Sermon — Pr. Tony Sikora — The Voice of One Crying in the Dungeon
St. Matthew 11:2-11
December 15, 2013
Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. AMEN! Our text for this morning’s sermon is taken from St. Matthew’s gospel account the 11th chapter.
Beloved in the Lord,
I The Old Church Father
The story is told of an old church father who stood for three days in one spot. He constantly lifted his eyes to heaven sighing and mourning. When his disciples inquired as to what his problem might be, he answered, “I fear death.” Fear of death brought the man to a standstill, literally. He couldn’t move. He wouldn’t move. He didn’t know what to do or where to go. All he knew was himself, and he knew himself very well. He knew he would die. Dying, he knew he would face judgment, that he would stand before his creator and have to give an account, to give a reckoning to the one who formed and fashioned him in his mother’s womb.
From the cold dungeon of Herod’s prison the baptizer faces death in our text. Confined to his cell, there’s nowhere for him to go, nowhere for him to turn. He cannot escape. Rescue is impossible. He lives at the mercy of the king, and the king’s mercy is easily overcome with drinking and dancing. The platter rests near the ax and the ax is soon to swing, silencing the tongue sent to prepare the way of the Lord.
John faces death in our text. Facing death he sends his disciples to Jesus. Does he do this for himself, because he is afraid, doubting his eternal destiny? Or does he do this for his disciples, shifting their attention from the friend of the bridegroom to the bridegroom Himself? Does it matter which? Either way, the disciples go – as they should – as should all who face death, you and I included.
II Are you the One?
John sends them to Jesus to ask, “Are you the One, or should we expect another.” When facing death doubts are sure to arise. The Old man doubted his standing before the Lord. John, or his disciples, doubted if Jesus was the one. Death brings out our doubts, reveals our uncertainties, and purifies our faith. Fear is just the symptom of our doubt. Doubt is the fruit of idolatry. Because the heart is constantly clinging to idols, the heart doubts in the face of death and then is captivated with fear. Idols lead to doubt which work fear. This is the handiwork of the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature. It’s what the devil wants. It’s what the world teaches. And it’s what our itching ears wish were scratched. We long to hear that we have lived right, done good enough, avoided the big sins and are going to be okay because the Lord helps those who help themselves and we certainly have done enough to help get us into heaven. Haven’t we?
But if we’ve done enough to get us into heaven then are we going there so soon? Why are we suffering here and now? Why is death drawing near? And beloved, if we’re honest we must confess that death always draws near too soon. Id doesn’t matter if we’re 100 or still in the cradle. It doesn’t matter if we’re a teenager with no responsibilities, or a father with three kids still in school. Death always draws near too soon. If we’ve done enough to earn heaven then why not enough to avoid suffering? If we’re suffering what does that mean then about the certainty of heaven for us? Is our god the One True God or should we expect someone else!
III What do you hear and what do you See?
John’s disciples go to Jesus. And that’s where we should go too. When doubts arise, we should go to Jesus. When suffering happens we should go to Jesus. When death approaches we should go to Jesus. You can never go wrong by going to Jesus. And what does Jesus say? Jesus says, “Go and tell John what you hear and what you see?” He turns troubled hearts to His Words and His Works. These reveal the sort of God Jesus is. His Word and His Works show forth His heart. And His heart is for the suffering, downtrodden, and afflicted, those upon whom the wages of sin has been laid.
Thus “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.” These are those whom the Lord gathers near to Himself. These are those whom the world has tossed to the side, whom the healthy avoid, and the wealthy exploit. These are the less than of our world, those whom the gods of this world reject, those whom many believe the true God has cursed and condemned, that their suffering is God’s wrath and punishment, that they are lost from God’s love.
But these are the sign to John, his disciples, and you, of Christ’s love for even the least among us. And if He loves even the least, the suffering, the afflicted, and the dying, then surely He loves you and me and the world. You see, beloved, Our Lord’s kingdom is unlike the kingdoms of this world. Our King is unlike the kings of the world. Our Lord’s heart is unlike the heart of this world. He loves the broken. He embraces the hurting. He acknowledges every person’s value, dignity and worth as He touches them, heals them, and speaks to them, for them and with them.
IV The One who Receives Sinners
Thus our Lord is the One who is to come. And His coming is not limited to the well or the righteous, but in fact quite the opposite. He comes to the sinner to forgive sins. He comes to the broken to heal and make whole. He comes to the hurting to comfort and strengthen. Jesus is the One who receives sinners. He’s the One upon whom sinners can rely, upon whom you can rely. His Words and His Works are given for you to trust that He is the sort of God who loves you, forgives you and promises to resurrect you on the last day. He has borne the cost of your sins and takes them away. John’s finger has pointed Him out and John’s voice rings through eternity – “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” The world’s sin He’s taken away! And if the whole world’s, if Jesus truly died once for all, then that means for you and me, that means for the poor, the lame, the blind, the deaf, the sick, the cancerous, the frail, the weak, those mentally ill, those physically afflicted, those for whom death draws near no matter what age, no matter what circumstance, those in the womb and those in the hospital, all means all. Jesus receives sinners unto Himself.
Therefore beloved, you – a part of the “all,” as a member of the world – are called to believe this. The true God conquers our idols. The Divine Word overcomes our doubts. And Faith drives away all fear, fear of death and fear of judgment for Christ is Risen. He’s risen, indeed. Faith doesn’t cling to golden calves, or pious deeds. Faith returns to Jesus. Sinners go back to Jesus not away from Jesus.
Away from Jesus and we’re left with our idols and our idols will always fail us, doubts will creep in, and fear will overtake us. Away from Jesus we will fear death which is exactly what the devil wants. He wants you to be afraid.
Going back to Jesus is called repentance. Repentance is a gift of the Holy Spirit wrought through the preaching of the Word; the Law and the Gospel. Thus the Holy Spirit turns the believer away from sin, away from self, away from idols, and like the voice of John the Baptist, proclaims Christ to us. “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
Called to “behold” we are given to find this Jesus for us in His Word, His Baptism, His Absolution and His Supper. Here we see with the eyes of faith the God who comes among us to save us.
V Blessed is He who is not offended because of Me
Beloved in the Lord, when the disciples of the Old Church father heard of His fear they made every attempt to comfort him with the piety of his life. But the teacher would hear none of it. He knew that God’s judgment is different from man’s. The One who formed and fashioned him in the womb, knew also his heart. And His heart wasn’t as right as God’s law demands.
So also you beloved, when the world attempts to comfort you with praise, you must humbly decline. When the fear of death comes upon you, you must not lend your ears to the voices of devil, world, and sinful nature. Though your ears be itching, do not be scratching. Your only comfort is found in the words and works of the one who gives sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, cleansing to the lepers and raises the dead with a sure and certain Word! To Him you should flee and in Him you are to find eternal comfort and salvation! There is none outside of His reach or His love, no sinner so bad, no sick person so consumed, no man on his deathbed whom Jesus doesn’t want to save!
Let Him who has ears to hear – hear. And let the hearer believe and not be offended because of this. God’s grace is for all, God’s grace is for you. AMEN!