12-11-22 Gaudete

Bible Text: Matthew 11:2-11 | Preacher: Pastor Christian Preus | Series: Advent 2022 | It’s amazing that John the Baptist has any disciples at all at this point. He’s done his best to get rid of them. James and John, Andrew, many others, left John to follow Jesus. John told them to. What else do you do when your teacher points to Jesus and says, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world?” And then when he does it again the next day, “Behold the Lamb of God?” You follow the Lamb of God. What else do you do when your teacher publicly says that Jesus must increase but he must decrease? This is what John did. He pointed his disciples to Jesus. This was his job, the job of any Christian preacher, not to preach ourselves but to preach Jesus, as St. Paul says, I determined to know nothing among you but Jesus Christ and Him crucified, to point to Him and say there, there, is your righteousness, your salvation, the one who takes away your sin and makes you right with God Almighty. I can love you only with a human love, and that marred by all sorts of sins, but here is the One who loves you with divine love, perfect and unrelenting. Of course you leave John and follow Jesus!

But John does have disciples still. And we could blame them for this – they’re slow learners. But there is also something very beautiful about them staying with John. They love him because he’s taught them God’s Word and they want to care for him in his need. He’s in prison for taking a stand on marriage between one man and one woman and they stick with him, don’t abandon him, don’t think this discipleship thing is getting too hard because now I have to suffer for it, now God’s Word isn’t so popular, now it costs to be a disciple. They love their pastor and they should. The people should love preachers who preach Christ to them; they should care for them especially when they suffer for taking a stand on God’s Word. The proverb is, “Don’t shoot the messenger,” but it’s better to put it positively as Isaiah does, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news.” We love our pastors, stand with, care for them, not because of who they are in themselves, but because of what they preach. Everything else you might like (or dislike) about your pastor you have to subordinate to this: does He give you Jesus, His pure Word, without compromise, from the Bible as from God Himself? Or is he a reed shaken in the wind, compromising His Lord and Master Jesus Christ because he’s afraid to offend the rich or powerful or to lose his income? Is he a sissy who seeks the soft comforts of this world and can’t stand to suffer or is he willing to die for the sake of the Gospel? They loved John because he was no reed shaken in the wind, because he was willing to suffer for the sake of God’s Word, and because He preached God’s Word with power. That’s simply wonderful.

But they needed to love Jesus more and go to Him and be attached to Him and know that John was not worthy even to untie the sandal of this Man. And John wanted this for them. It’s why he sent them to Jesus. More than this, though, John needed to hear the words of Jesus just as much as his disciples. It can happen that people start thinking pastors are holier than the normal man, that the pastor doesn’t need to recount as many sins when he kneels down at that altar before confession, that he doesn’t doubt God or grow anxious over the affairs of this world and the things going on in his life. John was in prison waiting to be put to death. He had cares, fears, and sins. He wanted more than anything to hear the words of His Savior, that the blind now saw, that the deaf heard, that the lame walked, the dead were raised, and the poor had the Gospel preached to them. He wanted the light of Jesus to shine on his dark and depressing existence, so that even in prison and even suffering he could rejoice with a joy that nothing in all the world could give, not freedom, not life in a palace, not soft clothes, nothing but the knowledge that God loved him and had sent His only Son to live and die for him. That can make even a prison cell happier than a palace, a dungeon brighter than the noonday sun.

John is the one who leaped with joy in his mother’s womb by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is the one who devoted his entire life to preaching Jesus. But what does he still need? To hear the Gospel. You don’t outgrow this. You don’t reach a certain point in your life where hearing what Jesus has done for you becomes less necessary because you’ve heard it so much before. We will not all have the same crosses as John. God gives different sufferings in our lives according to our callings – I don’t suffer as the bachelor or the bachelorette or the layman or as the mother, I suffer as a husband and father and pastor, and that does mean that all of our sufferings will be different, not all of us will end up in prison like John the Baptist. But we do all bear crosses as we strive to live the Christian life and sin still infects us and a hostile world surrounds us. So the constant joy of our lives is to hear the news that Jesus has met our sin with His righteousness and answered our sufferings by His bitter pains and relieved our loneliness and alienation by making us one again with the Father who loves us. John needed to hear that and so, in his final great act as the last of the prophets, he sent his disciples to Jesus. I can imagine the joy that filled his heart when he heard what Jesus said, because it is the same joy that fills our hearts when Jesus meets our sin and our doubt and our suffering with total and complete certainty that He is the Christ and we need look for no other.

