Sermons, Uncategorized

Hidden from the Wise, Revealed to Little Children

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At that time Jesus declared, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was Your gracious will. All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him. Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:25-30).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

When our grandson, Abbott, was quite a bit smaller—about two years old—Aimee and I would take him along on our walks through Dunham Park. On one occasion, he insisted on bringing along one of his toys. Planning on walking at least three miles and knowing he would probably get tired before we got back, we tried to persuade him not to bring along the extra load. But it was to no avail. So, we took off, with Abbott carrying his special toy that he felt was so necessary to bring along. We figured he would have to learn the lesson for himself.

It took a while for our suspicions that his (in our view, unnecessary) burden would soon become too heavy for him to materialize. For someone with so much shorter legs, he really kept pace with us. For a while it even looked like he might make it the whole way. At about the 2 ½ mile mark though, he pulled up short. His chubby cheeks were bright red, sweat was glistening off his forehead. He said, “Papa, can you take this for me?” I said, “No, you wanted to bring it with us even when we told you that you should leave it home, so you’re going to have to carry it.”

But I could see that he was really hot and tired. So, I told him to hold on to the toy and I picked him up, put him on my shoulders, and we walked all the rest of the way back home. It wasn’t easy, but I enjoyed every minute, every step. I guess you could say at that point it was a labor of love. Abbott carried his load (the toy) and I carried him and his load. But it didn’t happen until Abbott realized his own limitations. He needed to find out that perhaps he wasn’t as big or strong as he thought he was, to admit he needed help, and then to turn to the one he know could help him.

It’s not a perfect analogy, but there is something like this going on in our text for today. Jesus is calling all who are weary and heavy-laden to come and follow Him. In reality, that is each of us. Each of us are weary and heavy-laden, weighed down the burden of our own sin and the consequences of living in a fallen world. We are all “little children” in being utterly dependent on God to save us.

But we don’t always recognize it. We aren’t always willing to admit our sin or our limitations. The world has taught us the importance of self-sufficiency, of carrying our own weight, handling our own problems. That strategy generally works best for us in the kingdoms of this world, but it doesn’t go far in the Kingdom of God. There, it is those who realize their own limitations, who realize their neediness, and the insufficiency of worldly wisdom, those with a childlike faith, who are the ones who find true strength and wisdom in Jesus Christ.   

Which brings us back to our Lord’s words: “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children.” Jesus makes this faithful confession after a sermon to the multitudes who have been carefully catechized by the Pharisees and their own sinful natures. They’ve been trained to believe that salvation works just like daily life. Since nothing comes from nothing, you’ve got to work hard to get to heaven, and every mistake is going to cost you dearly. Success isn’t guaranteed, and you may not be righteous like the Pharisees.

Remember, too, that there’s always more to do. The job of salvation isn’t ever done, so keep working hard. That’s why the Pharisees continually load down the people with demands. That’s why they instruct the people on how to walk, what to eat, even how much makes for a proper tithe of herbs. For the shakers, movers, and haves, the system seems to work. There are successful people who seem to be keeping the rules, and this is supposed to motivate everyone else to try. Some will try to be self-righteous. A lot more will give up and stop trying, because there’s only so much room at the top.

So much religion is run this way, sadly, even under the guise of Christianity. The Gospel is pictured as one more pursuit of excellence. If you’re wise enough and dedicated enough then you can develop a solid faith and a mature relationship with Jesus. You get out of it what you put into it. It makes sense—but it’s wrong.

This is why Jesus declares that salvation has been revealed to little children. The little children are the ones of any age who treat religion like a little kid: they are believers who are there to be given to. They are there to be fed with forgiveness. They’re there to be clothed in righteousness. They’re there to be taken places, namely the Kingdom of Heaven. They’re quite happy, like a child, to say to the Savior, “You’ve done all the work, and I’m happy to receive the benefits.”

