Matthew 11:2-11/Advent3-07 - LATE
Well, the readings for the Third Sunday in Advent all have something in common. They all talk about preachers.
Isaiah the preacher.
St. Paul who calls himself and all preachers "stewards of the mysteries of God."
And St. John the Baptist, the Greatest Preacher and Prophet in the kingdom of God up to the time of Jesus!
Preachers. They are a gift of God to men.
Handel made sure we remember that. Go listen to that portion of his Messiah where he treats Isaiah 53. I think it’s in the third part. The chorus begins: “The Lord gave the Word,” and the concluding phrase is: “Great was the company of the preachers.”
And while Handel may interweave all sorts of different notes to achieve his harmony, we heard last Sunday from St. Paul that harmony comes when the preaching is the same; when the voices are together as one, proclaiming the glory of the Lord!
That is a beautiful thing. No matter where Handel’s Messiah is performed, people come from all over to hear it.
Sadly, the harmonious preaching of the singular Gospel – that Jesus Christ has finished our salvation on the cross, and that He delivers it – freely, just as parents do their gifts on Christmas Day – The preaching that Christ is giving out His heaven here in Water, Words and Bread and Wine, calling sins forgiven – That often does not attract so many.
In the readings today, we have two questions: one for me, the preacher, and one for you, the hearers. Both come from Jesus.
These two questions are tied together by what our Lord tells St. John. That way, we — me as the preacher and you as the people of God — will all learn the true comfort that Isaiah preaches: the comfort of Christ Jesus.
Isaiah, called by the Lord to preach, hears the Lord's voice: "Cry out!" And Isaiah says, "What shall I cry out?"
That's funny. I was just asking myself that this past week as I do every week: What am I gonna preach this Sunday? And I know what you'll say: "Pastor, you'll preach about Jesus again."
I suppose. But I do that every week. If I preach faithfully every week, how come we don't have as many people as Handel draws, as the Christmas tree choirs this season draws, or the high-end plays and performances that pass for worship services?
How come people stop coming to church or only come rarely? Why don't more people want to come to Bible Study and learn God's Word deeply?
St. John, who preached that Jesus was the coming Judge with his ax in one hand and his winnowing fork in the other hand, has to ask, "Are you the coming One? Do we wait for another?"
Can it be that St. John doubts what Jesus is doing?
Why shouldn’t he? WE do!
What should I preach about? The Lord answers Isaiah and says: "Cry out: All flesh is like grass! The grass withers and the flowers fade but the word of the Lord endures forever!"
Good news! I'm off the hook. Sort of. My job is to preach God's Word. It's the Lord's job to do something with it. Whether there is one person sitting in front of this pulpit or a thousand: I'm just supposed to preach God's Word.
The Word of the Law that says we wither and die because of our sins. The Gospel that God's Word never passes away and therefore it rescues us from all our sins.
The Law, that says we deserve to be punished for our sins. The Good News that Jesus has paid the price for our sins by His death and therefore, like Israel, we have received double for our sins!
Good News! I guess the sermon is about Jesus after all!
That's my question: "What shall I preach?" Answer: preach Jesus the Savior who rescues us from sin and death.
What about YOUR question? Jesus asks the crowds about John: "What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken in the wind? A man dressed in fancy clothes? A prophet? More than a prophet! The greatest prophet up to this point!"
So here's your question: What did you come out to see? Why are you in church today? Surely you didn’t come to see a pastor in fine clothes and vestments? Did you come hoping to hear something that will make you FEEL good or better about yourself? Maybe you’re looking for an answer, for help; something to make your cross easier, or the burden lighter.
My repentance as your pastor is wanting to preach something other than God's Word. Your repentance is wanting to hear something other than God's Word!
You are here, dear children of God, to become greater prophets even than John the Baptist!
John knew that Jesus was the Lamb of God. But He didn't know HOW He would do that. John lost his head before the death and resurrection of Jesus. That’s why YOU are greater than John the Baptist. Because you get to hear about the Lamb's sacrifice for your sins and His triumph over death on the Third Day. You are greater than the Baptist because you have not only the Old Testament but the New Testament. You have not only God's promises but the fulfillment of His promises in Jesus. All that John pointed to, you have been given in Christ Himself. THAT is why you have come and what you have come to receive.
John lost his head before Jesus put this meal in place; Christ’s Body and Blood in bread and wine. But YOU’VE GOT your head still on your shoulders. That must mean you’re greater than John. YOU get to EAT and DRINK the Flesh and Blood of Jesus, and I get to put these words into your head about them: “Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood HAS eternal life, and I WILL raise him up at the last day!”
When your preacher doubts and wonders what to preach; and when you doubt and wonder why you should come; where are we directed? Where did Jesus direct John?
He told the messengers John sent to report what Christ was doing, didn’t He? Which was just as had been promised.
So, this is what you say – to me – to you – to your family, friends and neighbors: Look what Christ is doing, which is even as He promised!
Direct yourself and others, direct ME, to the Word of God. The Lord gave the Word! Great was the company of the preachers!
Point to the Word made flesh, the Lamb of God, Who died to rescue and to comfort sinners.
Preach, confess, teach to your children, the message of our Savior on the cross, Jesus' empty tomb, the Son of God ascended now and seated at the right hand of the Father. Then lead the way to the places where the crucified and living Lord continues making preachers!
Orphans are given a father in Holy Baptism. Sinners are absolved. Those hungering and thirsting for righteousness are fed with Jesus body and blood! The poor have the Gospel preached to them!
Brothers and sisters in Christ, pay attention to that! Look around and see and hear the works of God! Hear the comfort and the consolation of the Scriptures which declare that Christ has taken all your sins away and now will work all things for good to you.
John needed to hear that once. I need to hear it, daily and much. You need to hear it, when the bars make Gaudete Sunday – Rejoice Sunday – or any other Day God means for your rejoicing – look the way it looked for John – when he was looking through a prison window.
I will bring the same message Jesus sent to John: “Look what Christ is doing in this place, amidst angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven – including John!”
You, bring that same message to others – even to your pastor, if you see him tempted to doubt and despair.
You can do that. For he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is
greater than John the Baptist. In Jesus’ Name, Amen