Sermon / Pr. Ted Giese / Sunday December 11th 2016 - / Matthew 11:2-15 / Rejoice in the Lord Always
Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday December 11th 2016: The Season of Advent, Matthew 11:2-15 "Rejoice in The Lord Always"
Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, “Are You the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.”
As they went away, 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 wear soft clothing are in kings' houses. 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.’
Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
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. In the letter to the Philippians, in Chapter 4, you hear the words, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice." For centuries these words have been used by the church on this third Sunday of Advent as part of the introit, the Sunday of Rejoicing. We even have a rose coloured candle in the Advent wreath to further remind us of that joy! And yet there are a number of reasons why a verse like this could on the outset rub someone the wrong way. When you hear, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice." The word "rejoice" might be crowded out by the word "always" ... always? always? I'm to rejoice always? A part from things like war, drought, and pestilence, I can think of seven other perfectly good reasons why someone would not feel like rejoicing:
1) Greif - the death of someone that you love,
2) Cancer - or any serious life changing or terminal illness,
3) Unemployment - no paycheque, no food on the table,
4) Divorce - when everything falls apart,
5) Abuse - they said they loved me,
6) Depression - I'm in a deep black hole who can lift me out?,
7) Prison - my life is in the hands of others, my freedom is gone,
"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice." Who wrote these words? Saint Paul - in prison. From his prison cell Paul says, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice." This comes from his first imprisonment in Rome, during that time in the Roman prison Paul was chained to his guard for 2 years as his appeal process dragged on. Sure he was able to receive visitors and write letters but with the guard chained to him Paul had no privacy. He also didn't know if he'd live or die when the verdict was finally passed. As a Roman citizen Paul had appealed his case right to the Emperor. And the Emperor was to be his judge. Paul was in prison because of false allegations brought against him while he was in Jerusalem and before ending up in Rome, Paul had spent five years imprisoned in Caesarea near Jerusalem because of those false allegations. The trip to Rome include a ship wreck and a snake bite from a venomous viper while he was collecting wood for a fire, the ship wreck should have left Paul dead, but didn't the snake bite should have left him dead, but didn't. And so he sat in prison again for years .... "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice."
In our Gospel reading from Matthew chapter 11 John the Baptizer sits in a prison cell too, but he's not a Roman citizen like Paul and can't appeal his case to the Emperor in Rome. His judge would be Herod the tetrarch and "Herod had seized John and bound him and put him in prison for the sake of Herodias, [Herod's] brother Philip's wife, because John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have her [as your wife].” Philip, Herod's brother, wasn't dead you see and the whole thing was ugly and sinful. Like Paul John didn't really know if he'd live or die during his imprisonment ... but let's just say it didn't look good. Scripture does tell us that John was beheaded and his execution ended John time in prison. This leads many to contemplate the nature of the question John sends his disciples to ask Jesus. John whose work it was to, "prepare the way of the Lord," John who had pointed at Jesus and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" John who "bore witness [about Jesus saying]: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on Him. I myself did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” This same John now asks Jesus by way of his disciples, “Are You the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Some look at this and say John was in despair because if Jesus was the one why then is John in prison! Some look at this question and say John has his own disciples ask this of Jesus for their benefit - seeing that he himself was not likely to be long for this world John had to be sure that these followers of his would become followers of Jesus, the Christ. John having confessed Jesus to be the Christ had said, "Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.” Jesus must increase but I, John, must decrease.
How would asking the question John asked accomplish this in the eyes of his own disciples? How would asking this question help John decrease and Jesus increase? We heard in our Old Testament reading the Lord say through Isaiah His prophet," Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, Your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.”
What does John ask Jesus? “Are You the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Isaiah immediately continues, saying "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." Jesus' reply to the question asked by John's disciples is, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them." Jesus is saying yes John, yes I am the one to come. The prophet Isaiah had said when God comes these things will happen and John's disciples would be able to go back and say we saw Jesus heal the blind, the deaf, the lame, the mute, the leaper, even the dead!"
After receiving good news, after hearing good news like that can John have joy in prison? Saint Paul in his letter to the Roman Christians writes, "I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." ... nor anything else in all creation: including prison bars or jail cells - will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. ... nor anything else in all creation: including Depression, Abuse, Divorce, Unemployment, Cancer, or Greif, you name it, whatever it is in your life that's not even remotely rosy, whatever it is it will not be able to separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice." Now I cannot say that this is an easy lesson to learn, it isn't, in won't be, but the thing to keep in mind is that your king is coming to you, Jesus is coming to you, today in whatever situation you find yourself in He comes to you in His Word and in His Holy Supper, Holy Communion. And as we wait for His Second Advent when He will return in Glory on the Last Day Saint James in our Epistle reading today says, "Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand." While Paul sat in prison his task was to be patient and have a joyful heart, While John the baptizer sat in prison his task was to be patient and have a joyful heart, while you struggles, while you support those in your life who are struggling your task is to be patient and have a joyful heart, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice."
And when you fail in this regard, when you are not patient, when you have no joy, when you find yourself to be bitter or angry or frustrated lay down the weight of these troubles, these sins, at Jesus' nail pierced feet, let the His Holy blood wash these troubles away, and come back over and over and over again for Jesus is the one who was to come, Jesus has come, He will come again. You may not always have joy in this life, you may not always rejoice but your God is always coming to you, Jesus is always coming to your side, coming to you. And in the resurrection on the Last Day on Jesus' second Advent your joy will be complete! On that day you will finally be able to rejoice in the Lord always, forever and ever. 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.
 Philippians 4:4
 Lutheran Study Bible, Concordia Publishing House, Persecuted for the Faith excursus, page 2042.
 Matthew 14:3-4
 John 1:29
 John 1:32-34
 John 3:29-30
 Isaiah 35:4
 Isaiah 35:5-6
 Romans 8:38-39
 James 5:7-8