IN NOMINE JESU
What a report they must have had! The disciples of John the Baptizer had seen and heard things they had likely never seen nor heard before. In the verses preceding our text, the Lord was in Capernaum, healing—from a distance—the centurion's son, by merely speaking a word. While in Nain, the Lord raised the widow's son back to life. Word spread throughout Judea and the surrounding region. John's disciples "reported to him concerning all these things." They reported to him because he was in prison, put in prison for doing exactly what God called him to do—preach the message of repentance. To bring about sinners to repentance, he preached the Law and publicly exposed Herod's sin of adultery for taking his brother's wife for himself. John heard the report from his disciples and sent two of them to Jesus, asking Him, "Are You the coming One, or do we look for another?" (v. 19b). Why did John send two disciples? Why does the blessed Evangelist St. Luke mention this detail? Luke, in writing this Gospel for the most excellent Theophilus, desired to write for him an orderly account of the life of Christ. Luke includes the two disciples of John to establish that what Theophilus was reading in this instance was backed by the testimony of two witnesses, which was customary according to Jewish law. They came to the Lord with the question John gave them to ask.
Luke then notes, "And at that very hour [Jesus] cured many of infirmities, afflictions, and evil spirits, and to many blind He gave sight. Jesus answered and said to them 'Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them'" (vv. 21-22). They saw the healing miracles the Lord performed. They heard the Gospel He preached. He could have answered their question with a simple "Yes," and He would have been right in saying so. But the Lord determined to show by His miracles that He is indeed the long-promised Messiah. He did not do these things for His own benefit or for John's, but so that John's disciples would believe in Jesus. John the Baptizer was the one who pointed Him out to his own disciples so that they would follow the Lord. We know, on the basis of Scripture, that two of John's disciples, Andrew and John, became Jesus' disciples. But John the Baptizer wanted the rest of his disciples to follow Jesus; for this reason he sent them to Him. Following Jesus' command, they went back and to report to John. Jesus' message was one of comfort for John, John's disciples, and the people gathered around Him, and for us. For this reason we light the pink candle on the Advent wreath today, for pink is the color of joy. Our Lord brings tidings of comfort and joy, for He is the Coming One; we need not look for another. The Coming One has come and will come again. So this Advent we rejoice over His coming, and we prepare to celebrate His first coming and for His Second Coming on the Last Day.
Jesus asked the multitudes gathered around Him, "What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?" (v. 24b). Did you come out to hear a preacher who caves in to political pressure? Did you come out to hear a preacher who would only preach what you wanted him to preach and only when you wanted him to preach? Did you come out to hear a preacher who would only do what the leaders of the religious community ordered him to do, regardless of the call he has from God? Is this what you wanted in a preacher? As the Preacher says in the Book of Ecclesiastes, "There is nothing new under the sun" (Eccl. 1:9). Some things do not change.
The Lord asked them if they came out to see someone in soft clothing. Such people lived in luxury in kings' courts. They lived quite well. John the Baptizer did not. He wore a garment made of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist. He did not belong with the high society, nor did he want to. He would not be beholden to any benefactors; remember that he even exposed Herod's sin. Jesus then moves to the most important question, asking the crowd if they came to see a prophet. Indeed, John was a prophet—and more. Jesus quoted the prophet Malachi, saying, "This is he of whom it is written: 'Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You'" (v. 27). The people heard Jesus' message, and the people, in response, even the tax collectors, "justified God," as our text says; that is, they confessed their belief that God is just, having received John's baptism, having become baptized for the forgiveness of sins.
