SCRIPTURES – Psalm 71; Isaiah 35:1-10; James 5:7-11; Matthew 11:2-11
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. Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Matt. 11)
December is a month of great expectations. Advertisers and movies and TV shows and songs build up our excitement and anticipation to almost impossible heights. When Christmas finally comes, will it attain those heights and meet those expectations?
With John the Baptist we are brought down to earth by being confronted with the reality of Christ, the reality of the faith in Him. What do we have in Jesus? We have God present; God among us; God in our midst! And, that is a challenge.
It is a challenge because in Jesus our strong God is present, but He is weak before the strong. “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force,” Jesus says. He is handled roughly by this strong, and even violent, world.
Sometimes it is strong rulers and governments that oppress Him and His followers. John the Baptist was thrown into prison when he challenged King Herod with his sin. Herod would finally put him to death. In our day Christ and His people are especially persecuted and oppressed in Islamic and Communist countries. There is no freedom to proclaim Jesus, or even worship Him, in Iran, or Saudi Arabia, or North Korea. You might be imprisoned, or even put to death, for doing so.
Here in America you are not threatened by this, of course. Consumerism, however, is immensely strong and influential. Is it Christmas if you’re unable to give the gifts you want to give? Jesus can seem less present when Christmas is quieter and lonelier, when the energy and excitement are less, and maybe you’re not even in your own home anymore.
But, worst of all: what if Jesus is weak in your own life? John the Baptist is not only a victim of great injustice; because of it he rots in prison and doesn’t get to see the great works of Jesus, whose way he had worked so hard to prepare. That great pillar of faith ends up uncertain and confused and perhaps even depressed. Is what is claimed about Jesus true? Is He present in your life if you struggle with uncertainty, and even slip into sadness and depression? Will He love you and forgive you and be pleased to be present with you if you are sad and doubting?
“Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you." (Isaiah 35) Be honest: this strong Savior that Isaiah proclaims is the God and Savior we want. And, this is who we have in Jesus. He is present among us with strength! You just need to know where to look.
Last week our country celebrated the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. This led to our country building the greatest military the world had ever seen and defeating the Japanese and German militaries. Our military is still the strongest in the world. So: what do you want our military to do? Patrol your streets and chase down speeders? Issue parking tickets? Direct traffic at the mall so your shopping is not delayed? Arrest shop lifters? Or: how about keeping you safe from enemies who want to attack our cities and destroy our government and our way of life?
Jesus is our God come to us, and He is present among us with strength. "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.” This is still going on, if you only open your eyes to see! He is doing great works of healing through those who serve in the medical field. But, there remain many afflictions and wrongs and injustices that He is not righting or ending, perhaps even in your own life. How they can hurt! Realize this, however: they are weak and temporary. Even if they rule with great strength and oppress you terribly; and even if they will be with you for the rest of your life; they are temporary. They can only rule in this life.
You have a greater oppressor, a greater enemy: your sins. They threaten you with eternity in hell after this life, for God in His holiness and righteousness hates them! Jesus has come with strength to rule over them. Again, He appeared to be weak before them. He was arrested, falsely accused of sin, and put to death by the strong. But in this terrible injustice Jesus exercised His strength over our sin. He willingly took upon Himself the sins of the world, He held them to Himself with His strong arms, and by His suffering and death put an end to their power over us. Even if they appear strong in your life – even if you suffer unjustly; or are accused and slandered by others; or even if your own heart accuses you and you struggle with guilt, sadness and depression – Jesus is your Lord who has ruled over your sins! He died for them. He paid the price for them by enduring God’s just punishment of them. And by His death God’s justice has been satisfied. It is finished! Jesus rose from the dead in victory over our sins and death, and He now rules over them for us at God’s right hand.
Look to Christ’s weakness – in His own life, especially His cross; and then in your life – and know that there He is dealing with your sins. By it He is turning you from yourself and from worldly desires to Himself and the desire for life with Him in heaven. There He is preparing you for the day that will more than meet your expectations; the day of God’s recompense when He gives to His people the reward His Son has won for them and puts all their enemies and the strong of this world under their feet. And so: “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.” And on that glorious day “the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” Stand firm until that day! Stand firm, singing and praying:
O come, Thou Key of David, come, and open wide our heav’nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to Thee, O Israel.