Sunday, December 15, 2019

Sermon -- 3rd Sunday of Advent (December 15, 2019)

MATTHEW 11:2-11


In the name + of Jesus.

     Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:2-3)  There has been an on-going debate about John's motives for sending his disciples to ask Jesus about his identity and his mission.  Was John trying to bolster the faith of his own disciples and direct them to Jesus because John knew he was about to die?  Or was John himself having doubts about his ministry, his life, and Jesus?
     Some insist that the prophet who pointed disciples to Jesus and declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) would not be plagued by doubts about Jesus' identity.  Or consider the fact that John had baptized Jesus, heard the Father declare from heaven, “This is my beloved Son,” and saw the Holy Spirit rest upon Jesus like a dove.  Could such a powerful testimony be forgotten by John?  Could John really doubt what he had seen and heard?  Some credit John with a faith that would not flinch in the face of persecution or martyrdom.  And perhaps John had such a great faith.
     Then again, perhaps not.  John preached a fiery message of judgment and repentance.  He declared that the coming of the Christ and the kingdom of heaven would also mean judgment on the wicked.  But Jesus was going about freely—healing diseases, teaching crowds, and gaining in popularity along the way.  It was certainly not the fire and brimstone John had warned about.  No doubt, John would have appreciated a conversation with Jesus to clarify some things.  But John was in prison.  He could not get to Jesus, and Jesus was not coming to him.  So John sent his disciples to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:2-3)  
     Perhaps you have wondered in your heart, “How do I know this stuff is true?  How do I know that Jesus is really God, or the Savior?”  If you have ever had such doubts, you are not unique.  I am inclined to believe that John the Baptist had such doubts himself.  John was a great prophet, but he was not super-human.  He had emotions and weaknesses common to all mankind.  So, if the forerunner of the Christ who actually met Jesus could have some dark, scary trials of faith, you do not need to think that there is something wrong with you if you have had such doubts.  No one wants is to be a fool.  Others may think of us as fools, and that need not bother us.  What bothers us are our own struggles and doubts.  “What if we are wrong?”  That question plagues many Christians.  And if he was about to die for this, John the Baptist certainly wanted to be assured he had not been duped.
     John did the right thing; he took his concerns to Jesus.  “He sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”  And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.  And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Matthew 11:2-6)  We might think that Jesus' reply leaves something to be desired.  Why couldn't Jesus be more direct?  “Am I the Christ?  Well, YEAH!”  But Jesus did not do that.  You might also think that Jesus' answer, “Go and tell John what you hear and see,” was a little vague.  But John knew his Old Testament, and he knew the prophecy we had heard from Isaiah in our Old Testament lesson.  So, Jesus pointed John to the words and promises of God.  It is as if Jesus were saying, “John, the prophets long ago foretold what would happen when the Christ came.  John, those promises made centuries ago are being fulfilled right now.  God has been faithful to his word, and God is faithful to you.  Fear not, John; and blessed are you for not being deceived by your own bad experiences.  The kingdom of God has come.  All is right; all is well.”
     The Savior comes: Recognize what he does.  He fulfills God's promises.  One of the promises that Isaiah had made was fulfilled only by Jesus.  Isaiah had declared,  “Behold, your God will come...  He will come and save you.  Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened...” (Isaiah 35:4-5)  Even though prophets of old performed miracles, there are no miracles of the blind receiving sight.  God foretold it would happen, but it first happened when Jesus began preaching and healing.  And Jesus fulfilled all the promises foretold from the very beginning.  Now, what are the odds of all of these being fulfilled in one man?  Since God made the promises, very good.
     The Savior comes: Recognize what he does.  And blessed are you who are not offended by Jesus.  One of the reasons we face doubts is because this world does not work the way we think it should.  Every Sunday, the Prayer of the Day confesses that Jesus “lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.”  If Jesus lives and reigns over all—“King of kings and Lord of lords,” as the Bible declares—then why do we see and experience so many difficulties?  Why are there war and poverty on earth?  Why are there schisms and fighting in the church?  Why are Christians so familiar with sickness and sorrow?  Unlike John the Baptist, our problems don't rise to the level of imprisonment and execution, but that doesn't mean our problems don't hurt.  We have been brought into the kingdom of God, but it doesn't look or feel like it.  There is no fire and brimstone upon the enemies of Jesus and his Church.  There is no healing of bodies or cure of societal ills among God's people.  Shouldn't Jesus be doing something different, or have a better influence on the world, or even us?  We didn't get it wrong, did we?  The doubts nag at us.
     The Savior comes: Recognize what he does.  When John sent his disciples to Jesus with his difficult question, Jesus pointed John to the Scriptures.  And that is where Jesus will point you, as well.  Faith does not trust what we see and feel.  We see sin and death.  We feel disappointment, sorrow, and failure. But faith trusts what God says, not what we see and feel.  God's love is not measured by how well things are going.  God's love is revealed in how much Jesus suffered for you.
     The Savior comes: Recognize what he does.  He has declared, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.  Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Matthew 11:11)  John knew the prophecies about Jesus, and he was the final prophet to prepare the way for the Lord.  But John never saw the fulfillment of Jesus' work as the Savior.  You who have been brought into the kingdom of God know all that Jesus fulfilled.  Jesus had foretold that he would be rejected and condemned, betrayed, crucified, and on the third day rise from the dead.  These are things that cannot be faked.  They would show either that Jesus was a liar, or that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah of Israel, and the Savior of the world.  All that was foretold both by the Scriptures and by Jesus, Jesus fulfilled.  No one has ever made such claims and then did exactly what he said he would do.  Jesus did.  Therefore, there is no one else to look for or to wait for.  Your Savior has come.  His resurrection from the dead removes all doubt.  Your sins are forgiven.  Death will be swallowed up by life.  And heaven is yours—where we will be delivered from the fire and brimstone John spoke of, where all ills will be cured, where all failures will be turned  into perfection, and where we will be delivered from every evil forevermore.
     The Savior comes: Recognize what he does.  He does all that the Father had sent him to do.  He fulfills every promise God has made regarding your salvation.  He overturns the curse of sin and will deliver us from all the effects of sin.  He removes all doubts about God's love for you and about your place in his kingdom.  He proclaims good news to you so that you will find comfort despite your hardships.  Jesus' good news cannot even be nullified by imprisonment, persecution, or martyrdom.  Though John the Baptist's life on earth would come to a violent end shortly after this, John's life in God's kingdom was intact and still goes on.
     The promises which consoled and sustained John serve the same purpose for you, too.   The Savior comes: Recognize what he does.  He speaks good news again and again so that you will not be left to doubt God's love when things go badly and so that you will remain focused, comforted, and confident of the peace Jesus brings to you and of the glory he will bring you to.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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