Advent 3 – Matthew 11:2-11 – December 16th and 17th, 2017
In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
Not to spoil the story, but John is going to die there in prison. Our Gospel lesson begins with John the Baptist in prison, in a dungeon, and he's going to die there. Herod will lop of his head; John is not getting out of this one. When we see John this evening/morning, we don't hear the lessons where he is brashly and bluntly preaching repentance to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. We don't see him point to Jesus and exclaim, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” - although we will sing that today. We don't even get the cantankerous and blunt John telling off Pharisees – you brood of vipers! Who told you to flee the wrath that is to come? John's not out in the wilderness by the Jordan baptizing right now – no, he's down in a dungeon waiting to die. And any dreams he might have had about reforming all of Jerusalem, standing by the Messiah's side as He fixed things, well, those are dying as well.
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's disciples, his students, hadn't abandoned him after his arrest, and they would come and visit, bring him updates about the world, and John heard what Christ was doing. But wait, what? Wasn't I supposed to be there? Wasn't I supposed to be part of the Jesus and John tag team? And so, there in that prison, the contrast is stark. And doubts and fears come rolling in. This isn't how it was supposed to be, this didn't go how I thought it would. Was I wrong? Was I wrong to believe, was I wrong to point people to You, is there another Messiah coming, because I'm going to die in here, and I need to know.
And so John's disciples go, and they talk to Jesus, and Jesus responds. “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.” So the disciples get to take a message to John, and Jesus gives a list of things. The blind see, the lame walk. Lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead raised, and the poor have good news preached to them. Now, first things first – this is the laundry list of what the Messiah would do. Giving sight to the blind, the deaf hearing – that is literally textbook Messianic activity. Later on in the year we will have Gospel lessons where Jesus will restore sight or fix some fellow's ears – and chances are the Old Testament lesson for that day will be a prophecy pointing out how the Messiah would do these sorts of things. Same thing with the lepers and the lame being cured – they'll get to enter into the temple and worship, it will be a wonderful thing. And then there are the big miracles – the dead being raised. All things that point to Jesus, that establish His bona fides as the Messiah. Go tell John that you have heard and seen all these things – they ought to identify who I am – oh, but there's one more on that list. The poor have good news preached to them, so blessed is the one who isn't offended by Me.
The poor have good news preached to them. Doesn't that seem a bit... odd for this list? A bit, humdrum? I mean, it's just preaching. Nothing special there – John himself had been a preacher. I mean, we proclaim the word – not just me; you yourselves have told the good news about Jesus to family, friends, your kids, what have you. Doesn't seem that big of a deal. I mean, how many of you are going to run out of here saying, “Wow, did you hear, there was a sermon, I can't believe it!” Now, if I had held my hand up like this and went <
> and suddenly all of your hearing aids were
to blast out of your ears and your glasses and contacts flew off
because you didn't need them anymore, well, that would be something
cool to hear and see, right?
Except where is John? He's a poor man stuck in prison, stuck away from out there where Jesus is running around. There's all those miracles and I'm stuck in this prison and there's no miracle coming for me and I am going to die, what about me Jesus, have you forgotten me, Jesus! My life isn't going the way I thought it would, and I was a prophet for crying out loud, I should have seen this coming but I didn't and what does this all mean? It means, John, that even the poor in prison have the good news preached to them. It means that dead are raised, even you John, even after the headsman's ax comes for you. Your eyes will see even after they have been closed in death because of Me. You'll walk again, you'll hear again, you will be clean again, in fact cleaner and purer than you've even been because I will raise you to new and holy and perfect life John. And the fact that you are in that prison cell, that things didn't go the way YOU expected, doesn't change a thing. I knew this was coming, and I came to be your Messiah, your Savior, and I will raise you and you will be at My side for all eternity. All of this is for you John, even as you are there stuck in prison just waiting to die. I came to be your Lord and Savior, and I still am even this day.
And as those disciples head on back to go preach to John in prison, Jesus turns to the crowd that is with Him, and He starts to talk about John. “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?” What were you expectations, O crowd – what were you expecting? “A reed shaken by the wind?” Something thin and wispy and weak that just went with the flow? No! “What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses.” What did you go to see – someone rich dandy who was going to make your life all rich and dandy? No. “What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, 'Behold, I send My messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.'” No, you went to see a prophet. Someone who would speak the Word of God bluntly and clearly, come what may – oh, and by the by, how do things end up for prophets? Well, they end up in exile, or stoned, or beaten, or dead in kings palaces. And John prepares the way for Me – He preaches ahead of Me, and He gets to die ahead of Me too – but still, all that He preached was true – I am the Messiah, and I will defeat sin and death.
Lots and lots of misguided expectations are addressed in today's text. John's slid off, which is easy enough to understand. And then Jesus plays off of some expectations that we often like to have. A reed shaken by the wind? Well, to be honest, we can sort of like that. We can like people who will just tell us what we want to hear, we can like them to sing our tune. In fact, if we have any clarinet or oboe players in here – how do clarinets and oboes and bassoons work? A reed shaken, vibrating by your breath. And there are times where we will go and listen to people who let us call the tune, who tell us what we want them to tell us. “Confirmation Bias” is the trendy term for that – where we are more apt to listen to the folks who simply tell us what we already think, who agree with how we want things to be. Or there's the fine clothes crowd – you know, rich, powerful, successful. I hate to harp on it again, but aren't prosperity preachers popular? They are for a reason. Wouldn't you like it if I could say, “you will get stuff out the wazoo all throughout 2018”? But here's the thing – Scripture doesn't promise that. And the Scriptures sometimes tell us things about ourselves that we don't like. And sometimes reality sets in, and there are times things in your life will stink on ice. I hope it's not, but maybe 2018 will be a terrible year, where your eyesight or hearing just gets worse. Maybe because of the family drama Christmas will seem like being stuck in prison this year. It happens. Every single one of us in here has hurts and pains, physical, mental, emotional, social – and there are times those pains will flare up – and while I wish I could go “zap” and fix them, I can't. I have been given a job, though, and that is to preach good news to the poor.
This Sunday in Advent is the pink Sunday. It is the Sunday of refreshment, of rejoicing, of comfort. So then why, do you think, do we have such a dour and dark Gospel lesson? Why do we have John in prison today? Can't we have something a bit more cheery, can't we at least fake it for a hour here? No, because Jesus doesn't give fake comfort to fake sinners – He comes to give real comfort to real sinners who really hurt and are even in really dark places. And I hope your holidays are good, I hope 2018 is fabulous for you, but what I want you to know and remember is whenever things turn south, however disappointing and however painful things might be – be it next year or even 40 years down the line – Jesus doesn't abandon you. He doesn't leave you alone in muck, in whatever prison this world throws you into. He is with you, for you are Baptized and joined to Him. He has not promised that you will never see sorrow or hardship in this life, but He has promised to forgive your sin and raise you to everlasting life – that's what your Baptism is. That's what the Supper is. That is precisely the good news that is preached to you over and over again whenever you see how poor you are. The way you know that God loves you has nothing to do with how rich or successful you are, or whether your dreams are coming true or your plans are working out. Those things, great as they are, all come and go – but what remains constant and steadfast for you? Oh give thanks unto the LORD for He is good, and His steadfast love endures forever. You are and remain His baptized and redeemed child. He has forgiven you. And this remains true whether you see good times or bad – for better or worse, in sickeness and in health – He remains faithful to you. He has promised to be your Savior, and so He is. Your life may take strange and bizarre turns that none of us could guess, but not to spoil the story, you end up risen from the dead and living with Christ in joy and bliss forever. Come quickly, Lord Jesus – Amen.