Todd A. Peperkorn, STM
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Advent IIIa (December 15, 2013)
TITLE: “The Jesus We Need”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for this morning is from Matthew chapter eleven, with focus on the words of Jesus, ““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 good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”” (Matthew 11:4–6 ESV)
John sends his disciples to Jesus with a question: Are you the Coming One, or do we look for another? Now if ever there is an Advent question, this is it. All of our texts today revolve around the theme of the preaching of the Gospel, and John’s disciples really get at the heart of the matter. It is as if they are saying, Is this it? Are you the Messiah or not? Should we follow John or do we follow you? I think you can almost sense some tension in their question. Have we been wrong for following John the Baptist all these years? Perhaps John is concerned that when he is martyred, some of his disciples won’t follow Jesus, but will rather bask in John’s memory. Perhaps they would turn him into a folk hero, and they wouldn’t get the connection between John’s preaching of repentance and Jesus’ work of forgiving sins.
Really, though, the question of the disciples to Jesus is our question as well. In one way or another, we are all searching for answers. We all have questions about life and about our identity as God’s children. These questions draw us into the question of Jesus. Who is He? Why did He come? What does that have to do with my life here and now? Those are good questions, and there ones that have to be asked, this time of you perhaps more than any other time right here in church.
Now Jesus knows all about John’s disciples’ fears and questions. Notice what Jesus does. He doesn’t answer their question outright. They ask, are you the Coming One, or do we seek another? Jesus doesn’t just answer, yes, I am the Coming One. No, instead, Jesus points them to two things. He says, go back and tell John what you hear and see. Jesus then gives a list of the works He’s performed in their presence: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. Notice how Jesus in this list moves from the least important to the most important. The blind see and the lame walk. These things didn’t make you unclean, but they incapacitated you. The lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear. These things not only incapacitate you, but they make you unclean, so that you cannot hear the Word of God. The dead are raised and the poor have the gospel preached to them. Jesus raised up the dead, but even more important than that, Jesus gives the good news of salvation and forgiveness to the poor. Or to put it another way, for the ministry of Jesus, preaching the forgiveness of sins was the most important thing He did, and continues to do today.
But that is offensive, or literally, that is a scandal. How can this be, you might ask? How can Jesus forgiving sins be scandalous? And what does that have to do with Advent? It has everything to do with Advent, because this question gets at the heart of why Jesus came to earth in the first place. In Jesus’ ministry, many people were offended when Jesus said that He had to suffer and die on the cross for the sins of the world. Many quit following Him, and looked elsewhere for a more user-friendly Messiah. The tried to make Him a king; they wanted Him to rebel against Rome; they followed after Him because He fed their stomachs. But when He sought to forgive their sins, when He went to preach the Gospel to them, well, they had better things to do than that. As Paul said, preaching of the cross is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks.
How different is this message what we seek after by nature! Jesus gives us what we need, not what we want. That was His message to John. John was wondering if Jesus would come down and get him out of prison. But that was not Jesus’ purpose; He had a higher purpose for John and for you. You may want Jesus to help you with your money problems, or family problems, or conflicts with co-workers, stress about life, or school, or whatever may be ailing you. Now to be sure, Jesus cares about all these things. And He will help you with whatever the problems of your life are.
His sights are much, much higher than that, though. Jesus did not come to earth to make you feel better, or happier, or even to make your life easier. He came to earth to raise you from the dead. He came to earth to heal the sickness of sin, which is a part of you even now. He came to preach to you that your sins are forgiven. He comes to give you Himself. He comes to lift you up out of your mess of a life, and to make you sons and daughters of heaven!
So what do you hear and see? Do you hear and see a Jesus you want? Do you see a Jesus that makes you happy, that makes you feel good about your self and about who you are. Do you see a Jesus that says it’s okay to sin and revel in wickedness? Or do you hear and see the Jesus you need? Do you hear the Jesus that says that sin cannot be brushed over? Do you see the Jesus born in a manger, dead on a cross, gone from the empty tomb? Do you hear the Jesus that forgives your sin, and who gives you Himself week after week?
That is why Jesus says to John’s disciples, blessed is he who is not offended because of Me. Jesus doesn’t give you what you want. He gives you what you need, and that is the far greater thing. He gives you His very body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. What looks on the outside like almost nothing, is in fact the thing you need the most in the whole world. Blessed are you who are not offended that Jesus uses poor preachers, words, bread and wine, water on the head of little Evangeline this morning, to bring you the greatest gift of the season. Blessed are you when you are not offended because you hear and receive the Christ, the Messiah of God.
So rejoice and be glad! Jesus has come, He is coming, and He comes even now to give you what you truly need. That is the message of Advent. He comes to give you Himself for life, for salvation, for the forgiveness of your sins. Come to the table, for there your sins are washed away.
In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all human understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith, unto life everlasting. Amen.