Sermon — Pr. Tony Sikora — The Prison of Hell’s Illusion and Hope’s Enlightening Word
Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Our text for this morning’s sermon is taken from St. Luke’s gospel account (Luke 7:18-35) the seventh chapter.
Beloved in the Lord,
This morning in our text we move with the Baptizer from the wonders of the Judean wilderness to the dangers of Herod’s dungeons. The bridegroom has come and the friend of the bridegroom has been arrested. The prophet’s glory must decrease while the Lamb is exulted. It is in the nature of every prophet to surrender his status, to bow His crown and allow the Lamb to take His rightful place. Thus John is in prison surrounded by cold stone and rusty iron.
Perhaps John dreamed of a different life, one seated at the feet of Him whose sandals he was unworthy to loosen. Perhaps he dreamed of a life without storms, suffering, affliction, a life where captives are truly set free. Who among us hasn’t dreamed such a dream? But some dreams are not to be realized. John is in prison, bound up for preaching a faithful word, fettered for pointing to the Lamb.
In John’s prison there are more than guards with swords to torment him. For John’s vision of reality is skewed. Though, “they reported to John all these things” about Jesus John’s conscience is uncertain. What could be more tormenting than a heart full of doubt? What John sees with his eyes doesn’t fit with what he believes. His soul doubts. The winds and waves crashing within his heart grow colder than the stone around him and more intense than the threats of Herod’s executioner. Is Jesus the one to come? Or should he wait for another? What to do? What to believe? Where to go? Who to follow? The storm rages and the affliction of the man pierces bone and sinew like a steely sword thrust again and again by demonic hordes.
John’s torment is fueled by doubt. John doubts because of what he sees. But what John sees is not rightly understood – for John sees only with his eyes. He lets his eyes teach him what is real. Thus John’s seeing wrong leads to John’s believing wrong – or no believing at all. For John does not know what to believe.
John’s plight is not unlike our own. It is in our fallen nature to follow what we see. Adam followed his eyes to the wrong tree and the wrong fruit. Adam’s children have not escaped Adam’s corruption. Not only does our corruption sway us but our culture re-enforces it. In a world dominated by propaganda, we are taught to interpret life and reality by what we see rather than what we hear. Thus we learn life through visions, images, icons. And those same visions, images and icons are constantly changing, moving, shifting, thus providing little time for thought, rationality, or pondering. No longer do we think on life, consider our situations, contemplate the consequences of our life, our works, or our station. If it’s not fun anymore, if its not exciting, if not entertaining, then all attention to faithfulness and Christian duty is lost.
For instance, if marriage isn’t fun like it used to be then it must not be happy. And if marriage isn’t happy then why stay married? Our eyes have been conditioned not only by the world, but also the devil and our own sinful nature to see someone else as prettier, nicer, stronger, more virile, a better father, a better mother, a better wife or a better husband. Someone else is seen as the path to happiness. And people ought to do what makes them happy. Right? Everyone dreams of being happy. But some dreams are not realized, and eyes that once gazed upon their beloved are cast elsewhere. And then adultery traps such a person at least in thoughts if not also in deeds.
No doubt John was happy in the wilderness preaching God’s Word, preparing the Way, point to the Lamb! No doubt John is not happy in prison. Are you happy? Are you having fun? The two are not the same. You can be happy in a difficult marriage and you can have fun walking the road to hell. The road to hell can be quite exciting, laden with pretty people and full of pleasurable moments. Happiness is not the same thing as fun, nor should we expect it to be. What we see in this world, in our life, and in our neighbor is not a reason to despair, nor is what we experience cause for uncertainty.
Nevertheless, even we Christians prefer the showy to the useful and the fleeting to the eternal, thus like reeds in the wind we are easily blown this way and that as though tossed about in a stormy sea, seeking ways to have fun, avoid suffering, and end the storm on our own. But chasing after the fun life is hell and avoiding the hard life is no guarantee of happiness. Following what you see, taking your cues from the imaginations of your heart will not calm the soul when the storm rages or when the walls turn stone cold or when sin hurts those we say we love or when death comes to us all.
Beloved, You may dream the dreams of your heart and look forward to days of joy and happiness. But unless your heart be right with God your dreams will never be right for you. And your heart is not right with God if you’re dreaming for something that is contrary to God’s Word, if your eyes wander from your husband or wife, if you gaze upon that which is not given you and covet that which is not yours. The heart that dreams of another wife is not right with God. They eyes fixed on pornography are deceived. The heart that dreams of another husband is not right with God. The heart that dreams of a life without children or responsibility or accountability is not right with God. Neither the heart nor the eyes are seeing rightly because the ears are not listening to God’s Word.
Thankfully, our Lord is not come to fulfill dreams but prophecy. He’s not come to make you happy but righteous. His advent is not for terror but peace, not to increase doubt but to give certainty. Therefore the gift given to John in prison is also given to you and me through the Word of our Gospel if we would be listening and believing.
