Third Sunday in Advent - Matthew 11:2-10 - December 13, 2015
Hymn #61 Comfort Comfort Ye My People
Hymn #63 On Jordan's Banks the Baptist's CryHymn #74 Once He came in Blessing
Collect for Advent III
Lord, we beseech Thee, give ear to our prayers and lighten the darkness of our hearts by Thy gracious visitation; Who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
Sermon on the Holy Gospel
1) St. Paul writes of himself and his fellow ministers, Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. This is what we see St. John the Baptist doing in today’s Gospel lesson. John, even from prison, is serving Christ his Lord by directing people to Christ and bidding them to pay attention to Him. The men whom John sends to Jesus aren’t just inquisitive people or curious fellows. They are disciples of John. Many of John’s disciples had already left his school to follow after Jesus, but these two had not. They clung to John because they were doubtful about whether this Jesus was the Christ or not. Perhaps they expected something different from what they saw with their eyes. There were all sorts of expectations for the Messiah circulating in those days, the worst of which were outright wrong while other’s expectations were just piously misguided. Perhaps these disciples of John expected Jesus to be worldlier, riding in on a warhorse instead of a donkey, chasing out the Romans rather than the moneychangers. Maybe they wanted a Messiah who would restore the physical kingdom of David so that Israel would rise to be a political powerhouse and nation of its own once again. Perhaps they were so wrapped up in the ideas of a Messianic kingdom, a thousand year reign of the Christ on earth, that their eyes completely missed the coming of the kingdom of God, a kingdom not of this world, as Jesus would tell Pilate. Whatever their expectations of the Messiah were doesn’t matter. They were expecting something different that they were getting, so they clung to John and his school. This is why God, the faithful servant of Christ and steward of the mysteries of John, sends them to Jesus. That was his office which John did from the womb until his death, for he was the messenger whom the Lord would send to prepare the way for the Christ.
2) When these two disciples of John arrive at the place where Jesus was they ask Him, Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another? These men aren’t mean-spirited, nor are they mocking Jesus. They simply want to be true disciples of the true Messiah. They are well-intentioned men whose expectations for Jesus are off-kilter. Jesus does not chide them for their doubt, nor does He explain how their expectations are all out of whack. He points them to His words and His works. Go and tell John the things which you hear and see. John points them to Jesus for clarification. Jesus points them to His own words, His teachings. He also points them to His works as demonstrations of who He is. His works prove His words true. And His works are the works which the prophet Isaiah foretold. The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. It’s as if He were saying, “All that which the Lord prophesied through Isaiah the prophet I am doing. Look to my miracles and see whom I am. But most of all, look past the works to His chief work, His teaching that the poor have the gospel preached to them.
3 Christ indeed preached the Gospel to the physically poor, but the poor are more than just the financially-challenged and those in the lower class of the economic structure. The poor are the spiritually poor, those whose sins burden the conscience, and those who struggle against sin and fight the desires of the flesh because they desire to be rid of them. The poor are those who know that they have no hope of heaven by their good deeds of because they are “good people” in the eyes of the world. The poor is everyone who looks humbly to God for aid and salvation, knowing they cannot themselves earn it. This is why it is the Gospel that is preached to them. Those who are poor in spirit do not need to hear the preaching of the Law and have its condemnation heaped upon their heads all the more. The Law tells humanity what God expects of them. The Law demands perfection. The Law demands holiness. And when it does not find what it is looking for it condemns humanity. The Law always accuses if we take it seriously because we can never fulfill the Law. Even if we think we do, St. James reminds our proud souls that whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all (James 2:10). Jesus would not be the Messiah if He preached more Law to those who mourn under its weight and are struck dead by the Law’s condemnation. If Jesus only assigned more good works for people to attempt He would only lead them further to Hell. The preaching of the Law will lead sinners to self-righteousness so that they think they can do what God commands, or it leads to despair when the sinner finally comes to the realization that even his most pious works are sin, as the prophet says, all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). What the penitent, broken sinner needs is not list of ten things to do to improve their lives with God.
