Advent 3| Matthew 11:2-10| Pastor James Preus| Trinity Lutheran Church| December 11, 2022
While John was in prison, he heard of Jesus’ wonderful works, so he sent his disciples to Jesus to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And this poses a question for us, “What does John mean by The One Who Is to Come? John himself said that he was preparing the way for Him, who was coming after him (Matthew 3:11). Jesus answers both John’s question and ours by pointing to His own deeds. “Go 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.”
At first, it seems that Jesus is being cryptic with His answer. Yet, if you are familiar with the Scriptures, you recognize that Jesus answered John loud and clear. John asked if Jesus was The One to Come. Isaiah 35 states, “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.” And again, Isaiah prophesies in chapter 61, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.”
John asked if Jesus was The One Who Is to Come. The prophet Isaiah says that The One Who Is to Come is God, who will cause the blind to see, the deaf to hear, and the lame to walk. Jesus causes the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the lame to walk, even raises the dead. Isaiah says that the Christ, that is, the anointed one would preach good news to the poor. Jesus preaches good news to the poor. Jesus points to His work to prove that He is doing what Scripture said would be done by the Coming One, the Christ. Jesus is God, coming into the world. Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.
Jesus concludes His answer to John’s disciples by saying, “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” Yet, why would someone be offended by Jesus. The most obvious answer is that Jesus is not what our human pride expects. First, look at how Jesus’ disciples suffer. John the Baptist, the man sent by God to prepare the way for Jesus is languishing in a prison cell. And we know that soon he will have his head chopped off. And John isn’t the last disciple of Jesus to suffer for the name of Christ. Stephen was stoned to death, then James was put to death by the sword. Nearly every Apostle was murdered for confessing Christ, and they led a long train of martyrs after them.
And suffering for Christ’s name is by no means left to history. Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24) And so, today Christians are hated on account of Christ. Christians lose friends for standing on God’s Word instead of following the moral degeneracy of the present age. Christians are hated for believing that Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven. Indeed, it must be repeated, that if you are intent to be a Christian, you should expect to lose friends and be hated on account of it, as Jesus says, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” (John 15:18)
Today, people are offended by Jesus, because He teaches us to believe things that are impossible to understand. He tells us that in order for one to enter the kingdom of God, he must be born again of water and the Spirit (John 3:3-5) and He promises that whoever believes and is baptized will be saved (Mark 16:16). The human pride retorts, “How can water do such great things?” and scoffs at the notion that Baptism can grant new-birth or save a person’s soul. Jesus tells us, as three Evangelists and St. Paul record in Holy Scripture, that He feeds us His body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, the same body and blood given and shed for us for the forgiveness of sins. Prideful human reason is offended to be asked to believe such a miracle, so most reject this teaching, muddying Jesus’ clear words and denying Him His divine power to do all things.
Yet, the greatest reason people are offended by Jesus is that he comes with grace and mercy, associating with the lowly and sinners. One might be surprised by this, since John the Baptist himself declared that the One Who Is to Come came with a winnowing fork 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 3:12). And this is what the prophet Malachi predicted of the Coming One, “He is coming, says the LORD of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire…” and later, he adds, “Then I will draw near to you for judgment.” (Malachi 3:3, 5)
People expected a judge. Scripture itself spoke of a judge. Yet, Jesus comes not judging, but forgiving and showing mercy. But Scripture does not speak of Christ only as a judge, but as Him who will show mercy to those sorry for their sins. This is a scandal! Human pride expects God to come and judge. Human pride does not want to hear about Christ forgiving sinners and showing mercy. Human pride wants to be praised for its own works, not shown mercy.
People love the law more than the Gospel. This is a fact. Why do people refuse your invitations to church? Why are people disinterested in hearing the Gospel? Why are they offended when we confess that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and that no one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6)? Because they want to believe that they are good enough. They don’t want salvation as a gift. They think they’ve earned it. If your boss gave you your paycheck and called it a gift, you’d be offended. You’d say, “That’s not a gift. I earned that!” And that is why people are offended by Jesus. They think they have earned life. They don’t need Jesus to get to heaven. It offends them to say that they aren’t good enough.
