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Advent III — 11 December 2016
Matthew 11:2-15
The Rev. Dr. Jason D. Lane


GRACE, MERCY, AND PEACE FROM GOD OUR HEAVENLY FATHER, AND FROM OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST.


HE WHO HAS EARS, LET HIM HEAR! God the Father spoke through the Prophet Malachi to His Son before His Son became flesh: BEHOLD, I AM SENDING MY MESSENGER BEFORE YOUR FACE, WHO WILL PAVE YOUR WAY BEFORE YOU….God the Father says to His Son: BEHOLD, I WILL SEND YOU ELIJAH THE PROPHET BEFORE THAT GREAT AND AWESOME DAY, WHEN THE LORD COMES. He said: This Elijah WILL TURN THE HEARTS OF FATHERS TO THEIR CHILDREN AND THE HEARTS OF CHILDREN TO THEIR FATHERS, LEST I COME AND STRIKE THE LAND WITH A DECREE OF UTTER DESTRUCTION. That’s how the Old Testament ends. These are the last words of God before 450 years of divine silence. The coming Elijah was the last promise to ring in Israel’s ears. And so, all Israel waited for the one who had been caught up into heaven in a whirlwind to come again and prepare the way of the Lord.


The coming Elijah wasn’t just a sign for Israel that the Messiah was here. He would actually prepare the people to meet their God. His message was repentance. Turn around from your sin. He preached repentance so that he could, as Malachi says, bring the children of Israel back to their fathers. And that doesn’t mean settling family disputes. Elijah didn’t come to have us play nice…A VOICE CRYING OUT IN THE WILDERNESS: “Get along!” No. The coming Elijah was to bring the children of Israel back to the promise made to their fathers, and in that way bring the Father back to the children, so that all of Israel, yes, ALL ISRAEL would come back to the promise God made to their father Abraham. God told Abraham that he would have an heir through his own flesh, a son would be born to him, and through that promised Son, Abraham would be the father not only of Israel according to the flesh, but of the spiritual Israel, the father of all those who believe in the Christ as he did. Elijah had to bring Israel back to the promise, before that promised Child turned Judge and appeared with a baptism of fire to bring UTTER DESTRUCTION ON THE LAND.


That’s why IN THOSE DAYS JOHN THE BAPTIST CAME PREACHING IN THE WILDERNESS: “REPENT! FOR THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS HERE. AND IF YOU ARE WILLING TO ACCEPT IT, says the Christ, THIS IS My ELIJAH. IF YOU WILL ACCEPT IT, John is the ELIJAH WHO IS TO COME.


Picture him. He is the lone prophet, prophesying to a people alienated from the promise made to their fathers, calling Israel out into the wilderness of their youth. But WHAT DID they GO OUT TO SEE? They went to see a prophet wearing cloths made of camel’s hair and a leather belt. They went to see a man who could call down fire from heaven—if not the fire that consumed the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18) or the fifty men sent by King Ahaziah (2 Kings 1), then a prophet who could call down the fire of God’s law to consume the pride of the Pharisees and Sadducees. They went to see a prophet who could raise the widow’s son, and they found a prophet who could raise hundreds of thousands from the dead through the forgiveness of sins in baptism. IF YOU ARE WILLING TO ACCEPT IT, John IS ELIJAH TO COME. But John’s not the perfect replica of Elijah the Tishbite.


Once, at the Jordan River, the portal of heaven was opened to Elijah and he was taken up into heaven by a whirlwind, but before he took flight he left his successor Elisha a double portion of his spirit. His departure was so glorious. But John’s departure was far from it. He had watched heaven open over the Jordan River, and he had heard the voice from heaven, “THIS IS MY BELOVED SON, WITH WHOM I AM WELL PLEASED.” But John was never taken to the skies in a whirlwind. And he never gave anyone a double portion of his spirit. Instead he watched as the Spirit descended like a dove on the One WHO MUST INCREASE, WHILE HE MUST DECREASE. 


