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Archive for December 15th, 2013

Text:   And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”  St. Matthew 11: 5-6

The prophet of the Lord, John the Baptizer was unsure of Jesus’ identity.  This is a puzzle  that John is not sure regarding the identity of Jesus:  Are you the one or should we expect another?  After all, John and Jesus’ Mothers were kinswomen, cousins.  Mary visited John’s Mother Elizabeth and Elizabeth exclaimed that when Mary’s greetings reached her ears the child in Elizabeth’s womb leapt.  How could you have doubts, John?  One interpretation is  John sent his disciples to Jesus so John’s disciples would be sure; and yet the clear meaning of the text is that John has doubts.   John too needed consolation and comfort.  Tell John what you see and hear, the deaf hear, the blind see, the lame walk, the dead are raised and the poor are preached good news. As the Apostle Paul was inspired to pen:  ” For all the promises of God find their Yes in (Jesus Christ). That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.”  2 Corinthians 1:20  All of the promises of God are fulfilled in the Man who sandals John said he was not worthy to stoop down and untie.  

We all need reassurance, comfort and consolation. John was in a noble company of those who were afraid, tired, frail…even though we hail them as great saints.

  • The Lord sent Moses with His message of freedom to Pharoah: Let my people go.  Through Moses the Lord wrought great signs and wonders, but Pharoah double-downed on Israel by taking away the straw to make bricks, though they had to make more. “O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me?23 For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.” (Exodus 5:22-23) This would not be the last time Moses would so pray to the Lord.
  • Later, when by God’s grace and power the false prophets were disgraced on Mount Carmel, the prophet Elijah was on top of his game, if you will.  Then in practically the next verse we read that King Ahab’s wife Jezebel had sworn to kill Elijah.  Elijah fled for fear of life and hid himself in a cave.  
  • Jeremiah was thrown into a muddy cistern, left to die, for preaching God’s Word.  He was hounded day and night, and he cried out cursed was the day when they said to my mother, you have a son, it would have been better I were never born. 
  • St. Paul appealed in prayer to the Lord three times for Him to removed Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”, some debilitating disease, it was not granted.  My grace is made sufficient in weakness. 

The Lord, Emmanuel, God with us, did not let Moses, Jeremiah, Ezekiel or Paul go. He went with them, not necessarily to get them out of the trial and temptation but to guide them through it, for His purpose which is always faith, hope and love, desires all people to be saved.  Likewise, the Lord pursued John.

Why should John be doubting?  He baptized thousands upon thousands, preached the Word of God, led an exemplary life, obeyed the Lord…couldn’t he trust in his own works to give himself comfort? Not when faced with imprisonment, torture and the threat of almost certain capital punishment.  Tell John what you hear and see…Jesus preached the promise:  Go and tell John what you see and hear:  the lame walk, the blind see, the dead are raised and good news is preached to the poor.  It is so clear that good works do not save us, nor give us counsel in the hour of trial and temptation. .   Many times you have heard about my friend and mentor Pastor Lou Smith.  He spoke  in some five languages.  He could preach in German.  He taught Lutheran seminarians in Namibia, Southern Africa.  He was generous with his time to teach and counsel, he was a faithful husband and father and brother in Christ…yet in 2004, before he was taken in for surgery, (he died before he was brought into surgery), he asked his pastor, Jim Pence:  Are the promises true? Yes, Lou, they are true.  We all need to hear God’s Word of promise.  Lou could not trust in his own good works to save him. Good works are obviously good but it is the Word of promise alone, the Gospel which revives the soul, strengthens the heart in true faith, stirs up hope and produces the good fruit of love.

What was the promise Jesus preached to John?  For awhile the disciples of John became Jesus’ disciples:  go and tell John what you hear and see.  They were hearing and seeing the promises fulfilled.  Jesus’ good works are His sermon.  The most remarkable of which is not the dead are raised but the good  news is preached to the poor.  As Luther preached, The Father sent the rightful king to preach to the poor is a far greater miracle.  Jesus’ first formal sermon begins with the beatitudes, the first one being:  Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. Present tense, present tense blessing from the present tense Savior.  The Lord does not ordain the great and powerful, the wise and omnicompetent to preach His Word.  Luther, days before he died, preached, it is true we are all beggars.  Jesus is the beggar king, to raise out of the depths, beggars, sinners.  He preached His sermon through the dead, the lame, the blind, the deaf, the poor, for the dead, the lame, blind, deaf, poor.  He does so gently and sweetly, tell John, what you hear and see, the  sermon of His undying love for John and for you.  Now John, in prison knows, that first beatitude, blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. And he hears another beatitude, And blessed is the one who does not stumble on account of me.  Jesus Christ is Himself the beatitude of the Father to weary sinners.  His manger and His Cross are His sermon to us, the living Christmas card and greeting for you:  telling us what He did, is doing and will do when He comes again at the final Advent.

Jesus asked the the crowd, What did you go out to see?  A reed shaken by the wind? Luther called preachers shaken by a reed, by popular opinion in order to “…temper the truth to the sensitive fastidiousness of fashionable hearers”, ”reed preachers”.  John was no reed-preacher. Then there are those preachers who teach that yes, Jesus will sure help you do the good deeds to get into heaven, if you just do good works, are purpose driven, witness to 10 people this week, give God the glory everyday.  I will call them “deed preachers”.  And there are those who preach Jesus Christ for weary sinners, those who mourn, who are poor in spirit, who make for peace, all whom Jesus blessed in the Beatitudes.  The Church catholic and confessional which preaches Jesus Christ, the fullness of God, the fullness of man, who came down to heaven, who’s Advent we celebrate as He drew near in the Womb of the Virgin Mary. The Church with those preachers are Creed preachers.  Reed, deed or Creed preachers.  John was no reed preacher, with his polling numbers in hand to tailor the message, to make millions and live in soft clothing in a mansion built by ministry dollars.  John preached the Creed that the Messiah is coming, the Coming One and out of the Creed, faith,  comes forth deeds, maybe not as great as John’s, but the fruit of love, joy and peace endures in families, churches, societies and cultures.  John was steadfast in the Word.  He did not blow with the prevailing wind, yet he could be shaken. Living the creed in our daily vocations, but even if they are outstanding deeds, they do not save the soul, only one deed has and will,  the deed of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. And like Isaiah preached God’s Word another time:

The Lord God has given me
    the tongue of those who are taught,
that I may know how to sustain with a word
    him who is weary. Isaiah 50:4

We too can sustain the weary with a Word, God’s Word.   We know only God’s good work:  Jesus Christ.  The violent, like Herod who killed all the male children under two to kill the Christ, lay violent hands on God’s reign to stop it.  They can not.  His good work won’t allow it.  It’s stupid to try to take Christ out of Christmas, the Lord has not allowed it. He seeks us to find us.  John prepared the way.  John was Elijah in every which way, including being in the cave of doubt and worry.  Oh, for a love that will not let me go.   He held John in His promises fulfilled is what He wills for you as well.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

 

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