Sunday, December 13, 2009

Advent 3 Sermon -- Luke 7:18-35 (LSB Advent 3C)

December 13, 2009 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

Jesus answered them: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.”

Jesus’ words are His response to John’s inquiry. Languishing in Herod’s prison, the Baptizer sends two messengers to Jesus with a very pointed question: “Are You the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?” John wants an answer from Jesus’ lips. He seeks certainty about Jesus’ identity, for that certainty will confirm his own identity as the Lord God’s chosen forerunner of the Christ.

It isn’t that John had no idea about who Jesus was. No, John had been quite sure about Jesus. You can recall how John reacted to the presence of Jesus, even before the two of them were born. John had encountered Jesus when the Virgin Mary carried Him in her womb. His mother Elizabeth testifies: “For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.” That certainty about Jesus’ identity extended into John’s adult life. Standing alongside the Jordan River, John declares to the approaching Jesus: “I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” As John sees Jesus later, he bears witness about Jesus’ identity: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

So why does John send messengers to Jesus to inquire about His identity? Why does he now demand to hear testimony from Jesus’ own mouth? The context of this event gives the reason: time in the dungeon will cause minds to waver and hearts to doubt. John knew about who he was and what he was supposed to do. He declared it to all those who came to hear his preaching: “I baptize you with water, but He who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” But what now? Is the blade of Herod’s sword the fate that should await the Forerunner of the Christ? Should the one whose birth was foretold by Gabriel in Jerusalem’s Temple suffer death?

John’s impending death drives him to want to know for certain that everything he had preached was true and that the One whose way he prepared was truly the Lord’s Promised Christ. Do I have the right hope, the right faith? That is the question that is framed in John’s words: “Are You the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

So how does Jesus answer John? How does the Christ respond to His hesitant herald? “In that hour He healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind He bestowed sight. And He answered [John’s messengers],Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.’” Jesus quotes the prophecy of Isaiah and then fulfills it. And He tells the messengers to report exactly that back to John.

It is an interesting way of responding to John’s question. Jesus doesn’t just come right out and say: “I am the One who is to come.” And yet, He gives John that answer by what He says and does. Jesus takes John back to the Lord God’s covenant promises that He was fulfilling. He knows that John is a believer, but a believer whose faith needs reassuring. So Jesus presents John with what is not doubted: John’s question indicated that he believed in the promises of the Old Testament. Remember, he asks Jesus: “Are You the One who is to come?” John was certain that a Christ would arrive. So Jesus cites the prophecy what that “One who is to come” would do. But Jesus does one thing more: He fulfills that prophecy and sends witnesses of it back to John.

Jesus’ response to John’s question gives certainty to John, because it takes John to the certain and true Word of God. Hearing the report, John can be sure that the Christ had arrived. Isaiah’s words had given John his identity; further words of Isaiah bear witness to Jesus’ identity. He is the Christ who does everything that the Lord God had declared would take place. So John can know that his work was not in vain, that his hope was not empty, that his imprisonment and impending execution were not the Lord God’s rejecting of him.

No, John can rejoice, even in his shackles, because all the covenant promises were going to be fulfilled by Christ. There is no reason for John to take offense at Him. Though he suffers injustice and will be martyred, John can cling to what the prophet Zephaniah states: “‘Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors. . . . At that time I will bring you in, at the time when I gather you together; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes,’ says the Lord.”

This way of responding John’s demand for certainty is the same way that Jesus alleviates your doubts. Jesus does not often answer questions in the way that you desire. But He does not ignore your questions. No, He gives reply by taking you back to the promises that He has made to you, promises that He has fulfilled.

All of you have suffered or will suffer afflictions in earthly life. Some will be minor, but some will cause you question the divine promises: “Where are You, Jesus? What have I done wrong, God? Have You abandoned me, Lord? Are You the One I should trust You, Jesus, or should I look for another?” Those are the questions that spring from your hearts, sometimes even leaping off of your lips for many to hear. Like John, you question Jesus’ identity, His promises, His ability to save, His way of life. The words of the psalm become your own questions: “Will You be angry with us forever? Will You prolong Your anger to all generations? Will You not revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You?”

Why is this so? Because you see with your own eyes what happens in your lives. You rightly claim to believe in Jesus and His acts for your salvation. And yet, you suffer many things. You believe that Jesus delivers you from sin, death, and Satan. But when you look around, you see that these enemies are still powerful and even show dominance in this world. What you experience leads you to take offense at Christ. Like John, you can wonder just what is wrong, why this is happening.

But how does Jesus answer you? Does He immediately vanquish your foes? Does He show great displays of His power? Does He heal you straightaway? Does He raise your loved ones back to life? Does He cast out demons? No, He doesn’t usually do any of these visible things. Rather, Jesus responds to you as He responded to John. Jesus takes you back to what He has promised to you and what He has already done for you.

Your hearts and minds want peace from Jesus. His apostle says: “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” How does that peace reach your hearts and minds? It happens as the psalmist says: “Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for He will speak peace to His people, to His saints; but let them not turn back to folly.” The Lord God continues to speak to you, retelling you what He has promised and what He has done. As His actions are remembered and recalled, your faith is reaffirmed.

Do you question your identity as one of His people? Jesus says: “You believe that I exist and all My people bear My name. You were baptized and My Name has been placed on you.” Do you doubt whether your sins have been atoned for? Jesus says: “You believe that I have died for your sins, that I have made payment for you. Now receive My Body and Blood that I offered for your forgiveness and proclaim My sacrificial death for you.” Do you wonder whether you can endure suffering? Jesus says: “You believe that you are no greater than I, your Master. I suffered greatly, and so will you; but I have overcome these things, and so will you.”

The words of Jesus are repeated, so that you may hear them again and again. They carry the Holy Spirit who brings faith to you. Like John, you hear the witness of what others have seen and heard. Trapped in Herod’s prison, John didn’t see the events take place; trapped in the bonds of time, neither have you. But when you hear the words of Jesus that tell about His works, doubt is removed, faith is restored. It is just as the Scripture writer says: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith believes what the ears hear, so Jesus sends messengers with His command: “Go and tell what you have seen and heard.”

As what Jesus spoke and did is told, His identity is displayed. He is the One who is to come, who fulfilled the old covenant, and who will fulfill His great promise to return. That truth lightens the darkness of your hearts. It strengthens your faith. It dispels your doubt. And so the exhortation is given to you and all the Lord God’s faithful people: “Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. The Lord your God is in your midst, a Mighty One who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by His love; He will exult over you with loud singing.” Jesus confirms His identity by repeating what He did for you. So you need not look for another, but rejoice with the hope in Him who fulfilled the divine promises for you.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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