That was John’s office. The path that the Lord paved for him meant he would pave a highway for the Lord. As long as John lived and did what he was called to do, he decreased, so that Christ might increase. He went from Israelite Revival Preacher to a prisoner on death row. And now comes the question: “ARE YOU THE ONE OR SHOULD WE EXPECT ANOTHER?”


Many preachers of the church have thought that this message from John reveals a moment of great weakness, that his faith was hanging on by a thread and needed confirmation that Jesus is the LORD. In cross and suffering, even the greatest saints can doubt, and why not John? It’s assumed that John was overwhelmed by doubt and questions whether Jesus is THE LAMB OF GOD WHO TAKES AWAY THE SIN OF THE WORLD. But the only thing we can base that on is the question: “ARE YOU THE COMING ONE OR SHOULD WE EXPECT ANOTHER?” a question, he asks through his disciples.


If this is the only place in Scripture that hints at John’s doubt, we should have a very good reason to question John’s confession of Christ. Remember that Jesus had been preaching in every city, and yet John’s disciples had not yet followed Christ. What were they doing? They must have reported some of what they had heard of Jesus to John, because JOHN HEARD ABOUT THE WORKS OF THE CHRIST. But they were still clinging to their desert preacher in prison and didn’t understand that the Scriptures must be fulfilled: their master must decrease and they must, like all of us, go to Christ. John knew that they needed to see and hear for themselves—and so do we.


John is an example of faith, not for his weakness, but for his boldness and clarity and, and for the office he bears to point us to Jesus. He is, after all, Elijah, not David. And Christ confirms it. DID YOU GO OUT TO SEE a king in fine cloths? WHAT DID YOU GO OUT TO SEE IN THE WILDERNESS? A REED SHAKEN BY THE WIND? No. John has grit, and even better than grit, he has God’s Word and the prophetic office that Isaiah and Malachi foretold. He is the VOICE. He’s not shaken by the wind or even the chill of death, because he knows with all the prophets that the increase of Christ’s government means the defeat of sin, Satan, and death itself. Don’t look to John to see how even the greatest saints falter; look to him for strength and courage and fortitude. Christ says, AMONG THOSE BORN OF WOMEN THERE HAS ARISEN NO ONE GREATER THAN JOHN THE BAPTIST. Look to him also because he, the greatest prophet, points us to the Least, the Lowly of heart, gentle Mary’s Son, IN WHOM ALL GOD’S PROMISES ARE YES and YES!


See how gently John leads the children back to the promise of their fathers. He sends them to Jesus, so that they’d know for themselves that Christ alone MUST INCREASE, and everyone and everything else must decrease. John says, “Go ask Him if He’s the One.” As if to say, “You’ll see for yourself what I’ve told you about Him.” Every preacher, every teacher, every saint, even the ELIJAH WHO IS TO COME must decrease and make way for Christ. That is what the Office of the Holy Ministry is there to do: to humble the proud and to magnify Christ.


Just as John didn’t send his disciples to settle his anxious heart, neither did Jesus send them back for John’s sake. The message was for the messengers. “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 POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM. AND BLESSED IS THE ONE WHO IS NOT SCANDALIZED BY ME.” In other words, “FOLLOW ME!”


After hearing John’s preaching it’s easy to have expectations about Jesus. John had given them a vision of the Christ. They heard that He is THE LAMB OF GOD, yes, but they also heard that He is a JUDGE WITH A BAPTISM OF FIRE AND A WINNOWING FORK IN HIS HAND. John’s message was REPENT or perish!!!


Yet there was no baptism with fire to see, not yet. There was NO GLORY OR MAJESTY that could assure them that the King of Israel had come. No shining white horse. No elegant robes. The Carpenter’s Son didn’t meet the Messianic expectations of many, and so many were scandalized by what they saw and heard of Him. They stumbled over Him.


John’s disciples weren’t convinced by the reports of Jesus. Maybe they wanted something flashier than the works Christ was doing. What are we going to do when Jesus doesn’t do what we expected Him to do? Well, first, John teaches us, don’t speculate. Don’t hear rumors about Him and think whatever you want. Instead, go to Him; see for yourself; listen to His voice in Holy Scripture and in faithful preaching.


