Sermon for the Third Sunday in Advent
December 16, 2018
The One You’re Looking for
Every one of us has been faced with that question: Is Jesus for real? Is He really what I have been taught and what I confess? Is there some truth to those other religions or is every religion just a hoax, a pacifier for the masses? Sometimes those questions and others similar arise. Especially when difficulties arise or somebody shares their miracle-like experience that leaves us wondering, “Why not me?” Could it be that God truly took flesh and became like us in the man Jesus that we could be like Him? Then, of course, comes the follow on questions, “Why must I suffer so? Why do my finances always have to be such a mess? How come I can’t ever have a good relationship? Why is it that every time I seem to get better, that some other ailment or disease comes along? Why is it that I never seem to do the things I know I should and yet still do those things that I don’t want? Why am I troubled so by the things that I have done and thought?” There are a myriad of questions and they all can be answered, but for now, the answers can only be provided in faith. We know that Jesus is the answer but if He would only make all the troubles go away and give me the fullness of His promise now, then it would be so much easier and I wouldn’t have to suffer as I do.
This struggle with faith is especially difficult because unlike the empty fridge, we can’t just fill it. We must rely on the Holy Spirit to fill us with it but that doesn’t mean that we just lay around and wait for it to happen. Just as the refrigerator is filled by means, so too is the heart filled with faith by means, those being the Word and Sacraments. We come to Jesus where He is to be found and we receive from Him what is truly best for us: faith that trusts all that we have been taught and all that we confess, that Jesus knows our every trouble and doubt and understands our weaknesses and because of them and their root cause of sin, He died. And just as He raised the widow’s son just prior to this scene with John, He too rose from death in victory over our sin, our death, and the devil that plagues us in this life but can do us no harm.
It is the raising of the widow’s son along with the teachings and other miracles of Jesus that were reported to John. He knew the things that Jesus was doing as they came to him as breaking news. He didn’t get to see them for himself but he heard of them from others. So it seems that John asks the same kind of questions that we ask. “If, Jesus is the one, then why am I still imprisoned?” It seems logical to us that he would ask such a question but I would say that John was no theologian of glory. To him who lived a harsh life in the wilderness in rough clothing feeding upon locusts and wild honey, being in prison was no hardship. He who pointed out the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, didn’t doubt that Jesus was anointed by God. He saw the Spirit for himself descend and rest upon Jesus, and heard the voice of the Father boom from the heavens of how pleased He was with His Son. He wasn’t questioning whether Jesus was for real. He knew it was no charade and that there was not to be another. It was his entire life’s mission to hold out his hand pointing to the One that was coming after him, whose sandals he was not worthy to untie. He was fulfilling his calling once again as Jesus must increase and he must decrease. He sends his disciples to Jesus that they may hear from Him the answer to the question that was plaguing them all: “Is Jesus really the one because things are not happening the way that would be expected?”
If it seems that Jesus doesn’t quite fit the mold of what was expected or even what is expected today, what is it that was and is expected? Is Jesus the one that was to come to be King? Savior? Lord? If He was to be king, then it is His clemency that would be sought. Herod would be deposed and Rome evicted. But His kingdom would not be of this world. His kingdom would not be exercised with coercion and force but would be extended by the proclamation of Good news and exercised through faith. It is a kingdom like no other seen on earth. His rule and reign would be over the hearts of men and it would extend beyond all human borders into every land and among every language. While His rule would free some from prison, such as we would read of in the early ministries of Peter and Paul, the imprisonment and death of many saints including John, would serve His will and the spread of His kingdom even more. Why, in the exercise of His kingly reign, He allows His subjects to suffer isn’t always pleasing to us and confounds our reason, but it does require us to cling in faith and to turn to his words of promise in the Scriptures for assurance and comfort in the midst of these struggles. It can be hard for us to accept that we shall suffer in this life, but the promise of a resurrection that is greater than the widow’s son, one that is like that of Jesus’ own provides a hope that this kingdom we cling to by faith now will be the only reality that we shall see and know in the resurrection. Yes Jesus is the King that was to come.
But is He the Savior foretold by ancient seers? Is He really the one come to save us from every oppressor? From Satan who prowls around looking for any opportunity to devour us? From a conscience plagued by guilt over the evil that we have committed against others, against God, and against nature? Is He truly the one that has come to pull us from the cesspool of evil and set us upon the mountain of God? Is He truly the one that can save us and all mankind from sin and its every consequence? And can He even save us from our doubts? We can see that Jesus answers with miracles and pleasant Gospel news. He did save some from certain diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, even if He didn’t save John from Herod’s verdict. What John would not see, but perhaps his disciples would, is the salvation wrought for all mankind in the suffering to be endured by Jesus. For in His Passion and by His death, He does save us from all the wrath of God against sin. He bears the punishment. He carries the burden. In being the Lamb, He suffers and dies so that we would be saved from the fires of hell. Yes, Jesus is the Savior that was to come.
But is He the Lord? Is He truly God come to dwell among men? Is He God over all for He looks and acts like any ordinary man? There is nothing about Him physically that would cause us to admire Him. He is not especially beautiful or strong or rich or of elite status. If He is Lord it is hidden exceedingly well. His divinity may not have been seen as man would expect but it was not hidden. He directs John’s disciples and us to the very things that He was doing and to the things that He was teaching. His authority extended over every affliction known to man and over every consequence of sin in creation from wind and wave to devil and temptation, to leprosy and even death. His very deeds and words declare Him to be Lord. Yes, Jesus is the Lord who promised to come to His people and rescue them.
To be a member of His kingdom, to have Jesus as Savior, and to confess Him as Lord may not elevate any of us above the turmoil of this life or the suffering that happens in time; but by the faith that He is King, Savior, and Lord it does make us greater than even the greatest among those without faith, for it seals us for that day of resurrection when our citizenship is no longer by faith but by sight and all the other senses.
In the name of Jesus, our Lord and Savior and King. Amen.