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Advent 3 – Matthew 11:2-10

by pastorjuhl ~ December 9th, 2010

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

Today’s Collect bids Jesus Christ lighten the darkness of our hearts by Your gracious visitation. How did our hearts get so dark? Rather, how did we come to believe that our hearts are dark? The answer is the man who seemingly doubts that Jesus is the Coming One.

John the Baptizer is more than a prophet. Jesus says John is the one of whom it is written: behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You. John is the last and greatest of all prophets, even greater than Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, the four major prophets of the Old Testament. These four men all prepared the way of the Lord, but John is the living embodiment of the message of every prophet rolled into one man.

John the Baptizer and Jesus Christ complement each other. You can’t have one without the other. John preaches repentance. Jesus delivers forgiveness of sins and eternal life. This is not to say that John never proclaimed the Gospel and that Jesus never proclaimed the Law. It was John who pointed his finger in the direction of Jesus and said twice in the span of one chapter of John’s Gospel: Behold the Lamb of God! It was Jesus Who directed the preaching of the Law like a laser beam at those who needed to hear the message of repentance. It was John the Baptizer who preached preparation for the Savior. It was Jesus Christ Who delivered salvation through His innocent suffering and death.

Today we get down to the nitty-gritty of Advent. It’s not that the past two weeks of end-times texts has nothing to do with this holy season. They have everything to do with this season. If you don’t pay attention to John the Baptizer; if you miss why he dresses the way he does or eats what he eats or anything else about his person or his message, the Last Day will have very sad consequences for you.

John dresses the way he does not so much to get your attention as to show you what his preaching is supposed to do. John’s preaching of repentance strips away all the ways you try to cover up yourself to hide the sin and death lurking inside you. No matter how you dress, under your clothes lies a filthy, stinking, rotting corpse. Isaiah foretold the message of John in today’s Old Testament reading from Isaiah chapter 40: The voice said, “Cry out!” And he said, “What shall I cry?” “All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, because the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.”

Listen well to these words, beloved. What Isaiah and John say is not a hoop to be jumped through in order to get to Christmas cheer. Their words are Spirit and Truth. Their words are meant to be dwelled upon. Listen again: All flesh is grass, And all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, Because the breath of the LORD blows upon it; Surely the people are grass. If you won’t believe the preaching of Isaiah and John the Baptizer, take a trip to a cemetery sometime before Christmas. Take a trip to a hospital or a nursing home or visit someone under hospice care. All flesh is grass…the grass withers. You cannot take your earthly clothing into eternity, at least an eternity with Almighty God.

Why such harsh preaching so close to a joyous season? Again the prophet Isaiah shows why: “Prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth; the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.” The preaching of repentance is toward the forgiveness of sins. Jesus Christ is near, nearer than we first imagined. You must be stripped of all human pride, greed, lust, and earthly gain. You must become a loser in order to win.

This is the way of the Lord Jesus Christ. He takes on the form of a loser in order to win the joy of eternal bliss for you. All the preparation, all the bringing mountains and hills low, all the raising up of valleys, all the road straightening, and all the smoothing out is for your benefit. Nothing must get in the way of the Savior’s coming. As we sang a moment ago in the Chief Hymn:

See, the Lamb, so long expected,
Comes with pardon down from heav’n.
Let us haste, with tears of sorrow,
One and all, to be forgiv’n.

So, when next He comes in glory
And the world is wrapped in fear,
He will shield us with His mercy
And with words of love draw near. (LSB 345:3-4)

The preaching of repentance is always toward the forgiveness of sins. Jesus brings forgiveness and healing to you in order to shield you with His mercy and draw you near to Him on the Last Day. His sacrifice on Calvary’s cross is the perfect offering for sin that you and I cannot give. His sacrifice also crushes the head of the crafty serpent who brought sin and death into this world through our first parents. Jesus triumphs over the old evil foe through what seems to be losing. What looks like loss is actually gain. Jesus gains victory over sin and death for you and for all.

How do we know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God? The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. Saint Augustine reportedly said “I would not believe [that Jesus is God] if it weren’t for the miracles.” There are still miracles in the Church today, though not as spectacular as those performed by our Lord. Present day miracles look like nothing. That’s precisely the point. It’s all part of winning by losing. The spoken word, water, bread, and wine become for us the modern miracles of the Christian Church; the holy things for the holy ones. Jesus is still in the miracle business, washing clean young and old from sin, feeding them with His forgiveness and life until He comes again.

No John, no Jesus. No Jesus, no John. No repentance, no forgiveness. No forgiveness, no future. For those who believe in Jesus and trust that He has taken care of the future, there is hope that transcends all doubt, all sin, and all death. The thrilling voice still sounds today, only now through stewards of the mysteries of God who proclaim the Word of God that stands forever. Listen to that thrilling voice, for it brings comfort and joy that begins in a stable and ends in an empty tomb.

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

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