+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: John 12:21
Theme: A Visual On Jesus
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Seeing is believing.…well, maybe not quite. Even with modern visual communication technology- TV, satellite, Skype- it is still common that people like to see famous people in person. People still flock to concerts and sporting events. Performing arts teams still travel the world. Political candidates venture across their electorates. Even Facebook and Twitter have not been able to completely smother the need for personal interaction. There is still something critical about meeting someone in person. These Greeks who came up to celebrate the Passover Feast in Jerusalem had a simple request: “Sir…we would like to see Jesus.”1
Undoubtedly news had reached them. We are told His fame had spread far and wide. We can guess their desire was more than just a casual request. Perhaps they had some question to raise, issue to discuss, or just wanted to see Him for themselves. About their background or status we know nothing. Yet their request expresses an age-old yearning: To meet God in the flesh. Even Herod longed to see Jesus in person.
Interestingly both the desire to see God and the reluctance to meet Him can be expressions of our sinfulness. The skeptic may desire to see God -or at least some impressive sign- as evidence of His existence. Christians too are often tempted to want proof. Faith takes God at His word. Sin looks to have its own criteria satisfied. The unbeliever may not be reluctant to meet God because he or she doesn’t think it will ever happen. But people of such firm ‘conviction’ are few and far between. For most, the encounter lingers in the background but is ignored or repressed as people go about their busy lives. Christians may be reluctant to meet God because of the fear of judgment. But more commonly we’d just rather keep God at a distance while still receiving His blessings. We know that to meet God in His unveiled glory means an end to our current life. If truth be told our desire to embrace the experiences of this life is often stronger than our love for eternity. For such self-centeredness we are continually called to repent.
What would it have been like to meet Jesus in the flesh? Did Jesus have an aura about Him as He walked the earth? His words certainly commanded attention and respect. They bestowed comfort, invoked consternation and incited confrontation. The Pharisee, the pauper, and the penitent alike hung on His words. His teachings were misinterpreted, misrepresented, and misappropriated. But His appearance…? He gave pardon to the guilty; hope to the despairing; food to the hungry; strength to the weak; joy to the sorrowful; life to the dying- but not by the force of His human stature. He drove off demons and drew in doubtfuls. He walked on waves and reclined with sinners. But was He a character whose persona was ‘bigger than life’?
Not if the Scriptures are to be believed. In Him God was disguised in human flesh in the most humble of appearances. The Scripture says, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering.”2 He is God where we’d least expect Him: Dying on a cross. He took the form of a servant3, bore the insults of a rebel4, and had no place to lay His head5. He was transfigured privately but crucified publicly. Previously accused of demon possession but later mistaken as a gardener He could not visibly be ascertained to be the Almighty One. After His resurrection the disciples did not even recognize Him. He already had His glorified body.
The incarnation changed the manner of contact God had with His people. This truth has many implications. This Fifth Sunday on Lent is also the date for the Annunciation of our Lord. The angel Gabriel was sent to the Virgin Mary to announce she would be the mother of the Messiah. Today is 9 months before the celebration of Christmas. It is increasingly important to recognize the conception of Jesus. Not because we want an early start to Christmas, but because our society is increasingly undermining the protection of life when it is most vulnerable.
The most important theological argument against the practice of abortion is the conception of Jesus Christ. The church throughout the centuries has confessed to believe “In Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary…”6 God sanctified human conception and birth by sending His Son to assume human flesh through these ‘ordinary’ means. In conception the divine power of God is demonstrated. His alone is the power to give life. Regardless of the ‘advances’ of technology to manipulate the materials, life is and will always remain a mysterious miracle. You can bring together all the components and circumstances, but to take credit for the leap from inert material to a living organism is a dangerous arrogance. No one can call forth life, save God alone. We are commanded to love our neighbours as ourselves. Consider that the unborn are your most vulnerable neighbours.
Christ also died for the unborn. In His response today Jesus said, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”7 The one Seed had to be sacrificed for the others. To say that the death of Jesus Christ was inevitable must be clarified by saying that it was necessary in order for salvation to be achieved. It was the Father’s will but also the voluntary submission of Jesus that led to His crucifixion. In the immediate human context wicked religious rulers sought vengeance and neither Roman authorities nor the common person intervened to stop it. In the greater context of humanity sin had to be atoned for lest the justice of God be trivialized. None of these causes excludes the others. Christ died and rose again to bestow forgiveness, life and salvation.
So where do we ‘find’ God today? God’s omnipresence does not preclude His self-determined localization. That God, and so Christ, can be present everywhere- even in hell- by His divine power does not supersede the fact that He wills to be present in His particular means of grace: absolution, baptism, and Holy Communion. The general attributes of the Deity do not excel His specific points of access. The Israelites were not to make sacrifices on every high hill and under every spreading tree, but only where God had placed His Name; in the tabernacle and temple. He now resides among us where His Name dwells- in and through the One who bears that Name- Immanuel, God-with-us. Where Christ is the Holy Spirit gathers followers-His church.
You are not here by convenience. You are not even here by your own choice as the fundamental cause. You are here because God has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.8 You are here because God gathers people into community to forgive, encourage, and strengthen them. No Christian is a lone-ranger. A Christian without a church is like a soldier without an army; a player without a team; a citizen without a country. Here among the body of Christ you have the presence of Christ. Christ is present through His means. The Holy Spirit effects it through His word. God is not found where we wish Him to be in our mental images or vivid emotions. He is found where His servants stand in His stead, His promise is pronounced, and His people participate in His holy things. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Fifth Sunday in Lent
Annunciation of our Lord
25 March 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 John 12:21
2 Isaiah 53:2-3
3 See Philippians 1:27
4 See Luke 23:13
5 See Matthew 8:20
6 The Apostles’ Creed
7 John 12:24
8 See 1 Peter 2:9