Vol. IX — No. 52 December 29, 1968
Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another? Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepars are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me. And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ya out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind? But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.
In Christ Jesus, who would like to sustain us in the hour of trial and give us His approval, Fellow Redeemed:
Each of us is given to hero worship. We may find our heroes on the sports pages, in political life, in movieland, in history or literature, or elsewhere. We may also have our Bible heroes—men and women who stand out as heroes of faith in by-gone Kingdom days. Maybe John the Baptist is one of your heroes. He surely is worthy of such a place in the hearts and minds of children of God.
He wasn’t an expected child. As a matter of fact the announcement of his birth so stunned his priest-father that he lapsed into unbelief, Zacharias just couldn’t believe that after all these years of waiting his aging wife and he would become parents of a son. But so it came to pass. What a day of rejoicing and excitement was not the day of the child’s circumcision! All the relatives and friends took for granted that the baby boy would be named after his father, but his mother protested, and his father spoke for the first time after months of silence, saying, “His name is John!” Then came from the lips of father Zacharias a flow of prophetic thought that must have caused that festive gathering to hush and ponder just what manner of child and man this infant should become. Holy Scripture pulls the curtain over the childhood, boyhood and young manhood of this child except to say that “the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his shewing unto Israel.” Luke 1:80.
But when he stepped forward, Israel came to look and to listen. Hardened in body by desert life and strong in spirit by the power of the Holy Spirit he appeared as a prophet out of the past. He stood there in his homemade clothes of Camel’s hair, sustained by what the desert provided. His message was simple: “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matt. 3:2. When a delegation from the religious establishment of that day came for a “look-see,” John greated them with a fervor and a frankness that must have given them at least momentary pause: “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Matt. 3:7. When King Herod entered into an incestuous and adulterous union with his brother’s wife, the religious establishment maintained a discreet silence. Only John’s voice protested, saying that not even the king had the right to disregard the law of God. Herod retaliated by arresting and imprisoning John. Here was a man who stood eyeball to eyeball with the mighty of his day and told them God’s unvarnished truth about themselves—regardless of the consequences to himself. What courage! What faith! What a man of God!
Was there no weakness in this tower of strength? Was he all strength? No, for he too was flesh born of flesh and subject to temptation. Here is what makes the hero human—such a comfort and such a source of instruction for us. For in his experience we can see experiences of our own mirrored. Let us take a look at John as he was—
“Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” What a contrast that question of douit was with John’s previous testimony: “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” John 1:29. John’s whole life’s work had been to testify to the multitudes, “This Jesus is the promised Messiah. He must increase, but I must decrease.” What happened to John’s certainty? What caused him to begin to doubt his beliefs and believe his doubts? John was languishing in his dungeon cell. Why? Because he was guilty of some misdemeanor or felony? No! Because he had been faithful to his calling—the calling of men to repentance, the preparing of the way. While he was suffering in imprisonment, Herod was celebrating in sin. What was Jesus doing? He was eating and drinking with publicans and sinners and Pharisees. Why didn’t He come with vengeance against Herod and all those oppsed to the Kingdom of God? John had testified, “The ax is laid unto the root of the trees.” Matt. 3:l0. Why didn’t Jesus come and swing that ax of judgment and triumph over all those champions of sin and enemies of the Truth? Because Jesus seemed too longsuffering with evil and because He refrained from coming with judgment, John began to wonder: Is He really the One that should come?
Isn’t it very easy for us also to begin to doubt our beliefs and believe our doubts? Isn’t it true that many of you thought that when you got a pastor who would preach the whole truth of God, “any people would be happy to leave churches that were feeding them with error and false doctrine and would join this congregation? But what has happened? We have found that many will complain loudly about things in the church but will still prefer to cuddle up to the error and false doctrine than break with it. And we have found that some who spoke the loudest for the truth have found that Some of the truth is a “hard saying” and have turned their backs upon it. Aren’t we tempted to doubt the power of the Word? Aren’t we tempted to think that compromise of the truth would be more effective than confessing the truth?
