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 15, 2013

Third Sunday in Advent


Third Sunday in Advent (A)
December 15, 2013
Text: Matt. 11:2-15

            John is in prison for preaching traditional marriage.  Perhaps that offends you.  It certainly offended Herod Antipas.  Herod, as you’ll recall, had taken his brother Philip’s wife Herodias for himself.  And John preached against it.  It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife” (Mark 6:18; ESV).  As it turns out, two people who love each other is not the all-important ingredient that makes for a God-pleasing marriage.  The question is whether they are using God’s gift as He has instituted it, or if they are abusing that gift.  Herod and Herodias are abusing the gift, adulterating it with their own fallen notions of romance, justifying it by their own fallen reason and emotions, expecting the clergy to give it their blessing.  John is faithful to God’s Word.  And so he is in prison, and so he will pay for his faithfulness with his head on a silver platter.  The prophet enjoys the prophet’s reward, being counted worthy to suffer for the Name of Jesus.  So it goes.
            But John is right where he should be.  For he must decrease, as the One to whom he points, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, the Messiah, the Christ, must increase.  The Old Testament, to which John belongs (even though we read of him in the New Testament), is coming to an end.  The Lord is doing a new thing now.  The fullness of time has come.  The Virgin has conceived and borne a Son, and has called His Name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.  He is the Christ, God’s anointed, who is bringing about the New Testament in His own blood.  John’s imprisonment and death is to be a prelude and foreshadowing of Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion.  Upon hearing of Jesus, Herod would believe it is John, risen from the dead.  That is not quite the case.  John will rise on the Last Day.  But Jesus would be crucified, and He would rise from the dead, the Firstborn of all who have fallen asleep.  Among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist (Matt. 11:11).  Except for One, He who has become least in the Kingdom of Heaven for our sakes, even Jesus Christ, our Lord.  It is, finally, not about John, who did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ” (John 1:20).  It is never about any preacher.  It is about Jesus.  John is always pointing to Jesus.  Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). 
            So John has a date with the executioner as he fades into history, but first he must ask, he just has to know, or perhaps he just wants to make it clear for everyone else… “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matt. 11:3).  He sends his disciples to ask the question, once again directing them to Jesus.  You can sympathize with John, can’t you?  He wants to know if this has all been worth it?  The rough life in the wilderness, the mockery, the censure of the religious leaders, his arrest and imprisonment, his impending death.  He was a talented boy, the light of his parents’ life, the son of a respected priest.  He could have lived quite comfortably if God hadn’t ruined it all by calling him to be the messenger before Jesus’ face, to prepare the way before Him (v. 10).  So just to be sure… We did get the right One, didn’t we?  And what does Jesus answer?  How is he to be sure?  Jesus points John and His disciples and us to Holy Scripture, to the sure and certain Word of God.  Go and tell John what you hear and see,” (v. 4), whereupon Jesus rehearses His own fulfillment of all the promises made in our Old Testament lesson.  Check these out against Isaiah’s prophecy which you heard and read this morning: “the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear” (Matt. 11:5).  It’s a direct fulfillment of Isaiah 35:5-6: “Then,” on the day the Lord fulfills this prophecy, “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.”  We know from elsewhere in the Gospel record that Jesus did plenty of freeing mute tongues.  And what else did He do?  The “dead are raised up.”  Who else could do that but God?  And then the kicker, which really doesn’t sound like the kicker to our fallen ears, but hopefully you’ve been a Bible believing Lutheran long enough to recognize it as such: “the poor have the good news preached to them.”  The preaching.  The Word.  We’ve come full circle.  Go tell John what you’ve heard.  You’ve heard the preaching.  This, too, was prophesied by Isaiah: “The Spirit of the LORD GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me,” and remember, the titles “Christ” and “Messiah” mean “anointed one,” “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” (Is. 61:1-2).  Go and tell John what you’ve heard.  Tell me, John, is this enough for you?  I have come to heal.  I have come to preach.  I have come to fulfill the prophecy and to free you from sin and death, even to proclaim liberty to you who are captive for my Name’s sake.  And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Matt. 11:6). 
            The world is offended by Jesus.  I hope by now you’ve noticed that.  This is not a friendly world toward Christ.  Not the real Christ, anyway.  There are all sorts of notions about who He is and what He should do and what He should approve, none of which have any basis in the Bible or the Christ who reveals Himself in Holy Scripture.  Unfortunately, what is true of the world is all too often true of Christians.  It is all too often true of you and me.  We fabricate a Jesus of our own design.  Because there are things of which we say, “I just can’t believe in a Jesus who would do or say that.”  Or perhaps we are not so blunt, but we say it secretly, in our heart.  “I know what the Bible says, but surely it can’t be true.  Not that.  It just doesn’t feel right.”  Christians are particularly prone to fall prey to this sort of thinking when called upon to suffer.  “Why are you doing this to me, God?  I’ve tried to be a faithful Christian.  I thought you loved me.  I thought you wanted only good things for me.”  What kind of a Jesus is it who sends the cross of cancer or who snatches loved ones away in the prime of life?  What kind of a Jesus is it who allows His last and greatest prophet to languish in prison, shackled in the dungeon, only to be released by a rush of cold steel?  Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”  Repent.
            Things are not as they appear.  Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord” (James 5:7).  Then it will all be revealed, what all of this is about, what is really true and what has been the deception of the serpent.  Do you not understand that in this fallen creation you are the blind one whose eyes the Lord Jesus has made to see by faith?  Do you not understand that in your fallen flesh your ears have been deaf to God’s Word?  But now Jesus has come and given you ears to hear, and so to believe.  What do you hear and see this morning in the Gospel?  You are the lame who have been given to walk in newness of life.  You are the leper cleansed of the sin which has been eating you alive, healed by Jesus’ Absolution.  You are the dead man, the stinking corpse, the dry bones of Ezekiel’s vision, into whom the Lord has breathed His Spirit and resurrection life, and whom He will raise physically from the dead on the Last Day.  And so you hear the preaching, and you rejoice on this Gaudete Sunday.
            So do not be offended.  Believe.  Jesus is the One.  There is no other.  And soon, soon all will be manifest.  All will be revealed.  Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.  Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not!  Behold, your God will come… and save you” (Is. 35:3-4).  As the blade fell upon St. John’s neck, he knew what you know: Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, John’s Savior, and yours.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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