Second, when you get to Him, examine your expectations. When we get to Him, what do we find? For many of us there was point in our lives when we felt so alive with Jesus. Maybe it was your Confirmation or when you first read the Psalms, I mean really read them—when we were so excited for forgiveness and grace and were in His word every day and running for the Sacrament at any opportunity and never doubting the works that Christ was doing. We were maybe even living holier lives then.


But then comes the decrease. Then comes the realization that the sin that Christ came to forgive is still clinging to us. We found out that we aren’t as holy as we should be, or not as alive as we once were. That powerful feeling isn’t so powerful anymore, and we want it back. Is He really the one or should we expect another? We’ve heard about His works, but those don’t seem to be getting the results in us that we expected. His word doesn’t seem to be making me better, so maybe I’ll stop reading it, maybe I’ll try something else to get the results I want.


When we don’t see the Gospel getting the results we wanted, how quickly we turn to the law? John’s disciples thought fire from heaven would help get results. So did some of Jesus’ disciples. And it can be among us too. Maybe the enthusiasm isn’t there. Maybe we thought making people feel sorry for their lack of enthusiasm could help. We need to get people excited for something big! But here’s what’s big:


Jesus said: “WHEN YOU GO BACK REPORT TO JOHN WHAT YOU HEAR AND SEE: THE BLIND ARE SEEING AND THE LAME ARE WALKING, THE LEPERS ARE CLEANSED AND THE DEAF ARE LISTENING, THE DEAD ARE BEING RAISED AND THE GOSPEL IS BEING PREACHED TO THE POOR. Can that be it? No BAPTISM BY FIRE? No brimstone? No winnowing fork? No other manifestation of the Spirit?


What is the work of God? THIS IS THE WORK OF GOD, THAT YOU BELIEVE IN HIM WHOM HE HAS SENT.
His Advent is here, and it’s not for judgment, but for grace and the gift of faith. Don’t get me wrong. For Him, it would be a BAPTISM OF FIRE. It would be God’s wrath against all sin and not a winnowing fork, but a spear that would pierce Him. God would laid all our sin on Him and punish sin forever by nailing it to a cross. But Christians, he didn’t come to judge us.


John’s preaching was to warn us, so that we’d run to the One who can save us! If you don’t believe that He’s the One, then at least believe the works that He’s doing. Behold, the blind, those who could not see the truth of forgiveness and salvation are seeing salvation with their own eyes. Those who’ve been wounded and lamed by sin, who could not by their own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ their Lord or come to Him, they are now walking, no, running into His arms, like little children. The lepers, the sin-sick and the unclean are being cleansed of all uncleanliness as He purifies them with His own blood from this altar. And the deaf, those who had never heard of Christ from faraway lands, are now the sheep who know their Shepherd and are listening to His voice even now. Or didn’t you know that the dead are being raised. THOSE WHO WERE DEAD IN THEIR TRESPASSES AND SINS…HAVE BEEN BURIED WITH HIM IN BAPTISM and RAISED WITH HIM THROUGH FAITH IN THE POWERFUL WORKING OF GOD, WHO RAISED Jesus FROM THE DEAD.


These are the works of Christ that He does among us and these are the works that John heard about from prison and had preached his whole life. IF YOU WILL ACCEPT IT, HE IS ELIJAH, who would bring all of us back to the LAMB OF GOD WHO TAKES AWAY THE SIN OF THE WORLD.


Whatever doubts you have about Him, look at His works, not yours. Now that you can see and hear and walk…now that you are washed, your sin is buried, and you are raised from the dead, go report these things to anyone who doubts.
YOUR FATHER IS PLEASED TO GIVE YOU THE KINGDOM of His beloved Son. He is glad to have sent us Christ. So take hold of Him. Take hold of Mary’s Son.


AND BLESSED IS THE ONE WHO IS NOT SCANDALIZED BY Him. Blessed is the one who rejoices in the Salvation He brings. And BLESSED ARE THE POOR, FOR THE KINGDOM IS YOURS. Amen.

 

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