Think of our private lives. It’s easy to believe that we are God’s children and the Lord is with us—when all is going well with us. But suddenly if an accident, an untimely death or the threat of some serious ailwent should strike us, we may be tempted to doubt whether our God loves us, whether He has been watching over us, whether He really can or wants to help us. At such a time and under such circumstances we tend to believe our doubts and doubt our beliefs—just as did John of old. But in that situation he was—
John sent his disciples to JeSus with the question, “Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” He experienced doubt, but he didn’t fall victim to those doubts. He combated his doubts by going to Jesus. And Jesus dispelled those doubts, but not as John might have thought He should have done. Jesus simply told John’s disciples to return and report that which they had seen: “The blind receive their sight, 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.” John longed to see works of judgment upon the enemies of the Kingdom. Jesus just pointed out all His works of mercy and grace. Just go and tell John about this. And then Jesus added a special beatitude: “and blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in to.” Jesus said nothing of judgment—when or how it would come. He just warned against falling into a trap that would destroy faith. Believing one’s doubt and doubting one’s beliefs is just such a trap.
Let us not be trapped into believing our doubts and doubting our beliefs! So we, at times, doubt the power of the Word to change human hearts, especially when we see people turning away from the truth and so hesitant to embrace it? Let us be sure to turn to the Lord Jesus when such doubts assail us. He tells us to sow the Seed of the Word. Then He tells us that the Seed of the word has in itself the power to produce spiritual life. He assures us that His Word never returns empty. It achieves that which He will. It may not accomplish what we expect and hope for, and then again it may accomplish much more than we ever looked for. The point is that when doubts about the effectiveness of the Word assail us, as they surely do at times, we are to turn to the Lord and hear and heed His reassurances about the power and the effectiveness of His Word to change hearts of stone into hearts of flesh, to change unbelief into faith, rejection of Christ into bowing the knee before Him, rebellion into obedience. Only believe!
How often hasn’t it happened in our lives that we have become fearful and apprehensive about dangers that seem to threaten and imperil us? Isn’t is true that we at times act as though God were actually dead or as though He were unable and unwilling to help us. Then we learn that before we called He already answered, that He stood by close at our side when we thought He had abandoned us. How can we avoid becoming victims of our doubts and fears in the future? By fleeing to Him in every time of trouble. He urges us to call upon Him. He promises to deliver. He wants us to take Him at His word and hold Him to it. He wants us to be bold in prayer, insistent and persistent. That is the way to become victorious over fears and doubts and misgivings.
John gained the victory over his doubts and passed by way of the executioner’s ax to glory. In that moment of bloody death he found himself approved, even as already in his lifetime he was—
Not until after his disciples had gone did Jesus place His approval upon John publicly before the multitudes. He asked them, “What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind? But what went ye out For to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings' houses. But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.” If the people wanted to see some reeds, they would just have has to go down to the lake shore. They wouldn’t have had to travel all the way to the Jordan. If they wanted to see fancy-dressed courtiers, they could have stayed in the cities about the Sea of Galilee. They wouldn’t have had to travel down to the Jordan. What is Jesus saying with these rhetorical questions? He’s saying that John wasn’t a reed, swinging and swaying in the wind. He wasn’t a wishy-washy church politician, but a man of principle. He wasn’t a courtier, saying things to please in return for favors. No, he said what had to be said, regardless of the consequences for himself, even if they be the dungeon and the executioner’s ax. John was a prophet, yea more. He was the messenger prophesied of old that should prepare the way for the Lord. And John was faithful to that calling. He was approved of his Lord and Master.
Oh that we all would strive for such approval! As a pastor, the Lord expects of me faithfulness. I am to please Him, even if it at times may mean displeasing some of you. I am to tell you what your God wants you to hear, not what your flesh may want to hear. I am to call sinners to repentance—even if they may fuss at me and make life miserable for me. I am to assure the repentant of forgiveness—even if someone may begrudge him that forgiveness. I am to fill the hungry with good things. I am to make the poor rich in grace and mercy and divine forgiveness. Lord, give strength and courage, humility and patience, that I may be approved as a minister of Christ.
Oh that you in the pew also would strive for such divine approval! You are not to be reeds, swaying to and fro with every wind of doctrine. But you are to be men and women and children willing to confess the Lord and His Word, even if it costs you the loss of friendship, popularity, security, property, life itself. You are not to be self-seekers, saying “no” to the Lord and “yes” to His enemies in order to gain some small advantage here on earth. You are to be ready at all times to stand up for the Lord, whatever the personal cost may be. In so doing you will be approved of the Lord. And He will one day say, “Because you confessad Me and My Word, I will now acknowledge you as My own before all the assembled nations of the earth.”
May the Lord grant you as members and me as your pastor grace always to stand approved of the Lord. Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.