Advent 2 A

Back to all the topics! Getting whiplash yet?

The list is full: the two natures of Jesus, the efficacy of prayer comparison, election and effects of the proper teaching thereon, repentance and true repentance, and of course who is the church.

Isaiah 11:1-10

Verse 2 is cited through editorial insert in Formula of Concord, Solid Declararion, Article 8: Person of Christ (SD 8.73) along with Isaiah 61:1 and Luke 4:16-21 as biblical evidence that the Spirit dwells in Jesus differently than in saints because Jesus' divine nature means that the Spirit and Jesus are the same essence.

Verse 10 is quoted in a string of quotes in Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 21: The Invocation of the Saints (AP 21.18) separating prayers to Jesus from prayers to the saints. This verse and the others in this section are examples of the command to pray to Jesus, which with the first point—that we have God's promise that prayers to Jesus will be heard and answered (AP 21.17, cf. John 16:23)—show that prayer to Jesus carries God's promise and command, but prayers to the saints do not.

Romans 15:4-13

Verse 4 comes up in the Formula of Concord discussion on election several times, so it is quoted below for reference. 

"For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope." 

— Romans 15:4, NRSV

First, verse 4 is quoted in the Epitome, Article 11: Election, Negative Theses Introduction (EP 11.16) to show the effects of the proper teaching about election rather than the "faintheartedness," "despair," or "arrogance" that a poor doctrine of election elicits.

This point is reiterated and supported in Solid Declaration, Article 11: Election (SD 11.12) where verse 4 is quoted again but supported with 2 Timothy 3:16 and a whole list of citations reminding us what the Bible says about what the Bible is for. This seems overly mat but isn't when we remember that these passages were not written as scripture but became part of the Bible later.

A third quote of verse 4 later in the same article (SD 11.92)  again drives home the same point as the quote in the Epitome. The doctrine of election, when properly taught, does not elicit despair or impudence, but hope and encouragement.

Matthew 3:1-12

Verse 2 is cited in a footnote to Smalcald Articles, Part 3, Artricle 3: Concerning Repentance (SA 3.3.30, n. 118). Luther here calls out John the Baptists, here called "John, the preacher of true repentance," because he called all people to repent. Luther holds this up against the thought that monastic and cloistered ways of life keep people from sinning and so people living such lives do not need to repent.  John's call of repentance is to all people, even and especially to the religious elite.

Verse 7 is cited a little later in a footnote (SA 3.3.32, n. 120)  at the end of Luther's extension of John's call in this passage. If you're willing to experiment in the service, think about what would it take to have someone other than the pastor call the congregation, even the preacher and worship leaders, into a time of confession and repentance, either using this section directly or creating their own extension of John's shocking call to self-examination.

Verse 8 comes us in parallel sections in both The Augsburg Confession and Apology of the Augsburg Confession. First, verse 8 is quoted in Article 12: Concerning Repentance (AC 12.6, German Text) to show that true repentance leads to sinning less, and this must be so otherwise the contrition that led to seeking absolution was not for the sin committed. True repentance leads to amendment of life.

Melanchthon begins to expand on this in the Apology in Article 12: Repentance (AP 12.28) noting that repentance can be broken down into contrition and faith, but commenting that adding a third part--bearing fruits worthy of repentance, with verse 8 called out by and editorial insert--would be acceptable. No matter how we break it down, however, true repentance comes from hearing how the gospel denounces sin, not from either how much we love God nor from fear of punishment.

Melanchthon later notes that the Confutation also quotes verse 8 (AP 12.122, by editorial insert)  attempting to claim that true repentance can only be achieved by confessing sin to and being absolved by a priest and then doing the prescribed penance, thus turning repentance itself into a work rather than an experience of God's grace as encountered in the gospel, which Melanchthon states later, again quoting verse 8 (AP 12.132).

Verse 12 comes up twice fairly quickly in Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article 7/8: The Church, and both called out through editorial insert. The topic of who is the true church almost always becomes muddy. The first citation of verse 12 (AP 7/8.1), in the introductory paragraph of this article, notes that John the Baptist's preaching about the threshing floor was used in the Confutation as an analogy to the church, claiming that sinners cannot be separated from the church. Melanchthon is quite upset by this interpretation of Articles 7 and 8 of The Augsburg Confession and expresses his heartfelt statement of exasperation. "Nothing can be said so carefully that it can escape misrepresentation" (AP 7/8.2).

When Melanchthon comes back around to verse 12 (AP 7/8.19), he returns to the context of this verse in order to show that even John the Baptist was making a distinction between the descendants of Abraham who were faithful and those who were not—a judgment that will come, Christians believe, in the eschaton. This is the point. The church today is full of both saints and sinners, but we cannot tell who is who. Indeed, there may even be people who are not in the church today who are saints. It is impossible for us to tell. However, when Jesus returns, Jesus will judge, making the true church visible.


The modifier "true" makes a strong appearance this week.

The distinction of "true" repentance is worth spending some time on. The point from the references seems to be that there is a significant difference between recognizing that what you have done is wrong and feeling sorry for being caught. The first is true repentance, the second... Once we get pulled over for speeding, do we amend our life by obeying the speed limit or do we change our habits by paying more attention for police cars and slowing down when we see them? One of these is an example of true repentance, one is not. Some honest self reflection will tell the difference.

The issue of the "true" church, while related, is a bit more assertive. The everyday reality is that the church, like the rest of humanity and our institutions, is broken and falls into sin.  Yet the promise of eschatological judgment is intended to bring hope for today, because while we can call people into true repentance, we cannot see or know in this life who is part of the true church and who is not. And this judgment isn't even our job!

The call of all Christains can be clearly stated, and doubly so for preachers: proclaim the good news of God in Christ.

  • When we repent, are we actually sorry for the sin or just sorry for being caught?
  • How do we attend to the effects of our preaching and teaching? Are we driving people to despair and arrogance or hope and encouragement?
  • How do we keep from doing the work only Jesus can do while letting injustice and inequity prevail?