Lessons: Isaiah 40:1-11, 1 Corinthians 4:1-5, Matthew 11:2-11
Hymns: LSB 344, 354, 343, 334, 346
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
This Sunday and next Sunday, we consider John the Baptist who prepared the way of the Lord. He was prophesied to come as the forerunner to the Messiah. He was raised up by God to preach repentance and forgiveness. He baptized sinners into Christ. He was the voice crying in the wilderness, comforting God’s people with the saving Gospel.
John even baptized Jesus, as we shall hear in three weeks. John then knew his ministry was coming to an end, for the Baptism of our Lord marked the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in the flesh. John the Baptist rightly recognized that he must decrease so that Christ will increase (John 3:30).
John rightly pointed the people to Christ Jesus. One day when John’s ministry was drawing to a close, 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’” (John 1:29-30). Jesus called John the Baptist “more than a prophet” because John is the one of whom it is written, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you” (Matt. 11:10, Mal. 3:1).
Jesus asked the crowds what they went out into the wilderness to see. He asked if they went to see a reed shaking in the wind or a man dressed in soft clothing. But John wore camel’s skin and ate locusts and wild honey. He was no reed, shaking to and fro with every new wind of current opinion. Instead, John remained steadfast to Christ, even when not all received his message.
You see, not all received him. Some even hated John. For example, a delegation of Pharisees came to question John and his authority, as we shall hear in next week’s Gospel. Later, John rightly condemned the Pharisees, saying “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Luke 3:7-9).
And then John had a run-in with the government. King Herod had a brother named Philip. Philip was married to a woman named Herodias. Herodias didn’t like being married to the king’s brother; she wanted to be married to the king. And Herod also wanted her. John repeatedly warned King Herod, saying, “It is not lawful to for you to have your brother’s wife.” Instead of listening to John’s wise and godly counsel, Herod threw John in prison (that’s why today’s Gospel says John is in prison). On top of this, Herod wanted to kill John, but he feared the people who recognized John as a prophet. Eventually John would die, beheaded at the request of Herodias (Matt. 14:1-12, Mk. 6:14-29). John the Baptist is a martyr who died over his faithful witness to Christ.
That’s how it goes when one is found faithful. There are always some Christians who will love faithful ministers. But there will be others who do not love the faithful witness of the ministers God sends. Some who despise godly counsel are completely outside the Church. They hate the message of the Gospel and will persecute Christians. This is happening around the world by Muslims and atheists against Christians. And there are even Christians who persecute Christians. This is done when Christians do not want to receive the teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness that the Scriptures were inspired by God to do (2 Tim. 3:16). Instead of receiving correction for their false belief or immoral lifestyle, they attack the messenger of God, often not realizing that they are actually attacking God Himself when rejecting the messengers He sends.
Remember our Epistle lesson in which St. Paul writes concerning pastors. The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy” (1 Cor. 4:1-2). Pastors are called to be faithful to Christ. You want them to tell you the truth instead of outright lies or half-truths or swaying reeds in the current winds of public opinion.
Faithfulness to Christ is costly. It can involve losing friends, losing possessions, and even losing touch with family members. Yes, families are sometimes torn apart over receiving or rejecting the Gospel. That’s why we boldly sing, “Goods, fame, child, and wife, Though these all be gone, Our vict’ry has been won; The Kingdom ours remaineth” (LSB 656:4). Jesus Himself preached, “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law” (Luke 12:49-53).
When we are faithful to Christ, it will cost us time as we study the Scriptures, pray, go to Church, and teach the faith to our loved ones. When we are faithful to Christ, it will cost us of our treasures, for we will return a portion of our income to the Lord in thanksgiving for all that He has so generously given us. When we are faithful to Christ, it will cost us some convenience, because we will be motivated to love our neighbors and do good to them.
But my friends, faithfulness to Christ is, in fact, not costly at all. While lose some of the luxuries of this life, we gain everything when we become children of God. We are blessed to be reconciled to God our heavenly Father and we receive the gift of eternal life. We have peace with God, even when we suffer division and a lack of peace on Earth. Remember the words of Jesus, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matt. 16:24-26). With these words in mind, we should ask ourselves, what do we really lose when we gain our soul, Christ, forgiveness, eternal life and reconciliation with God our heavenly Father?
Jesus brings us everlasting salvation and will usher in new heavens and a new earth that will be perfect in every way. We will live in perfection for eternity. That’s what John the Baptist is receiving, even after being decapitated. We will see John at the Resurrection! And the Apostles! The Prophets! The great hymn writers and theologians of old! The martyrs! Our loved ones who die in the faith! Our ancestors!
And so, John faithfully directed his hearers to Christ, even when he was in prison. He sent some of his disciples to Jesus to ask Him, “Are you the Coming One or shall we look for another?” (Matt. 11:3). In considering today’s Gospel, some think John was having his doubts as he suffers wrongly in prison. That may well be, but I think it is more plausible that John is simply being a faithful witness of Christ, directing the people to Jesus. Instead of being sorry over John’s unlawful imprisonment, John wanted the people to go and hear Jesus, their true Savior.
John’s question serves as a good one for our times. Is Jesus still the Coming One? Is He the promised Messiah? Shall we look for another?
It’s a good question because we have these “messiahs” all around us. These false messiahs will tell you anything you want to hear, from religious ideas to ways to achieve success. They will tell you anything you want to hear under the name of God. They will make you feel good about yourself instead of directing you to the forgiveness Jesus offers. They will promise security in this world, even though the only true security we have is through our Savior. We must be on guard that we are not being led astray by these so-called messiahs.
When John’s followers went to the true Messiah, Jesus answered their question, giving testimony of who He is. Jesus answers by showing how His work fulfills Scripture. The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them (Matt. 11:4-5). Isaiah prophesied the ministry of Jesus, writing, “Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.’ Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy” (Is. 35:4-6). Also, Jesus speaks in Isaiah 61:1-2, saying, “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; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.”
The same powerful Gospel is being preached to you. It makes you wise to salvation and saves your souls. Through faithful preaching, the Crucified One is placed before you. He died in your place to atone for your sin. He rose to give you eternal life. Truly, Jesus is the Coming One. We have no need to look for another. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen