Beckett: Sermon – Unfiltered Jesus

Date: December 11, 2022
Festival: 3rd Sunday in Advent
Text: Matthew 11:2-15
Preaching Occasion: Zion Lutheran Church, Mt. Pleasant, MI
Appointed Scriptures: Isaiah 35:1-10; James 5:7-11; Matthew 11:2-15
Sermon Hymn: LSB #338 Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus

Exegetical Statement: In this text, Jesus subverts the expectations John the Baptiser and His other hearers had about the Messiah, and therefore what the kingdom of God is about. He does this by turning the societal understanding of greatness upside down. John, as greater of a preacher and prophet he is, now sits in prison. Perhaps he expected a fire-and-brimstone Messiah, yet rather than rising in the ranks as a political Messiah, Jesus instead goes to the lowest of people—the blind, the lame, the deaf, the poor, and even the dead, just as Isaiah prophesied. The kingdom of God, therefore, is not about the mighty exerting their power but about the mighty serving the lowly and the weak. Like John the Baptiser, the text causes the hearer to also wonder, “Is Jesus really the One who is to come or not?” It therefore causes the hearer to re-examine the character of Jesus, and to see that even we expect a completely different Messiah than what Jesus presents. We mischaracterise Him to meet our own agendas and fail to see Him as the humble Lord He is.

Focus Statement: God brings His kingdom to you in the lowly person of Jesus.

Function Statement: That my hearers might trust in Jesus as their Messiah from death rather than as their political Messiah.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

We live in a society of sameness. Burger King’s whopper tastes the same in America as it does in South Korea—delicious but unhealthy. A Budweiser tastes the same in Mt. Pleasant as it does in Florida—disgusting. No matter where you go, you can find a McDonald’s, Target, and Starbucks all clustered along the highways and virtually on every corner in suburbs and cities. Even church architecture has fallen into the sameness of the marketplace—they have gone from these gorgeous, masterfully crafted cathedrals to minimalistic boxes hardly distinguishable from any other commercial building. Even worse, we often throw Jesus into our filter of sameness. He is compared to other religious figures and becomes just one of many historical revolutionary religious figures—just another guy claiming to be a prophet of God. His teachings are watered down to baseless moralisms with an Oprah-like spirituality and Dr. Phil-ish advice. He becomes comfortable and undemanding.

John the Baptiser also filtered Jesus into false expectations. What could he have possibly been thinking when he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are You the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” This is the same John who prepared the way of the Lord, to make His paths straight [Matt. 3:3; Is. 40:3], who said of Jesus, “He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry” [Matt. 3:11], and who pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” [John 1:29]. So, what was John thinking? Why this sudden doubt?

Perhaps he was disillusioned because the promised kingdom didn’t come in time to keep him out of prison? Maybe he expected a flashier, fire-and-brimstone Messiah? Just as he preached, the winnowing fork is in Christ’s hand [Matt. 3:12], so did he wonder why the chaff is nto being burnt up soon enough? Whatever the reason, Jesus did not match his preconceived ideas. Maybe he expected Jesus to destroy their earthly enemies—to take down Caesar in a mighty rebellion—and thus bring glory to His people Israel to everlasting prosperity. Instead, the great Baptiser sits in chains, in his own human filth, soon to be beheaded at the command of that adulterous harlot, Herodias [Mark 6:17-29].

Rather than rise in the ranks of political power and authority as a Roman centurion, or governor, senator, or competing emperor making a claim to the seat of Rome, Jesus instead goes to the lowest place—the blind, the lame, the deaf, the poor, and even the dead. Instead of bringing down the mighty with a show of force, He goes to the lowly and heals their afflictions and even raises them from the dead! When John was baptising at the Jordan, he quoted from Isaiah 40[:3] to point to Jesus. So, Jesus tells John’s disciples to point him back to Isaiah, chapter 35, that He is the one opening the eyes of the blind, unstopping the ears of the deaf, causing the paralysed to leap like deer, the mute to sing for joy, and the dead to live again. By His actions, and in His words, Jesus says, “If you want to know what God’s kingdom is all about, it’s about the lowest being served and built up! Look! It’s already happening! Just as Isaiah prophesied!”

