Matthew 11:2-6 (Third Sunday in Advent—Series A)
“Is Jesus the One? Yes!”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
December 15, 2019
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel reading recorded in Matthew 11:
2Now when John heard in the prison the works of the Christ, he sent through his disciples 3and said to him, “Are you the Coming One or should we expect another?” 4And Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and announce to John what you are hearing and seeing: 5the blind are gaining their sight and the lame are walking around, lepers are being cleansed and the deaf are hearing, and the dead are being raised and the poor are having the good news proclaimed to them. 6And whoever is not caused to stumble because of me is blessed.”
Over the centuries the question has been posed, “Was the Baptist really asking his question for his own sake or merely for the sake of his disciples to assist their understanding and faith?” I can tell you that the question was my own and it was real: “Are you the Coming One or should we expect another?”
I was in prison. It wasn’t even as nice as a two-bit dive of a motel. You’d call it a dungeon—damp, dark, cold, uncomfortable. King Herod had taken his brother Philip’s wife to be his own. I kept on saying to him, “To go on having her is now lawful for you.” I preached God’s Word of Law in the Sixth Commandment—“You shall not commit adultery.” For this truthful proclamation, Herod had me bound and put away in prison (Matthew. 14:1-5).
Arrested for speaking the truth of God’s Word to the king who said he trusted in God! Talk about injustice! I was the man appointed by God to announce that Jesus is the End-Time Judge. He is the Mightier One than I, whose sandals I am certainly not worthy to even carry—God in the flesh! My mother Elizabeth told me that, when she was pregnant with me and went to visit Mary, Jesus’ mother, I leaped in her womb in the presence of the Incarnate God (Luke 1:44). I know who Jesus is. I identified him to my disciples—“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” I proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins to prepare the hearts of the people to receive Him who comes in the name of the Lord. I said, as Matthew recorded my words, “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” (Matthew 3:11-12).
And here I sit in the dungeon. Where is the Mightier One wielding the winnowing fork of separation? Where is the end-time division of good and evil, believer and non-believer? How long, O Lord, how long do we wait? I didn’t understand. I heard about the works of the Christ while in this prison—Jesus’ authoritative preaching, His deeds of gracious authority. And yet the judgment tarries. The forces of evil are still strong. What I heard didn’t match up with the end-time message I had preached, nor does it line up with what is happening to me in this cell. This does not look like the reign of God! And so I asked, sending my disciples to Jesus with THE question, “Are you the Coming One or should we expect another?”
Now I want you to understand that I had not lost all faith. But from my perspective in the kingdom, things just didn’t add up. The reign of heaven is here in the person of God the Son, Jesus. But the power of evil people remains strong. And I’m not the only follower of the Lord to journey from faith to doubts and back again. Moses: “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all” (Ex. 5:22-23). From his perspective, things did not look like the reign of God! Elijah: “And behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said to him, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ He said, ‘I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away’” (1 Kings 19:10). This isn’t what the reign of God looks like, Elijah thought.
What about you? I don’t think you’ve been in a literal prison for sharing God’s Word. But what “prison-like” things are going on in your life? What troubles, heartaches, addictions, and sufferings plague you? Anxiety, depression? Hatred, animosity, anger? Grief, worry, fear, concern? Disease, sickness, chronic pain? Perhaps you have said to yourself, “I believe and trust in God. I hold on in faith to my dear Savior, Jesus. Yet, the reign of heaven in my life doesn’t look like what I expected. Jesus, are you really the One? I just don’t understand.”
Like me, you struggle in the paradox of salvation now and not yet. The reign of heaven has indeed come in the person and work of Jesus Christ, true God and true Man. And it is to His person and work that Jesus directed me. He told my disciples, “Go and announce to John what you are hearing and seeing: the blind are gaining their sight and the lame are walking around, lepers are being cleansed and the deaf are hearing, and the dead are being raised and the poor are having the good news proclaimed to them. And whoever is not caused to stumble because of me is blessed.” This is the stuff of the reign of God! The works that Jesus had been doing were the long-expected signs of renewal and restoration in Israel. God was indeed at work, setting up the new age of salvation.
Physical infirmities and the troubles of this world tell us that the creation is fallen and broken. Sin has corrupted us all and the whole creation of God is subject to decay. But our God promised that He Himself would come to restore and to heal. What did you hear in your Old Testament reading today? Isaiah said, “ 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.’ 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” (Is. 35:4-6a). Again, Isaiah announced about the Savior, “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound” (Isaiah 61:1). These promises of God are being fulfilled in Jesus. The age of salvation IS here. Jesus IS the One who was to come.
I needed to hear that in this prison. I needed to have my faith increased in my time of struggle and doubt. Isn’t that why you are here this morning—to have good news preached to you who are also poor in spirit? To hear and to see by faith the works of the Christ? Jesus, His name says it all—The Lord Saves! He turns the earthly effects of sin upside down. He undoes the power of sin and Satan. He heals, casts out demons, raises the dead as He brings the kingdom to us all. Jesus’ words to me invited me to receive in faith the strangeness of the reign of heaven. Yes, the reign of God has broken into history. He is truly the Coming One. And yet, the power of evil remains. In fact, Jesus placed Himself into the hands of evil men. He willingly went to a cross to suffer and die in order to win forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation for you and me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil.
Jesus suffering, bleeding, and exhaling His final breath on that cross didn’t look like the reign of heaven that we would expect. But that is how God had chosen to rescue and redeem His creation. God the Father revealed His love for us sinners in the gift of His One-of-a-Kind Son to be the Savior. See and hear the work of God in Christ for you—His cross and empty tomb—forgiveness is yours. Eternal life belongs to you even now. Resurrection and new creation await you when the One who came in humility to suffer and die comes again in glory on the Last Day.
Yes, dear friends, Jesus has come to save His people from their sins. The work of this salvation was accomplished in His perfect life, with His sacrificial death, and sealed in His triumphant resurrection. And yet, until He comes again in power and glory, we can expect opposition, hatred, and trouble. Our Lord says through His Apostle John, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). You know this truth as well as I do. But, as Jesus said to me, “Whoever is not caused to stumble because of me is blessed.”
We go through a lifetime of trouble. All kinds of things cause us to stumble in our faith and in our Christian obedience to our Lord and King. But Jesus’ good news words are for you. You are blessed, which is really another way of saying that you are saved from sin and death. He gives you faith by the power of the Holy Spirit. He speaks His Word to you through the reading and hearing of the Scriptures. By means of His Word, the Lord Christ strengthens your faith and your love-in-action. He enables you to be faithful, even to the point of death, so that you will receive the crown of life everlasting (Rev. 2:10). Christ focuses you on His life, on His cross, on His empty grave so that you might look forward with hope and trust in Him who is the Coming One—Jesus, your Savior. Amen.