But Jesus doesn’t come to appease your human pride. And He does not come how you expect Him to. Jesus comes as the Savior to rescue His flock as Scripture says. The prophet Isaiah speaks of Him, “Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and His arm rules for Him; behold, His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him. He will tend His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in His arms; He will carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” (40:10-11)
The most offensive thing Jesus ever did was to die on the cross for the sins of all people, as Psalm 22, Isaiah 53, and Zechariah 12:10 among many other places in Scripture predicted. There they pierced His hands and His feet and the Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all, so that we might be healed by His wounds. It is offensive to our human pride that Jesus would suffer and die for our sins, but Jesus says you are blessed if you are not offended.
Those who are not offended by Jesus believe His Holy Word and are saved. Jesus proves Himself to be The One Who Is Coming, Christ, our God with Holy Scripture. Jesus does as Holy Scripture predicts that He will do. Those who are saved believe Jesus’ Word. Yet, in order to believe Jesus’ Word and be saved, you must have someone preach God’s Word to you (Romans 10:14). So, Jesus teaches us what to look for in a faithful preacher of God’s Word by describing to us the quintessential preacher, John the Baptist.
“What did you go out into the wilderness to see?” Jesus asks, “A reed shaken by the wind?” A reed shaken by the wind is a preacher, who preaches whatever the itching ears of his hearers demand him to preach. He say what is popular and what will draw a crowd. This is not what John did. John stood on the Word of God from Holy Scripture, even if it offended his hearers and landed him in prison. If you want to find a faithful preacher, do not find someone who tells you what you want to hear, but what God says in Holy Scripture whether you want to hear it or not.
“What did you go out to see?” Jesus asks again, “A man dressed in soft clothing?” A man dressed in soft clothing is a worldly wiseman, who worships wealth and prestige rather than the one true God. This is a popular false preacher, because people want to be like him, dressed in fine clothing and living in a nice house with no cares in the world. Yet, John is no worldly wiseman. He is not in a king’s house dressed in fine clothing, but in a king’s dungeon wearing his old camel skin. Like John, a faithful preacher must not worship the things of this world, but be willing to lose all earthly comforts for the sake of the Gospel.
“What did you go out to see?” Jesus asks a third time, “A prophet? Yes, and more than a prophet!” John was more than a prophet, because unlike the prophets of old who searched their writings to inquire what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories (1 Peter 1:11), John pointed directly to Christ and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) And because of God’s revelation in the New Testament, we Christian preachers today are blessed like John to be able to point directly to Christ. He is not shrouded in mystery anymore. We know of His atoning death and resurrection. We have received His Baptism and frequently feast on His Supper.
So, a faithful preacher today, to be like John the Baptist, must speak clearly of the teachings of Christ. He must not confuse his listeners with the unknown or be doubtful about Christ’s teaching, but rather, with conviction point to Christ alone as the Savior of the world, and the true hope for sinners.
Jesus teaches us to look to Scripture to learn who He is and what He has done for us. The Bible is our shining light, which leads us to Christ. We must not search for what we expect or what we think we want, but rather what God reveals to us. God knows what we need. And God knows how to give us what we need. We should not be offended by Jesus, because He comes in a way different than what we expect. Likewise, we should not reject ministers of the Word, because they don’t meet our standards or run to them, because they do. Rather, we should judge them according to God’s standard. Do they hold to God’s Word and do they preach Christ crucified for sinners? Then regard them as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.
Jesus teaches us not to seek to please ourselves, but rather to seek the truth in God’s Holy Word. And He promises eternal blessings to those who are not offended by His Word, but cling to His cross and teaching. Lord God, grant us Your Holy Spirit, so that we would not be offended by Christ, but cling to His promise of eternal blessedness. Amen.