Lord God, heavenly Father, You gave Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to become Man and to come into the world that He might destroy the works of the devil, deliver us poor offenders from sin and death, and give us everlasting life: We beseech You so to rule and govern our hearts by Your Holy Spirit that we may seek no other refuge than His Word, and thus avoid the sin to which we are by nature inclined, in order that we may always be found among the faithful followers of Your Son, Jesus Christ, and by faith in Him obtain eternal salvation; through the same, Your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one true God, now and forever. Amen.
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
2 And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples
3 and said to Him, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?”
4 Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see:
5 “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.
6 “And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.”
7 As they departed, Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?
8 “But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Indeed, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses.
9 “But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet.
10 “For this is he of whom it is written:`Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You.’
These are Your words, heavenly Father. Sanctify us by the truth. Your Word is truth. Amen.
Faithful Preaching; Faithful Hearing
Dear fellow redeemed,
There’s a large church in North Carolina that requires anyone seeking membership in the church and leadership positions there, to subscribe—not to Scriptural doctrines—but to the vision of the pastor.
Though other churches may not be so bold to require such a subscription, many are built around the leadership of the pastor. It sometimes happens that when a pastor is found to be teaching error, and is removed from the church body, the congregation that should know better, instead of sticking to the faith once delivered to the saints, sticks with the pastor, because of the pastor’s vision, his charisma, his style and so on.
Is this how John conducted his ministry? Is this how he obtained the disciples he had, two of which we hear about in our gospel reading? Did he build his ministry around himself, his vision to gather people to himself?
Definitely not. John faithfully preached the Word of God, which is all about Christ. He didn’t make it about himself. Many did come out to see this strange figure out by the Jordan, this man who wore camel hair clothing and ate honey and locusts. But John preached repentance, and pointed them to the coming of the kingdom of God in the person of Jesus Christ.
Jesus said as much about John. “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?” In other words, did they go out there expecting to find a man teaching the latest fad in Jewish teaching? Were they going to see a man who’s message was formed by the popular culture or the popular philosophies of the day, only to be change as the new wind of ideas comes upon him? Did they expect to find him to be the hip, up with the times kind of preacher? They found him to be something very different.
Then Jesus asked, “What did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft garments?” –the the kind of preacher welcomed into kings houses. In other words, is he a people pleaser, a king pleaser? Did they go out expecting him to tell them things that they want to hear? Is he the kind of preacher that speaks whatever may gain the peoples’ favor, their esteem, and their riches? That he would even gain the acceptance of kings? Again, they found John to be very different. Certainly if John wanted to find himself comfortable in kings’ houses, it would have been the Pharisees and Sadducees that he would have had to warm up to, but instead he calls them a “brood of vipers” and said, “Bear fruits worthy of repentance.” And he certainly made it impossible to live in king’s houses after confronting the ruler Herod Antipas about his adultery.
But what did they see out there in the wilderness? The world’s first prophet in 430 years. The one promised by Malachi. And this prophet, John, did what prophets do, and that is preach the Word of God. He was merely the messenger. He didn’t call people to follow him, to abide by his vision. Rather he preached the Word which draws people to repentance and faith in Christ. John was a pointer. He pointed people to Jesus, the king of heaven, and the sacrificial Lamb by which we may have entrance into His kingdom!
This is what John did when he sent his disciples to Jesus. He directed them to Jesus, that they may witness His works and preaching and follow Him. They were to ask the question: “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?”
And what did Jesus do? He provides an example for preachers by simply preaching the Word to them. He quotes from Isaiah, words that speak about what the Messiah would do. “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.” The Word reveals the Christ. Here in this point of history a multitude of miracles are being performed. These two disciples of John heard the reports and saw these miracles, some of which never had happened before. One man born blind was healed by Jesus, and he said before the Pharisees, “Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”
And so the Word reveals Jesus and draws people to Him. He is the Coming One, just as the Word describes.
And so the faithful preaching is the preaching of the Word, centered on “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” as Paul put it. Preachers are to be as John, preaching repentance and pointing to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
But let us all be faithful listeners, too. One of the difficulties with this text is this question: “Was John, who was in prison, struggling with doubt about Jesus, whether He was the Coming One, and sent his disciples to ask for his sake.” It’s hard to imagine John doubting. He baptized Jesus, and heard the Father’s voice from heaven, and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove landing upon Jesus. He faithfully preached God’s Word, even though it meant imprisonment and even death.
But should we find it hard to imagine John doubting? He is, after all, born in the likeness of Adam. He is a poor sinner going through a difficult time, imprisoned and likely to die there. So John wanted to hear his disciples preach to him the words that Jesus had said. John knew the answer. John knew that Jesus was the Coming One, but he needed to hear it again to receive the comfort of that knowledge, and be strengthened. He needed to hear that Jesus is for him.
And so consider how John, the great forerunner of Christ, desired the Word of God. You, too, consider your poverty, and your need to hear it. It’s like the story of the husband and wife, who’ve been married for several years. And the wife said to the husband, “You don’t tell me that you love me anymore.” And the husband said, “I told you once, and if anything changes, I’ll let you know.” We need to hear of Christ’s love and salvation.
You who wrestle with doubts know you need that assurance. And if you don’t feel that need, consider your sins, that they’re not simply mistakes that you make. A little lie, a word of gossip, a passing lustful thought, a little bit of haughtiness, these are not merely little sins, but they are outward signs of a heart that is corrupted, and completely fallen in sinfulness. And this sinfulness places you squarely at odds with God, and in the bonds of Satan’s prison. Consider, too, the trials that you may be facing, or will face. We will all go through them. John faced imprisonment and death. You will also face crosses of your own. Do you think that you are so strong that you can bear them on your own two feet? You are not, and besides your hope is misplaced. Do not find it in yourself.
How poor we are? How pitiful our situation? Can God forgive such a one as me? Could it be that God has given up on me and abandoned me to suffer on my own? Is God really a gracious God, and is He gracious to me?
Luther said, of all the works that Jesus did, of which He quoted from Isaiah, the greatest one is not that the blind receive their sight, or that the lame walk. The greatest work is that He preaches the gospel to the poor. And isn’t that true!
So you, the poor and those struggling with doubt, Behold, the Lord and His gospel for you: He is indeed the Coming One foretold in the Old Testament, who came in love for you for your salvation. He is also the Righteous One, who clothes you in His perfect righteousness. He is also the crucified One, who has atoned for all your sins, and saves you from your sinfulness. He is also the Risen One, who gives you newness of life and life everlasting. He is also the Ascended One who is with you always even to the end of the age. He is also the Returning One who will come again and take you to Himself in eternal joy.
Thanks be to Jesus, from whom we have this precious and certain gospel to comfort us, strengthen us, and quell our doubts. Amen.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, forevermore. Amen.