3rd Sunday in Advent + Matthew 11:2-10 + December 16, 2018
In the Name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
John the Baptist sends two of his disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” These men doubted whether Jesus could actually be the promised Messiah. John had preached, “One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 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 3:16-17). None of that was happening. Jesus preached repentance, just as John had done. But there was no baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire, at least at that point. There was not sweeping out the threshing floor in judgment. Jesus had not gathered the wheat, believers, into His heavenly garner while burning the chaff, unbelievers, in unquenchable fire. That would come at Christ’s second advent, not the first. These disciples of John doubt because their expectations are off kilter. So John, ever pointing men to Christ, sends them to ask Him directly, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?”
Jesus’ answer is more than a simple yes or no. “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’s disciples would have seen all this for themselves. St. Luke tells us that after these men from John arrive, “that very hour He cured many of infirmities, afflictions, and evil spirits; and to many blind He gave sight” (Lk. 7:21). Right in front of their eyes Jesus drives out evil spirits from people. These men get to watch as Jesus gives sight to the blight. The infirm and afflicted that so many had brought to Jesus are healed in that very hour. Jesus could have simply said, “Yes, I’m the Coming One.” Instead He shows them that He is the Coming One by His works. His works are good and gracious. His miracles are always acts of mercy, never of judgment. Not a single miracle that Jesus did harmed someone. Moses’ miracles were for the purpose of harming the Egyptians and beating them into repentance. Elijah called fire down from heaven to devour his persecutors. But Jesus’ ministry is far better than Moses and Elijah’s, for “the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives but to save them” (Lk. 9:56).
Jesus points these men to His miracles because the prophets had foretold that the Christ would do all these things. But Jesus prioritizes His preaching over His miracles. He told these men from John, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see.” He puts hearing before seeing because Jesus’ preaching is the primary reason He came. His miracles demonstrate His authority and that He is good and gracious. His miracles show us He is a good God who wants to save sinners. What did these men hear? “And the poor have the gospel preached to them.” He’s not talking about the financially poor. He preaches to the spiritually poor as He tells us in Matthew 5:3, “Blessed on the poor in spirit,” those who are aware that they are sinners and confess their sins and want to be done with them. In Isaiah 66:2 the Lord says, “On this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at my word.” He does not preach the good news to those who think they are spiritually rich. People who think they are spiritually rich and righteous have no need of the gospel of the forgiveness of sins. They don’t feel their spiritual sickness, so the physician of souls will not administer the medicine of absolution to them.
This may not have been the Christ that John’s disciples expected. Those expectations of winnowing out the wheat from the chaff will be met what Christ comes again in glory. But at His first advent, and as He advents among us now in His church, through His Word and Sacraments, His coming is full of grace and mercy to those who repent of their sins. Sinners are to flee the wrath to come on the Last Day, by lamenting their sins and fleeing to Christ as their throne of grace. Jesus acknowledges that He is not what people might expect so He says, “Blessed is he who is not offended because of me.” “Blessed is the one who is able to put away his expectations and receive me for the kind of Messiah I am.” “Blessed is the one who is not offended that I preach the gospel to the poor in spirit, those who feel and acknowledge that they are, from head to toe, sick with sin.” He bids them, and John, to not be offended at what they see and hear but to cling to what they see and hear because He is the Coming One and they should expect no other.
This is true in our age as well. Countless take offense at Christ because they expect something different from Jesus than He is. People expect Jesus to accept them as they are, rubber stamping their lifestyle and their private opinions about God. They expect a Jesus who will conform to their standard of right and wrong rather than a Christ who condemns all mankind with the Ten Commandments to bring them to repentance. Many today imagine themselves spiritually rich, strong and healthy. But Christ says, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Matthew 9:12-13). There is not a single one that is righteous in God’s sight without faith in Christ. This offends a great many because it means they cannot rely upon their own good works and merits as they would prefer to do. They are offended at Christ because Christ expects repentance of their sins and invites them to trust in His righteousness as their own, rather than their own.
Still others are offended by the suffering, persecution, and hardship that Christ allows to befall His Christians. People expect that life becomes easy for the baptized. Look at John the Baptist at the beginning of this Sunday’s Gospel lesson! He’s in prison! His preaching, which God commanded him to do, is what got him there. He told Herod to repent of taking his brother’s wife as his own. The very forerunner of the Messiah suffers this evil but it doesn’t stop there. His preaching of repentance stirred up the hatred of Herod’s wife, who retaliates by arranging for John’s execution. As St. Paul tells Timothy, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12). It comes in many different forms and it comes not only from the world but from the devil and our own flesh as well, so that no one is immune. Yet this suffering, trial, and hardship is meant to encourage us, as the author of the book of Hebrews tells us. “For whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.’ If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?” (Heb. 12:6-7).
Blessed is the one who is not offended by the necessity of calling oneself a sinner each day. For Christ daily and richly forgives all our sins through faith in Him. Blessed is the one who is not offended that Christ, who Himself suffered for our sins, allows us to suffer for His sake. For our Lord Jesus is the one who comforts us in our afflictions. Blessed is the one who puts aside his expectations of what he thinks Jesus ought to be, and receives Jesus as He comes to us to bring us repentance and faith, so that by these He may give us everlasting life. Amen.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.