4) What sinners need is the Gospel. So that is what Christ preaches to them. The Gospel makes no demands upon the sinner. The Law says, “Do this and you shall live.” The Gospel says, “Believe this and you shall live.” The Law assigns works which are impossible to fulfill by your own power. The Gospel declares that Christ has fulfilled the entire Law on your behalf, and faith in Christ believes that His perfect righteousness is yours, so that you now stand before God as perfectly righteous. The Law lays a heavy burden, an unbearable yoke around the neck. The Gospel is the message is that Christ bears that burden and yoke so that the sinner might instead bear the easy and light yoke of Christ. The Law shows you your sin. The Law says, “Thou shalt,” and then calls your attention to how you do what you shalt not do. The Gospel revives the broken spirit by giving it the forgiveness of sins so that those sins are removed as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). The Gospel vivifies, which means that it makes alive, for without the Gospel St. Paul says that we are dead in trespass and sins. The Law is works to be done. The Gospel is the message of Christ to be believed. And the belief, the faith, which clings to the Gospel and receives it is itself a gift from God, so that no man can boast. In mercy God the Father gives God the Son to attain a perfect righteousness for sinners. In mercy God the Father gives God the Son to atone for the sins of the entire world by His innocent, bitter sufferings and death on the cross. In mercy God the Father gives God the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Gospel so that men might believe the Gospel, so that the spiritually poor might be saved by faith alone, all of which is by grace alone.
5) Jesus then says to these two disciples of John, and blessed is he who is not offended because of Me. Jesus admits that He is not the Messiah they expect but that He is the messiah they need. By this Jesus means that many will be offended at His humility, at His meekness, and at His preaching to the spiritually poor. The spiritually arrogant and proud will be offended, thinking that they don’t need the forgiveness of their sins because they’re good people, or they are at least “good enough.” Jesus is quite offensive when you think about it. He walks in and tells the world that all its goodness and righteousness is utter garbage, that all our pious imaginations and religiosity is good only for the dunghill. So those who want to earn their salvation are offended by Jesus because they don’t want to be spiritually poor. Those who think their piety and good works can save them, or at least make God more favorably disposed toward them, take offense at Jesus’ teaching and His work. Anyone who wants Christianity to be a religion of the Law, a religion of lists to be checked off to please God, will be offended at the Messiah. When Jesus says blessed is he who is not offended by me He is teaching us that we ought to always seek to be spiritually poor. As Dr. Luther wrote, “[Christ’s] calling was such that he desired to be accepted only by sinners, and all he called should become sinners.”
6) The rest of the text, which we’ve covered more in depth in previous years, is Jesus’ affirmation of St. John the Baptist’s ministry, that John was in fact the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophesy. Jesus affirms that John was a true and faithful servant of Christ and steward of the mysteries of God. What make John faithful was that He pointed others to Christ, not Himself, and not to the self-help salvation of the Law. In this Jesus wants to teach us that He still works through the Office of the Holy Ministry in His church, to point people to Jesus. This is why pastors are enjoined to be faithful to Christ whom they serve, not to church bodies or popular opinion or church exit polls. Christian ministers are not to reeds shaken by the wind nor are they to be effeminate men living the life of luxury clothed in soft garments. They are to be faithful to Christ’s Word and works. They are to faithfully teach the whole counsel of God and not just their favorite parts. They are responsible only to Christ, for they are stewards of His mysteries, giving out the mysteries when and where they ought to be distributed. The mysteries of God are His doctrine, His teaching, His absolution, and His sacraments. The faithful minister, like John, and like the Christ he serves, is to preach the Law to condemn sinners, showing them their spiritually bankruptcy and destitution, so that they repent. Then the minister, like John and Christ, is to preach the gospel to the spiritually poor, that their sins are forgiven for the sake of Christ Jesus.
7) The Gospel is not very popular these days, even in a lot of churches. Christ is still offensive to those who want Christianity to be about anything but Christ. And you also are always tempted to make Christianity more about you than about Jesus. Recall Jesus words to these doubting disciples of John. Cast aside the fleshly and worldly expectations of Jesus and hear the Gospel on His terms, for His are terms of forgiveness and life and salvation to all who believe. And blessed is the one who is not offended by Me. Amen.