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LSB Advent 3H Sermon – Matthew 11:2-11

December 12, 2016

December 11, 2016 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“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.”

John’s plight in prison leads to questions about Jesus and about himself. The Forerunner had been faithful in his duties. He had gone into the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He had spoken about the coming Messiah and the great judgment that He would begin: “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.” John had even met Jesus, noting that he should be baptized by Jesus and not the other way around. When the Messiah stood in the Jordan, John heard the declaration made about Him: “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” 

But now John was in prison, incarcerated for preaching the message of repentance, speaking the LORD’s truth to power: “Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because John had been saying to him, ‘It is not lawful for you to have her.’” John had tried to bring Herod back to the LORD’s ways concerning marriage. He pointed out Herod’s error, just as he had warned the people of their sins: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand…. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” But for his trouble, John was locked up. The voice crying in the wilderness was now silent.

So the question arises: “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?’” The inquiry is based in a desire for certainty. It summarizes other questions rolling around in people’s minds. Had John been faithful in fulfilling the role assigned to him with all its duties? Had he been correct about Jesus’ being the Messiah? Or had all this been a mistake?

Jesus answers John’s question. He strikes right at the heart of the matter. John wants to know whether Jesus is “the One who is to come.” He wants confirmation about Jesus’ identity, whether Jesus is the Messiah whom the faithful were anticipating. So Jesus directs John’s messengers to what they could witness: “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.” With that answer, Jesus essentially says: “John, you know what the Messiah was to do. You know the prophecies about the Messiah’s work. What was said in the past is coming true. I am doing what the LORD promised. There’s your answer: I am the Messiah.”

But Jesus follows up with another statement: “And blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.” That declaration is meant to bolster John’s faith, as well as the faith of those who had heard and followed him. Jesus states that as John and his disciples receive Him as the Messiah, even though John is locked up in prison and would not be freed, they are blessed. John is not forgotten by the LORD. He isn’t suffering because of some misdeed. There hasn’t been any failure to fulfill a duty. No, the blessed status that John had is not removed because of Herod’s treachery. And as John commends himself to the LORD and His Messiah Jesus, he will be blessed forever.

Jesus reinforces this after John’s disciples go back, carrying their witness of what they had seen and heard Jesus do. That is seen in His question to the crowds and His declaration: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?… This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send My messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.” Jesus wants the crowds to know that John is not being punished for dereliction of duty. Herod’s imprisoning John did not negate the Forerunner’s work. No, the crowds should know that they had heard more than a prophet when they had listened to John. They should have all confidence that Jesus is the Messiah for whom John had prepared the way.

The Church hears John’s question and Jesus’ response every year on this Third Sunday in Advent. It is good that we frequently hear this, since we bring forth the same questions that John asked of Jesus. Our identity is rooted in a matter of faith: that the LORD has called us to be His people and our salvation has been accomplished through the work that Jesus has performed. But doubts arise, particularly when we are faced with the afflictions that this world and all those opposed to the LORD bring.

What are those afflictions? For some it is literally the same as what John suffered: being unjustly imprisoned for abiding by the LORD’s ways and pointing out that standard of righteousness. But one doesn’t have to be behind bars to have faith pushed to its limits. The comments of unbelievers can be just as hard as iron bars: “You can’t really believe all that Bible stuff! There’s no way that any of it is true. What type of God lets all sorts of bad things happen to people? If Jesus was so wonderful, then why are all His people not like Him?” Such statements put doubt in our minds, whether it be just an ounce or a full gallon.

Besides that, there’s also the doubt that creeps in when we consider and evaluate our own standing. I’m suffering from cancer or Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. My home life is a bit of a shambles. I can’t seem to break this addiction or obsession with what I know isn’t right. My church has people constantly bickering and any efforts to improve don’t seem to work. Then those questions rooted in doubt arise: “Are these evidence that the LORD’s blessing isn’t with me anymore? Is my faith in Jesus not actually correct? Or do I not have enough faith in Him? Have I put my eggs in the wrong basket? Is Jesus truly a Savior and Redeemer? Or should I look for and trust someone or something else?”

That’s how we end up having our own John-in-prison moments. It leads us to the appeal that we offered this morning: “Lord Jesus Christ, we implore You to hear our prayers and to lighten the darkness of our heats by Your gracious visitation.” So how does Jesus answer? He responds the same way that He answered John. Jesus’ response includes restating what He has done in the world, fulfilling the prophecies about Himself: “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.”

But Jesus goes further. He speaks about more that had been prophesied concerning the Messiah and His fulfilling of those promises. He reminds us of the suffering that He endured for us, the death that atoned for our guilt. He proclaims His resurrection that obtained eternal restoration for us. He takes the message spoken to ancient Jerusalem and says it applies to us: “Comfort, comfort My people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.” Why does He do so? Because there is a blessed status for all people who put their trust in Him: “Blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.” That blessed status is even present when we are in the midst of our afflictions. As long as our trust is placed in Jesus and His work, that blessed status is not removed by persecution or disease or addiction or conflict or any other thing that those opposed to the LORD would throw at us.

Jesus reaffirms His work done for us, so that our trust in Him is confirmed. This brings us the promised future. We may fall into the pits of doubt and despair now, but the pledge is given: “The glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” Our frailty and feebleness can be made clear to us, but the declaration is made: “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” The enemies of the LORD may seem to have superiority, but the end is foretold: “Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and His arm rules for Him; behold, His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him.” Life as one of Jesus’ followers can be lonely and vulnerable, but His vow is repeated: “He will tend His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in His arms; He will carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” 

Those are the actions that the LORD will perform for His people. Like John, our darkened hearts receive Jesus’ gracious visitation of His gospel. We are directed away from making wrong conclusions about what we currently go through: “Do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.” Right belief in Jesus as the Messiah is bolstered. We are kept from falling full victim to doubt. And we so we hear the restating of our status as Jesus’ disciples: “Blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.” That is how our questions about Jesus are answered, so that we may know that He is the One who is to come and save us. We need not look for another.

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

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