Thursday, December 19, 2013
Voices of Elijah. . .
Once there was a King Ahaziah over Israel who worshiped at the altar of Baalzebub. He fell and lay on his bed and sent messengers to the idol to see if he would recover. Along their way, they ran into Elijah the Tishbite. Who was this guy? A hairy man in a leather girdle. A prophet of the most high God. Whenever the Lord has a particularly important job, it is an Elijah job. In this case, the job was to tell old Ahaziah he would not recover, he would never get out of his sick bed, he would die because of his sin and unrepentance.
Today we heard about another Elijah job. The old TV commercials used to say a big clean up was a job for Mr. Clean. God says it is a job for Elijah. This Elijah is not Mr. Clean but he comes proclaiming the One who can clean up what sin has made dirty and heal what sin has marked for death. But Elijah seems to wear many faces. A Tishbite so long ago and now a Nazirite standing in the waters of the Jordan, proclaiming the Kingdom of God is near, but still calling sinners to repentance. Whose face will he wear next?
The promise of old was that the Lord would prepare the way for One who would usher in the Kingdom by His obedient life, His life-giving death, and His resurrection never to die again. So Isaiah spoke of that voice who was to come, the appointed messenger of the Kingdom, to prepare the way of the Lord by calling people to repentance. This was not a herald simply of the day of reckoning but the prophet of the Savior who alone would carry the burden of His people’s idolatry and sin.
Jesus came to do just that but John’s people were understandably nervous. Are you the One who is to come or should we look for another? By this time John had been so effective that it landed him in prison and it was time to pass off his own followers to the One whose way He had prepared. John's followers were rightfully attached to the final voice of the Old Testament who spoke of Christ. Jesus honored John as the greatest of those born of women and, in case they missed it, identified John as the promised messenger of Isaiah and Elijah's voice.
God will claim a voice through which He will speak. He will not be silenced. The cause is too great. The consequences too important. For the sins of the world will be borne by the suffering of the Son of God and all their debt paid by His own precious blood. Redemption comes in the shape of the cross and all who receive this cross by faith, who hear and heed the call to repentance, and who are baptized into Christ are made whole and clean, holy and righteous, so that no spot of sin remains.
Those who refuse this call, who insist upon keeping their sins, whether they believe they can fix what is wrong by themselves or they simply cannot let go of their favorite sins, they get to keep them. And they also keep the consequences of those sins and are allowed to stand outside the veil of Christ's comfort, life, and salvation forever.
God will find a voice to speak and God will provide the Word to be spoken. That is His promise. And the good news is that the Kingdom of God is not only near, it is here – here in the means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments. Mercy is still available; the cover for sins still offered in the blood of Christ that washes us in baptism and we drink in Communion.
So there are still jobs for Elijah. God is still claiming voices to speak to the lost the way of Christ and to offer to the unclean the holiness of Christ to cleanse them once for all. We are here because of one of those voices whom the Lord claimed to speak faith to us. Whether we were children brought up to know the Lord by His Word or we were brought to that Word as adults, God is still in the business of claiming voices to speak the call to repentance, to witness to Christ's death and resurrection, and to bid us come to the waters and believe.
How many Elijahs does God need? How many mouths to speak His Word? Well, how many people need to hear the call to repentance? How many carry the burden of sins that need forgiving? How many days are there until Christ comes and the mercy seat is closed and the day of judgement is at hand? You look around. What do you see and hear?
The great good news is that the Lord is slow to give up on His people. He sent Elijah of old, He sent John in the day of the Lord, and now He sends YOU. You are no Mr. Clean but you know the One who has made you clean. You are not the Savior but you know Him through His Word. You are not the Judge but you the One who will judge His people on that great and holy day. So you speak not to threaten or even cajole but in witness. The Kingdom of God is here. God is here – the Emmanuel of the manger, cross, Word, water, and meal. We who have come to the waters, who have heard the promise of forgiveness, who have heard the call to repentance and faith and by the Spirit's prompting have answered it, we are His messengers anew in the same cause – Elijahs to the lost that others may know with us Him who comes in the name of the Lord. He who has ears, let him hear. There is only one Lord in whom there is forgiveness and there is only one path to Him: repentance and faith. The voices of Elijah call a world and each of us over and over again. Thanks be to God. The only sins that condemn are those we keep from the Lamb of God who takes them away. Thanks be to God. The God whom we know in Christ is not some distant deity but Emmanuel – God who is here. Thanks be to God. This is our cause for rejoicing. Elijah has come and still comes to speak the Word that save. Thanks be to God. Amen.