I am not the Christ
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
His name is John, and he was a prophet of the Most High, sent to prepare the way for the promised Messiah. That preparation included preaching and baptism—a washing of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. This preparation caught the attention of the religious powers that be in Jerusalem. When they heard about John and his words and actions, the Pharisees sent men to him to look for something dangerous: a man who would testify concerning himself. You see, John was something the Jews thought they could understand. He was the son of a priest, one who had served in the presence of God in the very Holy of Holies itself. That was pedigree enough for the Jews. To them, John was nearly royalty himself. This was a man who they—and the world—could see as the Christ: a powerful speaker, a man of a holy lineage, a man with charisma, a man the people could rally around as one of their own, maybe even a man with enough influence to challenge their Roman overlords.
As we heard in the Gospel reading last week, Jesus said that “among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist”. If ever there was a man who was blessed to know his place in the Kingdom of God, it was John. Scripture laid out for him who and what he was to be; and even before he was born, he was doing what his father had prophesied that he was supposed to spend his life doing: pointing to Christ and saying, "There He is! He's the one!" His entire life was spent in preparation for the culmination of his role as the final prophet of the Old Testament Church. When people came to find out what this John guy was all about, he clearly confessed, saying, "I am not the Christ." When he was forced to expand on that answer, even that answer pointed away from himself to the Word of God and to the Christ whose way John had come to prepare. Even with his role clearly laid out for him, as a sinner, the temptation must have been there to claim more for himself than he was meant to claim. His final word on the matter was, "He must increase, but I must decrease." He did not speak with reluctance or false modesty; it was merely the truth.
There is a danger in being a preacher of the Word, and that is the danger of self-promotion, the danger of thinking of yourself as indispensable, the danger of thinking of yourself as Christ. Like John, a true preacher of the Word knows that he is not worthy to even untie the sandals of the Christ. But when a preacher says, “MY preaching does it; MY baptizing does it; MY officiating does it; MY teaching does it”—the preacher is setting himself up as a false Christ. Such a preacher imperils his own soul and the souls of his hearers. We all know those preachers exist. We see them on television all the time, whether it’s men like Joel Osteen who preach a “gospel” of prosperity or those like Benny Hinn who promote healing for those who have enough faith. And these false prophets are very popular. You see, there is also the danger of being a hearer of the Word—the danger of seeking after a false Christ. Do you come here to hear the Word? Do you come here to receive the gifts of absolution and eternal life? Or are you here because of the personality and talents of the preacher? Do you come—or do you stay away—because of the preacher’s charisma or lack thereof? Do you come here to be seen and acknowledged, to remind the Lord that you exist? Who is the Christ you come here today to see?
Your pastor is not the Christ, nor does He claim to be. Your pastor is a sinner. He is not a charismatic man. He is not a powerful man. He cannot save you, nor will he try. Any word that he speaks to you apart from the Word of God is only his own word. And if he (or any other preacher) tries to convince you that his own words are words of power or salvation, he has no business in this pulpit, in your classrooms, in your lives. And for your part, do not look to any mere mortal for salvation. You can tell the marks of a real and faithful preacher by comparing him to John the Baptist. Does the preacher point to himself? If so, he is not worthy of your attention. Does the preacher seek to entertain you instead of convicting you of your sins? If so, he is not a faithful man of God. Does the preacher seek your good will and generosity by saying things from the pulpit that you want to hear? Does he surrender the preaching of the Law under the pressure of financial hardship? If so, he does not belong in this pulpit.
But God provides faithful preachers to His people. He Calls men who do not point to themselves. He Calls men like John: men whose voices He uses for preaching the Word and speaking Holy Absolution to His people, men whose hands He uses for faithful administration of the Sacraments. He uses these men, but Jesus is the one doing the work. He is the one who washes you and raises you to new life in the waters of Holy Baptism. He is the one who speaks to you the Word of Holy Absolution. He is the one who gives you His very body and blood in the Holy Supper. The preacher is just another instrument He uses—an instrument like the water of Baptism and the bread and wine of His Holy Supper. Your pastor is not the Christ—he isn’t even John the Baptist. But like John, he is “a prophet of the Most High”, for, like Zechariah said of his son, your pastor “will go before the Lord to prepare His way, to give His people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins”. As He did with John, Christ uses your pastor to give Himself to you.
This is the last Sunday in the season of Advent. Christ is coming. He has already come as a humble Infant, come as the Word made flesh to dwell among us, come as the One who bore our sins, come to set us free. He comes to us now in hidden ways, hidden in the water of Holy Baptism, hidden in the humble words spoken by a sinful preacher, hidden in the ordinary means of bread and wine. And we look forward to that last great day when He will come again in glory—neither humbly nor hidden—to set us free forever from sin, death and the power of the devil. Thanks be to God for John the Baptist, who clearly confessed that he was not the Christ and firmly pointed to Jesus as the promised One. Thanks be to God for faithful pastors who point us to Christ and His gifts. And thanks be to God for Jesus: the One who has come, the One who comes to us today, the One who will come again as He has promised. In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.