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LSB Advent 3C Sermon – Luke 7:18-35

December 22, 2015

December 13, 2015 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“The disciples of John reported all these things to him. And John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, ‘Are You the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?’ And when the men had come to Him, they said, ‘John the Baptist has sent us to You, saying, ‘Are You the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?’”

Confirmation of belief is always welcomed. There is desire to assure ourselves that what we cannot see is actually so. It’s not just us who want it. We know of Biblical figures who were given signs that what they were to trust, what they were to rely on was actually so. Noah is given the rainbow as a divine pledge of no future deluge. Gideon had the sign of the fleece that would be wet or dry. Saul was given signs that he was divinely appointed as Israel’s king. King Ahaz was instructed to ask for a sign to confirm that Syria and Samaria would not conquer Judah. Thomas refused to believe Jesus was raised from the dead: “Unless I see in His hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into His side, I will never believe.”

The need for confirmation is part of our fallen human nature. The Scriptures state: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” But sinfulness leads from faith to doubt. Doubt and unbelief are common experiences for us. We often have people make promises to us, but we know many times that they won’t come true. What we have learned about others or what we assume about them forecasts their failure. Knowing our own shortcomings as well, we don’t put much credibility in promises. “Trust, but verify,” said one of our presidents about our nation’s rivals. Give us a guarantee in writing; show us that you can make good on what you say: then we might believe you.

The doubt that sinfulness causes can even lead us away from faith. It was so even for the people of Israel. They had been promised a Deliverer and Redeemer. It was guaranteed to humanity, from the very first sinners in Eden: the promise of One who would crush the Serpent’s head. The LORD’s promises became more detailed and specific, stating what He would do. But after centuries had passed, even those divine promises began to ring hollow in peoples’ ears.

The LORD’s people would cry out: “Will Your promise ever come true?” To alleviate their doubts, the LORD would answer their cries in two ways. He would provide small signs of certainty for the prophets to give to the people for them to see: “When you see those signs fulfilled, you will know that My word is never broken.” Then the LORD would give further statements of promise about what His Messiah would do. He would reveal signs by which His promised Messiah would be identified, acts that would be performed by Him.

Declaration of what the Messiah would do was given by the LORD to the people of Judah through the prophet Zephaniah. The LORD speaks to His people about restoration that would be brought to them: “The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by His love; He will exult over you with loud singing. I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival, so that you will no longer suffer reproach. Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth.” Likewise, the prophet Isaiah gave many signs of the Messiah to the LORD’s people. When they were fulfilled, they would know that the Messiah had arrived, just as the LORD had promised.

Centuries after Zephaniah’s prophecy in Judah, John and his disciples faced similar doubt concerning the LORD’s promises. John’s imprisonment was a shock to their system. Faced with that, John’s disciples sought a sign from Jesus to know that John’s testimony about His identity was correct. John had foretold Jesus’ appearance: “I baptize you with water, but He who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, to clear His threshing floor and to gather the wheat into His barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.” John declared that Jesus would be mighty and powerful, one who would bring about the great separation and purging of what was evil. But that preaching rang hollow with John in prison. Was he right about Jesus? The question comes to their mind: “Are You the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

John’s testimony had declared Jesus as the Messiah. But what they saw happen to John brought plenty of uncertainty. Where doubt had crept in, Jesus counters with certainty. He receives the questions asked by John’s disciples. He responds with testimony and signs: “In that hour He healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. And He answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.’” The signs connected with the Messiah are fulfilled by Jesus, just as Zephaniah and Isaiah and the other prophets had spoken. Mighty in word and in deed, Jesus reveals His identity. He commands John’s disciples to doubt no more: “Blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.”

Jesus answers our desire for signs and assurances. In crisis and desperation, as well as in times of security and serenity, we are given visible reminders and tokens of who our Lord is and what He has done for us. This is why Jesus instituted a visible church, a fellowship of believers with marks that identify it. Go where you can find God’s Word preached, Holy Baptism taking place, the Sacrament of the Altar celebrated, the Office of the Keys administered, ministers consecrated, divine worship publicly conducted, and persecution endured. There you will find Christ’s Church and His disciples, as hidden as believers may be.

The same Jesus who fulfilled the signs promised to His people gives us signs. He has made good on the first set of signs that revealed Him as the Messiah. The second set that delivers His Messianic benefits is given to us with the same guarantee. Do you wish to know if you are Jesus’ disciple? Then look to your Baptism, where God has put His seal on you and gave you His Spirit in your heart. Do you wish to know if your sins are forgiven? Go where hands are laid on heads and the words of absolution are spoken. Do you wish to know if Jesus’ sacrifice for your atonement? Then receive what is distributed to you—the body and blood of Jesus that was offered in crucifixion.

These sacraments are Jesus’ pledges, seals, and tokens to us. They are signs where we can turn for certainty in the midst of our sinful, human weakness. With these concrete things, He counters our doubt. When the words seem insufficient, He gives us actions and visible testimonies. Rather than relying on our feelings—whether we feel enthused about Jesus—and instead of looking at our innermost desires—do I really want to follow Jesus today—we are directed to the acts that have Jesus’ words attached to them. Anchored on those things, we are assured of our redemption and our faith is strengthened. Through them, Jesus’ disciples receive “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” and it “will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Jesus doesn’t want any of His people to falter in their faith. He doesn’t desire us to twist in the wind, wondering if we are truly His disciples or not. He doesn’t want us to live in constant doubt of His work on our behalf and whether we have acquired it. Since we humans desire signs, Jesus has given them to us. They are His means of granting us grace, of supplying us His salvation, of bolstering our belief. We put our trust in these, knowing that Jesus works through them and that He fulfills all His signs.

Holding on to both Jesus’ words and deeds—which include His teaching and His sacraments—we can be certain of our redemption, that “the LORD, our God, is in our midst, a warrior who gives us victory,” just as the prophet Zephaniah said. He is present with us even today, as we “proclaim Christ’s Gospel in its purity and administer His sacraments according to His command.” Relying on these objective things—items not of our invention, but given us by the LORD Himself—we are strengthened in our walk of faith and we show that we are His disciples.

Our use of Jesus’ ordained signs testifies that we trust what He says and what the Scriptures speak about Him. We rely on His words and His works, even as they come to us in the simplest of signs. What we cannot see is confirmed by Jesus; faith is guaranteed by what our Lord continues to do for us. We don’t need to seek out another Savior or look for another to come. We need not doubt our salvation. We need not look for any other testimonies: tongues, miracles, emotions.

Taking no offense in what Jesus has accomplished and established for His people, we are truly blessed. He has made us His disciples. He has given us the pledges, seals, and tokens of our free inheritance of forgiveness, life, and salvation. May we all hold firm to these gifts of our Lord Jesus Christ, the One who was to come and who will come again in glory.

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

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