The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
It’s easy to be at peace and full of joy when things are going well in life. But…peace and joy are a whole lot harder to come by when things aren’t shaking out though, right? When life hits the skids and you’re being crushed under the weight of worry and pain and sorrow, peace and joy get beat down and run off by overwhelming feelings of depression, despair, and doubt. Nobody rejoices when circumstances take a downward turn towards life’s latrine. That’s just human nature. As we turn our attention to the Gospel lesson for this morning, this is exactly where we find John the Baptist—languishing in a dark and dank latrine-like dungeon, a prisoner on death row, all because he was faithful; all because he dared to speak the truth about King Herod’s sexual infidelities and perversions. Not a very joyous place to be. Not a whole lot of peace and joy to be found…and understandably so.
And before we go any further, we do need to make something clear: John was most-definitely languishing and suffering and being crushed under the crosses of worry, pain, sorrow, doubt, and depression in this horrendous environment and circumstance. Just ask yourself: How happy and joyous and carefree would you be if you were sitting on death row in a dungeon, especially if you’re only crime is being faithful? But…this is precisely where problems arise for many people. They make John into some kind of super-human, super-faithful, uber-Christian. Matthew tells us that John sends two disciples to Jesus to ask Him if He really is the promised Christ, or should they be looking for another. I can’t tell you how many Christians throughout history (including some seminary classmates of mine) firmly believe that John the Baptist was sending these disciples to Jesus because they doubted and they needed to hear the truth from Jesus. John the Baptist doubted? John the Baptist struggled in his faith? “NO! NEVER! John sent these disciples to Jesus, not for his sake, but for their sake. John was good. John was the consummate pillar of faith. He was fully at peace and full of faithful joy. John had no doubts or hang-ups; the messengers did.”
I’m sorry…I guess John the Baptist didn’t wear the same sinful flesh we do? I guess I missed the part in Scripture that says that John the Baptist was perfect and didn’t live in our world and didn’t need a Savior. Folks: I know this may be hard to swallow, but John the Baptist was no different than you when it comes to faith and doubt and sin and salvation. Think about it: John’s entire ministry is dedicated to proclaiming the coming of the King of kings, who will set the captives free and break the chains of deadly bondage and sin. And where is John now? In bondage, a captive of a very sinful and evil king. “Hey Jesus, if you really are the Messiah, how’s about pulling the trigger and setting us captives free?! I’m about to die down here in this dungeon grave. Let your people go! Start with me! Let me go! Isn’t this a job description of the Messiah? If you’re not this guy, tell me so I can start looking for the right guy.” How many of you can relate? I know I can. “Hey Jesus, what gives? I thought you were pro-Christian and anti-sin, and yet I’m getting dumped on while the evil, sinful schmuck is getting ahead. Don’t you care? Don’t you see? Should I be looking somewhere else for peace, because I’m not finding it right now with you! I’m not finding what I’m looking for!”
How does Jesus handle these disciples of John? How does He address the doubt and despair that they bring to Him on behalf of John? “You go and tell John what you yourselves have seen and heard.” The context of this statement is so important and needs to be expounded upon. Contextually, Jesus had just returned from a mission trip to the Gadarenes, where He had exorcised the demon-possessed and sent the demons into the pigs, which ran over the cliffs. Jesus is now back in His hometown, and immediately upon arriving He heals the paralytic who had been lowered through the roof, not only granting him the ability to walk, but forgiving his sins in the process. He also resurrected the temple ruler’s daughter from death after she had succumbed to her deadly disease. On His way to work this resurrection miracle, the woman who had suffered from bloody discharge for over twelve years reaches out and touches the hem of His garment in faith, and she is instantly healed. After raising the little girl from the dead, Jesus is making His way back down the street and two blind guys call out to Him for mercy. Jesus heals them on the spot, bringing them out of the darkness and into His marvelous light. And as He was going on from there, He encounters a mute demon-possessed man. Jesus heals him too! It makes perfect sense that in light of all this busy-ness and activity, Jesus prays to His Father to send out additional workers into the harvest field. His Father answers the prayer, and the twelve apostles are chosen, called, and given the authority of God Himself to do all these same miraculous, life-saving, life-giving things. That’s one full day! Chapter 11 then begins by telling us that the apostles went out preaching and teaching in their cities.