However, the Pharisees and lawyers (that is, the scribes) "rejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by" John (v. 30). They rejected John's baptism, a means of grace ordained by God. They rejected John's preaching of repentance. They rejected Jesus' preaching the Gospel. They rejected Jesus to the point that they later crucified Him. Jesus compared these so-called religious leaders to children, and spoiled ones at that. These children would complain to the other children, saying, "We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we mourned to you, and you did not weep" (v. 32b). These preachers, John the Baptizer and Jesus the Messiah, would not give in to their demands. It would be as if a congregation said to her pastor today, "We ordered you to jump, and you did not ask, 'How high?'" There are some, even in our own midst, even though they do not admit it, not even to themselves, who have rejected the preaching of the Word of God, both of the Law and of the Gospel. We all have difficulty accepting everything that the Lord says to us, especially as He points the finger of His Law right at us. We, like the Pharisees and scribes, have placed ourselves above the Lord, His Word, and His will for us. Even as they rejected John's divinely-mandated baptism, we act as if our Baptism has no meaning for us today. Living in contrition and repentance is not something we like to do because it means that we have to acknowledge that we are sinful and unclean. Advent is a time for such realization and repentance. But we don't want to be in Advent. We want it to be Christmas—now! We don't want to hear that we need to repent. We certainly don't want to hear a preacher who proclaims this to us. We want to hear a preacher who caves in to political pressure, who would only preach what we wanted him to preach and only when we wanted him to preach, who would only do what the leaders of the religious community ordered him to do, regardless of the call he has from God, a reed shaken by the wind. We would rather allow ourselves to be deceived and have our ears scratched than to be fed on the solid food of the Scriptures.
It is for just this reason that John the Baptizer came to point the way to Jesus Christ, the way of repentance and faith. Jesus came to heal the sick and infirm and to preach the Gospel to the poor. He has come to preach the Gospel to us, the poor in spirit. To those of us who reject the message and the Means of Grace, He comes to proclaim the Law and will come again to be our Judge. But to those of us whose consciences have been terrorized by our sins, who have been brought to despair over our sins and the troubles in this vale of tears, He comes with a message of comfort, a message of forgiveness. He comes with the Gospel, which is the forgiveness of sins won for us on the cross by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Jesus took our human nature upon Himself and became circumcised to fulfill the old covenant. Those who, in Old Testament times and were circumcised, placed their trust in the Messiah to come had this covenantal act fulfilled in Him. Jesus also became baptized by John to usher in the new covenant, that all who became baptized would have the promises of the new covenant. The Lord came and submitted Himself to both the old and new covenants, and fulfilled them, so that all believers in Him would have eternal life. This means that, even though we are disobedient, He remained obedient, even unto death. Yes, the Pharisees and scribes had Him crucified, but they would not have done so if the Lord willed otherwise. "Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief" (Is. 53:10a), as spoken through the prophet Isaiah, who also said of the Suffering Servant, He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. [Is. 53:3-5]
This Third Sunday in Advent is a time of joy, as we hear from the prophet Zephaniah in our Old Testament reading for today, "Sing, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away your judgments, He has cast out your enemy. The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; You shall see disaster no more. …'At that time I will bring you back, even at the time I gather you; for I will give you fame and praise among all the peoples of the earth, when I return your captives before your eyes,' says the LORD" (Zeph. 3:14-15, 20). Yes, the Lord is in our midst at this very moment. The Coming One is coming to you right now, coming to you through His Word. He brings us to despair through His Law, and He brings us back to peace and joy through His Gospel. The Lord read from the scroll of Isaiah when He went into the synagogue, and the words He read are words of comfort for us today, for read of Himself, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD" (Lk. 4:18-19). Our Lord continues to come to us with His comforting words of the gospel, and He promises that, as we come to our heavenly Father with contrite and repentant hearts, we are the blessed recipients of the forgiveness His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, won for us on the cross. His resurrection gives us the promise and the hope of eternal life with Him in heaven. This is why we have prophets then and preachers today, so that we would continue to hear this great news today and always. Through the power of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit opens our lips, and our mouths will show forth His praise. And, as our Lord says in our text, "Blessed is he who us not offended because of Me" (v. 23). Our sinful nature trips us and traps us, but our Lord loves us and lifts us up, that we may walk in the way of the Lord both now and forever. In the words of St. Paul in our Epistle, "Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! …And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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