“What Do You Expect?” (Matthew 11:2-15)

Third Sunday in Advent
December 15, 2019

“What Do You Expect?” (Matthew 11:2-15)

What you expect and when you expect it will determine, to a large extent, whether you are satisfied or disappointed. For example, suppose that for Christmas your true love promises to give to you twelve drummers drumming, eleven pipers piping, ten lords a-leaping, and so on, all the way down to three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree. But now suppose that at the end of the day on December 25 all you’ve received is the partridge in the pear tree. You’re a little disappointed. Maybe you ask yourself: “Did my true love forget about the other stuff? Where are the laying geese and the milking maids and all the rest? Maybe my true love doesn’t truly love me, after all.”

But then, over the next few days, on December 26, 27, 28, you start getting Fed Ex shipments of various calling and non-calling birds. By December 31, you’re up to seven swans a-swimming. Now you’re starting to catch on. Your true love’s word is good. Your true love does truly love you. The promise will be kept in full. You remember now that there are twelve days of Christmas, and so you can expect the rest of the stuff is on the way. It will arrive on time, in due time. So even though you have not yet seen any dancing ladies, you’re satisfied you will see them. In this case, you really can count your chickens before they’re dispatched.

What you expect and when you expect it determine whether you’re satisfied or disappointed. That’s true of Christmas presents, and it’s true of Christ himself. What do you expect of Christ? When do you expect it? This is the question that comes to us this morning, just as it came to John the Baptist: “What Do You Expect?”

Our text is the Holy Gospel from Matthew 11. Here we find John the Baptist in prison. He had been imprisoned by Herod. This is the Herod who had committed adultery by taking his brother’s wife, and John confronted him on it. So Herod was mad and had John arrested. Now here is John, sitting in prison, and he’s getting reports about what Jesus is doing. Perhaps John is wondering why Jesus isn’t doing anything about wicked Herod or about getting him, John, out of jail. After all, John was suffering on account of the word of God. Isn’t the Messiah supposed to right the wrongs and punish the wrongdoers?

So John sends a delegation to Jesus to ask him, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” In other words: “Are you really the Messiah? Because if you are, how come you’re not doing anything about all the evil that’s going on?” John here seems to be somewhat disappointed with Jesus. Jesus wasn’t doing everything that John expected.

How do you deal with discouragement and disappointment in your life when things aren’t going the way you would like? Do you begin to lose your confidence in Christ? Do you falter in your faith because of these difficulties? That’s how this story applies to us.

Last week we hear John the Baptist preaching and calling out, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” John warned people to flee from the coming wrath. He said, “The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” And John spoke of the Messiah who was about to come. He said: “After me will come one who is more powerful than I. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering the wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” John the Baptist was saying that when the Messiah comes–and he’s about to arrive on the scene very soon–when the Messiah comes, he will right the wrongs and bring judgment on the wicked.

Well, now the Messiah is not only near, he is here! Yet here is John, sitting in prison, suffering, while Herod, the wicked ruler, is sitting comfortably in his palace. No judgment is taking place. No fire is falling on Herod’s palace. No angel letting John out of prison. None of that. The only ax that’s about to fall is the one that will soon take off John the Baptist’s head.

What’s going on here? What kind of a Messiah is this Jesus? Why isn’t the coming wrath coming? Why isn’t the ax cutting down the bad trees? If Jesus is more powerful than John, he surely ought to be more powerful than Herod. Where is the Messiah’s winnowing fork? He doesn’t seem to be using it, because the chaff is doing better than the wheat.

Now John and his disciples do have some scriptures on their side. They must have been thinking of the prophecies that speak of judgment coming on the enemies of God’s people. For instance, Isaiah 35, which we heard this morning: “Your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.” So John and his disciples are perplexed. They ask, “Where’s the vengeance and the retribution and the saving, Jesus? Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”

This question is not unique to John. The psalmists often cry out, “Why do the wicked prosper, while the righteous suffer?” Believers of all ages have asked such questions. Maybe you have, too. When your loved one is suffering with a disease, and you wonder why God doesn’t heal him. When there’s a mass shooting, or when terrorists murder people, you wonder: Even if the evildoers are punished, how can that make up for all the loss of innocent life and the ongoing grief? When you look at your own life, and you wonder why you’re still struggling with this or that sin, when you’re supposed to be this new person in Christ–what’s wrong with this picture? These are the perplexities of life that weigh us down. We wonder about God. We wonder about the Christian faith. Is this all for real? And so we ask, with John, “Are you the one who was to come, Jesus, or should we look for another?”

Jesus answers John’s question in a most effective way. He says: “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.”

“Report to John what you hear and see.” These things that Jesus was doing–these were not mere ideas or opinions or hearsay. These things actually, objectively, were happening. The blind did receive their sight. The lame did get up and walk. Lepers were cured. And so on. These things really did happen. Amazing things. Unique things. Acts of mercy and healing with God’s unmistakable stamp on them.

These were acts that had been prophesied to be done by God’s promised Messiah. So Jesus is doing something very interesting in his reply to John. Jesus is sending John back to the very Messianic prophecies that had prompted his question in the first place. For example, take that prophecy we heard earlier about God coming with vengeance and divine retribution. That same passage goes on to say, “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer,” and so on.

Do you see? These mighty works of healing and mercy were signs–sure signs–that Jesus is indeed the Messiah. And that guarantees he will do the rest of the Messiah job as well. But each in its own time. And in God’s way, a way that appears at times to be a bit mysterious. But his ways are higher than our ways, his thoughts are higher than ours.

God’s way is to deal with the root cause of our sufferings and the wrongs we do and experience. The root cause is sin. This is how Jesus will accomplish his messianic mission. He will do it by himself being arrested unjustly and executed. If it was unfair for John to suffer, how much more unfair it was for that to happen to Jesus! For he is the sinless Son of God! You see, John the Baptist was not only the forerunner of Christ in life, but also in death.

Jesus suffered and died an innocent death. He suffered shame, rejection, and death on a cross. He did this for you! The Son of God came in the flesh and took upon himself all the sins that you and I will ever pile up. He bore the punishment we deserve, in our place. Jesus died so that you will never die eternally, but instead have real life. By his perfect righteousness and sacrificial death, Jesus Christ has won forgiveness and life and everlasting salvation for you.

Now notice one more thing about Jesus’ reply. He says: “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear. . . .” You would think that healing blindness, lameness, leprosy, and deafness would be enough. But then Jesus adds another item to the list: “the dead are raised.” OK, that must be the capper. Hard to top that. But Jesus does. He lists still one more thing: “and the good news is preached to the poor.” Well, there you go. This is what’s happening here today. The good news is being preached to the poor. Right now. Jesus Christ is bringing good news to poor miserable sinners like you and me.

And that is what brings you everything else with it. Through the preaching of the good news, God connects you to Christ. And in Christ you will have ultimate healing and resurrection and every other promised blessing. Even now, through the preaching of the gospel, your faith is being strengthened, so that you will not fall away. Today God is giving you strength and hope in the midst of all the sorrows and perplexities of life. This is really good news!

Today Jesus is reassuring us that all the messianic promises will take place. The wrongs will be righted. The blessings are on the way. Jesus is indeed the one who was to come. He did the sin-atoning job on the cross. He rose from the dead and won the victory over death. If he did all this, then he will surely return to wrap the whole thing up. It’s as good as done. Dear friends, on that great day when Christ returns, there will be not just ten, but ten thousand times ten thousand, lords and ladies leaping, leaping out of their tombs, leaping for joy–and you will be among them!

Published in: on December 14, 2019 at 8:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
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