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Advent 3 – Matthew 11:2-11

by pastorjuhl ~ January 28th, 2014

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

            It would be easy to be a Christian if it wasn’t for Jesus Christ. Think about it. All you would have to do is follow a code written on two tablets of stone. The code is further explained by a series of political and moral codes. Your diet would be set. The way you live would be set. It’s an easy life. Just follow the book.

The problem is that the book, the Bible, proclaims how God’s only-begotten Son takes on human flesh and blood in order to die for the sins of the world and rise from the dead for the world’s justification. Only Jesus fulfills the Ten Commandments in the way God demands. Only Jesus fulfills all the dietary restrictions and all the other codes of the first five books of the Old Testament. The life you live is by faith in Jesus Christ, not by trying to keep the Law to earn your salvation.

What is joy to our ears and our lives is an offense and a stumbling block to most of the world. Many are offended at Jesus Christ, particularly as we draw close to Christmas and again at Easter. This sad fact is prophesied in the Old Testament: [The Lord of hosts] will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.

People took offense at Jesus in the New Testament as well. Jesus said to those in Nazareth, A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household. Saint Paul tells the Church in Corinth, we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles. Saint Peter writes in his first epistle: The honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

What does it mean to be offended at Jesus Christ? Consider John the Baptist sending two of his disciples to Jesus with the question, Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another? Preachers often debate as to whether or not John the Baptist doubted Jesus was the Christ. It wasn’t John who doubted but the disciples whom he sends to Jesus. Note the first person plural we. Does this include John? It doesn’t matter, for we are dealing with these two men, not John. These two men had not yet recognized the promised Messiah in Jesus because they were offended at Christ. This is why Jesus tells them, blessed is the one who is not offended by me.

Among the many stumbling blocks in believing Jesus is the Messiah are these three: First, they cannot reconcile the external lowliness of the person Jesus with the prophesied glory of the Messiah. Jesus tells the men, 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. These are not magic tricks. Jesus is not an apparition. He has flesh and blood, yet says and does things that no mortal man is able to say and do.

Another stumbling block to believing Jesus as Messiah is the fact that Jesus doesn’t act like you expect a Messiah to act. These two men sent from John thought the great king, the One Whom John could not untie His sandals, would enter in such splendor that everything would be gold and other priceless ornaments. The streets would be filled with pearls and silks. As they looked so high for the Messiah, Jesus turns their gaze downward and holds before them the blind, lame, deaf, dumb, poor, and everything that conflicts with such splendor.

The final stumbling block is that Jesus teaches that a man is justified, declared not guilty of sin by God, by faith alone. This is perhaps the greatest of all stumbling blocks. Who would want to believe that a person is declared innocent of all sin by believing in a man born of woman, born under the Law, Who keeps the Law in our place, and suffers the punishment we deserve, even death, for our sake? How can the doctrine be right that an abominable sinner, when he merely repents and believes in Christ, immediately is spoken justified and saved? Even we Christians are caught up in thinking this way! When we hear Saint Paul declare that the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily in Jesus, we are inclined to think Paul a fool.

Fleshly reason always remains an annoyance to faith, especially when it comes to Christ’s humiliation in the days of His flesh. We wonder whether there are enough external signs to believe Jesus is Who He says He is. Or we think that if Christ is so good and Christianity so true, why are so many Christians under much contempt, sin, weakness, and many crosses? Even the very foundation of the Christian faith, “We are saved by God’s grace through faith in His Son Jesus Christ” is an offensive to us over and over again.

It is a dangerous thing to be offended at Jesus Christ. John the Baptist, even in prison, sends these men to Jesus to ease their unbelief. Jesus takes the time to show these men what His Messianic mission is all about: lastness, leastness, littleness, lostness, and being dead. Jesus also speaks to those around Him about this same thing, even using John the Baptist as an example of how Jesus works among us. John was no ordinary prophet, yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

When you do not hear the preaching of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ, you lose salvation. Hear our Lord again: blessed is the one who is not offended by Me. After Jesus fed five thousand men with five loaves of bread and two fish, after He preached about being the Bread of Life and the Living Bread that comes down from heaven, He asked His disciples, Do you take offense at this? Five verses later, many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him.

The way of the Lord is not an easy way. If it were easy, He would have left us to follow the code and work our way to eternal life. As Jesus asks the Twelve, so He asks you today: Do you want to go away as well? Saint Peter’s response is yours: Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.

We are blind in spiritual things without the Word and the Spirit to show us Jesus is the long-promised Messiah. When we see with spiritual eyes behind the external lowliness and leastness of Jesus, we see a Savior who knows we cannot save ourselves. Jesus becomes man for you. Jesus perfectly keeps the Law for you. Jesus suffers for you. Jesus dies for you. Jesus lives for you. Jesus gives you sonship by believing He is your Savior from sin, death, and hell. Blessed are you, for your offense is washed in baptismal water and forgiven in the blood and righteousness of Jesus. Doubt is turned to faith. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

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