Sermon on Matthew 11:2-11
3rd Sunday in Advent
Be Confident: He is the One!
Text: Matthew 11:2-11
Is this for real? Is this really truth? What if I’m wrong and everyone else is right? What if I’m just a big fool? What if I’ve put all my eggs into this one basket and I’ve been duped and deluded the whole time? How can I be sure? How can any of us be sure?
With resounding voice as one united throng we join together each week, “I believe in God the Father Almighty . . . I believe in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord . . . I believe in the Holy Spirit.” We sing hymns like Crown Him with Many Crowns and Joy to the World the Lord is Come. We listen with attentive ears to Scripture lessons. Nodding heads indicate agreement with parts of the sermon. We give gifts of our own hard-earned money to “His cause” and “His work.” Then we say “Amen,” sing a hymn, and go on our merry ways.
But as we open those front doors to leave the safety of this hallowed space, instantly the floodgates pour open. Questions punch us in the gut and doubts smack us in the face all over again: “Why did I just do that? Couldn’t I spend my time on Sunday better? Don’t I have better uses for my money? How do I know these beliefs are real? What if my Lord and Savior is as real as Santa Clause or the Easter Bunny? Aren’t those beliefs too? Why is my belief right? And how can I be so sure that trusting in this guy who lived 2,000 years ago will result in me living forever in heaven?” Suddenly the confidence and strength of faith that we experienced in this very sanctuary have disappeared faster than a Florida afternoon rain shower.
You could be a lifelong Christian. You could be a new convert. You could be 18. You could be 81. Regardless of age, race, gender, or experience, Satan works his devilish tricks so that all of us always have that voice asking in the back of our minds—What if? Is this true?
Two thousand years ago a fiery preacher burst onto the scene. Last week we listened to his bold message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near!” But this was no ordinary prophet. As you heard in the Verse of the Day this morning and as Jesus says in verse 10 this morning, “This is the one about whom it is written: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.” This was no ordinary prophet. Seven hundred years earlier Isaiah foretold his voice crying in the wilderness. Five hundred years earlier Malachi wrote these very words that Jesus quoted. This was a prophet of greatest importance. This was the one and only that was chosen to prepare the royal highway for the Savior himself to trod. This was the one who had the high honor of baptizing Jesus and hearing the Father speak and seeing the Spirit descend as a dove. This was the one who famously connected the Old Testament to the New Testament when he proclaimed, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” This was the one who had the audacity to preach the truth to King Herod, telling him that stealing his brother Philip’s wife was wrong and sinful. It’s no wonder that Jesus said in verse 11 today: “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist.” Jesus himself claims that because of his special role, John the Baptist is greater than any other prophet.
Hearing what Jesus says about John, we are baffled, we are befuddled, we are mystified and mortified when we read the opening two verses of the Gospel today: “When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’” “John! You are the greatest prophet ever—greater than Moses and Elijah! You are second only to Jesus! You were the forerunner for the Savior! You were the one that pointed him out! How could you ask this? How could you—of all people—be unsure about Jesus?”
Because he did preach to King Herod that it was sinful to steal his brother Philip’s wife Herodias, John was thrown in prison. Herod pondered killing John, but he was afraid of an uproar by the people. He also thought that there was something different about this strange man. So there sat the Baptist—locked away in some dark, desolate, and dingy dungeon, waiting and wondering when the death sentence might come.
There he had time to reflect on his life and ministry. There he had time to ponder his purpose and his preaching. There he had to time to think about the one whose way he prepared. And there Satan must have cast an all out assault to plague his mind with wonders and worries. What in all the world was he thinking wearing camel skins and eating locusts and honey? He sure said some bold things to those Pharisees—and to Herod! Did all of that baptizing work? There was word of things Jesus had been saying and doing, but how come judgment hadn’t come upon Israel? Why weren’t the Romans overthrown yet? Why wasn’t the kingdom restored yet? Was Jesus really going to do all the things that were prophesied—all the things that he himself prophesied? So even the greatest prophet of all prophets sent disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”
Are you quaking and quivering yet? If even the one who would prepare the way, the voice crying in the wilderness, the Baptist—John—could be led by Satan to doubt and wonder for a moment, what could Satan do to us? Maybe the better question to ask is not what could Satan do to us, but what has Satan already done to us?
