Sermon / Pr. Ted Giese / Sunday Dec 13th 2015 - / Luke 7:18-28 / Joy in the Dark (Advent 3)
Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Rev. Ted A. Giese / Sunday December 13th 2015, Series (c) "Joy in the Dark" Luke 7:18-28 (Advent 3 Gaudete)
The disciples of John reported all these things to him. And John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are You the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And when the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to You, saying, ‘Are You the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” In that hour He healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind He bestowed sight. And He answered them, “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. And blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.”
When John's messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings' courts. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written,
“‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way before you.’
I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord. Amen.
Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. Our Gospel lesson finds John the Baptizer, the outspoken cousin of Jesus, locked up in prison for pointing out the obvious to King Herod: From Matthew's Gospel we hear that, "Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, because John had been saying to [Herod], “It is not lawful for you to have her.” Essentially Herod married his brother's wife and his brother Philip wasn't dead and in the eyes of the people she and Philip were still married. This is not God pleasing now and it wasn't God pleasing then.
Sitting in his prison under lock and key John hears what everyone is talking about, the text starts by simply saying John's disciples reported all these things to him. All what things? Well in the previous verses of Luke's Gospel Jesus had healed a Roman Centurion's servant and then Jesus "went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with Him. As [Jesus] drew near to the gate of the town, ... , a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, He had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then [Jesus] came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And [Jesus] said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. (as you might imagine) Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited His people!” And this report about [Jesus] spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country" and this is what the disciples of John came and told John as he sat in prison.
You'd think John would be happy ... have you ever heard good news when you were feeling miserable? When you felt sorry for yourself, when your circumstances were legitimately terrible? When you felt totally lost? One of two things will happen 1) you might be cheered up ... it's possible, in your misery 2) you might actually feel worse. John doesn't instantaneously rejoice at hearing that Jesus is healing people and raising people from the dead, John seems to fit the second category.
Looking at the whole reading you get an idea of what's bothering John. There's some subtext going on, just read between the lines a little and you see that Jesus is spending all his time with the blind and the lame and the poor and not with the rich and the powerful people like King Herod and Herod's brother's wife Herodias. Maybe John was thinking if Jesus did spend some time with them then they'd change too, John could get out of the prison cell and he could do a victory lap with Jesus. Instead John sits in his prison and sends his disciples to his cousin Jesus with the question, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Is all this true?
When they arrive to Jesus with John's question Jesus does two things, 1) He makes them be personal witnesses to what Jesus has been up too, that very hour Jesus healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind He bestowed sight. 2) After witnessing first hand all these things Jesus says to them “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." What's important about that? Well John in his prison cell is likely looking for something more like what we heard in Zephaniah this morning in our Old Testament reading:
Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter of Jerusalem!
The LORD has taken away the judgments against you;
He has cleared away your enemies.
The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst;
you shall never again fear evil.
Remember what John sends his disciples to ask Jesus: "Are You the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?" - Are you the King of Israel? Because you aren't clearing away my enemies? and You haven't taken away the judgments against me? Here I sit locked up.
Jesus directs John not to Zephaniah but to Isaiah, the message Jesus sends back quotes bits and pieces of Isaiah 35,
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 the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
and Isaiah 29
In that day the deaf shall hear
the words of a book,
and out of their gloom and darkness
the eyes of the blind shall see.
What did Jesus say? "The poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.” Christ Jesus establishes His kingdom among the poor, the lame, and the blind, this is a offensive thing to the World. It is also rather unexpected.
You'll notice that we don't get to hear what John says when his disciples return with Jesus' words and their eye witness accounts, when they return with the news that Jesus is the One they've been looking for: No, what Saint Luke gives you is Jesus turning to the crowd and directing things to them - asking them about John, dusty camel hair coated John, locust and wild honey eating John. Jesus asks, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?" Here Jesus gets at the heart of the matter - Expectations. John seems to have been expecting an immediate fulfilment of prophecies like the one we heard in Zephaniah Jesus was doing Isaiah. Will Jesus eventually do Zephaniah? Yes, but that will come at His second Advent on the Last Day when He comes for a second time in the same way He left us after the resurrection on the day of Ascension, when He comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead.
In the mean time what do you expect from Jesus - maybe you're the reveres. You aren't excepting Jesus to come again all Zephaniah style clearing away your enemies, maybe you're expecting the Jesus of Isaiah, you want to be healed of your infirmities and illnesses. What if the Jesus you expect is not the one your receive today? What if Jesus comes to you the way He desires to come to you? Will you lose heart?
Concerning this same time in the Gospel of Luke the Gospel of Mark says that, after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Everywhere Jesus goes the kingdom of God arrives. During the three years leading up to His death on the cross and His resurrection, the time we often call Jesus' earthly ministry, He brought a foretaste of the resurrection of the body - healings, resurrections from the dead like the widows son, they all point to the Last Day and the beginning of the life everlasting. Today Jesus comes to you in His Word and in His Supper with the forgiveness of your sins, and everywhere Jesus goes the kingdom of God arrives - today Jesus comes to you with redemption, forgiveness for the today's sins, He comes with a foretaste of eternal forgiveness, of belonging with Him and all the faithful, of being found and not lost, comforted and not scorned. He brings His sinlessness and gives it to you as a gift in exchange for your sin. Simple words, simple bread and wine and yet in Christ they are more: By His command they are His very Body and Blood, Jesus comes to you today and everywhere Jesus goes the kingdom of God arrives. Like Jesus reaching out to touch the widow's dead son Jesus reaches out and touches you today.
In our Epistle Saint Paul writes the Philippian Christians these words, but he could easily have written them to John in his prison cell, and Paul certainly writes them to you today, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."
Rejoice in the Lord always - always - in a prison cell, in a prison of your own making (when you've done it to yourself and you are stuck in a bad place) even then rejoice. In a hospital bed when you are sick, on the operating table, next to the coffin - the urn - of a loved one, in your bed at night as you cry to sleep - Rejoice in the Lord always. I know that seems odd to say, but like saint Paul also says, we don't want you to "grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep," God will bring with Jesus the dead to new life. So weather you grieve the death of someone you love, or you find yourself in legitimate trouble, the kind where you can't see a clear way out, as a Christian because of Jesus you don't sit in prison without hope. In The End - and there will be an end - all will be set right in Christ Jesus.
All the lame and blind and sick people Jesus healed eventually died, even the ones Jesus raised from the dead lived their lives and then they would have died like everyone else does. This is not some kind of futile thing thought, in all of this Jesus is giving genuine hope to the lost and the poor and the afflicted pointing to the Last Day and His return, His second Advent. So even though John was eventually beheaded by king Herod, John on the last day will with all people be risen from the dead and John's body will transformed by Jesus "to be like [Jesus'] glorious body, by the power that enables [Jesus] even to subject all things to Himself."
Knowing this, trusting this, believing this, having your hope in the fact that this is for you no matter how miserable today is is why a person like Paul can say, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice" How he can say, that when you pray to the Lord in the midst of your trouble with thanksgiving that, "the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." So brothers and sisters, good Christian friends take heart when you are miserable pray and in your prayers rejoice because the day is coming and all things will be made well, whatever the trouble, however horrible it will pass away with the world on the last Day and Jesus will make all things new just as He promises to do. He is faithful and true and will do this for you. Amen.
Let us pray:
Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
 Matthew 14:3-4
 Luke 3:21-22, "Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
 Luke 7:11-17
 Zephaniah 3:14-15
 Isaiah 35:5-6
 Isaiah 29:18
 Mark 1:14-15
 Philippians 4:4-7
 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14
 Philippians 3:21