Sermon / Pr. Ted Giese / Wednesday December 14th 2016 - / Matthew 11:2-15 / When the Reed Won't Bend
Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Wednesday December 14th 2016: The Season of Advent, Matthew 11:2-15 "When the Reed Won't Bend"
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. You've heard the little saying, "Don't shoot the messenger." Maybe you've delivered news that you yourself had know was not going to be received well, or at least was going to be unexpected and then maybe you even added on that little comment at the end ... "Don't shoot the messenger." Here in our Gospel Jesus turns to the crowd as John the Baptizer's disciples are leaving and says to those gathered there that day, “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."
On the one hand Jesus praises John because John, as a faithful messenger of God, He's not a reed shaken by the wind (pushed here and there by whatever popular public opinions are in the air at any given time), Jesus praises John because John isn't a kept man, a lapdog of the authorities (John doesn't wear the soft clothing of a hanger-on, a "Yes Man" of an earthly king, or ruler, he's not "sell-out," he's not been bought), in fact John at that moment sat in a jail cell because John stood with the truth of God's Word against a public lie that was supported by Herod the Tetrarch - the lie being that it was good and right for a man to steal his brother's wife providing that he's strong enough to do so with a high enough position of authority to get away with it - John says to this no! He says to Herod the Tetrarch, "It is not lawful for you to have [your brother's wife]," and Jesus praises John, this faithful messenger of God's Word, for saying so. Lastly Jesus praises John because John is in fact more than a prophet, while John is part of the company of the Old Testament prophets who had come before him, John himself was more than these and there's a reason why John is. While they had point forward to the coming Christ John himself pointed right at the Christ in the flesh. He unlike the rest of them could say: "[There He is!] The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" No other prophet could claim that distinction. No other prophet had ever spoken to a crowd of people and said that.
Now on the other hand, as Jesus praises John in the same breath Jesus chastises the crowd, He rebukes them, Jesus takes them to task confronting them by asking, 'why did you go out to John, why did you go out to hear him?' And by implication Jesus is asking them 'why did you receive John's baptism at the Jordan? ... Was it because you had, "itching ears?" Were John's words scratching your itch for just a season? Would you demand from him to speak to you different words when your ears itched for something else, something different? When the opinions of the day have shifted would you then demand John to bend like a reed in the wind to suit you and your changing preferences?' Jesus is asking them, 'Is what John taught you about Me too hard for you to endure now, now that you see who I am? Now that you see why I'm here? Now that you see that I've come to save the poor and not to help the powerful?' With John were you just accumulating for yourself a teacher to suit your own passions?' If what was first told to you by John, if what you first received from him with joy, now doesn't suit you anymore ... "Don't shoot the messenger,"... rather stop and take a look in the mirror! Jesus is saying to them 'there was nothing wrong with John, "John does not waver, nor does his witness, he does not follow your wavering delusion" ... therefore have your personal wavering corrected by being fixed to one who has not wavered, and steady yourself by John's witness, by his confession, by what he has taught you about Me, and by doing this you will remain with Me, don't think of any other Saviour aside from Me.' This is the nature of what Jesus says about John the Baptizer, this faithful messenger of God.
Here's a question for you tonight: Is the church, the very bride of Christ, under pressure from certain corners of society to change what it teaches? To be a reed shaken by the wind? To change what it confesses to be true? To follow a "politically correct" agenda and wear the soft clothing of the prevailing powers of the day? To accept things lauded as "true," celebrated as "true," by a decadent self absorbed segment of society, "truths" which are in contradiction with what God's Word teaches? Is the church under pressure to change what it preaches and teaches about Jesus? Does this sound familiar?
Before turning to the crowd to talk to them, what does Jesus say to John's disciples? Jesus says, "blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.” Are people offended by Jesus and His church? It seems like everyone is offended by everything all the time these days, hardly a day goes by without some story of someone being offended by something. I hardly have to give you any examples at all ... I'm sure you can think of some yourself. People have become so worried about anything being offensive to anyone that out of fear of causing offence administrators and administrations change all kinds of things even when they likely don't have too.