Surely we all have had moments just like John the Baptist: How could creation be true when there is so much science that supposedly says otherwise? How can there possibly be three separate persons in only one God? How could splashing some water on a baby’s forehead make any difference? How could Jesus’ true body and blood be present with bread and wine? What if Jesus really didn’t rise from the dead and it has all been a hoax? Could books like The Da Vinci Code or Angels and Demons be right? Couldn’t Buddhists be right and Christians wrong? Couldn’t I be spending my time, talents, and treasures in a better way? Why did I become a pastor? Maybe I should’ve become a doctor or a lawyer or a businessman. I sure would be making a lot more money!
And when we’ve been utterly confounded and confused by those doubts and utterly bushed and beat from fighting them, then Satan hits us with another round: Would God really forgive all sinners? Would God even forgive a person like Adolph Hitler? Wait a second, would God even forgive a person like me? Doesn’t he know what I’ve done? Doesn’t he remember what I said? How could all of this guilt really be taken away? How could it really be offered for free? Nothing in this world is free! Why would I ever be forgiven? Why should I ever be in heaven?
So there we sit—like the Baptist—locked away in a dark, desolate, and dingy spiritual dungeon. Satan has tricked and trapped, deceived and devised, swindled and downright suckered us into asking the very same question 2,000 years later: “Jesus, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’”
Listen to the response from Christ’s own mouth in verse 4: “Jesus replied, ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.’”
Do you wonder? Do you doubt? Do you want to know if this Christianity stuff is real? Do you want to know if this Jesus is really “the One?” Then see his mighty works. The blind were given sight. The lame stood up to walk. The ears of the deaf were opened. Water was turned into wine. The wind and the waves were calmed. The dead were raised back to life. This isn’t Harry Potter fiction. These are real life stories and real life events. They were witnessed by dozens, by hundreds, or sometimes by thousands. These true stories are corroborated by Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, Paul, and others who wrote down for us the things they saw and heard with their very eyes and ears. If we ever should doubt like John the Baptist, then Jesus tells us to look at his mighty acts.
Maybe that’s not enough. Maybe there are other questions or doubts. Do you want to know if there is really forgiveness? Do you want to know if even your worst sins could be taken away? Do you want to know if forgiveness is for you? Then look to Calvary. See the bloodstained cross that held the Son of God. See the ground beneath, soaked with the holy blood of God himself. See the place where true man and true God experienced the flames of hell as he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But then hear the voice of victory cry out the completion: “It is finished!”
Maybe that’s not enough. Maybe we still doubt. Do you want to know if this all could really be true? Do you want to know if this really means that you will live in heaven? Do you want to know if this really means that you will live forever? Then see the empty tomb. See the grave cloths folded and unused. Hear the proclamation of the angel: “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.” Reach through the pages of Scripture to join the eyewitnesses and feel the holes in his hands and his side. Listen to the eyewitness account of those who stood and watched him rise to heaven to sit on his throne and reign and rule over all.
Jesus says in the last verse today, “Yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he,” (meaning John the Baptist). John the Baptist never got to see the completion of what he preached. John the Baptist never got to see Jesus finish the work he came to do. As great as a prophet as he was, we could be considered more blessed because we can look backwards and see Jesus’ work completed.
Do you ever wonder? Do you ever doubt? Do you ever have moments of weakness like the one John the Baptist apparently had? Then read some of the 727,969 words in the Bible. Every single one points to Jesus. Read the eyewitness accounts of those who walked and talked with Jesus, who saw him die, or who saw him alive again. See the miracles that he did. See the cross where he died. See the tomb that is empty. Christian friends, join John the Baptist in listening to Jesus this morning and see the works that he has done: Be Confident: He is the One!
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