Soli Deo Gloria. Amen.
Are You the One?
St. Matthew 11:2-15
Advent III/December 14/15, 2007
Concordia Lutheran Church, Frohna, MO
Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church, Altenburg, MO
Invocation: In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
1. St. John the Baptist sits in prison. He's chained to the wall in one of Herod's dungeons because he preached the Law to Herod. He told him that his marriage to his brother's wife was both unlawful and unholy. Herod didn't like that too much, and neither did his wife, so they threw him into prison. Now he lies incarcerated, awaiting his fate. But he doesn't wait entirely alone, though. Some of his disciples come to visit him, and they keep him informed about what's going on. Especially about Jesus. Jesus is making them a bit uneasy, it seems.
2. He's been saying things like:
"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn "'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law-- a man's enemies will be the members of his own household."
3. He also said,
[St. Matthew 10:37-39]
"Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."
4. That leads us right up to where our Gospel reading for today begins.
[St. Matthew 11:2-3]
When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?"
5. Seems a bit odd, doesn't it, that St. John the Baptist would ask this question of Jesus. "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" On the surface, it seems like John has some doubts about who Jesus is. Maybe he's having a "crisis of faith" as the Biblical scholars call it. But that doesn't seem right. After all, St. John the Baptist has always known who Jesus is. While both he and Jesus were still in their mothers' wombs, he leapt at the sound of St. Mary's voice. (St. Luke 11:44) He knows Jesus is the Son of God—he even knows St. Mary's voice is the voice of the mother of God. And that's not all. Years later, when Jesus comes to him to be baptized, he tries to stop Jesus. He says, "No. You've got it all backwards. I need to be baptized by you," he says. "Why do you come to me?" (St. Matthew 3:14) He calls Jesus the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. (St. John 1:29)
6. Jesus himself calls St. John the Baptist a prophet. He is the messenger sent by God ahead of the Messiah. It is he who has prepared the way for Christ and the coming of his kingdom. He is Elijah, the promised prophet who precedes the coming of the Messiah. St. John the Baptist knows his own identity and purpose. He also knows the identity and the purpose of Jesus.
7. So what purpose does his question serve? Why send his disciples to ask Jesus if he's really the one? If he really is the Messiah? Something else John said, points us in the right direction. In the Gospel of St. John, John the Baptist himself confesses his faith in Christ. In holy humility he says of Jesus,
[St. John 3:30]
"He must become greater; I must become less."
8. His question, "Are you the one?" is clearly not his own, but reflects the doubt of his disciples. John's not having a crisis of faith, but his followers just may be. He puts their doubt into words and says, "Go. Go ask Jesus, 'Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else.' See what he says in response." In sending his disciples away, he's preparing their hearts for the Messiah. He's distancing himself, becoming less in their eyes, so that they can see the true greatness of the Christ. He's sending them to the one place where all their doubts can be put to rest. He's sending them into the Kingdom of God, to the King of heaven himself. "Go," he says, "go ask Jesus if he's really the one. His answer will leave no room for doubt in your mind."
9. So off they go. John's disciples ask Jesus if he really is the Messiah. Jesus responds,
[St. Matthew 11:4-6]
"Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me."
10. Being faithful people of God, they would understand what Jesus is saying. Without a doubt, Jesus' words would call to mind Isaiah's prophecy.
Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, "Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you." Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.
11. With these words, Jesus proclaims to all who have ears to hear: "I AM THE ONE. I have come to save you. You wonder who I am? Listen to my words. Behold my miracles. Experience my compassion on you, my beloved people. Walk with me in the Kingdom of God and see, I am the One who was promised. I am the one who will give you your sight. I am the one who will strengthen your weary legs. I am the one who will cleanse you from all disease. I am the one who will restore hearing to your deaf ears. I am the one who will raise you from the dead. I am the one who brings you the good news of the Kingdom of God. I am the One and Only, your God who has come to save you. I am the one you've been waiting for. I AM the promised Messiah, the very Son of God."
12. That's exactly what John's disciples needed to hear. That's what John wanted them to hear. If they're having a crisis of faith, the only saving object of their faith is Jesus Christ. So John points them away from himself and toward Jesus. Only then, would they see Jesus in all his greatness. So he sent them away from himself and to the one who brings the Kingdom and all its benefits with him.