Then Jesus turns to the crowds [Matt. 11:7], for He doesn’t meet their expectations either. John was clearly a popular figure. So, what did they expect to see? A celebrity? A fad? They say you should never meet your heroes. Sometimes, a person will meet their favourite celebrity and they turn out to be someone completely different than how they are on TV and how they present themselves in interviews. Imagine that! What you see on TV isn’t real! Perhaps, then, the crowd was disappointed in John. He preached great and awesome things, and now he sits in his own filth in prison. And perhaps, like John, they were disappointed in Jesus because of how they filtered Him. He’s not the Messiah they expected. After all, Isaiah also gave that beloved Christmas prophecy, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder” [9:6]. With the government upon His shoulder, certainly this mean He will be the emperor! Right?

No, He is not. Instead of coming in power and nobility, He came in humility and suffering; He came as one of them. “What if God was one of us,” says the song in ignorance. He is one of us; His name is Jesus. He came not meeting anyone’s expectations. His kingdom came in humility, yet it will not be conquered [Matt. 16:18].

What about you and me? How might we have filtered Jesus? Just like the crowds in Jesus’ day, we politicise everything. All sides are guilty of this. The Left filter Jesus into their genderqueer Messiah, placing beside Him the rainbow pride flag. The Right filter Jesus into their 2nd Amendment Messiah, placing beside Him an AR-15 and the American flag. Those who are moderately Left or moderately Right are often apathetic, filtering Jesus completely outside their civil lives because {say sarcastically} one’s civil life mustn’t interfere with their church life. They ignore Jesus’ prayer and command that His Christians be sent out into the world to make disciples of all nations and observe all that He has commanded them [John 17:18; Matt. 28:19-20].

Rather than filtering Jesus into what we want Him to be, let us drink in the unfiltered Jesus as He presents Himself. He came not to be anyone’s political Messiah, but to serve the weak and the burdensome—the blind, the deaf, the lame, lepers, the poor, and even the dead, just as He said, “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” [20:28]. Or as He says to the crowd here, “From the days of John the Baptiser until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force” [11:12]. The immediate subject of this comment is John himself, who announced the kingdom and suffered violence in his imprisonment and ultimately death when Herodias, Herod’s wife, ordered his beheading.

Furthermore, these words point to Jesus’ own death, whose preaching and service is questioned and rejected, for which He will be put to death to give His life as a ransom for many—for you. Jesus is not your political Messiah; Jesus is your Messiah from death. His kingdom may be constantly and viciously attacked as the citizens themselves are attacked like John and Jesus, but His kingdom cannot be conquered because He is risen from the dead. By rising from the dead, Jesus conquered death, Hell, and the kingdom of the devil; this He did not do for His own benefit, for for you, His constituents.

Therefore, if you wish to know the politics of God, look no further than the actions of Jesus, who healed the blind and the deaf, who cleansed lepers, who gave the paralysed the ability to leap for joy like newborn calves, and who brings the dead back to life. Such lowly people belong in the kingdom of God, and it is these people whom Christ has also called us to love and to serve. We therefore have ministries for the deaf and the blind, we have Christian hospitals for people with all sorts of diseases and disabilities (in fact, Christians were the ones who invented hospitals back in the 4th century), and your pastors minister to the dying, commending their bodies and souls into the care of the Lord who will raise them from the dead when He advents in glory.

Therefore, writes St. James, “Be patient… until the coming of the Lord” [5:7]. Just as the farmer patiently waits for the fruit of his crops to come forth, so we patiently wait for the fruit of Christ’s resurrection to advent upon us on the Last Day [vv. 7-8]. “The coming of the Lord is at hand!” [v. 8]. Therefore, we stand steadfast like Job [v. 11], who confesses the resurrection we also believe, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God” [Job 19:25-26].

May the God of life, therefore, strengthen you and keep you during these last days, looking always to the Advent of Christ to raise us from the dead to life everlasting. Amen.

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