The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of
the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Mat 11:2-11 “Now when John in prison heard of the works of
Christ, he sent word by his disciples, {3} and said to Him, ‘Are You
the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?’ {4} And
Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Go and report to John what you
hear and see: {5} the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT and the lame walk,
the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised
{6} And blessed is he who keeps from stumbling over Me.’ {7} And
as these were going away, Jesus began to speak to the multitudes
about John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A
reed shaken by the wind? {8} “But what did you go out to see? A
man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing
are in kings’ palaces. {9} “But why did you go out? To see a
prophet? Yes, I say to you, and one who is more than a prophet.
{10} “This is the one about whom it is written, ‘BEHOLD, I SEND
PREPARE YOUR WAY BEFORE YOU.’ {11} “Truly, I say to you,
among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater
than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven
is greater than he.
Yep, it’s still John the Baptist. He showed up last Sunday. John was joined
by St. Nicholas in Wednesday night’s sermon, and now here he is again with John
the Baptist. This time we do not find him on the banks of the River Jordan. This
time we find him in jail. And it would appear, this time there’s something different
about him. He seems to be shaken. The confident preacher of a “baptism of
repentance for the remission of sin” and repentance is now looking for a Word
from God to put his fears and doubts to rest.
As you all know we just went through another presidential election. This
one seemed to have been a bit more controversial and caustic than most modern
campaigns. In some regards it was a bit different than former campaigns, but in
most ways it was just like all the ones before it. There were candidates from the
top of the ticket to the bottom, each with their own view of what America is and
what it ought to be. Each claiming that if you simply vote for him or her then
America would be either restored to it former glory or would be led into a new
type of glory.
It was the “Make America Great Again” candidate and slogan that won the
electoral college this time around. The idea behind the slogan is that the United
States, which was once an industrial, economic, and military leader, the
uncontested leader of the free world and respected by friend and foe alike, has
now under the leadership of last few administrations fallen on hard times and lost
its way. Thus a new kind of leader with a new way of doing business was needed.
Make America Great Again won the day.
So it was in first century Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem. Israel has fallen on
hard times. It has lost the glory it once knew under King David and King
Solomon. What Israel needed was a new kind of leader, a new kind of ruler. That
is what had been promised in the Old Testament scrolls. The King of kings, the
Lord of lords, the Ruler of rulers would come and make Israel great again. That is
what the people in first century Israel hoped for. That is what they expected from
their Messiah.
But God does not act in expected ways. Through the prophet Isaiah God
Himself said, “My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your
thoughts.” (NASB) Wrong headed thinking was a problem for those people in
first century and it remains a problem today.
When God delivered the Hebrews out of salary in Egypt, He did not call
Moses into service when Moses was a young and powerful prince in Egypt. He
sent Moses after Moses had murdered a man, fled to the wilderness, took up the
vocation of shepherd, and had aged a bit.
When God saved Israel from the Midianites, He drafted Gideon, the least of
his tribe and from the lowliest tribe of Israel. Then of course, there was David and
Goliath. The list could go on and on. God and sinful man have two very different
ideas about how things ought to be and how they ought to come about.
The people in Jesus’ day wanted someone who would “Make Israel Great
Again” and that is what they thought God was about do with the arrival of Jesus.
The Zealots expected God to send a Messiah who would deliver them from Roman
occupation and oppression and establish an uncontested sovereign earthly
Some like the Essenes, the group to which John the Baptist probably
belonged, expected Judgment Day, the eschatological judgment in which all
sinners, both inside and outside Israel would be condemned and exiled and the
righteous, those who forsook the pleasures of this world would be glorified.
Most believed that when the Messiah would come and He would make
Israel great again and restore her to her former glory and place in the world.
Now the preaching of John the Baptist contained the entire package, Law
and Gospel. It was all there. The arrival of the Messiah, the Lamb of God who
would take away the sin of the world, baptism and the indwelling of the Holy,
Spirit, the comings of Christ, and more were all in the preaching and teaching of
John the Baptist.
You have likely seen a mountain range from a distance. As you drive toward
a mountain range you see the big picture. From a distance, the mountains seem so
close to each other, one range right in front of the other. But one mountain can be
separated from another by a great distance.
That’s what happened in regard to the work of the Messiah. The work of the
Messiah was seen like a mountain range in the distance. Most people could not tell
that the various events in the life of the Christ and in the life of the world were
separated by great distances of time and space. Christ’s first advent and second
advent appeared to be one and the same, but were actually separated from a great
distance. And that way of thinking might have been a contributing factor to the
confusion that arose in the hearts and minds of the faithful.
