Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Third Sunday in Advent

Third Sunday in Advent (A)
December 16, 2007
Text: Matt. 11:2-15

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Matt. 11:15; ESV). Let the one who has been given ears attuned by the Spirit to the Word of God hear and believe and keep that Word. Let the one who has been given faith not forsake that faith because it is contrary to sight. Let him not doubt, but hearing the Word, let him believe. Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed on account of the Word written by the apostles and prophets (John 20:29). Only God can give faith in His Word precisely because that Word seems so contrary to sight. It is a great miracle that anybody believes. It is a great miracle because this fallen, sinful flesh cannot comprehend spiritual things. St. Paul declares to the Corinthians, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). Indeed, we who are trapped by this fallen flesh, with our fallen intellects and the captivity of our sinful wills cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ our Lord or come to Him. The Holy Spirit must snatch us out of the jaws of unbelief and hell. It is the Holy Spirit who calls us by the Gospel, enlightens us with His gifts, sanctifies and keeps us in the true faith, and gives us true freedom from sin, death, hell, and Satan. He gives us faith and He sustains that faith. We cannot do it for ourselves. He does it to us by the Word. He gives us the ears so that we can hear. He gives us the faith so that we can believe.

Faith is given and sustained by the Holy Spirit working through the Word. But this in the midst of a fallen world full of deaf men. Not all have ears to hear. Not all have faith to believe. And appearances are deceiving. If we trust our fallen eyes, it is impossible to believe the Word of the Lord. For all that we see is sin and its evil consequences. We see terrorism and violence, war and bloodshed, sedition and rebellion, sickness and injury, broken lives and broken relationships, all manner of sin and suffering, and finally, death. Even we, who believe, are miserable sinners. Even when we look at ourselves, we are led into doubt and confusion. It is a great miracle that anyone should believe what they hear from God in the face of what is seen. Only God could grant that faith.

Since this is so, since appearances are so deceiving, and since the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh press in upon us from every side, seeking to lead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice, our faith cries out for assurance from the only trustworthy source: God Himself. Our faith cries out for a good Word from God in the midst of all manner of wickedness in this vale of tears, “Lord, are You the One who is to save us, or should we look for another? Are our eyes just deceiving us again, or are we right to put our trust in You? Tell us again of the life You bring to this world of death. Tell us again of the righteousness You bring to this world of sin. Tell us again that You love us and that all these things work together for our good.”

Thus St. John the Baptist sits in Herod’s dungeon. He knows that he is not long for this life. He has been a faithful preacher of God’s Word. He has done his duty as prophet. He has called upon sinners to repent and believe the Good News of the Lamb of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who takes away the sin of the world. But St. John is a sinner. His flesh is fallen. His fallen eyes only see the walls of the dungeon. It is not that he has lost his faith. But his faith needs assurance. His faith needs strengthening from the one and only source he knows can provide it. So he sends his disciples to Jesus. “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matt. 11:3). “Are my fallen eyes just deceiving me again, or am I right to believe in You, preach about You, and trust that even this dungeon is for my good?”

Among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist (v. 11). Yet even John needs the assurance that only the Word of the Lord can give. You can be comforted by this. Even St. John needed the assurance of the Word. Even St. John had his doubts, especially in the midst of trial and tribulation. And you do, too. When you are assailed by sin, when you are tossed to and fro by the ever shifting winds, when you are wearied by the changes and chances of this life and this world, you also need assurance. It is not that you have lost your faith. But your faith is weak. It is weak because of the flesh. You need the same assurance St. John needed. You need a good Word from God.

Jesus does not withhold assurance from those who ask Him. He does not rebuke John’s disciples or belittle John before the people. He does the opposite, and praises John above all those born of women. Instead, with great compassion, Jesus tells John’s 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 the good news preached to them” (vv. 4-5). He who has ears to hear, let him hear. Jesus does not pick these miracles by accident or arbitrarily. This is precisely what Isaiah prophesied concerning the Messiah: “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” (Is. 35:5-6). Don’t miss the implication. If you have ears to hear, listen closely. Jesus does the things only the Messiah can do. Jesus is the One who was to come. He is the promised Messiah. The Word of the Lord from Isaiah the prophet is all the assurance John needs. It is all the assurance you need. “I am He,” says Jesus to John and to you. “I still love you. I am here to cleanse and to heal and to save. I am here for your salvation. I am here to forgive your sins. I am your Savior and your God. Be not doubting, but believing.”

Jesus comes in fulfillment of the Scriptures. It is He of whom all the Law and the Prophets testify. He has come for you, to be your Savior and Lord. He has come to heal you, to give sight to your blind eyes so that you can see the spiritual realities that fallen eyes cannot see, to set you on your feet again so that you can walk with Him, to cleanse you from the leprosy of sin, to open your ears to hear His life-giving Word, indeed, to raise you from the dead. The Holy Spirit gives you faith in Him and sustains that faith in Him by His Word. In the midst of doubt and fear and sin and suffering, your faith will be shaken. In such times, run to the Word, where your Lord has promised to be for you with His grace. It is that Word which delivers to you all the benefits of His cross, His innocent suffering and death in your behalf. It is that Word which makes ordinary water into the cleansing baptismal water of life. It is that Word which makes ordinary bread and wine into the very body and blood of the crucified Son of God. The Word is powerful. It always accomplishes what it says. It does miraculous things, like create faith in the hearts of sinful men who cannot believe, who are living in the midst of a sinful and fallen world. It does miraculous things like forgive sins, even the worst of sins, even the sins of doubt and despair.

God has given you ears to hear. He has given you ears to hear His Word and to believe it. And He grants His Word in rich supply. Natural man cannot believe this Word. But the man who has been made spiritual by the Holy Spirit, the man who has been given faith from above, he it is who hears and believes. And the more He hears, the more he believes. O Lord, open our ears to hear Your precious Word, the Word about our Savior Jesus Christ. And then grant us to believe it. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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