Folks: All these miraculous things that Jesus just did are what He is pointing John’s disciples to! “You go back and tell John all the things you have just seen and heard and borne witness to.” Jesus is sending these messengers back to John with the eye-witness report that all that had been prophesied and promised and foretold about the coming Messiah in Scripture was being fulfilled in the work and person of Jesus Christ. Jesus sends these messengers back to John with reasons to rejoice and be at peace, even in the midst of his dark and sorrowful situation. God is at work, and God is doing exactly what He said He would do. That’s reason to rejoice!
“You go back and tell John all the things you have just seen and heard and borne witness to.” Folks: There is nothing new under the sun. John the Baptist is no different or better than you. He struggled in his faith when life got tough…just like all of us tend to do when life doesn’t go as planned (although some of us don’t like to admit or confess to that fact). How many of you are struggling right now? How many of you find it difficult to rejoice? Why?
You have something John the Baptist didn’t have: You have the hindsight of faith. You know the whole story. You know what this cross means. You know what the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus means for you and for all people. John didn’t know any of this. It hadn’t happened yet. John didn’t understand the cross. He knew a victorious God and Lord who created the heavens and the earth and who watched over and fought for and provided mightily for His Old Testament people, and he knew that this same victorious God and Lord would take up His winnowing fork in His hand and store up the good and righteous wheat in His heavenly barn, and then sweep all the sinful and evil chaff into the eternal, unquenchable fire. But…John didn’t understand that in between these two bookends of time and power and might and victory stood a lowly, bloody cross. John only knew and understood the victorious, exalted Christ. He didn’t understand the humiliated, lowly, suffering, dying Jesus. It didn’t make sense to him. Consequently, this is also why his own suffering didn’t make sense either. He believed in the victorious, butt-kicking, liberating Messiah. The Messiah’s victories were to be his victories. That’s how it works in Scripture. And yet…John is getting beat down and persecuted…in spite of his faith. He’s getting his butt kicked, despite the fact that he’s faithful. Because of his faith, he’s locked up and a prisoner on death row.
But you…you’re different. You do know the whole story. You stand on this side of the cross. You are in the reign and rule of the resurrected Christ; the kingdom of heaven. You stand on this side of the empty tomb. You stand in the victory of the crucified and resurrected Christ. In fact, Christ Himself has personally brought this victory to you. You have been baptized into His victory. God Himself has given you new birth by the Holy Spirit into His kingdom; the kingdom of heaven; the kingdom of Christ’s victorious reign and rule. This victorious King of kings stoops down and brings a little bit of heaven to you this very day. He comes to you today to personally, mercifully, and graciously nourish you with His own victorious body and blood; to nourish you and feed you with same victorious paschal lamb feast that all those who’ve fallen asleep in the faith and who now recline at the heavenly side of Christ’s feast table are feasting with right now. Your Lord comes to you today to give you His peace; a peace that far surpasses all understanding. In the words of John the Baptist: “Behold! The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Here He is…for you!
You know…when you understand all this; when you begin to recognize all this, in your presence and in your life, how can you not daily rejoice? This is what makes those in the kingdom of heaven; that is, those of us who live under the reign and rule of the almighty and victorious crucified and resurrected Christ, greater than John the Baptist as he languished in doubt in prison. He didn’t understand…and at that low point in his life he doubted, which is why Christ sends back His Word and proof of hope, assurance, comfort, and peace, encouraging him with the multiple facts that God is at work, working His plan…just as He had promised.
John was standing on the pre-Good Friday side of the cross. You’re not. You’re on the Easter Sunday side of the cross. You do understand what all this means. You get it! You understand what all this [the crucifix and the font and Holy Communion] means. You have every reason to be at peace and full of joy right now, no matter how bad life may be treating you. You have every reason to rejoice, even in the midst of this dark and dank cultural latrine that languishes in sin. Rejoice, for it is finished, and Christ’s victory is your victory, right here and right now, and it’s only going to get better! This joy and peace and reason for rejoicing is just the foretaste of the feast to come.
Folks: How can you not want to go and tell all that you’ve seen and heard and borne witness to and received from the hand of Christ Himself this day and every day? May God grant us the opened eyes and ears to recognize these blessed Gospel truths in our midst, and may He grant us the opened mouths of resurrected, living faith that boldly, unapologetically, and joyously proclaim all that Christ has done for us and for all the world in His life, death, and resurrection.
To Him alone be all the glory, praise, and honor…AMEN.
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