Advent 3 – December 15th and 16th, 2019 – Matthew 10:2-10
In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
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?' This is how our text for this Sunday starts. John the Baptist in prison. The boldest, brashest professor of Christ there was – the man who called out sin most bluntly – you brood of vipers – the man who declared a confession of Christ so beautiful that we ourselves will sing it just before communion – Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! And he's in prison. Put there by a wicked, weak-willed and manipulated man. The government had failed him, and he's stuck in prison, and while he hears all this stuff that Jesus has done cold, dark, and dank prison walls and his own impending death are all that he can see. And so the messengers go out with a very important question – are you actually the one who is to come, or do we look for another.
Look for another. Use our eyes. Go on a search. You see, what John was seeing wasn't meshing up with what he thought he knew. If this Jesus is the Messiah, then why do I see the impact of death and sin so drastically? If my cousin is God incarnate, why am I wasting away here – isn't there some sort of heavenly hook up – a literal get out of jail free card that ought to come into play? If I've been good, then why are bad things happening to me? My friends, you know these sorts of thoughts. They are the very same thoughts that we get whenever our life goes sideways, and it's not our fault (or at least doesn't look to be our fault). This the question of doubt and fear and anger that comes up in any of those “why do bad things happen to good people” situations that we so often find ourselves in. The sort of questions that come up when what we see isn't what we want to see.
And so John's disciples go, and John's disciples ask Jesus this question – apparently right in front of the crowds. This isn't a pull Jesus aside sort of thing – up front and open – Hey Jesus, what about your cousin that you've left in prison? Are you the coming one, you coming to do all that awesome rescue stuff, and maybe starting with a prison break? Sort of puts Jesus on the spot. But Jesus, like He always does, just answers calmly. “Go and tell John what you hear and see.” Now, let's pause there. Jesus does something very important. Two things are mentioned – what you hear, and what you see. Hearing and Sight. And John, John had started to put more of an emphasis on his sight, what he was seeing. I'm looking the lousy prison I'm in, so do I need to look for someone else. Jesus sets up a different emphasis – go tell John – if someone tells you something, you hear it. Go tell John what you hear. Faith comes by hearing.
We can give hearing short shrift today. In our modern age, we don't think faith comes by hearing. We think the phrase “we walk by faith, not by sight” is backwards – oh no, we say “seeing is believing”. You ever realize that that simple phrase that we toss about is actually directly contradicting the Scriptures? But this is just part of the culture, the day and age in which we live – we want to be shown things. We end up thinking that things are most real and certain if we see them for ourselves. And this even creeps into how I preach. How often after I make a point do I end up asking, “Do you see?” See? You didn't see anything – you heard. But we associate reality with what we see.
This is why faith can be so problematic. This is how Satan attacks us. Instead of listening to God and His Word, we go by what we see. And it's been this way since the garden – God says don't eat. Satan says, 'eat it – it will open your eyes to good and evil' and “when the woman saw that the tree was good for food...” My sight, elevated over what God says. This plays out in all our lessons today too – not just with John. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem – call out words of comfort and peace – but that hadn't been what she'd been seeing. She'd been seeing hard times. Or 1 Corinthians – the Corinthians are in the middle of one of the nastiest church fights in history, where some are supporting Paul, and others are hating Paul and supporting Apollos, and other yet are saying we should ignore both of them and rather try to get Peter over here. It was a mess – people saw enemies and louts all over. And Paul says this: This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. What do you see? Do you see the pastor you'd rather not have... or do you hear someone proclaiming the Gospel, the power of God unto salvation, the mysteries of God? When it comes to baptism, do you just see water on a kid, or did you hear the Word of God comprehended with that water and attached to it making it a life giving water and lavish washing away of sin? Or in the Supper – do you just see bread and wine, or did you hear Christ Jesus say, “This is My Body, this is My Blood”? That was the problem in Corinth addressed later on – For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the Body eats and drinks judgment on himself. But we can keep going - Do you see your spouse as a pain in the ying-yang, or do you hear God say that He has given you to your spouse as a gift and joined you two together? Do you see your neighbor as an annoying jerk and sinner, or do you hear that Jesus Christ has taken away the sin of the world? Do you get caught up in sight, rather than the Word?
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 them. Oh, there's a lot going on here, my friends. First, Jesus is giving the laundry list of the signs of the Messiah from the Old Testament. John, you've heard the Old Testament – well, doesn't what you hear is happening now line up perfectly with what the Old Testament said? Christ Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. But Jesus does something else that is subtle and strongly emphasizes hearing. Oh, the blind see – there is some seeing involved. But let's move past sight, shall we? The lame walk – because I told them to walk and they heard it. And lepers are cleansed – because I spoke clean and they heard it. Even the deaf who couldn't hear – I speak and they hear. The dead, I speak and they hear. Even death itself will not hinder the power of God's Word. But the kicker John, the best thing of all, the most Messianic thing going on – the poor have good news preached to them. Hearing.
Yeah, John – prison sucks. You are in a lousy place. You are poor and miserable right now. But, you know John, you were poor before you went into that prison too. You of all people, as the great preacher of “repent” should know that you are a poor miserable sinner. But be at peace. Comfort, comfort John! The preacher of the Good News, the Gospel is here. You have sins to repent of – well, the Lamb of God who takes away those sins is here. You must deal with evil folks who will hound you to death – well, so does the Christ – and in fact, a head on a platter is a lot quicker and nicer than the Cross. And you know what John – even to you there, when you are at your lowest, when you aren't able to do anything good any more, when your service is at an end – the Good News of Salvation and life is proclaimed to you. And whatever they do to you in that prison – if they take your eyes, or break your legs, or let you fall into disease – or even when they take your head – doesn't matter. The Good News will be preached to you – and with your sins forgive by the Messiah you will rise. God Himself has said so.
And so, John's disciples go back, and they speak this word to John, and faith comes by hearing. And John, even in that prison, has everything – every good and wonderful gift there in the word of God. A former LCMS President – Al Berry – had a simple catch-phrase: Get in the Word, Missouri! Hear the Word, Trinity. Service here in this place, where the Word of God is proclaimed – this should be a priority. But not just this service - This is why there are so many bible studies offered here – get in the Word. Hear it. If you're on the go, I can recommend wonderful podcasts to listen to. Be in the Word. Because your eyes are bombarded day in and day out with so much wickedness and temptation, and it's easy to just fall into walking by sight. That's even what Jesus asked the crowd there – What did you go out into the wilderness to see? Was John just a spectacle for you, a show? A reed shaking in the wind or lifestyles of the rich and famous. No – John was a prophet. One who speaks the Word. More than that – John was a promised prophet – who fulfilled the Word. God's Word of promise is the center – not what we see.
I don't know what you will see this week. Some of it will be flat out bad. Some of it will seem like a good thing but not be at all what it was cracked up to be. Some of it will be razzle dazzle and some of it will be winter gray dreariness. But the Word of the LORD remains true, His promises remain sure. You are forgiven, you are His Baptized child and an heir of eternal life. Christ Jesus comes to you in His own Body and Blood this day to proclaim this peace to you again, so that you are in His peace, His comfort no matter what sin or the world or your own flesh or the Devil himself try to shove in front of your face. You are forgiven and redeemed. Peace be with you. Come quickly, Lord Jesus, Amen. In the Name of Christ Jesus our Advent King +