Third Sunday in Advent + Matthew 11:2-10 + December 11, 2016

Order of Holy Communion - Pg. 15
Hymn # 61 Comfort, Comfort Ye My People
Hymn # 63 On Jordan's Bank the Baptist's Cry
Hymn # 74 Once He Came in Blessing

Introit - Pg. 54

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!
Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:4-6)

Lord, You have been favorable to Your land;
You have brought back the Captivity of Jacob. (Psalm 85:1)


Malachi 3:1-6
1 Corinthians 4:1-5
Matthew 11:2-10

Collect for the Third Sunday in Advent
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

Grace and Peace be unto you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1)         Go and tell John the things which you hear and see.” It was the works of Jesus which had initially caused John difficulty. It wasn’t that John doubted that Jesus was the Christ. Nor was it that John was struck with unbelief while in Herod’s prison. John was given the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb. John had received revelation from God to make the desert his headquarters for preaching repentance and baptizing for the remission of sins. John had even baptized Jesus and seen the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus in the form of a dove. John had heard the voice of the Father say at that moment, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). No, John does not inquire of Jesus out of doubt of unbelief. He sends to Jesus for an answer because Jesus’ works don’t align with the works John had prophesied He would do. John had stood on the bank of the Jordan River and taught of the coming Christ, “His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire” (Luke 3:17). John’s difficulty lay in the fact that Jesus wasn’t doing that in His ministry. It appeared to John, and his disciples, that Jesus had put down his winnowing fan. Jesus’ preaching was not filled with the wrath and judgment which John had prophesied. John and his followers sought clarification, teaching from Jesus, because the works of Jesus didn’t meet their expectations.

2)         Jesus does not chide John for this difficulty in understanding. Christ promises not to cast out those who come to Him earnestly seeking the truth. Since His works had brought about this difficulty, Jesus points John’s disciples back to the very works which were so perplexing to John. “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see. 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. And blessed is he who is not offended because of me.” John expected works of wrath and judgment upon those who would not repent. John saw Jesus as a Messiah of the Law, demanding repentance and punishing those who willfully persisted in their sins. Jesus’ works are not works of Law though, they are works of Gospel. The miracles Jesus mentions aren’t just a laundry list of some of the works He’s worked so far. Jesus is telling John to go back to the prophet Isaiah and compare His works to the works prophesied in ages past. The Lord had said in Isaiah 35:5-6, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then the lame shall leap like a deer, And the tongue of the dumb sing. For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert.” John was disquieted by these very works because he expected a different kind of Messiah. But Jesus points John back to his very works to show him, and his disciples, that He is indeed the Coming One.

3)         The final work Jesus mentions to John’s disciples is that “the poor have the gospel preached to them.” This is His greatest work by which He should be judged. All the healings and miracles point to this chief work of His: preaching the gospel to the poor. These are not the physically poor, for Christ preached the gospel to everyone, regardless of social status, wealth, or possessions. Jesus preaches to everyone, but it is the poor in spirit who readily accept it and yearn for it. As was true for the first works Jesus lists, so it is for this chief work of Jesus. By preaching the gospel to the poor in spirit He is fulfilling the words of the prophet Isaiah. It is written of Christ in Isaiah 61:1-2, “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, Because the LORD has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God.” Jesus invites John to look deeper into the Scriptures and see that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Coming One. John had expected the Messiah to be one purely of Law, wrath, and condemnation. But the Scriptures taught that the Coming One would also bring with Him the graciousness of God, mercy, and forgiveness to all who believe.

4)         This doesn’t meant that John was wrong in his words about the coming Christ. John’s expectation of Jesus is not false. He will have his winnowing fork in hand. He will burn up the chaff, all who refuse to repent of their sins and those who reject God’s will for them by rejecting the Gospel. But that work of judgement Christ reserves for the Last Day. The Spirit had revealed this to John. However, the Spirit had not revealed to John that there would be an interval of time before Christ would cleanse the threshing floor of humanity. The prophets of the Old Testament often saw the coming of Christ as one event in history, not two. John assumed that when Christ came all the works prophesied by the inspiration of the Spirit would come true. This is what was causing John and his disciples difficulty. John’s expectations were true, they just weren’t true yet. Jesus accepts this difficulty of John, teaches Him gently, and points him to the Words of Holy Scripture, the Word by which God reveals Himself to humanity. In this we see how Christ bears with John’s weakness and the difficulties his faith encounters. This too is part of Christ’s ministry during His first advent and throughout the age of His church, for it is written, “A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench,” as Isaiah writes (Isaiah 42:3). The first advent of Christ, and His daily advent among us through His Word and Sacrament, these are not visitations of wrath and judgment, but visitations of mercy, “For the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17).

5)         There are two things that are worthy of further contemplation on our part. The first is that in John’s difficulty and Jesus’ dealing with that difficulty we see a picture of ourselves. We experience many difficulties in our faith throughout this life. Like John, our expectations of God are not always accurate. Now, John’s faith encountered this difficulty because of the Word of God. He, being the last of the Old Testament prophets, failed to see how Christ would fulfill His own preaching. We also face difficulties in reading the Scriptures and like John, we are to go to Christ and His Word and seek the answers to our difficulties there. But unlike John, we have expectations of Christ that are not accurate because our sinful flesh wants something from God other than what He promises to be. Too often we expect Christ to effortlessly smooth out the problems of this life, as if He promised to make life easier. The culture in which we live, move, and have our being believes Christ to be no more than a teacher of morality and minimalism. Large portions of what is called church teaches the Christ as the leader of social justice, leading a crusade not for the spiritually poor and those oppressed by their sins, but the physically poor and anyone who claims to be oppressed. We live in a world and culture that teaches all sorts of conflicting and unscriptural expectations of Christ. Our own flesh desires the Christ to be anything than what He comes to be. When we experience such difficulties, like John, we are to flee to the Word. There Jesus points us to His works that release sinners from their guilt, and condemned men from their judgment.

6)         The second thing worthy of further contemplation on our part is what Jesus explains to John, that His is a ministry of the Gospel and not of the Law. Christ does not advent among us as a new Moses, a new Law-giver who gives us new ways to please God and earn God’s favor. Christ does not come in the flesh to teach new commands by which we merit everlasting life, nor does He suffer and die according to the flesh to make it possible for us to please God with our works. His is a ministry of grace. He is no longer giving the blind their sight and the lame their legs. He no longer cleanses lepers, unstops deaf ears, and raises the dead. But His chief work goes on in this: “the poor have the gospel preached to them.” Your sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” as David sings, because Christ has died for all our sins upon the cross (Psalm 103:12). As Micah foretells, “He will again have compassion on us, and will subdue our iniquities. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:19). Though we remember our sins of which we are ashamed, all who believe in Christ joyfully hear Him say, “I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:34).

7)         When difficulties rise up against your faith, whether they be difficulties of understanding, like John’s, or difficulties because of false expectations, turn to Christ and let Him show you His works, what He has done for you by His perfect life lived on your behalf, by His innocent, bitter sufferings and death to atone for your sins, and by His resurrection and ascension to guarantee you resurrection from the dead. Let Him show you His works He does for you this very day, His work of absolving your sins through His called and ordained steward of the mysteries of God and through the eating and drinking of His true body and blood. Go to His word and consider what you hear and see. He will most certainly return, winnowing fan in hand to judge all mankind. But as long as there is a “today,” today is a day in which He comes in grace to save us from our sins through His means of salvation. Behold! This is how the Christ advents among us. Blessed is he who is not offended by Him. Amen.

May the peace of God which passes all human understanding guard your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

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