hand that was used by God to scoop up water during the Baptism of our Lord now points others to the one whom the Bible and the prophets and the Father and the Spirit all give witness: Jesus, the Redeemer of the children of Israel and the nations that surround her.
The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). (John 1:35-41 ESV)
That pointing finger and the accompanying proclamation of John the Baptist set into motion one of the first events of Jesus' public ministry: sinners receiving Jesus — not as another coach or another policeman or another prophet or another cheerleader, but the Lamb of God.
Luther is un-moveable on this point:
This [announcement, "Behold! The Lamb of God!"] is an excellent and splendid testimony of John regarding the introduction of the new rule and kingdom of Christ. It is a powerful statement. The words are clear and lucid. They tell us what one should think of Christ. ... This [proclamation by John the Baptist] is an extraordinary fine and comforting sermon on Christ our Savior. Neither our thoughts nor our words can do the subject full justice, but in the life beyond it will rebound to our eternal joy and bliss that [this] Son of God abased himself so and burdened himself with my sins. ... Despite its show of holiness, virtue, power and glory, the world continues to be under the dominion of sin and [its human works] are completely discounted before God. [Therefore,] anyone who wishes to be saved must know that all his sins have been placed on the back of this Lamb! ... If you really want to find the place where all the sins of the world are exterminated and cancelled, then cast your gaze upon the Cross. The Lord placed all our sins on the back of this Lamb. As the prophet Isaiah declares, 'We have all strayed like sheep, each of us going his own way, but the Lord laid on him the guilt of us all.' [Isaiah 53:6] ... Isaiah says that the right way is this: 'God placed all our sins upon him and struck him [down] for the sins of [all who] went astray. God put all our sins on the back of this Lamb and upon no other. ... Therefore a Christian must cling to this verse [in the Gospel of John] and let no one rob him of it. For there is no other comfort either in heaven or on earth to fortify us against all attacks and temptations, especially in the agony of death. ... This is the basis of all Christian teaching. Whoever believes it is a Christian; whoever does not is not a Christian. ... The statement is clear enough: 'This is the Lamb of God who bears the sin of the world.' " (Am. Ed. of Luther's Works 22:161-64)
It was the all-powerful Word of God given to John the Baptist that animated his finger and his voice as he guided the disciples to Christ and then quietly stepped back out of the spotlight. Faith creates pointers who guide others to the Word of God, and then get out of the way. That's a lesson that each of us needs to learn and take to heart. Each of us has been given a voice and an index finger that we might point others to one specific thing.
Will that be our own human abilities and accomplishments? Will it be the things of the kingdom we have built around ourselves? Will it be our certificates of merit or trophies of achievement?
Or will we allow God to place before our eyes his faithful pointer, the greatest of the prophets, the forerunner with the forefinger calling all lost and condemned creatures to receive the One who has come to place upon his shoulders all our fears and failings?
Will you allow John the Baptist to be your guide? Will you point to Christ as you daily remember your Baptism and hear his life-giving Word? Will you point to Christ as you live under his mercy and grace? Will you faithfully give witness as you receive the forgiveness of sins through his very body and blood?
Hear and hold tight to the object of John's undivided attention as he says to you this day,
"Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!"
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.1

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