That doesn’t work in daily life, but that’s the Gospel. You and I have eternal life because Jesus has done all the work by His life and death and resurrection. He’s lived the perfect life for you. He’s died on the cross for your sins. He’s risen from the dead in order to raise you up and give you everlasting life. He’s even ascended into heaven to prepare the way for your ascent into heaven. He doesn’t say, “Work hard, and if you do well enough I’ll save you.” No, instead He declares this: “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.”

  “Come to Me,” says Jesus, but He doesn’t mean “If you work hard enough to make your way to Me, I’ll reward you.” No, think instead of the parent who tenderly picks up a tired child while at the same time inviting him, “Come here!”, and you have a better idea of the Savior. He has rest for all those who are weary and heavy laden with sin and weakness and know it, and those who are weary and heavy laden with sin and weakness and don’t know it. The former understand that salvation isn’t about the rules of daily living; if it is, they’ll never get the work done. Thus, they’re happy to rest in the Savior. The latter don’t think that the burden is heavy, so they see no need for the Savior. Instead, they’ll seek out salvation by their own rules. But they’ll never make it.

“Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Note carefully again the words of Jesus. Not “take My yoke upon you and pull with Me,” but “take My yoke upon you and learn from Me.” Hear His Word that He has paid the price for your sins. Hear His Word that He gives you grace and faith and salvation and all good things. Jesus does not come like the ox-driver, whip in hand and demanding a good performance before He rewards you. No, He is gentle and lowly and humble in heart, so much so that He gently rode into Jerusalem, suffered most lowly, and humbly went to the cross in your place. Because He’s suffered God’s wrath for you, you have rest for your souls with God forever. His yoke is easy, and His burden is light, because the price for your salvation is already paid.

Daily living is enough of a challenge for you and me. Rather than seeking to make salvation work the same way, you and I ought rightly say, “In everything I do in daily life, there is always more to do and I can never get it done, especially not perfectly. This accuses me. It shows me my limitations and failings, and it teaches me that if salvation works the same way, then I am surely lost. Therefore, rather than seek to earn my way to heaven, I will simply confess my sins and give thanks that Jesus has earned my way to heaven for me. Rather than seek to wisely and prudently earn my salvation, I will instead be a child who rejoices to be taken care of, to be given to.”

Now, be careful. There is no greater joy than being a little child in the arms of the Savior, who delights to give you all good things. But, before you know it, your sinful nature will twist this around and say, “Did you hear that sermon? The pastor said that you don’t have to do anything, so go ahead and do whatever you want. The pastor said that being a Christian isn’t about how hard you work to build a strong relationship with God, so forget that stuff like reading the Bible and receiving the Sacraments.” Old Adam is highly skilled at hearing only what he wants, so do not be deceived.

A little child delights to be given to. A little child delights to be fed and clothed and taken places. But if the child refuses to eat, he grows weak and sick. If the child goes and hides so his parents can’t find him, then he can’t be fed or clothed or taken places. The Christian who does not often hear God’s Word and receive His Supper is not boldly demonstrating that He is saved by grace; he’s being a child who runs away and refuses to eat. Do not be such a child. Instead, rejoice that the Lord visits you time and time again, giving you forgiveness, clothing you in righteousness, promising the kingdom of heaven.

Life is a struggle. You get out of it what you put into it if you’re lucky; and sooner or later, you can’t put enough into it to sustain. That’s how life works in this sinful fallen world. But that isn’t how salvation works with your sinless Savior. The Lord Jesus declares that He give it to you freely as a parent gives to a little child. May your struggles and setbacks in life serve to give you this joy: that while you must labor wearily and bear heavy loads in this life, it is not so for eternal life. Your Savior bids you, “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

That rest and salvation are yours in Christ. You are forgiven for all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Devotions & Essays, Sermons

Christ’s Glory & the Prophetic Word

Click this link to listen to this sermon: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1w7V6hMZ62jDwi36konghFZkFbJ6Ox9W7/view?usp=sharing

“We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to Him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is My beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with Him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:16-19).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

God has a history of revealing Himself on mountains. Moses came face-to-face with God and heard Him speak from a burning bush on Mount Horeb. The fire indicated the presence of God. God’s presence was confirmed in the Word that God spoke from the bush. God’s presence made this ground holy (Exodus 3:5).

