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Third Sunday in Advent

Luke 7:18–35

James T. Batchelor

Advent 3, series C
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  
Hoopeston, IL

view DOC file

Sun, Dec 13, 2015 

Todays reading from the Gospel account is one of those readings that causes bewilderment among sincere Christians.  John the Baptist is in jail.  Thats not a problem for Christians because he had not committed a crime.  He was in jail for political reasons.  He dared to scold King Herod for committing adultery.

Never the less, John is in jail and he sent some of his disciples to ask Jesus a question.  John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another? (Luke 7:1819, ESV) It is this questions that bewilders those who hear this account.  It raises the distinct possibility that John had doubts about Jesus.

Keep in mind who this John was.  He was the one who leaped in the womb when his mother heard the greeting of the Lords mother.  He was the one who baptized Jesus and saw the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus as a dove.  He was also the one who saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29, ESV) It was Johns mission as prophet to identify Jesus to the world.  He was the forerunner of the Messiah.  Surely, he, of all people, knew who Jesus was.  Surely, he knew that Jesus was the fulfillment of prophecy.  Never the less, John is sending his disciples to ask the question: Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?

There are some who say that John had no doubts.  He sent his disciple to ask the question for their sakes.  He wanted his disciples to hear Jesus answer so that their doubts would go away.  John was merely following up on his confession about Jesus when he said, He must increase, but I must decrease. (John 3:30, ESV) These people say that John sent the disciples so that they would meet and then follow Jesus.

In the end, it is Jesus Himself who clears up the bewilderment.  [Jesus] answered them, Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: (Luke 7:22, ESV) Jesus Himself instructed these disciples to encourage John by witnessing to what they saw and heard.  John was indeed suffering from doubt and Jesus sent encouragement to strengthen him in his struggle.

Johns struggle with doubt gives encouragement to all Christians, for all Christians struggle with doubt.  Jesus said, I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. (Luke 7:28, ESV) If one who received this kind of testimony from Jesus can still have doubts, then it cant be that unusual for someone like me to have doubts as well.

Doubts can have a variety of causes.  One of those causes is unmet expectations.  One of the reasons we have doubts about Jesus is that He turns out to be different from our expectations.

John was suffering from a malady that affected many prophets.  Many times, God keeps His promises in ways, and times, and places that we do not expect.  The Holy Spirit gave John a message of redemption and judgment.  John not only spoke of the one who was to come, but he also spoke about axes laid to the roots of trees.  The Holy Spirit did not tell John when the redemption would come and when the judgment would come.

Jesus came and revealed Himself as a Messiah of mercy, compassion, and forgiveness, but He did not present Himself as the Messiah who would bring fire and judgment on the world.  John expected both.  That is the reason, he was bewildered the reason he struggled with doubt.

Many expected the Messiah to come with the wrath of God to punish the enemies of God and Gods people.  Instead, Jesus came in solidarity with sinners.  He came to fulfill the law in their place and then endure Gods holy wrath against their sin.  Jesus came to earn forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life for you and for me.

Jesus comforted John by letting His actions do His talking for Him.  When Johns disciples asked their question He answered them, Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. (Luke 7:22, ESV) Johns disciples saw Jesus fulfill the promises of the prophets.  He was doing the work of the Messiah.  The disciples could report back to John with the work that Jesus was doing.  That work would tell John that Jesus is indeed the promised Messiah.

We who live after John the Baptist have even more good news than he did.  John learned about the beginning of Jesus work, but he did not live long enough to see Jesus bring His salvation to completion.  We who live now have a sign that John did not have.  We have the sign of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Jesus said, I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he. What can Jesus mean by this?  If no one is greater than John, how can the least be greater than he?  How can the least be greater than the greatest?  Jesus Himself gave the answer to that question.  He said, Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it. (Luke 10:2324, ESV)

John was the last Old Testament prophet.  Gods words came out of his mouth and he was blessed to see the coming of Messiah, but he did not live long enough to see the end of Messiahs mission on this earth.  Just as Moses stood on the mountain and saw the Promised Land, but never experienced it, so too John looked into the future and saw the kingdom of heaven, but never experienced it before his death.  John joined the great heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11 about whom it was said, All these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:3940, ESV)

So it is that, while none of us will be the prophet that John was, we are all greater than John because we have the history of our Savior in ink on paper.  John declared that Jesus is Gods perfect Passover lamb, but we have the history that tells us how Jesus is that lamb.  We know that Jesus lived a perfect life.  We know that through Baptism he gives us that perfect life and takes all our sins, all our doubts onto himself.  We know that through the instrument of Pontius Pilate, Jesus received the punishment we earned with our doubts and other sins.  We know that through His death, Jesus conquered all our sins.  We know that through his resurrection, Jesus leads us to eternal life with Him.  We experience Christs baptism of Spirit and fire.  We know the intimacy of Jesus presence within us as we eat His body and drink His blood in the Sacrament of the altar.  John saw all these things as a prophet, but did not experience them in this life.  We experience them now and so have the greater blessing from God.  We have an even greater reason to rejoice.

During this Advent season of penitential preparation, we consider our doubts and other sins.  As we consider these sins, their consequences and punishment should terrify us.  How wonderful it is, then, to learn that in Jesus Christ we have all the signs of Gods promise.  We have the signs of His miracles and His teaching, but especially we have the sign of His crucifixion and resurrection that earn forgiveness for our sins and give us the promise of life everlasting in His gracious presence.

Today is Gaudete Sunday the Sunday of rejoicing the Sunday of the rose candle.  On this Sunday, we rejoice that the Son of God came into this world to offer Himself up as our substitute and take away our sins.  We rejoice that by His Resurrection He has opened heaven for us.  We rejoice that, although our sin is great, our savior is even greater.  We rejoice in the way He came to conquer sin.  We rejoice in the way He now comes to offer forgiveness to all people.  We rejoice in the way He will come to give eternal life to all who believe in Him.  We rejoice that a day is coming when Jesus will remove all doubt.  Amen

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