Advent 3, 2015

 

The Epistle. 1 Corinthians 4:1-5

The Gospel. St. Matthew 11:2-10

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.

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As a reminder, Advent in a dictionary definition is, “a coming into place view, or being.  Arrival.”

 

Advent then gets defined as what the Church uses the term for…which only points us back to the original definition.

 

We are looking in this Advent Season…. at the first Advents, the first arrival, or coming into place of Jesus Christ, the Messiah.

 

 

And this is done with an eye to His coming again at His Second Advent to redeem His people and to judge the world.

 

These lessons are reminders of what Christ has done and how they point us to what Christ still will be doing upon His Second Coming.

 

The lessons today are directing us to look at the call to God’s ministers.  The Collect:  Grant that the ministers and stewards of thy mysteries may likewise prepare thy way.

 

Both the Epistle and Gospel do just that in what they say.

 

The Gospel is of particular interest today in a certain sense.  It is a story of John the Baptist.  He is in prison for preaching repentance and telling the people to make ready for the coming Messiah. 

 

He had also made some truthful but uncomfortable comments about the local leadership….one in particular and his adulterous lifestyle. So that too was a factor for his imprisonment.

 

And while He is in prison, John sends some of his disciples to inquire of Jesus… “are you the one or are we to look for another?”

 

And Jesus’ answer is of great importance not only for John and his disciples, but for us as well.

 

It is interesting that commentators differ on John’s motives in this story.  Some believe that John was quite aware (the entire time) of who Jesus was and was sending his followers out to speak to Jesus to give them some sort of sign not to give up hope….but to remain encouraged.

 

 

 

These also think it is actually doing John a disservice to say that he was in some way losing heart or losing confidence while in prison.

 

Others seem to believe that this is exactly what is going on.  John is losing heart sitting in prison.  He is looking to find out if he had put his trust in Jesus and that it was grossly misplaced. 

So him sending out a few of his followers, who were not in prison, was to get some sort of news that all of this was not in vain.

 

Both views seem to have merit.  Both seem to have credibility.

 

At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry when He came to John the Baptist to be baptized, what happens?

 

This is what we read in John chapter 1:  “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said,

“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.”

…“I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:29-34 ESV)

 

From this account it would seem that John was pretty sold on the idea that Jesus was the Messiah.  That He was the Son of God.  That this was indeed the one to come that so many in Israel had hoped for.

 

 

So, what happened between those confident words and his time in prison? Is there a breakdown in faith or is there a greater or different reason why John would send out his disciples to Jesus to ask if He was the one or should they all be looking for another.

 

This story is really full of reassurance that its hard to capture it all or know where to begin.

 

John is in prison now and it seems he is saying: “What happened?  I thought the Lamb of God was going to bring the Kingdom of God!!”

I thought the Kingdom of God would unfold and manifest itself in this Man and so far I don't see the power and the majesty I thought we would all see.”

 

If….if John was actually having doubts and losing faith in Jesus, this might have been part of what he was thinking. 

 

 

And I think we should think about ourselves a little here as well.  We are not in the same position as John the Baptist.  We are not eyewitnesses to Jesus Christ.

 

We are far more removed from these events.  We have a 2000-year gap between the life of Christ on earth and ours today.

 

We too await the Messiah.  We too look for the coming of Christ.  We too look for Him to come to judge the quick and the dead…..the living and the dead. 

 

Where is He?

 

We might ask these very things ourselves from time to time.  Or….what we are hearing a bit of in the news….Where is God while all of this terror is going on?

 

“Prayer is obviously not working,” some ignorantly and arrogantly say.

If He even exists, where is He?  If He is all-powerful and sovereign over the events of the world, why does He allow these things to happen?

 

So, taking a cue from last week’s lessons and collect which call our attention to the Scriptures for answers, we can look back at this lesson, see what Jesus gives as an answer…..look at many other passages which tell us why and hopefully allow them to allay our anxieties and disillusionment about these very things.

 

Jesus comes right back with His answer to John’s disciples.  And Jesus Himself uses Old Testament Scriptures to answer John’ disciples.

 

“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.” (Matthew 11:4-6 ESV)

He was in fact telling them to go and tell John to go and recall what the Scriptures say.  Compare them to what Jesus is doing and you will see that your concerns will all be answered.

 

Or, again, if it is to give the followers of John who may have some reservations…if they are the ones who need reassurance about Jesus, the answer Jesus gives offers the same consolation.

 

Jesus’ message is, John, recall Isaiah.  What did he write?  Did he not say: “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.[1]

 

John, didn't Isaiah also say: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,

because the Lord has anointed me

   to bring good news to the poor;

he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,

   to proclaim liberty to the captives,

and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,

and the day of vengeance of our God;

to comfort all who mourn; [2]

 

John, the Spirit of the Lord is upon me.  The miracles you see me do or hear about me doing testify to the truth of who I am.

 

These words of Jesus and this account should be just as much a comfort to us as they were intended to be to the disciples of John.  This is the sort of thing that is preparing our hearts ….turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just.  These stories are what God uses to work in us to make us acceptable people in His sight.

 

Whether John was wavering in his faith is not completely clear it would seem.  Peter himself had times of great clarity about who Jesus… “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God”…which is almost verbatim what John proclaimed on the banks of the Jordan..

 

….this same Peter was also the one who ran and hid when he was called to account and should have been standing by His Master and Lord. 

 

He denied having any knowledge of Jesus at the exact time should have been standing by Him. 

 

Maybe prison or the threat of prison does that to us.  Let us pray it never comes to that and if it does, let us pray that we do not waver in our faith.

 

And we shouldn't because we have this answer again from Jesus.  You see these miracles?  You see the preaching the poor in spirit are hearing?  This is the working of God. 

This is the proof that I am He and I have this all in complete control.

 

We, so many years later have the testimony of the Scriptures and the eyewitnesses to these things…from eyewitnesses to His birth, to His death, to His rising from the Grave….and His Ascension into Heaven. 

 

John most likely fully understood who Jesus was and was using this time for the opportunity to realize in a more concrete way that he must decrease and Jesus must increase. 

 

He says: “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom.

 

The friend of the bridegroom, (who is John) who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.

He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:28-30 ESV)

 

This is why it has significance and relevance for us as well here today. 

 

As the faithful friend of the bridegroom, John presented his disciples…and he presents us (the bride, the Church) to Christ.

 

This is what the stewards, the minsters of the mysteries of God are to proclaim to the people.  This is what I proclaim to you today.

 

John was sent to proclaim the coming of the Lord Jesus.  The same message is for us today here and now. 

 

Make the path straight for the coming of the Lord Jesus this season by letting the Word of God dwell richly in your hearts. 

 

 

By being encouraged by the message of salvation and by the hope of everlasting Life in our Lord, Jesus Christ.

 

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.

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[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Is 35:5–6). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Is 61:1–2). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.