Later, when Israel fled from Egypt, the glory of the Lord dwelt with them on that same mountain, also called Mount Sinai. Moses assembled the people and told them all the words of the Lord and all the rules. All the people answered with one voice: “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” Moses built an altar at the foot of the mountain, where they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings to the Lord. Moses consecrated the altar and sprinkled the people with blood and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord had made with you in accordance with all these words (Exodus 24:1-8).

Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders went up, and they saw the God of Israel. “They beheld God, and ate and drank.” At the Lord’s command, Moses went up further on the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which God had written for their instruction. A thick cloud appeared over the mountain for six days. And on the seventh day, the Lord called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. Similar to the time Moses first met God, “The glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people” (Exodus 24:9-17).

Centuries later, again on a high mountain, the Lord reveals Himself to Peter, James, and John. Jesus is transfigured before the apostles’ eyes. His face shines like the sun, revealing the glory of God. Jesus’ clothes are as white as light. Moses and Elijah appear, representing the Law and the Prophets, announcing—in effect—that Jesus is the fulfillment of all the Old Testament Scripture.

While the prophets are speaking with Jesus, a bright cloud overshadows them. A voice from the cloud says, “This is My beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” The apostles see, and then they hear. That they had not heard at the Baptism of Jesus, they hear now: “Listen to Him.” Moses had foretold that God would raise up a prophet to whom the people should listen (Deuteronomy 18:15). Jesus is that prophet. He alone knows the Father, who has handed over all things to His Son (Matthew 11:27). Listen to Him!

Upon hearing, the apostles immediately understand this is holy ground, and they are in the presence of the Holy One. They hit the dirt, their faces to the ground, overcome with fear and awe at what they see and hear.

Jesus comes over and touches them, moving them out of their dazed state with this human gesture. “Rise, and have no fear,” He says. They cautiously lift up their eyes and see no one but Jesus only in His normal, everyday appearance.

Now the disciples know that where Jesus and His Word are, there is a holy place. This is really a glimpse of heaven. Peter and his fellow apostles are eyewitnesses of an awesome sight, and Jesus reveals to them the glory of His presence. God is where Jesus is—in Christ and the prophetic Word.

In our Epistle, St. Peter encourages the Christians of Asia Minor to remain faithful to Christ and His Word in the days to come. He knows his time on earth is not long and he wants to remind them of what they have been taught.

All of us forget things. Information slowly drains out of our brains each day. Sometime forgetfulness is cute or harmless. But forgetfulness can get embarrassing or costly, like missing an appointment, running out of gas late at night, or skipping an important medication dosage.

Sometime forgetting is ugly and dangerous, as when a spouse “forgets” that he or she is married and slides into adultery. Or when church leaders “forget” that they are servants and start bossing people around as if they were lords.

And sometimes forgetting causes spiritual sickness and even death, as when people forget that they are by nature sinful and unclean, forget the expensive rescues by which Christ lifted them out of hell, forget about the prince of darkness and their other spiritual enemies, or forget to put on their spiritual armor and pick up their spiritual weapons.

Peter wants to strengthen and encourage these Christians. Unlike the false teachers, he does this not by bringing in all kinds of new teachings but by reminding them of teachings from God’s Word, which they already know. And he wants to make sure their memories will be continually refreshed even after he dies.

How can this happen? By writing this letter down, for one thing. A written letter can be read and reread and taught to others. For another, Peter might be alluding to the apostolic practice of recruiting and training new workers for the kingdom who will keep the remembering process going. Or possibly he is referring to the remembering he did to help St. Mark write his Gospel of the life of Christ.

The churches in Asia Minor are forgetting the true source of their information about God and are drifting into uncertainty about what to believe. False teachers are exploiting the people with their own made-up revelations and are promising the people pleasure and “freedom.” But there are not many truths; there is only one truth (verse 12). And so, Peter reminds them about a certain event on a certain mountain involving three disciples, two prophets, and one Messiah:

“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to Him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is My beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with Him on the holy mountain” (2 Peter 1:16-18).