By the time chapter 11 rolls around John had been in jail for about nine
months. He probably had a pretty good idea he was going to be executed. There in
the dungeon hungry and cold and facing death, John does what you and I would
probably do. He began to wonder what God was doing.
John’s entire ministry was dedicated to proclaiming the coming of the King
of kings. He preached and taught that the Messiah was coming and that when He
came He would set the captives free, cleanse people of their sin, and that He had
divine power, the Holy Spirit and fire. The righteous who lived by faith would be
saved and the unrighteous burned up like chaff.
But now John finds himself a captive, put in prison by an and evil king who
had been called to repentance. John’s faith is shaken a bit because of his
circumstance and perhaps a misunderstanding of what Christ’s first advent was all
about. John didn’t see Jesus in the right Light. He didn’t understand that the first
advent of Christ and the second coming look very different one from the other and
have a different purpose. He didn’t see that the great distance between the
mountain ranges of God’s redeeming work in the Babe of Bethlehem and the
crucified Christ of Good Friday and the restoration and glorification that will
come on the Last Day, when Son of God will come to judge the living and the
dead and usher in the new heaven and the new earth.
Jesus had just returned from a mission trip where He had driven out demons
from a man and sent them into the pigs, which ran over the cliffs. When Jesus
entered His hometown, He healed the paralytic who had been lowered through the
roof and forgive the man his sins. He resurrected the temple ruler’s daughter from
death. A woman who had suffered from bleeding for twelve years reached
touched the hem of His garment and was healed. Then two blind men cry out to
Him for mercy. Jesus heals them. He then encounters a mute demon-possessed
man. Jesus heals him. Finally, Jesus
While all this was going on, life for John had become very unpleasant.
Doubt had settled in. John probably was wondering why Jesus hadn’t come to His
rescue. After all, John had been a faithful steward with the Law and Gospel and
did the job he was sent to do. He had preached and baptized, and pointed people to
Christ. John was probably having one of those, “What about me?” moments.
You’d have to be . . . well Jesus not to ask such a question. And John wasn’t
Jesus. He cleared up that confusion back in John 1:19-20 “When the Jews sent to
him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 And he
confessed and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” (NASB)
From his prison, John sends two of his students to Jesus to ask, “Are You
the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” Jesus gives him what is
needed. Tell John that the blind see, the deaf hear, the sick are healed, the lame
walk, the dead are raised, and the Gospel is being preached. Jesus doesn’t plead
with John that he, John just believe. He does not rebuke John for his doubt. He
doesn’t tell John to trust his feelings and dig down deeper and believe. Jesus
sends His Word to John through John’s disciples.
This moment of doubt for John seemed to have been understood as
something much greater by the people. In the eyes of some John the Baptist had
fallen from his pedestal. John was a model of faith, strength, and courage, but now
he doesn’t look as he once did. If John doubts, what is one to think of Jesus?
Jesus knows what some were thinking. He probably heard some mumbling.
It’s a common phenomenon. “Oh, what a wonderful pastor!” at least from a
distance and at first. Then the people get to know the pastor a little better. They
learn more and more about him and the shine wears off. They come to see a man
with clay feet and they don’t like it.
The people had seen a brave and bold man in John the Baptist. But now,
not so sure and some begin to leave. 7 “And as these were going away, Jesus
began to speak to the multitudes about John.” Jesus now calls them to
repentance and true faith. “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at?”
Jesus called out. “A reed shaken by the wind? A man dressed in soft clothing? .
. . 9 why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I say to you, and one who is
more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘BEHOLD, I
YOUR WAY BEFORE YOU.’ {11} “Truly, I say to you, among those born of
women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is
least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
It was the Word of God that put John into his office as the last Old
Testament prophet and the forerunner, the new Elijah to Christ. It was the Word
that made John greater than all the others.
John was the product of a miraculous birth, but still he was born of a natural
father and mother. John was given the prophetic office to preach sermons that
declared that the Messiah had come into the world. Born of sinful flesh and
installed in his holy office, John was still a sinner in need of forgiveness and
assurance. And Jesus gives what John needed, as He does you. He give His Word.
You have an advantage of John the Baptist and the people to whom Jesus
was preaching in Matthew 11. You do know the rest of the story. You stand on
this side of the cross and the resurrection. You understand the significance of the
words of John the Baptist, “Behold! The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin
of the world!” You understand the two advents and the continual advent of the
Word and Sacrament ministry. You live between the mountain ranges of the two
great advents of the King. You can look back into time and space and see the
cross and resurrection. And through the Word and sacraments God the Father
applies the person and work of Christ to you in the here and now. You also look
forward knowing that the end is coming. Christ Jesus will return. That is as sure
and certain as the first advent.
May the Peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in
Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

A Different John?
Tagged on:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *