December 13, 2020 A+D
St. Matthew 11:2-11
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
John is in the palace, but he is not arrayed in soft clothing. He is in the dungeon, about to be martyred. He has boldly proclaimed that the Kingdom of God is near, but perhaps there in the dungeon, it seems far away.
The exact state of John’s faith is not revealed to us, but the message he sends to Jesus is not so much a question seeking confirmation of whether or not Jesus is the Messiah as it is a complaint. Our text renders it as a question, but it is a simple declaration in Greek with the normal word order. It says: “You are the coming one or we wait for another.” It is on the edge of being rude. John is throwing down the gauntlet. It is like a man arriving home from work after a long day to find his wife sitting on the couch and saying to her, “You are making me dinner or I am going to a restaurant.”
I don’t recommend such an approach with wives or with Jesus, but we’ve all been jerks to those we love at times. John is frustrated. He is tired of waiting. Jesus is not acting in accordance with his expectations. Surprisingly, Jesus’ response is quite calm.
It is as though a man says to his wife, “You are making me dinner or I am going to a restaurant” and she says, “I spent all day cooking and cleaning at our daughter’s house. She is not feeling well. I have been waiting for you to get here so that we could go over there and have dinner with the grandchildren.”
She doesn’t say, “But you can go to a restaurant if you want and I will go over there alone.” He doesn’t need her to. He recognizes what a selfish oaf he has been and how hurtful. He apologizes and gets his coat.
Jesus doesn’t say, “Yes John, I am the Coming One.” They both know that He is the prophesied, Coming One who takes away the sins of the world. John’s complaint is that He is taking too long and going about things in the wrong way. So Jesus patiently illustrates for John how He is coming. He is not coming in power and might. The axe is laid to the root but it is a strangely gentle way. He is coming in the restoration of sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, in the healing of the lame, the cleansing of lepers, the raising of the dead, and in the preaching of the Gospel.
He doesn’t say, “Would you have me leave the rest of the world in its sins and come and get you alone?” or “You can have a different Messiah if you want.” John doesn’t need Him to. He recognizes not only that Jesus knows what He is doing, that He is not negligent in His duties, but is careful and deliberate, but John also recognizes that he has been selfish and unaware of the needs of others. He repents and believes. And after this, if John must wait, if he must suffer the pain and degradations of Herod’s imprisonment and ultimately be beheaded, sobeit. It will be worth it. God works all things together for good to those who love Him.
The Lord is gentle with His rebellious children even as they grow impatient and angry. He didn’t give up on Israel. He didn’t give up on John. He doesn’t give up on you.
It sounds harsh, but it seems that John was caught up in the wrong things while in prison. He was worried about justice and health. He didn’t like being hungry and cold and alone while Herod feasted. He didn’t want to die. He wasn’t a reed blown about by the wind, but he was grass. All flesh is grass. None of it wants to die, but it all does. It withers and fades at the breath of the Lord, but the Word of God stands forever.
This is the lesson we must learn again and again. In all suffering we need to look to the Word. In and by His Word God promises to work good through our sorrows and despite our impatience. He says: “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. In Me, you have peace” and “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” St. Paul writes: “God is faithful. He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able. (He will enable you) to bear it.”
We cannot know the truth of or be comforted by God’s saving death and resurrection, His gracious forgiving of our sins by sacrifice, apart from the Word. We cannot trust our own observations of the world, our own sense of justice, or the experts and scientists all around us. John doesn’t get to see Jesus perform miracles. Nor is he given the detailed plan and timeline. He just gets the report that Jesus is working and he has to trust it. In prison, all John has is the Word. He is more than a prophet, the greatest of those born of women, not a reed or a soft man spoiled by luxuries, and yet even he, even John the Baptism, must live by the Word and by faith. So it is also for us.
This is how we are to face injustice and martyrdom, the loss of income and false accusations, the betrayal of loved ones and uncertain futures. This is how to address your own impatience, fear, and anger. In every affliction arm yourself with the Word that stands forever, look not to your own crosses and the wrongs you endure or to false promises of health and happiness. Look to the cross of Christ who goes willingly, a Lamb to the slaughter, the innocent for the guilty. It is there that your true warfare is over and your iniquity is pardoned. The poor have the Gospel preached to them.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.