  All attacks of Satan on the Church sooner or later come around to this—an attack on the apostles and prophets of the Lord as true and authoritative sources of information about the Lord. That attack is as old as Eden: “Did God really say…?” The new breed of teachers who are demanding attention in the Asia Minor churches are disparaging the reliability of Peter, the other apostles, and the written message of the Old Testament prophets.

Peter recognizes the deadly peril. They are denying the power and coming of Jesus Christ. They are leading people to doubt that Jesus really does possess and exercise God’s power, that He really does enter people’s lives and work on their behalf. They are leading people to think that Jesus will never come back, that they are not accountable to Him for their beliefs and lives. The bitter irony is that the very people who are accusing Peter of making up cleverly invented stories are the ones making up cleverly invented stories.

Peter reminds them that he had been present at the transfiguration, surely one of the most significant events in Jesus’ life. The transfiguration is not some cleverly devised myth. No, he and James and John were eyewitnesses. They were allowed to see something no other human being would see before Judgment Day—the true glory of the Son of God.

Jesus was transfigured before them, glowing with the brightness of the presence of God Himself. Surrounding the shining Savior was a bright cloud, which Peter calls the “Majestic Glory.” In the Old Testament, “the glory of the Lord” refers to an appearance of God in cloud and fire to mark a significant advance in His plan of  salvation. In addition to the appearance of God to Moses and the people of Israel already mentioned, God appeared to Abraham in a smoking firepot. On the day of the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem, the glory-cloud filled the temple. In this way the Lord signified His approval and His actual presence among His people.

When the glory-cloud blazed around Jesus on the very high mountain, the Father was demonstrating His approval of His Son’s person and work. He also showed that through Christ He was present on earth among His people. Peter declares, “I saw those things happen,” not to brag but to demonstrate his authority to speak on Christ’s behalf. Unlike the peddlers of self-invented notions, he was an eyewitness.

Peter was also an earwitness. He saw the glory; he also heard the voice. Three different times during Christ’s ministry, the voice of the Father had boomed over His dear Son: once at His baptism in the Jordan, where John the Baptist anointed Him for His Savior work; once during Holy Week, when the Father confirmed that Christ’s work was indeed bringing Him glory; and once on the very high mountain up north, in front of three terrified disciples and the two great Old Testament prophets, Moses and Elijah. The glory and the voice forcefully proclaimed the Father’s love, approval, and pleasure and greatly strengthened Christ in His determination to go to the cross for sinful mankind.

They also strengthened the certainty of the apostolic eyewitnesses. The disciples’ faith in Christ was sometimes shaky, as is ours, because we are disappointed by the subtle, hidden way in which Christ comes. The manger, the cross, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper promise the victorious Christ by faith, not by sight. But Peter did see, and hear, once. He never forgot, and he didn’t want his friends to forget either. He wanted them to grow in their certainty of what they believed. Jesus really is who He says He is; He really does what He says He will do; and He really gives what He says He will give.

Peter wants his readers to remember where they will find true comfort and certainty in the years to come: “We have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:19).

At a time when many people claim to be speaking for God, it is reassuring to know that there is a written, unshakable source of spiritual information and authority—the timeless truths of written Scripture.

Satan is the prince of darkness, and everybody who works for him knowingly or unknowingly spreads his darkness. In Satan’s darkness, some people are proud of their own goodness, hostile to the idea of needing a Savior, and satisfied that they can figure out right and wrong by themselves. Some in the darkness feel despair and fear, knowing that they are evil, but not knowing that there is a Savior for them. And some simply do not care about spiritual things; apathy rules their hearts. Like animals, their highest concern is satisfying their appetites. Satan uses false teachers to push Christians into these kinds of darkness.

God’s written Scripture will never lie; it is absolutely dependable; we can lean our lives on it. The best way for Christians to grow in the certainty of what they believe is to go back to God’s written Word. God’s Word is a light that shines in a dark place. It illumines our minds and hearts. We do well to pay attention to that Word, for it alone drives back the darkness and confusion of hell. As the Word does its work, the glory that shone from Christ and the Majestic Glory of the Father now shines in us. The day of grace dawns; the Morning Star rises.

