Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Sermon for second mid-week Lent service - Second Article - Jn 1:1-18


Mid-Lent 2

                                                                                      Second Article

                                                                                      Jn 1:1-18



           During the years 93-94 A.D. a Jew named Josephus wrote a work called the Jewish Antiquities.  Josephus had fought in the Jewish revolt that began in 66 A.D. He had been captured by the Romans, but had managed to ingratiate himself to the Roman Emperors who then served has his patrons.  His work provides one of the most important pieces of historical evidence that we have about events in Palestine during the first century.

          In the twentieth chapter he writes: “Being therefore this kind of person, Ananus, thinking that he had a favorable opportunity because Festus had died and Albinus was still on his way, called a Sanhedrin of judges and brought into it the brother of Jesus who is called Messiah, James by name, and some others.  He made the accusation that they had transgressed the law, and he handed them over to be stoned.”

          Now Josephus is making the point that the Jewish leader did something illegal. The Jews weren’t allowed to execute people on their own, but since the Roman governor Festus had died and the new one Albinus had not yet arrived, he used this opportunity to have James stoned.

          But what catches our attention is the fact that James is described as being “the brother of Jesus who is called Messiah.”  James is identified in relation to Jesus because two chapters earlier Josephus had spoken about a Jesus who was a wise man, a doer of startling deeds, who had gained a following. Josephus says that because of an accusation made by leading men, Pilate had condemned Jesus to the cross.

          This evidence from Josephus simply confirms what we find in the Second Article of the Apostles’ Creed.  It is says that Jesus was a real man who lived in Palestine at the beginning of the first century A.D.  The Roman governor Pontius Pilate had him executed by crucifixion, a process that involved great suffering.

          Jesus was a real man – a real human being. The reference to Pontius Pilate in the Creed anchors the events being described in history. This is not a myth for which the questions when and where did it happen are nonsensical. Instead, it happened in Palestine in the first century. 

          What Josephus tells us also fits with what we find in the New Testament which clearly tells us that Jesus was a real human being.  In the Gospel lesson for the First Sunday in Lent we learned that after fasting forty days and forty nights, Jesus was hungry.  You would be too, because that’s what happens when a person doesn’t eat for that long.  We learn that Jesus got tired.  When the storm arose on the Sea of Galilee that threatened to sink the boat, where was Jesus?  He was at the stern of the boat asleep on a cushion because he was worn out by his work of ministry. We learn that Jesus had human emotions – he wept at tomb of his friend Lazarus who had just died.    

          Ultimately, we see that Jesus was a real human being – that he was truly a man – because he died. That’s what happens to human beings.  Josephus tells us that Pilate condemned him to the cross. The Gospels narrate what any first century reader knew this meant. Jesus was scourged with a whip studded with lead or bone that shredded skin and muscle. He was nailed to a cross in manner that caused slow asphyxiation, and left there to die.  A person that the Romans raised up on a cross came down in only one way – dead.

          But if that was all there was to say about the person of Jesus, we would not be here tonight.  He would have been just one more person who died at the hands of the Romans.  However, our text tells us that while Jesus was a man, he was also far more.

          John starts by writing: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”  From elsewhere in the Gospel of John and the New Testament we know that when John refers to “the Word,” he means the Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity.  The Word – the Son – is God. John tells us that all things were made through him.

          And then John tells us the incredible truth that we celebrated at Christmas: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” We learn that the Word – the Son of God – became flesh and dwelt among us.  John is saying that the Son of God became a man.  He uses the language of the tabernacle and temple to explain the fact that in the person of Jesus Christ, God dwelt in our midst.

          Paul describes this truth in Galatians when he says, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”  God sent forth his Son into this world.  He did so as he was born of a woman.

          Now women give birth to sons all the time.  But God sending his Son to be born as a man – the Word becoming flesh – was no ordinary occurrence. It was God acting in a dramatic way to bring us salvation. The angel Gabriel announced to Mary, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name 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 father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 

When Mary asked how this was going to happen since she was a virgin, Gabriel responded, “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 called holy--the Son of God.” This was the same truth that was shared with Joseph by an angel in a dream when he said:Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

The explanation of the Second Article in the Small Catechism begins by saying, “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.”  Jesus is true God.  He is also true man. That is the mystery of the incarnation – of the Word become flesh.

Logically, these do not go together.  It is beyond our understanding. And so, people have always tried to deny or minimize one side or the other.  The earliest was a denial that Jesus Christ really was a man.  John wrote in his first letter, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God.”

Later, some like the heretic Arius tried to deny that the Son who became incarnate is truly God. But because of what Scripture says the Church rejected this and every Sunday we explicitly confess that the Son who became incarnate it truly God when we say in the Nicene Creed that the Son is “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.”

God’s word reveals that Jesus is “true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary.”  He is true God – God in every possible way.  He is true man, like us in all ways except for one – he has no sin. Sin is not inherently part of human nature.  Adam and Eve were created in the image of God, and so had no sin.  It was only the Fall – the sin of Adam and Eve – that corrupted human nature. Everyone conceived and born in the natural way since then has been sinful – all of us. But Jesus’ human nature is what we were originally created to be.  He is the second Adam sent to restore our humanity to what God intended us to be.

Jesus Christ is true God and true man.  St. Paul says in First Timothy, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” The person of Jesus Christ – who he is – is directly tied to his work – what he came to do.  After all, when the angel announced to Joseph about the conception through the work of the Holy Spirit he said of Jesus, “he will save his people from their sins.”

We will focus next week on the work that Jesus Christ has carried out.  But Paul sums it up when he says that he gave himself “as a ransom for all.”  We will see during Holy Week that Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins. He did this to win forgiveness for us. But he also had come to renew our humanity – to free us from death.  And so on the third day – on Easter - God raised Jesus from the dead with a body that can never die again. 

Because we have been baptized into Jesus’ saving death, we know that we will also share in his resurrection.  Paul told the Romans, “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.”  We will share in this resurrection when Christ returns in glory on the Last Day, and raises and transform our bodies to be like his.


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