We Christians also get offended because some of the changes are things like, not having the Lord's Prayer in public school anymore, or in particular - at this time of year - we find it irritating that the school is having a "winter concert" instead of a Christmas concert, or that people in stores are quicker to say saying "Season's greetings" than they are to say "Merry Christmas." This kind of offence is not offence on account of who Jesus is but rather it is an offence taken when Jesus - and at this time of year - when the celebration of His birth, is being disrespected, or is being respected less than had previously been the case, and as Christians we don't want to see Jesus, or the celebration of His Birth, disrespected; we don't like to see Him being respected less by society. We shouldn't be too surprised however, even as the New Testament was being written Jesus was a conundrum to some, Saint Paul says that the, "[preaching of] Christ crucified, [was in his day] a stumbling block to Jews and [foolishness] to Gentiles." This is why the Christian, even today, can't be too bent out of shape when they attempt to defend Jesus' honour only to find people offended by their well meaning attempt. Saint Paul experienced this, so will you. When people get ticked off at you because of Jesus ... quietly you might think to yourself ... "hey, don't shoot the messenger," "I didn't come up with this! Scripture testifies to who Jesus is and why He came, I'm only pointing it out," you say to yourself. Remember in those times what Saint Peter wrote in 1 Peter when he said, "Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect."
John for his part was not treated with gentleness and respect. While Herod the Tetrarch had a perplexing and puzzling soft spot for John it was not enough to keep John alive. Herod might have protected John but the Word of God's Law was not taken well by Herodias his brother's wife who he'd taken for his own and on Herod's birthday with John in the jail cell, Herodias had her revenge an opportunity to "shoot the messenger." On Herod's birthday, "the daughter of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod, so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptizer here on a platter.” And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given. He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. And [John's] disciples came and took the body and buried it, and they went and told Jesus." When John's unwavering head struck the ground, "the kingdom of heaven ... suffered violence."
Jesus said that John was not one who was bent by the wind, Jesus said John was not one in soft clothing, Jesus said John was more than a prophet. Jesus said, "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." "It is as if Jesus were saying, "yet I am greater than [John]. ... Christ is the least of all since in His active life He served all the lowest people; that is, He was the servant of lepers, the blind, the lame, the poor, the dead, the condemned. But in His passive life - that is, on the cross - [Jesus] was all the more the servant of all in carrying the sins, the wrath, the death of all. It is just as He says, "I did not come to be served but to serve." No saint has ever rendered this kind of service, especially that of His passive life. Therefore Christ alone is the least of all and the greatest of all."
With John they shot the messenger, Jesus too was not treated with gentleness and respect. The Pharisees and Sadducees the chief priests and the elder of the people, even Pilot, wanted Jesus to bend to their will in the hours leading up to His crucifixion, but Jesus would not bend. They'd put a kingly robe on Him to mock Him, but "God is not mocked," and in the end Jesus wore nothing at all upon the cross and "they [the soldier's who crucified Him] cast lots to divide His garments" as He died naked for you. Jesus was indeed more than a prophet, Jesus was the Son of God, God Himself willing to die for the poor. God Himself dead for the poor, the sinner, for the whole world. The Bridegroom of His bride the church took every offence, every shame, every pain, every slight, becoming the lowest so that you can have forgiveness and eternal life, a life with no offenses, no shame, no slight, no pain or suffering. He is for you, His love is for you. Pride and self-righteous does not receive Jesus, no, it is the blind, the lame, the deaf, the dead, the leprous and poor who receive Christ Jesus, it is the strong who take offence at Christ. The Gospel does not lie to you when it shows Christ doing good only among the needy.
Jesus said, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." "Don't shoot the messenger." In Christ you need not be anxious about the possibility, look to Christ and His forgiveness when you do bend in the wind, when you take the easy path, when you fail in proclaiming Jesus to a world who needs Him, His forgiveness is for you, remember what Christ says to you quoting Isaiah, when Jesus said, "a bruised reed [God] will not break, and a smouldering wick He will not quench, until He brings justice to victory;" Jesus brings the victory, He brings the justice, He was more unyielding than John, this strength of Christ belonged to John and it is yours. As Saint Paul says, "For [Jesus] was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God." His life is John's life, His life your life. 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 14:4
 John 1:29
 2 Timothy 4:3
 Luther's Works, American Edition, volume 75 Church Postil I, Concordia Publishing House 2013, Pg 151.
 1 Corinthians 1:23
 1 Peter 3:14b-15
 Mark 6:20
 Matthew 14:6-12
 Matthew 20:28
 Luther's Works, American Edition, volume 67 Annotations on Matthew Chapters 1-18, Concordia Publishing House 2015, Pg 129.
 Galatians 6:7
 Luke 23:34
 Matthew 5:11-12
 Matthew 12:20
 2 Corinthians 13:4