The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Luke 7:18 “And the disciples of John reported to him about all these things. 19 And summoning two of his disciples, John sent them to the Lord, saying, ‘Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?’ 20 And when the men had come to Him, they said, ‘John the Baptist has sent us to You, saying, ‘Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?’ 21 At that very time He cured many people of diseases and afflictions and evil spirits; and He granted sight to many who were blind. 22 And He answered and said to them, ‘Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM. 23 And blessed is he who keeps from stumbling over Me.’” (NASB)
This morning is our third visit with John the Baptist this Advent season. In the first Wednesday night service the angel Gabriel visited the priest Zacharias and told him that his aged wife, Elizabeth is going to have a son and he will be named John and is the forerunner to the Christ.
Last week’s Gospel lesson was John the Baptist calling the people to repent and receive the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of their sins. This morning’s Gospel lesson takes us to John’s prison cell and to what seems to be a moment of confusion over whether Jesus was indeed the One who had been promised in the scrolls of the Old Testament.
These are the three things are the things that God ordained we know about John the Baptist. 1. He was conceived according and by the power of God’s promise to be the forerunner to Christ. 2. As an adult he was sent to prepare the way for the coming Messiah, which was imminent. He did this by preaching the Law and the Gospel and by baptizing the people with a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 3. While in prison, facing possible execution for calling King Herod and his mistress of their sin, John sought a word of confirmation from Jesus that He, Jesus was“the Expected One.”
From leaping in his mother’s womb in the presence of the Christ Child, to proclaiming Jesus as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” to asking the question, “Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?” The Expected One? That title carried with it a lot of weight. The Expected One was the promised Messiah, first promised in Genesis three.
Expectations, life is filled with them. A young couple gets married and they each walk down that aisle with expectations of what life is going to be like– their happily ever after. Someone gets hired for a new job and there are certain expectations attached to it. Expectations is what the modern celebration of Christmas is built on. Children are expecting things, often very specific things to appear on Christmas morning. Some of those expectations will be met next week, but there are always disappointments.
When Jesus appeared on the banks of the River Jordan and God testified to John that Jesus was the Expected One, John the Baptist had certain expectations about how things would go.
It was John the Baptist who said of Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” John said Jesus was the One who will baptize with fire and that He will separate the wheat from the chaff with His Judgment Day winnowing fork. Jesus is the One who will bring release and freedom and prosperity to those languishing in bondage and despair.
Up until the later part of the 20th century, prisons were dark, dank dungeons where people basically wasted away. The expectation was that the Messiah would put an end to such things.
But here in Luke 7 we find John in one of these dark, dank dungeons. He was a prisoner in one of those hopeless places and he was beginning to wonder if Jesus was the Expected One. Was Jesus going to do what all the faithful thought He was going to do, namely deliver him and other faithful out of the pit.
That’s one of the jobs of the Messiah was suppose to do. It’s a matter of expectation. But it was not a matter of groundless expectation. The Old Testament promised that the promised Messiah would set the captives free. He would bring justice and peace. He would punish the wicked unbelievers and bestow His everlasting grace upon His people. He would fight their battles and win. He would establish justice and peace everywhere and so on.
When Jesus appeared on the banks of River Jordan, John recognized Him as the promised Christ because God the Father and Holy Spirit testified to Jesus’s identity. But what is also obvious by John’s preaching is that he sees the work of the promised Messiah as one quick movement of history, like two bookends butt up against each other without no time and space and work between them.
While rightly identifying Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, John also sees Jesus as the almighty King who comes in all His glory to judge the living and the dead.
Second only to unbelief, wrong expectations was the biggest impediment to true Christian faith and right understanding. Even Jesus’s own 12 disciples didn’t understand. They had the same kind of perspective John did.
Now perhaps one of the reasons for this confusion rested in part in the Old Testament scrolls for even they tend too collapse the first and second advents and their respective works into the same Bible passages. Take one of the most beloved Old Testament prophecies concerning the Christ.
Isaiah 9:6 “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. 7 There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.”
The Old Testament reading for this morning falls into the same category. 16 “Do not be afraid, O Zion; Do not let your hands fall limp. 17 “The Lord your God is in your midst, A victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy. . . 19 “Behold, I am going to deal at that time With all your oppressors, I will save the lame And gather the outcast, And I will turn their shame into praise and renown In all the earth. 20 “At that time I will bring you in, Even at the time when I gather you together.”
John, Jesus’s own disciples, and just about everyone else in the four Gospels have an expectation that everything wrong in the world is going to be fixed in fell swoop in the Christ’s first advent as the King of kings.
“Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?” John’s two disciples ask on his behalf. 22 “And He answered and said to them, ‘Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM.’”
Jesus doesn’t offer a comprehensive theology lesson about His state of humiliation, His first Advent, verses His state of exaltation, what His second advent will be like. He speaks in parables and He tells His disciples to keep quiet about certain events and things in His earthly ministry until after His resurrection so that certain things remain hidden from the people at the time, lest they get in the way of the real mission.
What Jesus does provide is what faith needs under the circumstances.
What John needs is assurance that Jesus is the Expected One. Jesus assures John and everyone else that He is the Messiah and that He will accomplish the purpose for which He has come into the world at that moment in history. He points John and everyone else listening to that which Jesus has already done as the basis for believing what He is going to do in the future, especially at His second advent.
In His answer to John Jesus was saying, “You know what the Scriptures say about the Messiah. You know the prophecies. You know what the Messiah will do for His people. It’s being done—right now! God is keeping His Word. He is just not working on your time line. He’s just not doing it the way you expected that it would be done, but He is at work redeeming the world.”
In Luke 7 John and the rest did not have the advantage we have. We have 20/20 hindsight sight. We know that Christ did die on the cross making complete atonement for the sins of the world. We know that His cross was necessary for our salvation. We know that on the third day Jesus arose from the dead and that meant that He was indeed God made flesh and that His death was the all sufficient payment for sin.
This is why this particular Sunday still bears the Latin name “Gaudete” — rejoice! This is why the Advent candle for the third week is pink rather than purple. Purple for royalty, but pink for Joy. Joy because our God, the Christian God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit keeps His promise and is still keeping His Word, even though His ways may not match our expectations. (Phil. 4:4) “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!”
I point you to the cross of Jesus Christ. My friends: This is true joy. I know it doesn’t make sense to the rest of the world. This is victory—Christ’s victory and our victory. Christ’s death means life for us—eternal and everlasting. In the midst of this sinful and dark world we live in, we are reminded of the eternal hope (1st candle), peace (2nd candle), and joy 3rd candle) that is already ours in Jesus Christ. The God who took on flesh and was born as a baby boy and laid in a manger. He grew up to suffer and pay for all our sins on His cross and Who still comes to us today in His life-giving Word and Body and Blood.
He will complete the work that He began in His first advent. He is the God of the greatest of expectations and He will not disappoint. Romans 9:33 “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.”
It is the height of arrogance and a dishonest mind that looks upon the reports of the New Testament and concludes that Jesus is not God. To calm any doubts John has Jesus points to what He is already doing. “The BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM.” If that had not happened, then who would have followed Christ? Only the arrogant denies the resurrection. If that had not happened, then who would have followed him? Christianity would have been exposed immediately as a fraud. But at these reports, the critics fell silent. There were too many people who saw the works and the resurrection of Christ Jesus.
The incarnation, life of perfect obedience, the miracles, His atoning death, His resurrection and ascension, the sending of His church with the Word and Sacrament ministry, the remission of sins, and His promised second advent, these are the greatest of all expectations.
May the peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ. Amen.