Now when John in prison heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples, and said to Him, "Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?" And Jesus answered and said to them, "Go and report to John what you hear and see: the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM. And blessed is he who keeps from stumbling over Me."
And as these were going away, Jesus began to speak to the multitudes about John, "What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings' palaces. But why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I say to you, and one who is more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, 'BEHOLD, I SEND MY MESSENGER BEFORE YOUR FACE, WHO WILL PREPARE YOUR WAY BEFORE YOU.'"
Why Are You Here?
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Our Gospel lesson this morning revolves around two questions - the question of John to Jesus - Are you the Coming One, or shall we look for someone else?, and the question of Jesus to the multitudes about John, What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? What did you go out to see? Both of them are questions that we could consider - one of them we must consider. The question about John, though, is not so significant to us unless we translate it into our modern age, and apply it to our situation by placing our congregation and its mission here in the place of the prophet John. When we do that, we change the question of Jesus into the theme of our sermon this morning, Why Are You Here?
First, however, is the question John asked of Jesus. Are you the Coming One or shall we look for someone else? That is the question that rings through the ages in one form or another - What do you think of Jesus Christ? Is He God, or simply a good man? Is He really and fully human, or does it just seem that way? Is Jesus Savior, or is He Judge? Is He the Center of your existence, or simply an embellishment to it? Do you believe in the Jesus of the Bible or the modern, politically correct, socially sensitive, humanistic Jesus? Was Jesus the One, or are you still looking for someone else?
It sounds silly, doesn't it? The question seems out of place here in a Lutheran Church. Unfortunately, it is not. It is never out of place. The devil is at work all of the time, trying to get us to imagine a "Jesus Christ" other than the One who existed and who died for us, and then to believe in that Jesus. In the days of Jesus, the people who were waiting for the Messiah were often waiting for someone else. When they met the Messiah, they didn't want to believe that this humble man was "the One". They wanted someone else.
The problem they faced was just the same as many people today face. They had come to look for the One they wanted, not the One actually promised or the One who came. Today, many people want a different Jesus. They want the "Sweetheart of a Guy" Jesus who takes everyone just the way they are, and asks for nothing, not even true faith, expects no changes, overlooks anything and everything, and answers all of life's troubles and pain. Or, perhaps, they want the Ecumenical Jesus, the one who doesn't care if we know Him, who measures us by our public niceness to others, and who is pleased if people simply learn to pay lip service to the existence of a deity - any deity. Others have a Jesus in mind who changes His values and morals and judgements as frequently as they do, and, oddly enough, He always agrees with them. Doctrine, morality, history - such people believe that they are all in flux because they are not willing to commit themselves to anything, and their "Jesus" is just like them.
Jesus gave John the answer: look at the Jesus who IS, and know Him. Jesus told John's disciples to look at what they saw and heard in Him. Jesus mentioned in specific the things which He had done, things that the Messiah was going to do, according to the prophets. Then Jesus said, And blessed is he who keeps from stumbling over Me. In other words, blessed is the one who believes in the Messiah who actually has come - who does not stumble over the real Jesus or who does not have another Jesus, a preferable Jesus, in mind. Jesus told John to face the reality that was reported - for us, that is the Jesus of the Bible, who teaches and is connected to the values and morality and doctrines of the Bible. We cannot have Jesus if we reject Him and what He taught just because something different feels good, or because someone we love has already rejected Him, and we don't want to face an uncomfortable truth about their spiritual life.
Which leads quite naturally to the questions that Jesus asked the crowd. He asked them what they had come for - pointing to John rather than Himself, but asking them if they were about reality - the man that was out in the wilderness - or about some unrealistic fantasy, something not real. But when Jesus pointed to John, He was actually pointing to Himself. John was His messenger, the one meant to lead all men to Himself. The conclusions they drew about John would also shape the conclusions they drew about Jesus.
So, what have you come here to see? Did you come here to confront holy mysteries and deal with Jesus as He is, or did you come here for some other purpose, with another agenda in mind? What do you see here?