13. Today, the disciples of St. John the Baptist are all dead. Hopefully, asleep in Jesus. Their crisis of faith is long past. But ours is not. Hang around with folks long enough, and eventually you will hear their question. "Are you the one, Jesus, or should we look for someone else?" Examine yourself down in the depths of your own soul, and you will hear the question there, too. We all at times will ask Jesus, "Are you the one? Should I expect someone else?" You might not out and out say it, but the question is there. When we suffer from an illness or an injury—especially one that darkens our eyes or muffles our ears or breaks our weary legs, we wonder, why didn't Jesus keep this from me? When we suffer hardship and persecution and find those we love in prisons of their own, we wonder, "Where is Jesus?" When our lives seem to be falling apart, we become plagued by doubt and the question escapes our lips even before we realize it, "Are you the one, Jesus? Can't you save me from this?" Sinful doubt creeps into our minds, just like it did for those disciples of St. John the Baptist. And we come to know from life experience the truth of St. James' statement:
. . . he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.
14. We waffle back and forth through life, tossed about by doubt that is not helpful at all. In truth, our doubt will lead us nowhere but deeper into sin. And if left unchecked, our doubt will lead us into hell. When in doubt about your health, your life, your faith, take the example of John's disciples. When you suffer illness that blinds your eyes or deafens your ears, go see Jesus. When you suffer injury that weakens your legs and tests the strength of your soul, go see Jesus. When you suffer from doubt about who Jesus really is, go see Jesus. Go see Christ and ask him yourself, "Are you the one who was to come, or should I expect another?" Take out your Bible. Prayerfully ask Jesus your question. Share your suffering with him. Share your pain with him. Share you doubts with him and ask him who he is. The answer you receive will be the same John's disciple's got:
[St. Matthew 11:5-6]
"The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me."
Christ will say,
[Isaiah 35:3-6 adapted]
Strengthen your feeble hands, steady your weak knees that give way; listen, you with fearful hearts, "Be strong, do not fear; I, your God will come, I will come with vengeance for the ungodly; with divine retribution I will come for the lost. And you, O chosen ones, I will come to save you." Then your blind eyes will be opened; your deaf ears will be unstopped. You who are lame will leap like deer; your mute tongues will be loosed and you will shout for joy, to the Lord your God.
15. In just nine days, we will celebrate the first coming of Jesus. We will celebrate the first of all his miracles, his birth from the Virgin Mary. Our own hearts will leap within us as we contemplate the blessings that come as God the Son takes on our flesh. And we will revel in the joy of the fulfillment of the promised one who was to come. We do not know, however, how long it will be until we celebrate the final coming of our Lord. But he will come. He will come and save us, just as he said. He will come and put new life into our legs, new sight into our eyes, new sounds into our ears. He will preach the best news we've ever heard. He will come and raise us from the dead, and give us life that never ends with him in his heavenly kingdom.
16. As we wait for that day, the Apostle James reminds us to be patient.
[James 5:7a, 10-11]
Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord's coming. . . Brothers, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.
17. In his compassion and mercy, when the time was just right, Christ came, born of the Blessed Virgin Mary and laid asleep in a lowly manger. In his compassion and mercy, Jesus Christ our Lord will come again, removing all doubt about who he really is. Until that day, struggle against the temptation to doubt who Jesus really is by staying filling your heart with his word. Fight against the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh with the strength of God given you in the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Holy Supper. Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, knowing the Holy Spirit has given you faith in this holy truth: Christ will come and save us from our doubts. Christ will come and save us from all our sins. For he is The One who forgives us all our sins and heals all our diseases. He is The One who redeems our life from the pit and crowns us with love and compassion. He is The One who satisfies our desires with all good things and renews our youth like the eagles. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Messiah. He is the promised one, come from heaven above to be our Saviour. Christ is the One and therefore we will look for no other. In Jesus' name. Amen.
Blessing: The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, until he comes again in glory. Amen.
Rev. Keith R. Weise
December 15, 2007
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