John suffers the dismay wrought by doubt and uncertainty because of what he sees. But Jesus sends John’s disciples back with a Word. “Tell John what you see.” In other words, what is seen can only make sense in the light of divine revelation, God’s Word. John and his disciples must heed the Words of his colleagues, for the works of Jesus are interpreted by the Words of the Prophets! Jesus fulfills the Prophets! His fulfillment is for the rising and falling of many in Israel. “As it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Rom 9:33 ESV). Blessed are those who do not stumble on account of Jesus!
Those who look upon Jesus without hearing the Word will not see Him rightly and will doubt and wonder and despair. The eyes cannot lead you to heaven, beloved! Only the Word and only through hearing the message of the cross. It is the ears that hear of the message of Christ! It is the ears that hear of the lame leaping and blind seeing and the deaf hearing. The Word gives testimony to the Works. And the Works find their greatest and grandest fulfillment on the Cross! For there on the wood hangs a man convicted of blasphemy and sedition. He suffers. He bleeds and He dies as a criminal of criminals. He who knew no sin became sin. The greatest has become the least and the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than the greatest in the world. Through the Word of the Gospel the passion wrought by the blood, sweat, and tears of the Son of God are made manifest for us to have in the depths of our hearts, to taste on our tongues and to pour down upon us through Water and the Word. Through these unsightly things our Lord washes, cleanses, sanctifies, nourishes, atones, covers over, loves, encourages, exhorts, renews, regenerates and resurrects all who believe! The heart fixed on these has joy! The soul that possesses these is sure. The mind that thinks on these is set at ease. Where the Word is given and received there is peace and joy and happiness for there is the Lord Himself setting hearts aright, stilling storms, and breaking fetters and knocking down walls.
If your heart would be right, then your ears must be in earshot of God’s Word. Without God’s Word your heart is left to the whims of your imagination instructed by the sights set before you. Without God’s Word you cannot know reality for you are too busy dealing with the illusions propagated by the enemy. What you see won’t make sense. What you feel will make you uncomfortable. How you live your life will be determined by how you seek to avoid the discomfort of a world going to hell. You will stumble at the words of Jesus and you will doubt as John did. You will wonder if Jesus is the One or should you wait for another.
Therefore, dear Christians, you must be hearing the Word! You must be attending Divine Service! You must be listening to the story of the Cross even in, especially in the midst of your affliction. For without such a Word the world doesn’t make sense, your life is lost and you are left to wander. Through God’s Word Christ our Lord delivers you from the perils of your sins and the afflictions of your heart. He shows Himself to be your Savior and you to be His dearly loved child. Jesus may not fulfill your dreams or make your life fun, but He will sustain your heart and soul in the midst of every trial, tribulation, sorrow and affliction. He will strengthen your character and grant you perseverance and peace as scripture testifies.
since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that
suffering produces endurance,
and endurance produces character,
and character produces hope,
and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Rom 5:1-5 ESV)
Thus the Word enlightens the eyes of the heart. No longer do you follow where your eyes lead, but rather where your ears are hearing the Good Shepherd’s voice. Like sheep you listen for your His voice. He speaks to you and knowing His voice, His Word, His doctrine, you follow where He leads. “Having the eyes of your hearts enlightened you know what is the hope to which He has called you” (Eph. 1:18). You are made right with God and therefore you are made certain of His salvation and your destiny.
Beloved in the Lord, having been made certain by the Word John faced the executioner with a firm faith in Christ and received the end of his faith, the salvation of his soul. This same certainty is offered to you this morning through Word of our God. Hearing and believing this Word, though you may suffer and be afflicted in this life, liberates you from stone cold walls and iron clad cells. You can see past the shows and look towards the eternal. You can endure because Jesus is the One who has come to set you free from the bonds of sin, death, and devil. No evil spirit can torment you if you cling to His Word and be not ashamed. No doubt can shake you when the Word is your rock and your salvation. Nothing can befall you if Jesus is your God. Many will rise and fall on His account and He is truly a stumbling block to old Adam but Wisdom is justified by her Children. John played the dirge and prepared the way for the bridegroom. Jesus appeared and danced with the lame and the blind and the deaf giving them restoration and redemption. His dancing led to His death but His death and resurrection brought life and immortality to light.
So, come beloved and dance in the glory of the Son. Repent and Believe! For the Kingdom of God is near. Behold the lame who walk to His altar and feast! See those who are blind no more and gather round about in Heaven and on earth! Observe how He opens the ears of the deaf and sets tongues free to sing His praises today in this place! There is joy in this man Jesus! There is life in His Name! Listen and believe. Believe and you will see. All is heaven where His Word is preached even in prison. And all is hell where His Word is lacking even where wind and wave are lacking. This is reality. This is truth! This Word and this Truth is come to set you free. AMEN!
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your heart and mind through faith in Christ Jesus. AMEN!
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