Skip to content

LSB Advent 3A Sermon – Matthew 11:2-15

December 15, 2013

December 15, 2013 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“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?’”

Failure to meet expectations brings negative thoughts. That appears to be what was happening to John. You heard John preach last Sunday: “I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will clear His threshing floor and gather His wheat into the barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.” That is how John spoke of “the One who is to come.” His message indicated a very active Messiah who would bring the evil and unrighteous to an end.

John’s preaching was not new. In fact, it had many antecedents. The prophets of old had spoken this way about the Messiah and the Messianic Age. You heard a similar statement made through Isaiah: “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.’” Recompense, vengeance, deliverance: these are what the LORD would send with “the One who is to come.”

So John preached faithfully this message. It gets him locked up in prison. And it is from the prison cell that he sends the question that is rooted in unmet expectations: “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?’” John had heard what Jesus was doing. He learned that Jesus had called disciples, including Andrew, one of his students. John had heard of Jesus’ healing of diseases and afflictions, even the casting out of demons. He had been told of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. John learned of Jesus’ sending out the Twelve with their message: “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.”—the very same message that he had preached.

But where was the deliverance for John? Where was the consuming of the chaff, the burning up of Herod and his unrighteous minions? Where was the rescue squad coming to yank John out of jail? Where was the action that the LORD does according to the Psalter: “The LORD sets the prisoners free.” It wasn’t coming. And so the questions is asked of Jesus: “Are You the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 

So Jesus answers the question: “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.” Jesus sends the messengers back to John with the reports of what He was doing. Jesus was fulfilling what had been foretold by prophets like John. They had spoken of these acts, like you heard from Isaiah’s prophecy this morning: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.” Jesus is saying: “I’m doing what the Messiah is supposed to do. Know that, John, and recognize that I am the One who is to come.”

But Jesus also adds the statement: “And blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.” And this is a very important phrase. Because this statement is noting that there will be acts that the LORD’s people would suffer, events that would indicate that the Messiah has not come, events that would be indicative of the kingdom of heaven not being near at all. And Jesus explains this to the crowds who have heard the question that John’s disciples brought: “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” But these events do not indicate that the kingdom of heaven is not present, that the kingdom of heaven has no power, or that the kingdom of heaven will always be a victim. And to that end, Jesus says: “Blessed is one who is not offended by Me.”

Jesus knows what He is doing. He knows that the kingdom of heaven will have enemies. Even more so, Jesus knows that He will have to suffer violence and be taken by force to fulfill all the promises of the Messiah and the Messianic Age. It will be done in an attempt to prevent Him from accomplishing His work. But Jesus will bring about the Messianic Age as He suffers that violence—through that suffering Jesus will make the great atonement for the sin of the world. And after enduring such things, even at the hands of Herod and his unrighteous minions, Jesus will rise from death, ascend to the Father, and then return to judge the living and the dead. Then all that the prophets had foretold—even what John had proclaimed—will come to its fulfillment: “Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.” 

John is not the only one who needs to hear what Jesus says. Jesus’ statement—“Blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.”—is meant for all the LORD’s people to hear. Jesus does cause offense. You know it. You know the people who hear what the Gospels record about Jesus’ words and works and find it all repulsive or utter nonsense. Then there are others who will say that some of Jesus’ teaching is great—after all who can’t agree to love the neighbor or to treat others the way that you would want them to treat you—but the exclusive claims are offensive. And those statements about Jesus’ origin and identity—that He is the Virgin-Born Incarnate Son of God—are just complete fabrications or fables.

But Jesus’ words—“Blessed is one who is not offended by Me.”—are meant for your ears. They are meant for your ears, even for you who have heard the Gospel record of Jesus’ actions and believe it, who pledge your allegiance to the way of discipleship that Jesus lays out, who show great awe at Jesus’ divine nature. That statement is a beatitude for you. And at the same time it is an exhortation for when you face the same situation as John did.

You may not be imprisoned, but the hospital room or the nursing home residence can be just as lonely as the prison cell. You may not be arrested by rulers, but the opposition to Jesus’ teaching leveled by the civic realm can be just as intense. You may not be under the peril of death, but you experience how the evil and unrighteous are dominant. And when undergoing such events, the time is rife with doubt and exasperation, just as it was for John.

Jesus’ words about the kingdom of heaven are true today: “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” And when that is witnessed, the question that John poses can be quickly flow from your mouth: “Are You the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?” You can ask just as well: “Where is this LORD that we trusted in? Where is the execution of justice for the oppressed and the food for the hungry? Where is the vengeance and recompense? Just when is the time going to come when all those diseases are healed and the desert blossoms and there is only the redeemed who live?”  

There are the John-like questions that come from my mouth, too: “How many people asking for money am I going to have to deal with this week? The congregation sends out neighborhood walkers and even have a special event planned for visitors, so why weren’t any of them present in the pews? What other disagreements are we going to have between members or congregations this month?” And while those questions might not be phrased exactly the same as John’s was, they really have the same heart as his question, “Are You the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?” The questions reveal doubt and exasperation concerning Jesus. They are rooted in offense at Jesus.

So how does He answer? Jesus points you to the Scriptures: “Look at what was promised. See the sequence of events foretold that led up to My arrival. Behold what I have done to fulfill those words. Just as was promised, I have come to atone for your guilt, and I have offered Myself in sacrifice for you. I have come to bring life, and I have risen from death so that it can be so. There are times when I will actively work to remove afflictions now. I will give you an opportunity to see some of the effects of My work done for you in this time. But the great restoration and redemption that was promised did not come with a date certain. There is a time yet to come, but that time it is not yet. Until that day, the kingdom of heaven is at hand and will suffer violence. So I want you to be patient; I want you to wait like the prophets did. I want you to take no offense at Me, so that you may be blessed. For when that day arrives, I will bring the full glory and recompense with Me. I will put to an end to all that vexes you. There will be everlasting joy with no more sorrow and sighing, but only My redeemed people will have a share in it.”

This is what is enveloped in that statement Jesus makes: “Blessed is one who is not offended by Me.” And faith is created by that beatitude that comes from Jesus’ mouth. The poor catch the good news that Jesus preaches; you are given ears to hear. That is why you are drawn by Him to participate in the acts that He lays out for you. Even in the midst of doubts and exasperations, you come here seeking to receive blessing from Jesus. Your confessing sins and seeking forgiveness, your bringing the uninitiated to be baptized, your kneeling at the altar rail to be fed: those are all acts of faith. They are acts that show you accept the message that John and the prophets and the apostles made about Jesus. They are acts that confess belief that Jesus is the One who is to come, the One who is present now but will return in glory. They are how your weak hands and feeble knees are strengthened. For you are not offended by Jesus, but trust in Him instead. Blessed are you for it.

 + In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Advertisements
Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: