Sermon on Matthew 11:2-11
Text: When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples 3 to ask him, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”
4 Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 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. 6 Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”
7 As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 8 If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. 9 Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written:
“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’
11 I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
Many things do not live up to our expectations. For example, have you ever seen all of the previews for a movie, and then went to see it? As you sat through the movie, you realized that they showed the five good minutes of the movies in the previews, but forgot to tell you about the hour and forty minutes that were not quite so good. Perhaps, you have been driving down the road and you saw a place advertised for hundreds of miles, so you decided to stop and see it. What you found was a run-down, tourist trap, and you wonder why you even got out of the car. Many things do not live up to expectations. Of course, there are also times when we did not set our expectations high enough, and we got more than we expected. On the basis of our text this morning, we want to ask ourselves: WHAT DO YOU EXPECT TO SEE 1. In Jesus and 2 In John The Baptist?
John the Baptist had been put in prison by King Herod for telling King Herod that he had sinned by taking his brother’s wife for himself. John was in the prison, waiting. It is very possible that John began to have some second thoughts about his role in life and what he expected from the Christ. He sent his disciples to ask Jesus a question, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” It may seem hard for us to imagine that John had doubts as to whom Jesus was. After all, he had pointed the crowds to Jesus, telling them that he was “The Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” There is no doubt that his father, Zechariah, had told him about the appearance of the angel Gabriel. Gabriel had told Zechariah that his son, John, would prepare the way for the Christ.
Yet, is it really so hard for us to imagine that John could have had some doubt? How many of us, when things are not going as we think they should, have had doubts about God’s love for us? How many of us haven’t felt a little tinge of fear, ‘What if I’m not believing the right thing?’ or ‘What if other people are right and there is no life after this one?’ Because we are still sinful, doubts will, at times, steal across our minds. May God help us so that these doubts are never given a firm position in our minds!
John, apparently, began to doubt, because he did not see Jesus doing the things he expected him to do. As we heard last Sunday, John had 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 . . . His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” This is how John expected Jesus to act. He wanted to see some cutting and some burning. Yet, Jesus came onto the scene meek and lowly. Jesus was not fitting the picture that John had in mind.
Jesus replied to John’s question by telling John’s disciples to report back what they had heard and seen. Jesus said in verse 5, “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.” Jesus told John’s disciples to look around and note what was happening. Jesus is quoting from Isaiah 35, which was our Old Testament lesson. The 35th chapter of Isaiah speaks of what the promised Christ would do when he came to Israel. In other words, Jesus is telling John, ‘Yes, I am the promised Messiah. I am doing the things that were foretold.’ Jesus wanted to calm John’s fears. John was expecting a forceful Lawgiver. He had not expected to find a meek man, speaking words of peace and comfort. Jesus corrected his expectations.
Jesus does not fit many people’s expectations today, either. The fault does not lie with Jesus. The fault lies in people’s expectations. Some are offended when they hear about Jesus’ suffering and death. They do not want to hear about the agony that he went through. Some do not want to believe in a man who died and was raised again. Since it does not make sense to them, they make up theories such as: ‘Jesus really did not die. He fell into some sort of coma and the coolness of the tomb revived him.’
However, you and I know that this is not what happened. Jesus did die a very painful death. He underwent sheer agony for us. Those who do not believe this are missing the fact that Jesus had to die. He had to die because of our sins. If Jesus had not died, we would be lost forever. If Jesus had not risen from the dead, it would mean that his Father had not accepted the payment for our sins. If this were the case, there would be no resurrection for us, nor eternal life. We would only have God’s wrath for all eternity. Such is the case for those who do not have the proper expectations of Jesus.
There are also those who only look at Jesus as a person, who was a quiet man, who went around speaking words of love and harmony. ‘Jesus is love. He would not send someone to hell for a few little mistakes!’ Those who have these expectations of Jesus will be greatly surprised. When John the Baptist spoke of the fact that the ax is already at the root of the tree, or throwing the chaff into unquenchable fire, he was speaking of what Jesus will do at the end of the world. Yes, Jesus is love. However, as true God, he is also quite serious about his Law. Those who do not believe this will find out, very quickly that Jesus is a righteous Judge, who will come at the end of time. May we also keep this in mind, lest we fall into the devil’s trap of not realizing just whom Jesus is. May God help us to live lives of thankfulness for all that he has done for us.
After John’s disciples left, Jesus taught the crowd about John. He wanted them to know what they should have expected of John. Some people, when they heard Jesus’ message of peace, were only too happy to reject John and his stern message. Jesus wanted the people to know that John played a very important role. He began by asking, “What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind?” ‘Did you go out into the desert to see a man who was willing to bend to whatever political or religious opinion was popular at the moment?’ If they expected such a man, they would have been very disappointed. John stuck by his guns. He did not waver in his message of repentance. He called them as he saw them. John was not one to turn with every shift in public opinion.
Jesus continues, “If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces.” If the people expected a well-polished man, who always looked impeccable, they would have been disappointed. If they were looking for someone who could charm anybody, John was not their man. John preached repentance and lived the part. Jesus said, if John was well-polished, he would be living in a king’s palace, telling him whatever he wanted to hear. As we said earlier, John was in the king’s palace, but not living in the lap of luxury. He was in the king’s prison for speaking the truth.
Jesus continues, “Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.” John was more than just another preacher. He had a very special role to carry out. We read in verse 10, “This is the one about whom it is written: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’” Jesus is quoting from Malachi 3:1. In this verse, the Father is speaking to the Son, telling him that he was going to send someone who would prepare his way. That someone was John the Baptist. He is, indeed, more than a prophet, for his arrival had also been prophesied in the Old Testament. He was to immediately precede and prepare the way for the Messiah. That was his role. That is what the people were to expect from John.
John’s role was one of preparation. He acted like a sledgehammer, breaking down the sinful ideas of self-righteousness. He preached the law in its full force, so that sin might be exposed. He showed the people that they could not save themselves. He got the people ready for the sweet message of the gospel that Jesus brought. The law must first cut before the sweet salve of the gospel can do its work. John’s role was to get the people ready for the coming Messiah.
May we also heed John’s message was we ready ourselves for Jesus’ coming. So many times, when we think of John, we think of him as some sort of fanatic, living in the desert, wearing clothes made of camel’s hair, and eating locusts and wild honey. Let us look past those externals and listen to his message of repentance. May we listen to him, and with the Holy Spirit’s help, with thankfulness to God for all that he has done for us, clean our lives from all of the filth that has accumulated over the years. Heed John’s message and prepare yourself for your Savior’s arrival. John the Baptist still plays that role today.
Yes, there are many things in life that do not meet our expectations. However, there are also many things that exceed our expectations. We start off thinking that it is going to be a rotten day, and it turns out that we have a great day. We expect that we will not like a meal that someone is preparing for us, but we find it quite delicious. Jesus more than meets our expectations. He gives us more than we could ever hope for. He gives us everything free of charge. May the Advent message keep us ever mindful of his return, when he will more than meet all of our expectations. Amen.
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