Tuesday, December 13, 2016
"What Do You See?" Sermon: Mattehw 11:2-11
“What Do You See?”
December 11, 2016 Second Reformed Church
Where do we go when what we see is not what we expect or desire?
The day after John the Baptist baptized Jesus, we read:
“The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, “After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.” I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.’ And John bore witness: ‘I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God’” (John 1:29-34, ESV).
John declares and witnesses that at Jesus’ baptism, God revealed to him that Jesus is God the Son, the Lamb of God, the Messiah – the Savior, Whom God promised to send to bear the sins of His people and save them from the Wrath of God. Jesus is the One all of the prophets prophesied would come.
Time passes, and King Herod takes his brother’s wife to be his. And John the Baptist rebukes him and tells him that he is living in sin and to separate from her. But Herodias, his brother’s wife, has pull over Herod, and she has Herod put John in prison.
John spends some time in prison, and he begins to have questions about Jesus: “Why isn’t Jesus setting up His Kingdom? Why isn’t Jesus overthrowing the Romans? Why am I in prison?” This is not where he expected to be after the announcement of the coming of the Savior.
We look around the world and wonder why God, Who is Sovereign over all of His Creation, would allow the things He does.
Why are good people and good organizations shut down? Why don’t we see greater impact on the world as the Church acts? Why is Jesus waiting so long to return?
John is waiting in his cell, waiting for judgement, and wondering what he is not understanding – if, somehow, he is wrong.
And we see, our surety and comfort are found in the Word of God.
“Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’ And Jesus answered them, ‘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’
John sends Jesus a direct message via his disciples: “Are You the Savior, or was I wrong? Did I, somehow misinterpret everything – including the Voice of God from the heavens?”
And Jesus says, “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.”
What is Jesus saying? How does John hear this?
John hears Jesus quoting some of the prophecies of Isaiah when Isaiah speaks of the coming of the Day of the Lord – the coming of the Promised Savior:
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;” (Isaiah 61:1, ESV).
“In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see” (Isaiah 29:18, ESV).
“Your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy! For your dew is a dew of light, and the earth will give birth to the dead” (Isaiah 26:19, ESV).
Jesus tells John, “Find your surety and your comfort in the Word of God. What does God say about the Savior? Look and see everything God says about the Savior! Am I not doing the works My Father sent me to do?”
John understands from this that he has an incomplete understanding of the work of the Savior and the timeline that would occur. Jesus tells him to look at the whole of the testimony of God: Jesus is doing the things He was sent to do among the people. And we know, God also said He would die and rise and ascend and return.
And so He gently rebukes John, telling Him not to be ashamed of the way God chooses to carry out His plan.
God promised Eve that One of her children would be the Savior, and some 4,000 years later, God the Son came to earth in the person of Jesus – the Son of Eve.
And Jesus did all the works that God has said He would do, and then He was put to death for the sins of all we who believe – throughout time and space – and He rose from the dead and ascended back to His throne.
And now it is some two thousand years later. And people laugh at us and ask, “Well, where is He? Jesus lived and died – or maybe He didn’t – maybe it’s all a myth. Nothing has changed and nothing will ever change; He’s not coming back.”
We have our surety and our comfort in the Word of God.
“This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, ‘Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.’ For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
“But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:1-9, ESV).
Brothers and sisters, we are not wrong about Jesus, we just don’t take the whole of the Word of God into consideration, and even when we do, our minds are too small to know and understand everything God has planned and how it will all work out – but it will!
John was right to proclaim Jesus God the Son and Savior, because He is. He is fulfilling all the Scriptures about Himself, and He will come back for us, having prepared mansions and rooms for us in the Father’s house and in His Kingdom. But, according to His perfect plan and in His time.
John initially thought that the Savior would come and do everything all at once, but that is not the better plan that God has. And John was thrown in prison and beheaded – and now he is in glory awaiting the resurrection of the body.
So let us keep going back to the Word of God, seeing what God has said, seeing that all that God has said is sure and will come to pass in His perfect time, and let us be comforted in the love of God Who has saved us through His Son. For, in the midst of trouble, all is well.
The disciples of John leave with Jesus’ message, and Jesus turns to the crowd listening to Him – and we see, we gather with expectations.
