The Third Sunday in Advent
December 11, 2022
Come, Lord Jesus— as Messiah!
2When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples 3to ask him, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”
4Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. 6Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”
7As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 8If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. 9Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10This is the one about whom it is written:
“ ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’
11I tell you the truth, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
His name was Bill. Bill had married one of the ladies in my congregation. At first I did not see much of Bill, but after a while he started coming to church on a regular basis. Eventually Bill told me that he would like to join the congregation, so I started taking him through the Adult Bible Information Class. Bill was a good student. He listened attentively. He asked good questions. He always did his homework. I was very happy with the way things were progressing with Bill— until one of the Midweek Lenten services. Bill got up and left the sanctuary right in the middle of the sermon. When he didn’t return I knew something was wrong I just didn’t know what it was. After the service I found Bill sitting in one of the chairs in the narthex. He looked visibly upset. After most people had left Bill came up to me and very sternly asked, “Did you really mean to say in your sermon that children are born sinful?” When I said, “Yes,” he continued, “How can you possibly say something like that!” My response was, “Because that’s what the Bible teaches.” He wanted to know where the Bible says anything like that. I shared a couple of passages from the Bible ending with Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” I tried to explain that the fact that even little babies die is a testimony to the fact that babies are born sinful. I can still hear his response, “The God that I believe in would never teach anything like that.” Bill dropped out of the class and quit attending church.
Bill is certainly not the first nor will he be the last person to presume that they have the right to decide what God does and does not believe— even when He speaks clearly in Scripture. That reality is brought to our attention here in our sermon text for today. As we continue our sermon series Come, Lord Jesus let’s see how these words of Matthew lead us to say: Come, Lord Jesus— as Messiah! Come to carry out the work that needed to be accomplished. Come to proclaim the message that needs to be proclaimed.
Our text begins with words that could be somewhat confusing. Matthew writes, “When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’” Note that John’s question was prompted by what Jesus the Christ was doing. Did John ask this question for his own benefit or did John ask this question for the benefit of his disciples? If John was asking for his own benefit, we can understand why. John had boldly proclaimed that the One who was coming after him, the One who was far more powerful than John would bring judgment— “The ax is already at the root of the trees…His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:10, 12). But when John heard about what “Christ was doing” he didn’t see an emphasis on Judgment. Was John concerned that Jesus was not meeting his expectations of what the Messiah was going to do?
If John was asking this question for the benefit of his disciples, we can understand that as well. John was now in prison. His loyal disciples may have found this very confusing. In order to help his disciples realize that the focus of John’s ministry and the focus of his disciples’ loyalty needed to be on Jesus the Christ, Jesus the Messiah— he sent them to Jesus with the question, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” No matter whether this question was designed for John’s benefit or whether it was designed for the benefit of John’s disciples, Jesus’ answer to this question benefits everyone— including us!
Jesus’ answer to this question focuses on what the Lord, the God of Israel, said the Messiah would do when He came into this world. Jesus said, “Go back and report to John what you see and hear: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”
These words are not only a clear and direct fulfillment of what the Lord revealed through His prophets concerning the work of the Messiah, but these words are a clear and powerful statement concerning the work that needed to be done, the work that only the Messiah could do! Think about it. The work of the Messiah centered on restoration. The Messiah restores a sinner’s relationship with God. The Messiah restores people from the damaging effects of sin.
Unfortunately, this was not the work that many of the Israelites were expecting the Messiah to do, was it. Many of the Israelites might have said, “The Messiah I believe in will deliver us from the Romans and restore the nation of Israel to her former glory!” In fact, even Jesus’ own disciples were expecting the Messiah to establish His kingdom right here on this earth! (See Acts 1:6)
What about people today? We are just two weeks away from celebrating Christmas. As you are talking to people about Jesus and as you are listening to people what are they expecting when it comes to Jesus, the Child of Bethlehem? Are they expecting Someone who will show us how to stand up to both our religious leaders as well as our political leaders? Are they expecting Someone who will serve as an example of how we can embrace everyone and judge no one? Are they expecting Someone who will bring us many earthly blessings?
