The Third Sunday of Advent December 12, 2004
73, 61, 272, 702 [TLH alt. 74]
And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to Him, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: 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. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.” 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? But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Indeed, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet. For this is he of whom it is written: ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You.’ Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
In the name of our coming Lord, dear fellow-redeemed:
Does it ever seem that all you are doing during this pre-Christmas season is searching? How many sale fliers from the Sunday paper have you rifled through during the past few weeks? How many trips to the mall have you made? How many different stores have you visited? Have you gone back to the same store multiple times? Are you looking for a sweater, a video game, a book? Or have you just wandered the aisles of a department store hoping to be inspired by the displays as to what to buy for a friend or family member? That kind of searching can be exhausting. First, you negotiate the traffic and crowds, pushed on by the pressure of the dwindling days before Christmas. Then, after finally buying something, you may second-guess yourself and wonder whether it is the right gift or the right size.
So what are you looking for? You may ask this of yourself. Helpful store employees may ask it of you. Today, Jesus asks it. “What are you looking for?” In a week or so the searching for Christmas presents will be over, but what are you looking for in life—the years of your time of grace on earth?
Are you looking for answers? Are there things you don’t understand? Do you wonder why certain things have happened in your life, what their purpose is, or even whether it is all worthwhile? Do you look at what is happening in the world and wonder what it all means? John the Baptist was looking for those answers too. Earlier, his life and mission had been very clear. John had been sent by God to prepare the way for Jesus. He had fearlessly and faithfully preached God’s Word and baptized hundreds at the Jordan River. But now things were different. Instead of preaching out in the sunshine, John was locked away out of sight in a dark prison. The days and weeks passed and the questions kept coming. Had his work been in vain? Was this all really part of God’s plan? How could it be? John must have had all kinds of questions, but he also knew exactly where to look for answers. He sent two of his followers to Jesus.
Is that what we do? Do we look to Jesus first, or do we try to figure the answers out ourselves or turn to specialists, experts, or government officials before the Lord? To overlook the Lord is like walking into a store, ignoring the owner who is standing there ready to tell you exactly where to find what you need, and instead wandering the aisles and rummaging through boxes in the storeroom on your own. Sometimes people ignore Jesus as though He only offers theoretical spiritual advice which has no relevance to the concrete, practical issues of day-to-day life.
That is just not true! Jesus has all the answers we need. His Word is a lamp to our feet and a light for our path (cf. Psalm 119:105). It is absolutely reliable. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16 NIV).
Are you looking for answers? “Search the Scriptures!” Jesus says. Don’t discount His Word and say, “The Bible can’t help me with this.” Don’t leave the Word closed because you’re sure you won’t like what you hear. If you don’t know where to look in Scripture, grab your concordance or check with the pastor or another fellow believer. Go to Jesus and listen not only with your ears, but with an open heart. He has all the answers we need.
In addition to answers, John the Baptist was looking for action. He had preached and warned that people needed to repent of their sins now, because God was going to take action. “The ax blade of God’s judgment is at the root of the trees ready to hack down any tree which does not produce fruit” (cf. Matthew 3:10). “When the Messiah comes,” John said, “He will clean out the threshing floor, gather the wheat into the barn, but burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (cf. Matthew 3:12). John preached and waited, but nothing happened. He did not hear the crack of trees being chopped down. He didn’t see the smoke of God’s judgment fires. Why wasn’t Jesus taking action? “Are You the Coming One, or should we look for another?” [v.3]
Jesus replied, “Tell John what is happening. 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.” [vv.4-5] John would have immediately recognized these things as the fulfillment of what Isaiah had prophesied about the Savior. Jesus was doing just what the Father had said He would do. But instead of emphasizing judgment and punishment, Jesus was showing God’s mercy. What John may have taken for inaction was God’s love and patience at work. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him” (John 3:16-17).
Like John, we may look for action from God and not always see it. We come to Him in prayer with a list of all our problems and needs, and He may not resolve them in 24 hours or less. We are unfairly hurt by people or situations and the Lord doesn’t set things right immediately. Some take that as a sign that God is unwilling or unable to help, and they give up on Him. They take offense and turn away from Him. You probably know people who rejected God because they felt He wasn’t doing them any good.
The reality is that the Lord never hesitates to get involved and act. What may seem like inaction may very well be His mercy working overtime. We owe our lives to that. Without the Lord’s mercy we would have been chopped down as fruitless trees long ago. We would have been incinerated as worthless chaff. But instead Jesus has shown us divine mercy and patience. When we were spiritually blind, lame, and dead in sins, Jesus raised us to new life with the good news that He came to be holy for us and to suffer all the punishment we deserved. John the Baptist had pointed to Jesus and said, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). The judgment fire will come eventually when Jesus returns in glory, but now He comes to us in love with the free gift of salvation.
Are you looking for real action from the Lord? Look at His life of humble, loving service in our behalf. Look at the suffering and death He endured on the cross. Let His mercy strengthen your trust in Him and give you the patience James wrote of in the Epistle lesson: the patience of a farmer who knows the harvest will come, and so he does not become discouraged while waiting.
Did John the Baptist waste his life? It might seem so. After all, he died at an early age on the whim of an immoral king and he left nothing behind. His earlier popularity was quickly forgotten. But Jesus showed how meaningful his life truly was. John was not a passing curiosity who gained attention by testing the wind and then swaying along with the breezes of public opinion. He was not out to get the nice things of life for himself. His life had purpose because he was a prophet, a preacher of God. He was even more than that, because John himself had been the subject of prophecy as the forerunner of Christ.
In other words, John’s life was not a waste. It was full of meaning because of its connection with Jesus. John had been filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb. He had faithfully preached God’s Word. He had gone to Jesus for encouragement. And though King Herod cut short his life, he could not cut him off from the Lord. John’s soul is even now with the Lord in heaven.
Are you looking for real meaning in life? You already have it in the Lord Jesus. Through baptism He has come to you, and has stayed close ever since. He hears your every prayer and encourages you through His Word. In fact, Jesus says, we are even greater and more blessed than John. John announced that Jesus was on the way. He baptized Him in the Jordan and heard in prison what Jesus had begun doing, but that was all. We, on the other hand, have seen it all! We have seen the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. We have seen the journey to Jerusalem, the trial and crucifixion on Golgotha. We have the thrill of celebrating the empty tomb on Easter and of gazing up into the sky with wonder as Jesus triumphantly ascends. In that way we are greater than John the Baptist.
May we, therefore, never be offended because of Jesus. May we take to heart John’s call to repentance and humbly confess our guilt. May we eagerly take advantage of every opportunity to hear Jesus assure us of His mercy and full forgiveness. May we pick up where John left off and tell others of the Coming One who lived and died for them too. By staying close to Jesus, our lives will always be full of meaning.
What are you looking for? Are you looking for answers you can depend on, answers which will never change and always be right? Are you looking for real action to deal with the big issues of life? Are you looking for meaning in life beyond the mundane things of this world? You don’t have to rush here and there. You don’t have to wander the aisles wondering. You don’t have to second-guess yourself. What you are looking for is Jesus! Amen.
Enter now my waiting heart,
Glorious King and Lord Most Holy.
Dwell in me and never leave,
Tho’ I am but poor and lowly.
What vast riches will be mine
When You are my guest divine.
[Lutheran Worship 34:2]
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