If you see this congregation as just a social organization of wonderful people, you are not here for Jesus. If you see a worship service as simply a place one can go to in order to feel good, you are not seeing reality. If you see the messenger of Christ as simply expressing his opinion, and reject him out of hand or cling to him automatically, without examining what is taught and preached in the Word, you have not come to see Jesus. If you have come expecting something like a fast-food place where you can get your religion served up hot and fresh and just the way you like it, you have not come to see Jesus.
This congregation is the assembly of Christ's holy people. He has gathered His holy priesthood together here. Each one has come here by His holy invitation, to eat of His body and drink of His blood in this holy Meal before us, to hear His holy Word and be equipped for life in this world as God's servant, and the Lord has called His servant, the pastor, to proclaim His Word and distribute His sacrament faithfully.
We are to expect to be refreshed and strengthened. He has promised it to us, and we believe His promises. He has promised that our sins will be forgiven and that we will have eternal life on account of what He has accomplished on the cross. He has promised that those who remain faithful will rise from their graves in glory unto everlasting life and joy.
He has not promised, however, that everything will feel good right at this moment, or please our intellect, or appeal to any part of us that may be included in the description "our sinful flesh." God's precepts may not always appeal to you - but if the doctrines proclaimed are His, drawn clearly from His holy Word, they are also ours to keep and to believe and to confess. He has also called us to serve Him in good times and in difficult times. He refers to that service as our spiritual service of worship, in Romans 12.
God may ask you to stand firm in the face of persecution. If you have come here to see Jesus, then you will. It might not be fun, but it will be what you will want to do, if it is what God lays before you. Or enduring illness. Or facing certain death. Always patiently confessing Christ, or some truth about Him drawn from His Word, before those who may not accept it, and who might not accept you if you do not change, that is our calling. Oftentimes, those will be people whom you respect and from whom you covet approval. In each of these circumstances we will likely be able to see the pain, the pressure, the difficulty, but we will not necessarily be able to imagine the blessings and we may not see what God is at work accomplishing through our faithfulness. But it doesn't matter. He is God, and we are "poor miserable sinners" who have been redeemed and saved by Him, and given the privilege of working together with Him.
We often cannot imagine what difference it would make if we did what we ought not to do, or if we surrendered some piece of the truth, a seemingly inconsequential piece, in order to achieve some goal or maintain some imagined good. That is part of the spiritual blindness of our flesh caught in sin. Well, such things aren't ours to imagine. Not if you have come here to see the Jesus who is. Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight. We are to do it His way, and we are to trust His Word because it is His, and we are His. He is God, after all, and we are not.
Jesus asked them what they went out to see when they went out after John. Of course, the only thing they could see was what was there - the prophet of God. Even if they denied that he was the prophet, that is all that there was out there for them to see. Even when people deny the truth, or want God and their religion on their own terms, there is still only one God, and only one true faith - and only one salvation. If we come with any other agenda than God's agenda, we come in vain, that is, without purpose and without success.
God has called you to His Word, and to His Supper, and into His family. He has forgiven you all of your sins for Jesus' sake, and set His great love on you. He has called you to know Him and His Word. He has called you to serve Him by loving one another, and by faithfully living in the light of His great love day by day, in whatever circumstance you find yourself right now.
He has not called you to understanding every detail or enjoying every moment. He has not called you to feeling good or being happy. It is okay if you do, it is wonderful if you can, but it is not part of the promise - at least not for life in this world. He has promised us sorrow, and pain, and the hatred and persecution of the world in this life. And He has given us His Word and the Sacraments - and each other - for strength and comfort and encouragement as we stand faithful by His power and though His grace.
Why Are You Here? All there is here to see is the mystery of God's love in Jesus Christ, the purity of the Word, the refreshment of the Sacrament, and the fellowship of the saints. In it and through it all He gives us forgiveness and resurrection and eternal life for the sake of Jesus Christ. If you have come here for anything else, you will be disappointed. If you have come to find any other Jesus than the One the Bible teaches us about, you have come to the wrong place - but even if you have come for the false, let us show you the true Jesus, and stick with us and let us show you the true mysteries - the wonders of God and of God's love for you. You will be glad, and we will be glad, and the angels of God will rejoice that you did!
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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