The Third Sunday in Advent| December 15, 2019| Rev. Rolf Preus| Matthew 11:4-6
“Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.” Matthew 11:2-6
Do you think that faith and reason are compatible? Or does faith sometimes believe in what is unreasonable? Is it reasonable to believe that God became a man? How can this be? It appears to be impossible! God is infinite. Man is finite. Didn’t the great Greek philosopher, Aristotle (who was a very reasonable man), demonstrate that the finite is not capable of the infinite? God can’t become a baby. The Christmas story must be a myth. Who can believe that that little baby lying in the manger is the Lord God almighty?
He is. We know he is almighty God. He has told us so in the Holy Scriptures. We know that Jesus is almighty God because he repeatedly did what only God can do. Jesus demonstrated his true deity again and again. He changed water into wine. That revealed his eternal glory, the glory of the only begotten Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.
Who can give sight to a man born blind? Jesus did. When he enabled the lame to walk, there were witnesses present who knew that the lame man was really lame and that Jesus really did heal him. When Jesus gave the deaf their hearing, it was publicly witnessed and verified. Today’s so called faith healers “heal” diseases whose symptoms cannot be seen. You have to take their word for it. Yeah. Sure. Jesus did miracles that could be and were empirically, that is, scientifically, verified. It was no con. Jesus raised the dead. When Elijah raised up the dead son of a widow he called on God to bring the child back to life. When Jesus raised up the dead son of a widow he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” “I say to you,” Jesus said. He appealed to his own authority and power to do what is impossible for men to do.
The Old Testament prophets did many miracles. Jesus did three times as many as all of them combined. The Old Testament prophets did miracles to prove that their word was God’s word. Moses put Pharaoh’s magicians to shame. On Mt. Carmel, Elijah did the same to the prophets of Baal. In Old Testament times, God did miracles through his prophets. The prophets appealed to divine power outside of themselves. Jesus did miracles as the incarnate Son of God. He made it clear that the miracles he was doing he was doing by his own divine authority. He who was begotten of the Father in eternity became a man in time. He demonstrated his true deity in and through his humanity.
The prophets said he would. We read in the book of the prophet, Isaiah:
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing… the LORD has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor.
(Isaiah 35:5-6; 61:1)
Christ and his Christians had many fierce enemies in the early years of the church. Many sought to discredit Jesus. Some of the anti-Christian propaganda in those early years accused Jesus of black magic or even of appealing to the power of the devil. But nobody argued that he didn’t do the miracles recorded in the Gospels. There were too many witnesses that said he did.
The miracles Jesus did were visibly verifiable. As Jesus said to John’s disciples, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see.” These miracles also had spiritual significance. He gave the blind their sight to teach that he was the light of the world who provides spiritual enlightenment to those blinded by their sins. He gave the deaf their hearing and enabled the lame to walk to teach that everyone who listened to his voice and followed him would have eternal life. He cleansed the lepers to teach that he is the source of all spiritual health. He raised the dead to teach that he is the resurrection and the life.
Some deny Christ’s miracles. Since he did what is impossible for men to do they deny he did it. Since they have never experienced it, they conclude that it cannot happen. They think they are reasonable, but it is not reasonable to deny what hundreds of witnesses saw. Some people reject the supernatural in principle. They are atheists. They want to explain everything in this world in purely material terms. There is no supernatural reality, they say. It’s unreasonable, they say. They are offended by Jesus because he proves them wrong.
But those who are the most deeply offended by Jesus are religious people who do believe in the supernatural, who do believe in heaven and hell, and who sincerely think that they honor Jesus. Take the devoted Muslim, Mason, or Mormon who dutifully does what he thinks will gain him eternal life. He admires Jesus. He tries to follow his example. But he refuses to see himself as spiritually poor. He will not tolerate the gospel. He’ll tolerate a perversion of Christianity that isn’t Christian. But when he hears that he is a poor and needy sinner who can do nothing to obtain God’s favor and goodwill and that for all his efforts to be good he deserves to be cast out from before God’s face and be damned to hell, well, he will take great offense at that! He will be deeply offended.
