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Advent 3 – Matthew 11:2-11

by pastorjuhl ~ December 8th, 2011

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

            A more precise translation of Matthew 11:6 is blessed is the one who is not scandalized by me. English gets the word “scandal” from the verb form of the noun “scandal” used in verse six. Another way to describe what it means to be scandalized is to consider a mousetrap. You place cheese or peanut butter on one end of a sort of teeter-totter contraption. When a mouse goes for the bait, they teeter the totter and down comes the scandal to trap them.

Like a mousetrap, the cross of Jesus Christ traps you. Unlike the mousetrap, you are not so much walking into your death as you walk into Christ’s death. You are happy to be trapped, or you should be happy to be trapped. Two of John’s disciples were walking into a trap of sorts when they were sent by John the Baptist to ask Jesus, are you the One Who is to come, or shall we look for another?

So many pastors and scholars wonder whether John wanted to know the answer to that question. John was already in the trap of a prison cell when he sent the two men to Jesus. John pointed the way to the Son of God. He most certainly knew and believed that Jesus is the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world. John wanted His disciples to believe this with him. So off they go into Jesus’ trap, a trap that spares them from eternal death into eternal life.

Jesus is the One Who is to come. His witness is sure. 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 a trap in which you are caught! Instead of having your neck or leg broken, you are caught in order to be spared. Yet the evidence is not enough for you. Christ’s words speak to the situation then. What about today? Where are the miracles of then right now?

Perhaps you might ask about whose preaching you might trust? There are so many churches and preachers in the world. Which one of them is right? Is the Holy Spirit at work there and not here? Is my pastor a reed shaken by the wind? Does he wear soft clothing? Is his witness of Jesus Christ and Him crucified a sure witness, or is his preaching nothing but hot air? Does he proclaim Christ or should we look for another pastor or another Christ?

It is good to judge your pastor’s words alongside Holy Scripture. Saint Paul says in today’s Epistle, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. The same Word that heals blindness, lameness, leprosy, deafness, death, and poverty is the same Word that lifts up every valley and makes low every mountain. The Word levels every uneven ground and makes rough places a plain. When you hear the Word that proclaims Jesus Christ and Him crucified, the glory of the Lord is revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. Isaiah’s words do not mean that pastor equals Jesus. What comes out of the pastor’s mouth when he preaches and teaches is Jesus’ Word, not the pastor’s word. You trust in the One Who sent pastor, the One Who stands behind His office of preaching.

John the Baptist is a messenger. He is a prophet. He is also more than a prophet. Prophets normally proclaim the coming of something. Never do they actually see the thing or the person whom they prophesy. John the Baptist is an exception. Not only did John see Jesus Christ, he also pointed to Him when Christ was walking this earth. This is why Jesus says about John, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. However, Jesus continues, yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

You are not John the Baptistians. You are Christians. John is worthy of praise not because he is the son of Zechariah the High Priest and Elisabeth. John is worthy of praise not because of his diet or his dress. John is worthy of praise because of his office of prophet. Yet he is greater than a prophet is. However, he is less than the least in the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus takes on flesh to die for John the Baptist, but not for John alone. Like John, you are a sinner. Like John, you are in need of salvation. Like John, you look forward to the death when warfare is ended, iniquity is pardoned, and when you receive from the Lord’s Hand double for all your sins. The preaching of John the Baptist prepares the way for the end of warfare. When John cries out in the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, you believe that your iniquity will soon be pardoned. You will receive from the Lord a double portion of His mercy. No longer will our Father in heaven look upon our sin. He now looks upon His Son Jesus and His blood and His righteousness. When He sees Jesus shedding blood for you, He sees you as forgiven, reconciled, and not guilty. Your dark heart is lightened by the gracious visitation of Jesus Christ.

This is why today’s propers are full of the word “rejoice.” The Lord is at hand. He will soon pitch His tent among us in order to restore the fortunes of Jacob. Jesus comes to give you something better than land, animals, and prosperity. Jesus comes to forgive the iniquity of His people. He comes to save you. Jesus comes to atone for sin, once for all, through His suffering and death.

The first step to welcoming the Savior is to heed John’s preaching of repentance. Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! King David sings in Psalm 141, set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! Do not let my heart incline to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds in company with men who work iniquity, and let me not eat of their delicacies! Consider your sin. Consider why Jesus was born a man. Consider what it cost our Father to rescue you from the devil and eternal death.

When you repent, when you sorrow over your sin and beg forgiveness, then rejoice that your name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. By God’s grace, through faith in Jesus Christ, you are spared being cast into the fire, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. This is the good news preached to those in John’s day, in Jesus’ day, and especially in this day.

Blessed are you, for you have not fallen prey to the scandal of Satan that draws you away from the cross of Jesus. That sounds so odd. It doesn’t make sense that you should be trapped in something good. But you are trapped in the scandal of the cross. Saint Paul says in 1 Corinthians chapter one, Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

The cross of Jesus Christ is foolishness to the world. It is a scandal, but a good kind of scandal. When you are trapped to Christ, you live. Isaiah proclaims this comfort in the Old Testament reading. When Jesus cries, It is finished, then the work of your salvation is complete. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever.

The preaching of repentance toward the forgiveness of sins is a scandal to the world. No one likes to stop doing what they should not do. No one likes to do what they are to do. You are wretched men! Christ dies for wretched men who repent of their sin and believe the Good News that Jesus saves repentant sinners from eternal death. The Gospel of Christ is the sweet scandal, the tender trap, that holds you steadfast to Jesus by faith and delivers forgiveness and life everlasting for you. Rejoice! The Lord is at hand.

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

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