3rd Sunday in Advent
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 11:2-11 Sermon
December 16, 2007
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
8 "Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates"
1 "Hark A Thrilling Voice Is Sounding"
328 "Hail To The Lord's Anointed"
38 "Lo How A Rose E'er Blooming"
SOLVING THE MYSTERY
TEXT (vs. 2-5): “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?’ Jesus replied, ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 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.’”
People love mysteries and figuring things out, and I happen to be one of those people. I like watching programs on T.V. like CSI, and NCIS, and Criminal Minds, and Numbers. These aren’t the type of programs where you can sit in front of the T.V. and vegetate while watching with your brain stuck in neutral. In order to get the most out of them, you have to pay close attention to what’s happening. You have to watch the characters and follow the clues; and if you’ve done a good job of this, you can try to come to the same conclusion that the characters on the program have.
The “Who Done It” [sic] situations are nothing new either. In bygone years, there was the radio program entitled “I Love a Mystery.” Then there were shows like “Perry Mason” and “Dragnet” and “Murder She Wrote” along with a whole long line of shows down through the years. The public has always enjoyed this type of thing; otherwise they wouldn’t make them in the first place.
As a boy, I liked to read the Hardy Boys books, and I’m fairly certain that I read them all, several times over. In adulthood, I’ve read Agatha Christie’s novels and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” books. They’re a lot of fun to read; but more than that, they’re good mental exercise as well.
Many people make a living at figuring things out. If we take the crime/drama T.V. programs as an example, we know that there are criminalists who are experts in many fields, from fingerprints to DNA. And then there’s the whole field of arson investigation. They all play a part in figuring out crimes and apprehending criminals. And from what we can witness on T.V., this whole process is very high tech, a lot more so than even a generation ago. And the public finds all of this very entertaining.
Sometimes on these T.V. shows, the investigators have no idea as to who committed the crime, so they have to make this determination from the evidence they have collected. But then there are other times when they know very good and well who did it, and their job is to prove it. They have to gather evidence that will prove who the person is, beyond any reasonable doubt. This is what they need in order to take the case to a court of law. Regardless of the circumstances however, the mystery has to be solved, and indisputable proof has to be established.
As we look at our Gospel reading for today, we have two main characters in our story, viz. John the Baptist and Jesus. John has been put into jail because he dared to confront King Herod. And that’s where he is as our story for today unfolds. It’s time for us to examine some of the evidence we have before us.
Jesus and John the Baptist were cousins; well second cousins actually. Mary, Jesus’ mother and Elizabeth, John’s mother were first cousins. Their relationship was probably pretty close, because Mary went to see Elizabeth when she found out she was pregnant with Jesus. Elizabeth was a ways along in her pregnancy with John, because when Mary announced her pregnancy, John had a unique reaction in Elizabeth’s womb, described as “leaping for joy.”
Even then, John knew who Jesus was—and that’s quite an accomplishment for someone who had yet to be born. But we know that God does some very miraculous things, even at that tender age. Even today we know that an infant can have faith and know Jesus as their Saviour, otherwise we wouldn’t baptize them, and the command to baptize would be robbed of its meaning.
Mary and Elizabeth’s relationship had to have been close. A woman doesn’t share the intimate details of their pregnancy with someone who isn’t close. Nor would Mary have wanted to share her exciting news about giving birth to the promised Saviour. Both women were experiencing miracle births—Elizabeth being pregnant in her old age, and Mary being impregnated by the Holy Spirit. Their interaction with each other shows just how deep their relationship was.
It would be pretty safe to assume from this point that Jesus and John would have known each other from childhood. They were only months apart in age, so they would have grown up together. They would have played together as children, and they would have received the same schooling and religious instruction. Jesus and John would have known each other intimately as well.
Now if we fast-forward a bit into John’s ministry, we find him baptizing people in the Jordan River. Jesus goes to John to be baptized. Listen to the account of this recorded by Matthew in chapter 3 verses 13-17: “Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptised by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, ‘I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?’ Jesus replied, ‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptised, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said: ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’”
I think we have some pretty compelling evidence that John knew exactly who Jesus was; and furthermore, I believe that John knew their particular places in prophecy.