Those most offended by Jesus don’t know that it is Jesus who offends them. About forty years ago, I agreed to do a wedding for young lady in my congregation who was marrying a young man who belonged to the Roman Catholic Church. The young lady’s parents asked me to invite the Catholic priest to say a few words at the wedding. I said that he could certainly do so at the reception. No, they said, they wanted it to be done in the church. I explained that that would not be possible. They asked why not. I explained that the Roman Catholic priest taught a different gospel than what we taught. He taught that a person’s good deeds help get him to heaven. That’s contrary to the gospel. The true gospel teaches us that it is Christ’s good deeds that get us to heaven. Salvation is by faith alone in Christ. Our good works don’t contribute anything at all. The bride’s mother became very angry with me. She proceeded to attack the gospel I preached, claiming that my gospel permitted sinners to continue in their sin. She thought that if our good deeds don’t contribute to our salvation then we have no reason to do them.
That lady gave me an education. She was a lifelong Lutheran and she believed she was working her way to heaven. She wasn’t angry just because I wouldn’t let a Roman Catholic priest participate in the church service. She was angry because of the gospel I taught. That’s the gospel that Jesus taught. Jesus says,
. . . the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.
Many people who believe that they love Jesus can’t stand the gospel he preaches. They take offense. They are offended because they won’t be poor. There’s a popular preacher by the name of Joyce Meyer who was raised in a congregation of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod but then rejected the gospel we preach. She said:
All I was ever taught to say was “I a poor miserable sinner.” I am not poor, I am not miserable, and I am not a sinner. That is a lie from the pit of hell. That is what I were and if I still was then Jesus died in vain. I am going to tell you something folks I didn’t stop sinning until I finally got it through my thick head I wasn’t a sinner anymore and the religious world thinks that is heresy and they want to hang you for it. But the Bible says that I am righteous and I can’t be righteous and be a sinner at the same time.
Setting aside the fact that God forbids women to preach publicly and that that itself is an offense against God, note what has offended this woman – that she is a poor, miserable, sinner. She claims that because she is righteous she is no longer a sinner. That’s the same argument that Rome has used against the gospel for nearly five hundred years. They agree with Joyce Meyer that you can’t be righteous and a sinner at the same time. To which Jesus says, “Blessed is he who is not offended because of me.”
We are poor. But Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor.” He enriches them with the kingdom of God. They are rich. God tells us in his gospel that we are righteous. The gospel that Jesus preaches to the poor tells them they are rich. They are righteous. They are heaven bound. God’s favor shines on them. This is what the gospel teaches us.
But as we examine our lives under the harsh glare of God’s perfect law, what do we see? We see that we are poor, miserable, sinners. God says that we are righteous. This righteousness is not anything we have done. It is the obedience and suffering of Jesus. It is perfect, and that means we are perfectly righteous. This is not an excuse to sin. This is not a claim that we are no longer poor, miserable sinners. The gospel tells us the honest to God truth. As surely as Jesus obeyed, we are righteous. As surely as Jesus suffered, our sins are forgiven. This won’t become true when we stop sinning. This is true right now.
Examine yourself this morning. Be honest. Examine your heart, your words, and your deeds. Examine yourself in the light of God’s holy law. Have you loved anything more than you love God? Have you honored God’s name in all you have said and done? Have you taken every opportunity God has given you to hear his word and take it in? Have you honored those in authority over you? Have you helped your neighbor in his bodily needs? Have you lived a sexually pure life? Have you taken what didn’t belong to you? Have you told lies about or repeated unkind stories about your neighbor? Have you been content with what God has given you? See what you are and have done. Repent.
And then rejoice. As we pray in the Introit for today, “Rejoice in the Lord always. . . The Lord is at hand.” The contradiction between what God says in the gospel and what you feel in your body will soon disappear. Our flesh is offended by the gospel. We still have a desire to sin. We still sin. The gospel tells us we are righteous and rich and what we witness with our eyes is sin and poverty.
But rejoice, O Christian. Don’t be offended by Jesus and his gospel. The gospel truth is that everything God tells you in the gospel today – that you are forgiven, righteous, holy, headed for glory, and an heir of eternal life in heaven – God will confirm before your very eyes when Christ returns. You are poor. Christ proclaims his gospel to you. It makes you rich. Don’t be offended because you cannot prove it. He who guarantees its truth is God in the flesh. He proved it. Amen.