In popular astronomy, the planet Venus is sometimes called the morning star. It is, of course, not a star at all. But it reflects the sun’s rays just before dawn, and its light is a sure sign that night is almost over and the day is at hand. Jesus is called the bright Morning Star in Revelation 22:16. His coming into the world signals that the power of the night of sin, sickness, death, and hell has been broken and will soon be over. His Word reflects His light. His people wait longingly for the full revelation of the Son of God when He returns to take us home.

In the meantime, He is still with us in His means of grace.

In the holy mountain of the altar, Jesus comes to you, inviting you to eat His body, which is given to you in the bread. To drink the cup, the new testament in His blood, which is given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. And to do this “in remembrance of Me.” There, in, with, and under the bread and the wine you behold God, eat and drink His real presence.

At the font, Christ washes away your sins, clothes you in His robe of righteousness, and gives you the gift of His Holy Spirit, forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Through contrition and repentance, you live in your Baptism, daily putting to death the old Adam so that the new many may arise to live in righteousness, innocence, and blessedness forever.

In Christ’s Word of forgiveness preached to you, in the Holy Absolution applied to you, you have the forgiveness He won at the cross.

Here, in this holy place Jesus reveals the true God to you—that same forgiving presence of the Lord—wherever His Gospel is purely taught and His Sacraments are rightly administered.

Here, in this holy place, hidden in water, wine, bread, and the voice of God’s called and ordained servant you will find Christ’s glory. Here is the prophetic Word more fully confirmed that always points to Jesus. Here is the One who came to save the world by His death on the cross. Here is the One for you, Who brings you salvation and eternal life, in Whom you are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Sermons, Uncategorized

Good News for the Poor

“John the Baptist in Prison” by Cornelis Galle the Younger

Click this link to listen to sermon: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1IYwgZuMmM401C42wNpeiRQolp6jga93Y/view?usp=sharing

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” (Matthew 11:2-6).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

In his weekly radio program, Garrison Keillor would end by saying that in Lake Wobegon all the children are above average. Fictitious or not, there is some truth in this. Every parent’s child has hidden talents waiting to be discovered. Our job as parents and teachers is to recognize their abilities and help them to perfect them. Without a sense of who they are and what they can do, they will not have the confidence to reach the goals they have set for themselves. Many people lead non-productive lives because they do not have a goal. Very few of us achieve all our goals, but by accomplishing some we have the satisfaction that we have done something with our lives.

If there was ever a man who could have a proper sense of himself from the time he was a child it had to be John the Baptist. When Zechariah learned from the angel that he and his wife were going to be parents, in their old age, after many years of barrenness, he fell into unbelief. As a sign to Zechariah, God deprived him of the ability to speak. He regained the ability to speak only when the child was born, and his father named the miracle baby John. Zechariah sang a hymn we still use in Matins, the Benedictus: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people” (Luke 1:68). In this song, Zechariah spoke of how their child would be the prophet of the Most High.

From his childhood, John knew that he would go before the face of the Lord to prepare His way. He would begin to lead the people out of darkness by bringing them to Christ. John’s life was shaped by the stories of his birth. He knew who he was and what he was going to do. John had a sense about himself. He was not simply another child, but the one whom Isaiah called the voice crying in the wilderness. Valleys would be lifted up and mountains lowered to prepare a level road for the promised Messiah. John would stand on the edge of darkness pointing the people to the dawn emitting from Christ, the Sun of Righteousness. God chose John as the watchman on Zion’s walls to signal the coming of a new day.

John the Baptist’s sense of himself as a child was confirmed by his success as a preacher. He was so eloquent that some thought he was the promised Messiah. After John died, his memory had such a hold on the people that they thought Jesus was John the Baptist come back from the dead. Even though John made it clear that he was not Christ, he was the last prophet that God would send, the one who would identify Jesus as the Christ. In John’s pointing to Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament, God was using John to bring the old era to an end.

