“What Do You Expect?” (Luke 7:18-28)

Third Sunday in Advent
December 12, 2021

“What Do You Expect?” (Luke 7:18-28)

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

But then, over December 26, 27, and 28, you start getting FedEx 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 that there are twelve days of Christmas, and you can expect that the rest of the stuff is on the way. It will arrive on time. Even though you have not yet seen any dancing ladies, you’re satisfied that you will. In this case, you really can count your chickens before they’re dispatched.

What you expect and when you expect it will 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? And when do you expect it? This is the question that comes to us, just as it came to John the Baptist: “What Do You Expect?”

Our text is the Holy Gospel from Luke 7. John the Baptist is in prison. He was imprisoned by Herod. Herod 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–and not doing. Perhaps John begins to wonder 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 is to come, or shall we look for another?” 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 seems to be disappointed with Jesus. Jesus wasn’t doing everything that John expected.

How do we deal with discouragement and disappointment in our lives when things don’t go the way we would like them to? Do we lose our confidence in Christ? Do we falter in our faith because of these difficulties? That’s how this story applies to us.

Last week we heard John the Baptist crying out concerning the wrath to come: “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.” John spoke of the Messiah who was about to appear: “He who is mightier than I is coming. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” John was saying that when the Messiah appears on the scene he will right the wrongs and bring judgment on the wicked.

Well, now the Messiah, Jesus, is here! Yet here is John, 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 is letting John out of prison. None of that. And the only axe that’s about to fall is the one that will soon take off John the Baptist’s head.

What’s going on? What kind of Messiah is Jesus? Why isn’t the coming wrath coming? Why isn’t the axe 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.

Yet John does have some scriptures on his side. He must have been thinking of all the prophecies that speak of judgment coming on the enemies of God’s people. For instance, Zephaniah 3, which you heard: “Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors.” Well, right now it looks like the oppressors are winning. Or Isaiah 35: “Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God he will come and save you.” So John is perplexed: “Where is the vengeance and the recompense and the saving? Are you the one who is to come, Jesus, or should we expect someone else?”

This question is not unique to John. The psalmists often cry out, “Why do the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer?” “How long, O Lord, how long?” Believers of all ages have asked these questions. Maybe you have, too. When your loved one is sick and isn’t getting better, you wonder why God doesn’t heal him or her. When evildoers kill the innocent, you wonder, even if they’re caught and punished, how can that make up for all the loss and grief? When your town is wiped out by a tornado. . . . These perplexities of life weigh us down, and we wonder. We wonder about God. We wonder about the Christian faith. Is it real? And like John, we ask, “Are you the one who is to come, Jesus, or shall we look for another?”

Jesus answers John’s question, and he does it in a most effective way. Jesus says: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.”

“Tell John what you have seen and heard.” These things that Jesus was doing–these things actually, objectively, happened. John’s disciples witnessed them: “In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight.” These things really did happen. Amazing things. Acts of mercy and healing with God’s unmistakable stamp on them.

These are acts that had been prophesied to be done by God’s anointed Messiah. So Jesus is sending John back to the same messianic prophecies that had prompted his question in the first place. Take, for example, Isaiah 35, about God coming with vengeance and divine retribution. That same passage goes on to say, “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 so on.

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

God’s way is to deal with the root and cause of all of man’s suffering and the wrong we do to one another. The root cause is sin. Our sin. Jesus will accomplish his messianic mission by dealing with that root cause. And he will do so by himself being arrested unjustly and executed. If you think it was unfair for John to suffer, how much more unfair is it for that to happen to the sinless Son of God! You see, John had the privilege of being the forerunner of Christ, not only in his life but also in his death.

Jesus suffered and died an innocent death. He suffered shame and rejection on a cross. And he did it for you! The Son of God took all the sins that you and I will ever pile up–sins against God–and he bore the punishment we deserve in our place. Jesus died so that you will never die eternally but instead live. By his righteousness and atoning death, Jesus Christ has won forgiveness–and with it, ultimate healing and life everlasting–for you.

Now notice one more thing about Jesus’ reply. He says: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up,” and then, as the climax, “the poor have good news preached to them.” You would think that healing blindness, lameness, leprosy, and deafness would be enough. Then Jesus adds another item to the list: “the dead are raised up.” OK, appropriate conclusion. Hard to top that. But Jesus does. He lists one more thing: “the poor have good news preached to them.” Well, there you go. And that’s what’s happening here today. The poor are having good news preached to them. Poor miserable sinners like you and me–Jesus is bringing good news to us!

And that’s what brings you everything else. Through the preaching of the gospel, God is connecting you to Christ, in whom you have healing and resurrection and every other blessing. Through Word and Sacrament, your faith is being strengthened, so that you will not be offended by Jesus and fall away, but rather you will be able to carry on in the midst of all the sorrows and perplexities of life. This is really good news!

Today Jesus gives us the assurance that all the great messianic works will take place. The wrongs will be righted. Jesus truly is the one who is to come. You don’t need to look for another. He is it. What do you expect? Expect Jesus to come and fix all that needs fixing.

Published in: on December 11, 2021 at 11:42 am  Leave a Comment  
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