SCRIPTURES – Psalm 71; Isaiah 35:1-10; James 5:7-11; Matthew 11:2-11
Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. 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." (Isaiah 35)
Yesterday was an emotional day; and it was not because of the snow. Oh, that the excitement a child has because of a snow storm was what was felt yesterday! But, no, yesterday’s emotion was far different. Yesterday, as you know very well, marked one year since the shootings in Newtown; and I, along with my daughter Tina and many others, marked it by attending a Service at Christ the King Lutheran in Newtown. Last year we were there in the evening for a Prayer Service that several other pastors and I led, as Pastor Morris, the congregation’s pastor, was with a family who lost their child. This year Pastor Morris led us.
He began with a quote from Martin Luther, in which Luther stressed that the cries and prayers of God’s people for peace and comfort and hope are heard by Him and are precious to Him. But, the desires expressed in those cries and prayers are not always satisfied in this life; “and that’s ok,” said Pastor Morris. That’s ok: not because we will one day realize that our cries are really not that important – certainly not!; nor because those heartfelt desires will eventually go away or be replaced by other yearnings and desires. No, “that’s ok” because in Christ God has come to us to take upon Himself our sins and sorrows and heartfelt cries and by His death and resurrection bring us into a new and eternal life, a life in which our prayers and yearnings for peace and comfort and hope will be fulfilled.
“From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence,” Jesus declares. God’s precious people suffer. How true this was of John the Baptist, that great prophet of God who prepared for Jesus’ coming. What a forceful preacher and man of great faith! Jesus Himself said of him, “Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John.” And yet, he spent the last 10 months of his life rotting in a dark and dank dungeon before Herod, who arrested him, had him killed. What a way to end his ministry! It seems an utterly unfair end for this great prophet of God.
“It’s not right! A good and righteous and powerful God would never allow such things!” cry out many. The unfairness and the evil of such things, especially of events such as what happened last year in Newtown, make some people doubt and deny God’s existence; or, at least doubt His presence and concern.
It’s hard to answer them, especially when questions arise in our own minds. It’s hard to deal with this world’s violence, which seems to be more and more prevalent. I’ll tell you this, however: I would rather struggle along with the imprisoned John, whose sufferings and abandonment lead him to question Jesus and his own preaching and ministry, than stand with those who deny God, deny His love and His power to right all wrongs and bring forth true peace and joy. They are left with no ultimate and eternal hope. They are left with themselves: a very, very poor substitute for God.
What do us believers in an almighty and just God, and a God who in His eternal mercy sent His Son to us, have? We have a God who looks upon us in our sorrow and brokenness and questioning and doubt – He sees and knows it all, even if we don’t express it – and does not rebuke us or cast us away.
- Even though John is uncertain and questions Jesus, see how Jesus praises him!
We are not only saved by faith alone; we are also pleasing to God and beautiful in His sight by simple faith – even when that faith is weak and full of doubts and questions. The thing to do when you have doubts and questions is to do what John did: go to Jesus. "Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?" John sent his disciples to ask Jesus. He 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." Pay attention to Jesus’ works and words. Study them and learn them and take them to heart. He who sees you as you struggle will help you as you struggle by reminding you of His love and His power to save.
See also that in Jesus you do not simply have a God who sees and cares. He also suffers for you – and this is ultimately how He rescues us. See how He suffers! Consider His words, “Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” Who is this “least in the kingdom of heaven” that Jesus is talking about? Well, just think: when Jesus says, “Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John,” is He including Himself? After all, Jesus was also born of a woman. Is John greater than Jesus? “Of course not,” we would rightly answer. No one is greater than Jesus. The one who is who is greater than John, and yet who is least in the kingdom of heaven, must therefore be Jesus. Jesus is calling Himself “the least in the kingdom of heaven.” Why? What can He mean? How can He be the weakest, the smallest, the most powerless? What is Jesus telling us about Himself? He is speaking of His crucifixion, and how upon the cross He who is the almighty and eternal God bore the sins of the world and so became the worst of all sinners: the lowest of the low, the most hated and despicable person who ever lived. On the cross “He who knew no sin became sin for us,” says 2 Cor. 5:21, and God the Father Himself abandoned and punished Him.
This means that there is no one lower than Jesus. You can never be so low as to not have Jesus lower. In Jesus you have a God who comes to you in your lowliness, who enters into your sin and sufferings, who comes to be what you are – in order to make right your wrongs and all wrongs, and raise you up with Him. By the lowliness of His sacrificial life and death, and then the exaltation of His glorious resurrection and ascension into heaven, He prepares another life, one in which the wicked and unrighteous and unholy are forever removed from His people’s presence and there is only what is good and right and lovely. By His preaching and Sacraments Jesus joins His sacrificial life to yours and raises you up to this new life as God’s own beloved child, forgiven and holy and so great before Him as He is great before Him.
This is what we have in Jesus. Looking to Him, going to Him with our doubts and questions, and holding to Him as our Savior, we have a great hope to hold onto. We have a great day of salvation to look forward to. Look to and listen to Jesus! Trust in Him. Fill your ears and your mind and your heart with His words and ways. You will then one day “see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God.” In His time, and not your own, “Gladness and joy will overtake [you], and sorrow and sighing will flee away.”