That’s what makes the question John asks seem so out of place. John is in prison like I mentioned earlier. Some of his disciples were visiting him. Verses 2 and 3 of our text says: “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?’”
If John knew Jesus so well, why in the world would he have sent his disciples to Jesus with that question? Considering everything, especially that incident at the Jordan River, could there have been any doubt in his mind as to who Jesus was?
As we unravel this mystery a bit more, there are perhaps two possible conclusions we can make. Either John was beginning to doubt Jesus, or John wanted his disciples to hear the answer from Jesus himself so they would have no doubts. Unfortunately the Bible doesn’t give us a direct answer to this question, and theologians have attempted to deal with it over the years.
If we look at the evidence, it would seem unlikely that John would be questioning Jesus’ authenticity. But we also need to remember that John was a human being, and as such he would have been subjected to doubts like anybody else would be. People like you and me still have doubts sometimes even though we know better. That’s one of the tricks that the devil uses on us, and John would have been no different in that regard.
Maybe it was that seed of doubt that prompted John to send his disciples to Jesus with that question. After all, John wanted his disciples to become Jesus’ disciples, and he might have wanted to be absolutely certain that he was doing the right thing. He wanted all doubt erased from his mind, so he could commend his disciples to Jesus with a clear conscience. That’s one explanation anyway.
I tend to favor the other explanation, and that is that John’s disciples were the ones that needed the solid evidence, the proof that Jesus was the one who was the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament. Now I’m not saying that John didn’t perhaps have the odd doubt or two floating around in his mind, but I don’t think that was the main motive behind sending his disciples to Jesus with that question.
I believe that John wanted to make sure that his disciples were as dedicated to Jesus as they were to him in his ministry. They needed to know without a doubt that Jesus was the one whose way they were helping John to prepare.
Jesus’ answer is a good indication of this motive. Verses 4-6 of our text state the following: “Jesus replied, ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 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.’”
Jesus does not reply with just a “yes” or “no” answer. He knew these disciples were good solid people with a good working Biblical knowledge. They would have known the prophecies of Scripture concerning the promised Messiah, the Saviour of the world. They knew that he would be true God who had come into the world in the flesh.
Jesus pointed them to the fact that he did things only God could do. He healed people of their diseases. He even raised the dead back to life. And most importantly, he preached the good news of the Gospel to those in need of the healing of God’s forgiveness.
John’s disciples were indeed men of faith who knew their Scriptures. All of the prophesies concerning the coming Messiah were almost like clues in a mystery. All of the pieces fit together and pointed directly to Christ. And when they finally met him and witnessed his work, there could be no doubt in their mind that they were in the presence of the “real deal.” The many years of prophecy had been fulfilled.
As we study the Bible, we can only come to the same conclusion. Everything in the Bible points to Jesus Christ. And by doing so, we are pointed to him as well.
By nature, we are doubters. We have the need to have things proven to us. We don’t like to take things at face value. We need to be certain.
Sin is the thing that causes our doubts. Doubt is the direct enemy of faith. We want to believe that our sins are forgiven through faith in Jesus Christ. But are they really? We want to believe that we are saved by grace through faith apart from any good works. But is that really true? We want to believe that we will inherit eternal life in heaven when we die. Will we really, or does death just end everything?
One thing we do know, is that Jesus forgives that sin of doubt in our lives. He came to this earth to take that sin away from us. He took that sin along with every other sin we have committed and nailed it to the cross so that we would be free from all of them.
Jesus has proven himself to the promised Saviour of all mankind. He proved that to the disciples of John the Baptist, and he has proven that to us as well. Jesus is who he said he was, and we can believe that without a doubt.
Yes, we do like mysteries. We like to put together clues and solve things. We like to find solutions to problems. This is human nature.
We can be thankful that God has spoken to us in his Word. In the Bible, we find the answers that trouble our souls. We find the solution to our problems. We find assurance for all our doubts.
This happens, because in the Bible, we find God speaking directly to us. And most importantly, we find Jesus. God the Holy Spirit works that mystery of faith in our hearts so we can accept what he tells us, and therefore we can accept Jesus as our Saviour.
As we prepare to receive him as our new-born King, may this mystery of the Word made flesh assure us of the indescribable love our God has for each of us, his children on earth. That is a mystery we all can appreciate.