What are our expectations of Jesus, the Child of Bethlehem? As Christians our expectations concerning the Messiah need to line up with what Isaiah proclaimed in our Old Testament lesson for today (Isaiah 35:1-10) as well as what Jesus actually did while He was here on this earth. We expect Jesus to be the Messiah He is— the Messiah who can and does open our eyes so that we are no longer blinded by sin; the Messiah who can and does save us because we are helpless to save ourselves; the Messiah who can and does cleanse us from the leprosy of sin; the Messiah who can and does open our ears so that we can hear the God of heaven speak to us through His holy Word; the Messiah who can and does raise us up from being spiritually dead in our transgression and sins to being spiritually alive in Christ Jesus, our Lord. So when you and I say, Come, Lord Jesus— as Messiah we reveal that we are expecting Jesus to do the work that only the Lord’s Messiah can do!
The second portion of our text for today gives us yet another perspective on the words, Come, Lord Jesus— as Messiah! We expect that as the Messiah Jesus will proclaim the message that needed to be proclaimed. Jesus shines a spotlight on the message that needs to be proclaimed when He says to the crowd, “What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No those who wear fine clothes are in king’s palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’”
If the people had gone out into the desert to hear a weak message that changed with every shift in the wind of popular opinion, they would have been disappointed— and rightly so! If they expected to see a darling of the media, someone who could easily capture people’s attention with his charismatic style and fancy clothes, they would have been disappointed— and rightly so! John the Baptist proclaimed the message that needed to be proclaimed— a powerful message of Law: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2). No one can deny that John’s call to repentance did not change depending on who he was talking to. In fact, the reason John was sitting in prison was because he boldly called out King Herod for the sin of marrying his brother’s wife! (See Matthew 14:3-5) John’s message, however, also contained the sweet message of the Gospel, didn’t it. “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30). The simple fact that John sent his disciples to Jesus with the question, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” is evidence of John’s focus on the Gospel.
All of this leads us to two answers to the question, “As the Messiah what message do we expect Jesus to proclaim?” First, by openly identifying John the Baptist as the prophet who was sent to prepare God’s people for the coming of the Messiah, Jesus was openly putting His “stamp of approval” on the message John was proclaiming— both Law and Gospel! Secondly, Scripture very clearly tells us that after Herod had essentially silenced John’s message by putting him in prison— Jesus picked up precisely where John left off! Matthew tells us, “When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee…From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near’” (Matthew 4:12, 17).
Why? Why was it necessary for John to proclaim both Law and Gospel? Why was it necessary for Jesus the Messiah to proclaim both Law and Gospel? For the same reasons it is necessary for us to hear and proclaim both Law and Gospel! An easy way to answer that question is to think of the acronym: S.O.S. When S.O.S. is applied to the Law it means: Shows Our Sins. God’s holy Law acts like a mirror which reveals to us how often and how far we “fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Everyone needs to hear the message of God’s Law so that everyone realizes that on their own they can not be saved! When S.O.S. is applied to the Gospel it means: Shows Our Savior. The sweet message of the Gospel of Jesus the Christ, Jesus the Messiah, proclaims to us that “we are all justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). (Pointing to the cross) Every person who has repented of their sins needs to hear the message of God’s Gospel so that they have the assurance of the forgiveness of their sins, eternal life and salvation. Therefore as you and I say Come, Lord Jesus— as Messiah! we are not only asking Jesus to proclaim to us the message of both His Law and His Gospel, but we are also asking the Lord Jesus to help us faithfully proclaim that very same message to others!
Our text for today then closes by reminding us of a truth that we all too often overlook. Look at verse eleven. Jesus says, “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” John was “greater” than everyone else because of the role that the Lord had given to him— to prepare God’s people for the coming of the Messiah. And yet, as “great” as John the Baptist was, John was executed before he could see the Messiah complete His work of “taking away the sins of the world.” This means that even the “least” person in the “kingdom of God,” even someone who is considered “insignificant” in the “kingdom of God,” even you and I are “greater” than John the Baptist! How can that be? With the eyes of faith we now have seen the Messiah complete the work that He came into this world to do. We have seen His perfect obedient life. We have seen His innocent suffering and death. (Pointing to the cross) We have seen His physical resurrection from the dead. We have the complete message to share with others! There is no need for us to “fill in the blanks.” There is no need for us to embellish what we share with others. Our Messiah has given us the status of being “greater” than even John the Baptist. That is what gives us the confidence of boldly proclaiming to others the true meaning of Christmas: The Messiah has come! The Messiah has secured your eternal salvation! Trust in what the Messiah has done for you!
May God grant that we will all rejoice in the work that the Messiah has completed. May God grant that we will all rejoice in the message that the Messiah has given to us to both treasure and to share!
To God be the glory!