“As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you”’
Jesus asks the crowd why they went to the wilderness to see John. Jesus asks the crowd to remember what their expectation was. – and Jesus is setting them up to draw a conclusion that they have missed:
“Did you go into the wilderness to see John because you believed he was a weak, pushover that you could discredit? Did you go into the wilderness to see some kind of weirdo or freak? No.
“Did you go into the wilderness to see someone who was well-dressed and well-educated – someone from the houses of the wealthy and powerful? Did you go into the wilderness looking for a TV evangelist? No.
“You went into the wilderness because you heard and believed that John is a prophet. There has not been a prophet in Israel for over four hundred years. You are oppressed by the Roman government. You don’t trust the religious leaders. And when you heard that there was a prophet, you went because you wanted to hear him – you wanted God to intervene.
“And John is a prophet – you are right. But you missed that fact that he is more than a prophet – you missed who he is as a prophet. John is the fulfillment of the prophesy of Isaiah, as he says, ‘A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken’ (Isaiah 40:3-5, ESV).
“John is the prophet that God promised to send to prepare the way for and to announce the coming of the Savior that God promised our first parents in the Garden. John is the prophet whom God sent to announce the dwelling of God with men for their salvation.
“John is the prophet who prepared the way for Me. I am God the Son and Savior.”
They went to see a prophet, because there hadn’t been a prophet – there hadn’t been a new word from God in over 400 years. They expected to see a prophet. They expected to hear from God. What they saw was the prophet who announced the coming of the Promised Savior – He Who is God and Man.
As we come into the sanctuary for worship, do we expect to meet with and hear from God? We should. This is God’s house. We have come together to worship God and to hear His Word. We have come to grow in our faith and our obedience. We have come to grow in holiness and become more like His Son. We have come to become equipped to be God’s people – God’s witnesses to the world.
Finally, we see that we have been blessed with a greater revelation than John’s.
“Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
Jesus tells the crowd that – up to the birth of the John the Baptist – there has never been anyone greater than him born of woman. If we look throughout history: Adam, David, Solomon, Joshua, Caleb, Moses – all of them are inferior to John the Baptist.
Why? In what way?
John is greater than all those who were born before him in this sense: prior to John the Baptist, every believer and prophet pointed towards the coming of the Savior, whereas John the Baptist had the privileged to reveal the Savior to the world.
Of all the people and all the prophets throughout history, it is John who said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sins of the world.” And that is the way in which he is greater than every other. All pointed towards the Savior – he revealed Who the Savior is.
So John is the greatest person born – up to that point – because he was chosen to reveal Who the Savior is.
But then, Jesus says that the least person in the Kingdom is greater than John the Baptist. What’s going on? Did Jesus change His mind?
No, what Jesus is talking about is who has the fuller or greater revelation – the greater knowledge of God and His plans.
In the same way that John the Baptist was greater than everyone before him, because he got to reveal Who Jesus the Son and Savior is, anyone who is in the Kingdom is greater than John, because we know the rest of the salvation plan – John was beheaded and did not know that Jesus would be crucified, dead, buried, and physically raised from the dead, and ascended back to His throne – from which He will return at the end of the age.
So, you and I are greater than John the Baptist – as believers – because we have the full revelation of the history of Jesus and the salvation He has secured for us. We have a greater revelation – in the sense of fuller or more complete revelation – than John did.
We are blessed in ways that John the Baptist and people up until recent times – and even around the world today – could not imagine: we have the Very Word of God collected together in a book that we can easily, inexpensively, and legally own.
We can gather together as Christians to encourage and help each other as we meet with God in Trinity in our worship services.
And we know – because we have in print – the whole plan of God, to read and study and rejoice in.
So, as we continue through this Advent season, let us look to the Word of God for our comfort and surety.
Let us gather together expecting to meet with God, desiring to receive all that He has said, and to be obedient.
And let us be thankful that we live in a time and place in history when we are so greatly blessed to have the Word of God and salvation, which we are called to share with all of Creation
now and always.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, You Who cannot lie, we thank You for Your promises – especially the coming of Your Son, our Savior. We thank You that we have Your Word that we can read, that we can join together in worship and communion with You, and for the gift of living at a time when so much has been revealed, and we have been gifted with the call to evangelize the Creation. Prepare us and enable us that we would be pleasing to You in these things. For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.