“All flesh shall see the salvation of God.” It is the last line in a string of Isaiah’s greatest hits in our reading from Luke 3. After drawing from Isaiah 40, 57, 49, 42, and 45, Luke concludes by recalling a promise of God from Isaiah 52. In the end, all people—indeed, all of creation—will see the salvation of God in Christ. As Paul writes to the Philippians, “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in Heaven and on Earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).
The phrase – “All flesh shall see the salvation of God” – provides what could be a refrain for your sermon this Sunday. It would need to be unpacked, of course, and make no mistake, much of what we see today proclaims a different and contrary message. But this is what it means to live by faith. Believers cling to the promises of God despite all evidence to the contrary. The goal of your sermon could be to strengthen their faith by proclaiming that promise in your specific context.
Such a sermon would need to do at least three things. First, it would need to take seriously what your hearers DO see today. Second, it would need to proclaim the fullness of the coming salvation of God in Christ. Third, it would help your hearers live rightly as we wait for that day. While you would not necessarily have to articulate those three things in this particular order, I will offer a potential guide for your sermon which addresses each of the ideas in relation to the key phrase.
- “All flesh shall see the salvation of God”—despite what we see here and now.
- “All flesh shall see the salvation of God”—and we have already gotten a glimpse.
- “All flesh shall see the salvation of God”—and it is beginning to show in our lives.
“All flesh shall see the salvation of God” – despite what we see here and now.
What we see now is more like Luke’s list at the beginning of our reading. Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate, Herod the Tetrarch, and his brother Philip, Lysanias, Annas and Caiaphas, these were the power brokers, the political leaders, the big dogs. They were in charge in John’s day. It did not look like God was running things. Indeed, the imprisonment of John the Baptist (v. 20) raised significant questions about who was really in charge.
Most of these names mean little to your hearers today. That is okay. There is no need to get into their personalities or positions. Instead, invite your hearers to think of the power brokers in their context. Perhaps you would point to political leaders—national or local. Or you can point to business leaders or cultural influencers. Check the headlines if you would like to name names. The point is your people see who is in charge, and what they see often has little to do with the salvation of God.
In other words, you are inviting your hearers to look beyond what they see and experience here and now. You are directing their gaze to the day when God’s reign will usher in a life of perfect peace and harmony and joy.
The point is your people see who is in charge, and what they see often has little to do with the salvation of God.
“All flesh shall see the salvation of God”—and we have already gotten a glimpse.
The glimpse is Jesus, of course. He is our strength and our salvation. He was born in a manger and visited by magi. He preached the truth and healed the sick. He came to the world and turned it upside down by calling everyone to repent and by offering forgiveness to all who believe. Isaiah foretold His coming, as did John the Baptist. They were looking forward.
We, in contrast, look back. We look back to Jesus. We look back to His incarnation. It is Advent, after all. But we also look back to His life and ministry. We look back to His suffering and rejection. We look back to His shame and His death. But we do not stop there. We look back, above all, to His resurrection from the dead, and we see His vindication and restoration. When we look back at His resurrection, He directs our eyes toward the future and His promised return. Like Isaiah and John, we look forward to that great and glorious day, trusting the resurrected One will return as He promised. This promise sustains our faith and shapes our lives.
“All flesh shall see the salvation of God”—and it is beginning to show in our lives.
The crowds in verse 10 of our reading asked John what they should do in light of the coming of Christ. John was concrete and direct. He gave directions appropriate for their context and vocations. Share your tunics and your food. Do your job with integrity. He was calling them to be a unique community. They would serve each other and their neighbors as if they really believe the salvation of God is at hand.
The temptation for those who live by the promise of God’s coming salvation is to look past the mundane and the ordinary in anticipation for the joy to come. But those who believe in Jesus, who look forward to seeing the salvation of God on that last day, busy themselves by serving others in common and daily ways. They fulfill their vocations with faithfulness and (when possible) joy, knowing their labor in the Lord is not in vain. Paul’s prayer in our epistle reading is appropriate for your hearers, too: “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:9-11).
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Luke 3:1–14 (15–20).
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Luke 3:1–14 (15–20).
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Walter A. Maier III of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Luke 3:1–14 (15–20).