Second String

When Jesus speaks over and over again the words, “Follow me”, isn’t it made clear that we are not in the lead, but He is? Recently I came across a hard situation that left me without an easy answer. The problem was bigger than me, and I felt hopeless. But then I was reminded by another, “God has this.”, “This is in His hands.” He is Savior. He has the answer for our souls, and our eternity in His hands. Jesus died for that purpose and He rose for it too. He has a grip on our everyday life, as well. Lord. Master. First Chair.

Second Sunday in Advent

December 9, 2018

“Second String”

Luke 3:1-20

Rev. John R. Larson

Ascension Lutheran Church  Littleton, Colorado


There are some things that give me great pride as I consider life as a pastor.  Last Sunday, one of the kids who has no connection to our church other than some years ago he came to our Vacation Bible School, came to our youth party.  How good that he felt welcome enough through VBS to show up now.  I take pride that we had singers go to our home bound and bring gifts of quilts and goodies and song to them.  And when we shelter I often get a handshake from one of our homeless guests telling me that they appreciate the kindness that was shown to them.  I have many moments of pride in being able to participate in active ministry through this church.

But I also have times of regret.  I want to tell you one of them this morning.  Over 20 years ago now, when I was serving at Peace in Arvada as Associate Pastor, my congregation was welcoming a new Senior Pastor, Pastor Dave Ahlman.  I met with Pastor Dave and we talked about family and the congregation and his transition from El Paso, Texas, to Denver.  And then I said something that I regret.  I said, “I don’t consider myself to be a second stringer.”  How that’s for a warm welcome?  The congregation had called him to be the Senior Pastor, the lead Pastor, and the Associate talks about mutiny!!

In my amazingly large ego I told him just how important I thought I was.  What if you did that to your boss at work?  You’d lose your job at that very moment!!  You’d be out the door!!  I thank God that Dave Ahlman has grace.  He put up with my ego.  He bent over backward to work with me.

Second string.  No one wants to be second string, right?  When someone is drafted by the Broncos or the Rockies, they don’t meet the press and say, “I can’t wait to be the backup.”  “I’m looking forward to my place on the bench.”  No, no one wants to be second string.

Except John.  Our reading from Luke 3 tells us that he knew his place.  “The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ.  John answered them all, ‘I baptize you with water.  But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”  (Luke 3:15-16)

You know what John would say about himself?  “I’m second string.”  “I’m not the lead.”  “I’m not the principle player.”  John had disciples, followers, before Jesus even called the Twelve to begin their three-year training.  But then something happened.  Folks were leaving John’s church and joined Jesus’ church.  We read in John 3, “Rabbi, {Here talking about John the Baptist} that man that was with you on the other side of the Jordan – the one you testified about – well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going over to him.”  To this John replied, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven.  You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.’  The bride belongs to the bridegroom.  The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice.  That joy is mine, and it is now complete.  He must become greater; I must become less.”  (John 3:26-30)

Second string, right?  “He must become greater; I must become less.”  John’s ministry wasn’t about making a name for himself, having the most disciples, leaving his own legacy.  His life was about Jesus being believed, accepted, received.  Earlier we read this, “The next day John was there again with two of his disciples.  When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God!’  When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus.”  (John 1:35-37)  And even earlier John’s great word of who Jesus was, was spoken, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”  (John 1:29)  It wasn’t about him; it was about HIM.

Do you know when we get into trouble?  It is when we forget our place.  We’re not the lead.  We aren’t first.  We aren’t primary.  We’re second string.  I could have saved myself a lot of trouble in how I have approached life and ministry if I had learned that early on.  Maybe you too.

There is only One who leads.  There is only One who is in charge.  It is God.  That is why He has given us the primary commandment, “You shall have no other gods before Me.”  That is why Jesus said that the greatest commandment is that “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”  (Matthew 22:37)

Do you know why we insist that our salvation comes only from what God has done for us in Jesus Christ?  Because that is the only method that gives God the proper place.  God is not second string concerning how we will be saved, how our sins will be removed, how we will stand forever in purity in heaven.  No, our God is God.  Our God is Savior.  He is our only hope.  We’re second; He’s first.  Don’t ever get that in the wrong order.  As the psalmist would say, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be glory, because of your love and faithfulness.”  (Psalm 115:1)

When Jesus speaks over and over again the words, “Follow me”, isn’t it made clear that we are not in the lead, but He is?  Recently I came across a hard situation that left me without an easy answer.  The problem was bigger than me, and I felt hopeless.  But then I was reminded by another, “God has this.”, “This is in His hands.”  He is Savior.  He has the answer for our souls, and our eternity in His hands.  Jesus died for that purpose and He rose for it too.  He has a grip on our everyday life, as well.  Lord.  Master.  First Chair.

Second string.  It is good for us to know that we are second string.  During this past week the person of our 41st President, George H.W. Bush, has been spoken about by many, due to his death.  I read this note that he had left on the desk in the Oval Office to newly elected President Bill Clinton, the man who just defeated him in the race for the office.  It read, “I wish you great happiness here.  I never felt the loneliness some Presidents have described.  There will be rough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair.  I’m not a very good one to give advice; just don’t let the criticism discourage you or push you off course.  You will be President when you read this note.  I wish you well.  I wish your family well.  Your success now is our country’s success.  I am rooting hard for you.  Good Luck – George.”

President Bush went from being Commander-in-Chief to the person that the majority of Americans didn’t want serving in the Oval Office again.  He wasn’t even second string.  But he had a gracious way of encouraging the man who beat him and took his place of honor.

John the Baptist took quite a fall too.  It went from “Are you the Christ?”, to telling them that he was not even worthy to untie the thongs of the sandals of Jesus.  Jesus spoke of him as the greatest person who has ever been born of women (See Matthew 11:11).  Jesus said he is the prophet the Isaiah spoke about, the one who is mentioned in the book of Malachi.  Jesus said of this second-stringer, “And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.”  (Matthew 11:14)  But Luke tells us, “But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the evil things he had done, Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison.”  (Luke 3:19-20)  And what was next?  He lost his head.

John was second string, but his message was primary.  Repentance, change, turning from wickedness and turning toward God was his message.  In Malachi it says of him, “He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children; and the hearts of the children to their fathers.”  (Malachi 4:6a)  Zechariah, John’s father said of his son, “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.”  (Luke 1:76-77)  The messenger was second string but the message was primary – the message of new life.

If I ever say again, “I don’t consider myself to be a second stringer”, kick me in my pants.  And if I ever hear you say that, I’ll do the same.

John, second string.  This John, second string.  You, second string.

Christ alone leads.  Christ alone is Lord.  Christ alone is our Savior.  He must become greater; we must become less.  Amen!!


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