Advent 3 – Matt 11:2-10 – December 14th, 2008
In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
Advent is the time of the year where we get to hear a bit about John the Baptist. It sort of is His season. If we are going to have a season where we get ready for our Lord’s Coming, it makes sense that we are going to get to hear about John, the Forerunner of Christ, the messenger who goes before Christ preparing His way. And when we think of John, we tend to think of a powerful, bold preacher. We think of a rugged man, blunt and to the point, preaching repentance and pointing to Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. In fact, we will get some of John’s bold preaching next week, and then also some a few weeks after Christmas. But this morning – we see something different. John is in prison. John has been arrested by Herod, and John isn’t going to be getting out of prison. His prison stay will end with his head on a silver platter. Well there’s a cheery thought. And John knows how things work in this world – John knows that he is in trouble. And then John sends word by his disciples to Jesus asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
Now, there are a couple of ways that John sending the messengers is dealt with. Some people see this and say, “Wait, this John – the bold one – the one who declares, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! Of course He knows Jesus is the Christ! John must be up to something, he must simply be teaching his disciples where to go after he is gone, yes that is it.” We as Christians do have a streak where we like to pretend that the folks in the bible didn’t struggle with fear and doubt, when Scripture tries so hard to show us that they do. No – John doesn’t need to trick his disciples into following Jesus – if the master says, “you are going to follow this other guy now” – you do. John could have just sent them. No, reading our Gospel – what we see is John sitting in a prison. It’s dark. It’s dank. He’s going to die. And even as he is still bold, even as he continually stands up to Herod and refuse to placate him – those thoughts creep in, those doubts arise – the whispers of Satan when John is alone in the dark – “Is this the right guy – you are going to die John – surely none of this is the right way – after all, you are a prophet of God, shouldn’t God be taking better care of you.” That’s the way the serpent works, always has been. And when John is tempted, he wants to hear, he wants to hear God’s Word himself. He wants to be preached to. Go, my disciples, ask Christ – and bring His Word back to me, for I am in trial, and I am tempted.
John does right. When he is pressed by Satan, when he is tempted, John flees to Christ. He can’t do so physically – he’s in jail – but he does so through his disciples. Preach to me, Christ – preach to me for I need it. Likewise, dear friends, we too, when tempted, when oppressed, when burdened, we are to flee to the Word as well. God’s Word is the tool that God uses for strengthening and encouraging us and supporting us through the trials of this life. Indeed, when Satan comes to you, when Satan tries to convince that none of this is worth it, not this Church stuff, not this being nice and loving to your neighbor who is an utter jerk, not this caring for people who could care less about you – you too are to follow John’s example and flee to the Word – and in God’s Word you will be pointed to Christ Jesus and His love for you – love that overwhelms your trials, Light that banishes the shadows of this life. Christ enlightens even John’s dark prison cell, so that John is confident to face whatever comes.
But what is interesting, and what we will ponder this week, is what God speaks to John, what Jesus uses to answer John’s question of whether He actually is the One. Jesus tends to give good answers. And so, Jesus is asked by John’s disciples, are you the right one? 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.” It’s a yes or no question, but Jesus doesn’t just give an answer of “yes.” He doesn’t tease John a bit and say, “Duh – come on John, you know who I am.” Rather this – tell John what you see and what you hear.
They have seen a lot. Blind people get to see. We have many accounts of that. Deaf people hearing, the lame walking, lepers cleansed – even the dead are raised. All of this can be summed up in one world – healing. Go tell John what you see and hear – I am bringing healing with me. And that’s the answer that John needs – yes John, this is the right One – see, Jesus comes and brings healing.
As we prepare for Christmas, in the midst of the hustle and bustle, we remember that Christ comes to bring healing. I don’t know if healing is one of the typical themes we often think about in December – but it really is a fantastic image that gets to the heart of what Jesus is here to do. In the Old Testament, the prophets often would do miracles – but over and over they would point to the Messiah, the One who is to come, and the prophets would say, “Listen, these few miracles are as nothing compared to what the Messiah will do. When He comes, there will be healing.” You even get the prophets describing the earth itself being healed – Isaiah today – the valleys will be exulted – everything will be healed, everything will be fixed. The reason for this focus is that the prophets knew that sin was a disease – that it was a sickness unto death. That the aches and pains and suffering we have – all effects of sin. Even the world, even all the ragged, jaggedness it has – just a side effect of sin – the whole of creation groans because of sin. A vile illness. Tell John what you see – tell Him I bring healing. By pointing to the healing, Jesus reminds John of what He is doing – Jesus is healing sin, Jesus is preparing to do the ultimate healing with His death and resurrection. When Jesus dies, when He is wrapped in His burial cloth, your sin is wrapped and bandaged, and when He rises, those burial cloths fall off and your sin is healed and is no more. That’s what Christ is here to do, and that is what John is pointed to.
As part of our preparations for Christmas, we are directed to the healing that Christ brings. He deals with the root cause of our ills – he deals with sin. The Child that comes on Christmas morning, the babe that Mary holds in her arms comes in order to be taken to Golgotha and nailed to the Cross, so that John, so that Mary, so that you and I might be redeemed and forgiven – that we might be healed. Doctors don’t do it anymore, but Christmas is the ultimate in-home visit by the Great Physician, as He comes to heal us.
But Jesus gives such good answers. In addition to the obvious healings, the physical things, Jesus added one more to the list. “The poor have good news preached to them.” Jesus tells us what preaching is – it is the healing of spiritual ills. Take John for example. He’s being tempted, he’s facing trials – and by the Word, John is healed. Same thing with us – the Word heals us when we are tempted again, when we are bruised and battered with guilt. The greatest healing that Jesus does is heal sin, and that is given by the Word, the Word which takes Christ’s forgiveness and applies it to us. This is what we see and understand, this is what we are to expect in this life – to hear the preaching of God’s Word so that we are prepared for whatever this world throws at us – even if it is death.
And note one thing about this Word – it is about what Christ does. You don’t need to think that salvation is about the hurdles your clear, the strength you have. No – you will have your doubts. Even John does – and “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John.” Christianity isn’t a contest of boasting or bragging – it isn’t a matter where we throw all our good works out on the table and try to trump each other. Rather, we remember that we are raised by Christ – Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” When we are covered in Christ, when we are forgiven, when we are united to Him, we are made great, we are made whole and healed by Christ. He is our confidence and our hope – He is the One that we learn to trust more and more by the power of the Word all our days.
This is the Word that has been proclaimed – it is the Word that the prophets proclaimed, it is the Word that John proclaimed, it is the Word that has been proclaimed even unto this day. God comes to us and heals us from the troubles and problems of sin through His death and resurrection. And this is what we all need to be pointed to – this is what brings us into the Kingdom of Heaven – where we are joined by John and the prophets and all the saints as those who have been redeemed by Christ. As you prepare for Christmas this year – remember the healing that Christ brings to you – for He came as a little child so that You might be healed and made God’s little child once again. Keep this focus, and be prepared for our Lord’s Coming. Amen.