Those who grow up without life’s ordinary disappointments often have a difficult time dealing with setbacks later in life. Many a hometown high school football hero or homecoming queen has caved into the pressure when they find they are no longer the big fish in the small pool. People who have been healthy all of their lives often have trouble coming to terms with the frailties and limitations of old age. Setbacks can be devastating for those who have traveled a relatively smooth road through life.

This might have been true of John the Baptist, the miracle child born to aged parents and predicted by prophecy, God’s last prophet, the eloquent preacher with audiences so large that Matthew says that all Jerusalem and Judea went out to hear him. Now in his mid-thirties, his prominence and successes have been changed for a prison, not because he had done anything wrong, but because he had done everything right. We can see how the man who preached how the Christ would release captives from prison might expect that Jesus would spring him from prison. John, who pointed to Christ as the light of world, might expect that the darkness of his cell would soon be exchanged for brightness of day. But it wasn’t happening!

We Christians know that life can become so miserable that, like Job, we are forced to ask ourselves if God really cares for us. Perhaps we go to the extreme and question whether God even exists. John’s question is a little different. He sends his disciples to ask whether Jesus is the Christ: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” John, who had pointed to Jesus as the Messiah, toys with the idea that he may have made a misidentification. If Jesus is not the Christ predicted by the prophet, then John’s ministry has been a total waste.

Some scholars cannot accept that the great preacher did not believe his own sermons; they have hypothesized that John asked this question not for himself but for his disciples. John did not want his impending execution to cause those who’d heard him preach to lose faith in Jesus as the Messiah. But such an easy and attractive solution, putting the burden of unbelief on John’s disciples and not on John himself, has no support from Scripture. This reading is about John’s conflict with unbelief and how Jesus deals with it. John’s doubts do not detract from his importance or his greatness. Jesus calls him the greatest man born of woman.

A large segment of the conservative Protestant population holds that believers will never lose their faith. They claim that those who lose their faith never had faith. The cliché is “once saved, always saved.” Wrong! For us Christians, there is never a time when faith is very far from the edge of unbelief. Satan never leaves Christians alone, but each day he works harder to take us away from Christ. John was no exception. The sad reality is that preachers can lose the faith they preach to others. Preachers and hearers are not immune to unbelief.

“Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” John’s question is as honest as they come, and it is not surprising, given the context. Even though he was there at the Jordan to see the heavens opened, even though he heard the Father’s voice, even though he saw the Spirit descending like a dove, even though Jesus would identify him as nothing less than Elijah himself, still, there he sat, in prison. There he sat, awaiting his executioner. John looked around at what God and His Messiah were not doing, and even the greatest among those born of woman had his doubts.

“Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” This question lurks in the hearts of all God’s people who suffer in their faithfulness. Every Christian asks it at some point (or multiple points) in life. There is no sugarcoating the fact that the kingdom of heaven, as it comes about through Jesus, does not make everything better; not yet, at least. It does not remove the tears or dispel the fears which characterize life in this dark valley.

This is what makes John’s question so important. His willingness to give it voice invites us to do the same. What struggles and doubts do you wrestle with? Perhaps you or a loved one suffer from poor health. You have prayed over and over again that the Lord would grant healing, but He just hasn’t done it yet. It might even be that the condition worsens. Maybe you are mired in mourning, gripped by grief after the loss of a loved one. You long to go back to a time when every thought of him or her brought a flutter to your heart and a smile to your face rather than the pain of a broken heart or the sting of tears to your eyes. Or maybe you’ve suffered from a bout of depression so deep that you wonder if you’ll ever get out of the dark pit and some days you’re not even sure that you’ll be able to go on. You look for a sign from God that there is some sort of light at the end of the tunnel, a ray of hope that will dawn with a new day. Or maybe anxiety has you so overwhelmed you feel like everything is coming at you at once.