What they hear from Jesus is to look and see for themselves. This is so comforting. Jesus doesn’t rebuke them, chastise them or John – where’s your faith? No, He gives them exactly what faith needs. He gives them certainty, eye-witness testimony of undeniable truth – Jesus didn’t do these things in a corner. The contrast from the dark cell of John’s doubting where he can’t see what Jesus is doing, to the open light of Jesus’ words and actions, this is so beautiful. Here is certainty. With Jesus. Not some faint religious hope that I wish it to be true, but the facts themselves in clear light compelling you to see what Jesus has done for you. Isaiah said it would happen. When the Christ comes the lame will walk, the blind see, the deaf hear, the dead will be raised, the poor will have the Gospel preached to them. And this is what John’s disciples see right in front of them: He does it all, He is the Christ. Jesus will say, I have a witness greater than the witness of John the Baptist, the works which the Father has given me to do, these bear witness to me that the Father has sent me. All John’s preaching, all his witnessing to Jesus, as great as they are, do not compare with what John’s disciples now see – Jesus’ own works, the fulfillment of God’s promise from the beginning of the world, done right before their eyes.

Neither those disciples, nor John, nor you or I, need anything less than a real Savior. This is the absolute beauty of Christmas. We are celebrating the truth, the reality, that answers exactly what we sinners need. John heard exactly what he needed to face the fact that he was in a dark prison awaiting his death. And we hear exactly what we need to hear as we face the fact of our own sin and our own death. Your sin is real, God is really angry with it, death awaits you, and hell is a necessity, sinners cannot stand with the holy God. Your sufferings are real. Your soul’s great need to be right with God and to live with Him, creation’s great need for a Redeemer from all its corruption. All is pressingly obvious. And praise God here is Jesus in bright daylight answering it all – look and see. Here is the Christ. God, the Creator, the Son of the Father, born a man for us, nursed at His mother’s breast in Bethlehem, our Brother who did every single one of those miracles so that you today would have certainty that He is the Christ your Savior, your Jesus who openly lived and publicly died, who made sure His anguish and bitter sufferings were not hidden from the world, who invited even his enemies to hear and see His groans and His death. And blessed is he who is not offended at Him.

Jesus’ great assertion is that His works prove that He is the Christ. His final work is His death and resurrection, and they show without doubt the love of our God for us, that our sins are forgiven, that the corruption of our bodies will be erased in our own resurrection, and that our God is true to every one of His promises. It is the Bible, the Old Testament, that promised all this: redemption, everlasting life, a Savior born of a virgin, the coming of God in the flesh, his life, his miracles, his death, his resurrection. All Jesus says and does is inexplicable, a mystery, unless you know this Bible and know that He fulfills it all. So read it at home. Hear it at church. Make it part of your daily diet. And it will reward you tremendously. You will see the fact of what Christ has done for you more clearly day after day. Your doubts will be answered and your sufferings will find relief and your joy will be full, because you will know and be reminded constantly that God has done this, your Baptism is the truth, you are a child of God, an heir of everlasting life, in communion with the Holy Trinity through the body and blood of the God-Man, Jesus Christ.

Jesus addresses everyone when He says, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?” The answer is that they came to see a prophet, but more than that, the greatest of the prophets. No one born of women is greater than John the Baptist. Your courage is not greater than his, your conviction, your willingness to suffer, your total devotion to God, your virtue. He is greater. But he who is least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than John. John still looked forward to what was to come. He said – behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, but he died before he saw it. He died with sins still not paid for, with the sacrifice not made, with the Creator not yet having died and risen for His creation. We live in a different age. Jesus has done it. What people saw and heard after John were not simply miracles, but the suffering and death of God for the sins of the world, not simply a resurrection of a sinner who would die again, but the resurrection of the Man who would never die and whose resurrection means life for the world. John gave his life for his confession of marriage between one man and one woman till death parts them. Jesus gave His life to create a marriage between Himself and His Church that will have no end, where He gives us Himself, all His righteousness, His Spirit, His life, and we live devoted to Him now in this life and forever in the life to come, united to Him as the branch to the vine, His life our life supplying. What we have now is what kings and prophets, including John, longed to hear and see but never did.

The joy of John had to have been immense in that prison cell when the news was brought back to Him of all Jesus had said and done. If the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John, then our joy is greater too. Because now we have full possession and the total fulfillment sealed to us of these beautiful words:

Comfort, comfort, ye my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.


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