Text: Matthew 11:2-10
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Why does John the Baptist send messengers to ask Jesus if he is the one who is to come or if they should be looking for someone else? Did John the Baptist forget who Jesus was. Did he forget that he knew from even before he was born that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God? Had he forgotten about the voice from heaven that declared Jesus to be the very Son of God as the Holy Spirit descended on him in form of a dove. Did he forget about the time that he said to his disciples, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world?” Wasn’t it John who said that he was not even worthy to untie the sandals of Jesus. It seems unlikely. After all, Jesus himself will later on in this same text praise John for his steadfastness. But it’s not impossible for John to have doubts about who Jesus is. John is a man. John is a sinner. It’s possible that being thrown into prison could have cast doubt into John’s mind. Here he is, suffering for telling the truth about King Herod’s sinful actions. It’s also possible that John developed the same misconceptions as the Jews who welcomed Jesus enthusiastically into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and thought that he was there to bring them the political independence that they sought.
It’s also possible, however, that John the Baptist didn’t forget any of these things. It’s possible that he sent his disciples to ask this question of Jesus so that they might have the fact that Jesus is, indeed, the one who is to come cemented in their minds once and for all.
Regardless of which of those scenarios is true, though, the fact is that Jesus’ words to John’s disciples brought certainty to John, John’s disciples, and to anyone who was wondering about who, exactly, Jesus is. The same is true even today. We are reminded, or we learn, through the words—and especially the actions—of Jesus that those words direct us to remember, who he is. In the Old Testament, the prophets said that the Messiah would first present himself as one who performed great miracles. Isaiah writes, “He will come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.” (Isaiah 35:4-6) Jesus is pointing out to John’s disciples that he is doing precisely all of those things. Just a couple of chapters before this reading, in Matthew 9, Jesus healed a paralytic, healed a woman who had been bleeding for years, raised a little girl from the dead, healed two blind men, cast out a demon, and healed several other people who came to him. To these deeds and more Jesus points John’s disciples. He says, “Look here. I’m doing all of these things.” Jesus comes to undo the works of the devil. When we think of the works of the devil, our mind often goes to temptation and sin. And rightfully so. But the fact is that all of the things that Jesus does, that is, all of his healing miracles, are manifestations of sin. We often like to chalk up illness, disease, and death to random chance or perhaps we just look at them as facts of nature. It was not this way in the beginning, though. You’ll remember that sin came into the world through the sin of Adam and Eve. Because of their sin, all people born of man since then are infected with original sin. This sin is not just a spiritual reality, though. It is also a physical reality. The fall of man into sin brought about all forms of disease and death with it. When Jesus heals the blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf, and raises the dead, he is removing the effects of sin. These outward healings point to the healing for the soul that he intends to bring. That is ultimately what separates Jesus from the prophets of old. After all, some of them were able to heal. Some of them, like Elijah and Elisha, were even able to raise the dead. But no man could do what Jesus did when it came to healing the body and soul of man. No man could completely take away the effects of sin, death, and the devil. But that is precisely what Jesus came to do.
Today, the outward miracles have stopped, but the healing of the soul still happens. Jesus gave sight to the blind, but now he still shines through the light of his Word that guides us into all truth. Jesus made the lame to walk, but now he guides our feet that we may walk in his commandments. Jesus cleansed the lepers, but now he cleanses us from our sin. Jesus loosened the tongues of the mute and caused the deaf to hear, but now he opens our ears to hear his Word and loosens our tongues that we might sing praise to him proclaim his deeds to all people. While we don’t experience miraculous physical healings every day, Jesus is still at work among us healing our souls and pointing us forward to the new creation where the ailments of our bodies will likewise be no more.
The fact that Jesus directs to the disciples of John to his deeds as evidence for who he was, also shows the importance of our works. Yes, it is important for us to ground our faith and our certainty of salvation in Christ and his Word. Works do not save us. But works are necessary. Works bear witness to the faith that is within us. Jesus said in John 13 that the way that the world will know that you are his disciples is that you will love one another. Jesus exemplifies this love and desires that we emulate him. Jesus did a great deal of preaching during his earthly ministry, but he was not just a preacher. He was also a doer. Faith alone saves us, but faith is never alone. The apostle James writes that faith without works is dead. Works follow and are fruits of that faith. They are the fruits that your neighbor desperately needs as you live out your God-given vocations in your family, church, and community.
Besides his healing miracles, Jesus also points out that good news is preached to the poor. Here Jesus is not speaking of the monetarily poor, but to the spiritually poor. That is, he’s preaching good news—the good news of sins forgiven—to those who need it. Those who are spiritually poor are those who recognize their sinful condition before God. They are those who confess that they are poor miserable sinners. They have sinned against God in thought, word, and deed. Those who are poor in spirit recognize that there is absolutely nothing that they can do to escape their sinful condition. They are lost.
This is not a good condition to be in, but it is the reality of who we are. And it is good that that is who we are and that we recognize that fact, because the preaching of the good news belongs to those who are poor in spirit. Jesus says this explicitly here as well as in Matthew 5. Those who were poor in spirit are no longer poor in spirit. They recognized their sin, cried out to God for forgiveness, and now have that forgiveness that Christ won on the cross for them. May we be found among them!
But how could anyone be offended by Jesus? First of all, people are offended by the message of the Gospel because it takes the act of salvation outside of themselves. We are used to a world were everything comes to us because we work for it. We are used to a world where those who do good things are revered and those who do evil things are punished. According to God’s Word, though, all are sinners and all deserve his wrath, but those who have faith in Christ are saved. This means that some people that look good are really evil and some who look evil are really good. Secondly, many are offended by the Word of God in general. The world especially looks at the Word of God with disdain. Basic truths of scripture are laughed off as fanciful nonsense. The miracles of the Bible are scientifically impossible. This can cause Christians to stumble as they’d rather join in with the world’s disdain than stand firmly in the Word of God. Being offended by God’s Word is the same thing as being offended by Jesus. For Jesus is the fulfillment of all the scriptures. Jesus says that all who are not offended by him are blessed. That is, they who believe in him and trust his word unfailing, for they know that God’s Word is not the product of anyone’s imagination, but that men were carried along by the Holy Spirit when they wrote it.
John the Baptist was one of those who trusted the Word of God unfailing. That is why Jesus makes it clear that John was not one who was blown about by the wind. John was in prison for NOT bowing to the culture that opposed the Word of God. Herod had taken his brother’s wife as his own. Adultery in all of its forms is an abomination to God. It is a perversion of his gift of marriage. John surely knew that condemning Herod for his adultery would result in his imprisonment (or worse), but he did it anyway. By extension, John was not one dressed in soft clothing. If he were interested in soft clothing, that is, comfortable living, he would have compromised on the Word of God and simply said and done whatever he could to earn the world’s favor.
In the end, only one like John could be the one to prepare the people for the coming Messiah. John was the messenger who preached repentance. He went before Jesus to warn the people of their sins that their hearts might be ready to receive the good news of salvation that would come with Jesus. He went before Jesus to show the people that they were, indeed, poor in spirit so that they might have the Good News preached to them.
May our hearts likewise be prepared this Advent season for the appearing of Christ Jesus. May we see our poorness of heart and be made ready for the Good News of salvation. For Jesus is coming. And we shall not be disappointed, but shall be filled with rejoicing.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.