It’s understandable that at this point John would have some questions. If Jesus is not the one who is to come, John has wasted his life. He’s never gotten married. Never had kids. He’s been living out in the wilderness, dressed in camel’s hair garments, eating locusts and wild honey like some lunatic. Preaching repentance in preparation for a coming kingdom that seem not to be at hand. He needs some answers ASAP.

A miracle is always a quick solution for unbelief—or so we think. Nearly every pastor has heard the excuse that this or that person would believe if only Jesus did a miracle, if only God would just give a sign. John would like to see a miracle, ideally, his release from prison. But for those caught between faith and unbelief, there are no miracles. For John there are only the words of Jesus: the blind see again, those who are paralyzed walk around, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are brought back to life, and the poor hear the Gospel.

Consider the sequence. Straightening our crooked bones, restoring hearing and sight, and curing leprosy are difficult, but raising the dead is impossible. More important than all these physical miracles is that the poor have the Gospel preached to them. This is the greatest miracle. The Gospel works the impossible, delivering forgiveness of sins and righteousness to those who are corrupt at their very core.

Jesus’ answer exhibits a two-fold character. On the one hand, His words offer the strongest possible “yes!” to the first part of the Baptist’s question. The deeds that Jesus has been performing are the long-expected signs of renewal and restoration in Israel. God is at work, establishing the new age of salvation!

On the other hand, Jesus’ words invite John to accept in faith the strangest of all paradoxes in the history of the world. The reign of God has broken into history in the person of Jesus, and He is the Coming One. But the power of evil men remains strong, and Christ will not overthrow that evil—yet. Jesus has come to save His people from their sins, yet He teaches His followers to expect opposition and hatred. God has come to rule and restore through this Jesus, and through Him alone. But only God can reveal to people the knowledge of Jesus’ identity, and many will be caused to fall into unbelief because of Jesus and His hidden ways of revealing God’s reign.

Nevertheless, to the Baptist and to all hearers since Jesus uttered these words, His final saying reaches out, inviting to faith and discipleship: “Blessed is the one who is not offended by Me” (Matthew 11:6). Only the one who takes Christ at His word regardless of life’s circumstances will attain to the blessedness God has promised in Christ—forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life.   

There will be no last-minute reprieve. No miracle will release John from imprisonment or save him from execution. The Baptist will have to be content that sins are forgiven in Christ—this is what it means that the poor have the Gospel preached to them. Faith feeds not on miracles but on the Gospel.

The cross of Jesus is not mentioned in this text, but it certainly displays the theology of the cross. God, indeed, works in mysterious ways, often working His greatest good in the midst of suffering and trial. As theologians of the cross, we may not be comfortable with God’s ways, but we are familiar with them. We worship a God who died a cursed death, after all, in order to bring us blessing, forgiveness, and eternal life. No matter how much good might have come from His death in the end, on Good Friday evening there was no way to spin it.

As Jesus foretold in verse 12, the violence of the world would take Him by force, and it still does. Like the disciples who found themselves alone, afraid and in hiding, we continue to grope around in the dark, struggling to make sense of what seems like a backwards way of reigning over heaven and earth.

But resurrection is coming! John’s and ours! This is the promise to proclaim to the faithful as they suffer. The resurrection is coming for all who are not offended by Jesus and His ways. We see the beginning of this resurrection in Jesus’ fulfillment of the Word from the prophet: the blind were seeing, the lame were walking. The sick were being healed, the deaf were hearing, and the dead were rising. And the poor? Well, the poor were receiving good news!

And this is good news for poor, miserable sinners like you and me. We live by faith. We live, with John, in all sorts of uncomfortable places. We live by the witness of those who have seen, heard, and touched the Word of life. We live, and we wait. We wait for the final resurrection, for the full realization of Jesus’ restoring work.

As we wait, the Lord speaks to us in His Word—His Law that shows us our sins and leads us to repent; His Gospel that brings us faith, forgiveness, and life. In Holy Baptism, He has made us His children and gives us an eternal inheritance in His kingdom. In His Supper, He feeds us His body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith, a foretaste of the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which has no end.

Go in the peace of the Lord and serve Him with joy. For Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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