Text: Matthew 11:2-15
Grace, mercy, and peace to each of you from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen
My grandfather had a saying that he liked to say that he claimed originally came from Winston Churchill. I looked it up on the internet and could find any evidence that Churchill ever said it, but that never would have stopped my grandfather. When talking politics he’d always say, “In the words of Winston Churchill: If you aren’t a liberal when you are twenty then you have no heart, but if you aren’t a conservative by the time you are forty then you have no brain.” Now, I wouldn’t say I’d agree with that completely and I’m not taking political sides or anything like that, but those words do speak to a real truth, I think. The truth in that statement is that our opinions change over time. Life changes us. The circumstances of our lives change us. Our perspective on things changes. We see the world differently now than we did earlier in life and we might see the world differently later in life than we do now. Our perspective changes over time. Things that seemed so clear, so important, and so certain at one time might not seem so tomorrow. Life happens and our perspective changes.
We see in our Gospel reading today how John the Baptist’s perspective changes. Last week we read about John out preaching and baptising people out at the Jordan River. He is calling people to repentance and baptising them for the forgiveness of their sins. Out there at the river John is a “fire and brimstone” kind of preacher. He preaches about sin and God’s wrath against sin. He is so bold in his preaching that he calls the Pharisees and Sadducees that come out there for baptism but don’t want to repent a “brood of vipers.” John’s preaching is more bold, direct, and confrontational than any other preacher that I have ever heard or read. John does not mince words. But today we see a different side of John. The confidence that John had that allowed him to preaching in this bold style seems to be long gone now. There is not much confidence in John’s words this week. He doesn’t seem that bold anymore.
John is in prison. He’s in prison because of his bold preaching. John had the audacity, the guts, to tell King Herod that he had sinned by marrying his brother’s wife, Herodias. Herod had divorced his wife and Herodias had divorced her husband (Herod’s brother Philip) and now the two of them had decided to get married. It was a messed up situation, a sinful situation, and John called them out for it. He told Herod that this was not right or lawful in the eyes of God. So Herod had John arrested and John sat there in prison rotting away. (Read the story in Mark 6:14-29)
Life in prison tested John’s faith. This once bold preacher who announced the coming of the Messiah and prepared the way of the Lord by calling sinners like us to repentance and baptising people in the Jordan River, now has his faith shaken. Everything that seemed so clear before now seems uncertain. John has heard about what Jesus is doing and he sends one of his disciples to go see Jesus and ask Him, “Are you the one to come or should we look for someone else?” John had been so bold, so confident in his preaching, but now he is not so sure about Jesus. One time after Jesus had been baptised John had pointed at Him and said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” and now, quite frankly, he’s not even sure if Jesus really is the promised one, the messiah, the saviour. He’s heard about what Jesus has been doing and the things that John has heard don’t meet his expectations for Jesus. But worst of all, John is sitting there in prison rotting away and Jesus does not seem to be doing anything about it. Life has changed John’s perspective of Jesus. Life has shaken John’s faith in Jesus.
Things we once seemed so certain about, things that we never doubted before, things we never questioned before, can easily be shaken and challenged by life and the circumstances of our lives. Our perspective in life changes as our experiences change. Faith that once seemed so clear and so certain might not feel that way every day. Hope that seemed so clear might seem far away sometimes. Joy that we knew so well might feel lost. Our faith in Jesus can be shaken. Life happens.
So much in life can shake our faith in Jesus. Frustration with jobs, family, friends, or any other aspect of our lives can shake our faith in Jesus. “Why does my life have to be this way? Why can’t other people be more understanding of me? Why am I stuck in this life that I do not enjoy?” Injustice can shake our faith in Jesus. “Why is this world so unfair? Why am I being treated so poorly?” Sickness can shake our faith in Jesus. “Why is this happening to me? Why am I not getting better? Who is going to help me?” Death can shake our faith in Jesus. “Why did they have to die? Why now? Why didn’t God do something to save me from this empty feeling inside?” Life happens and faith gets shaken.
Maybe you are sitting here today feeling pretty secure about things. Secure in your faith in Jesus, confident in your faith in Jesus, or maybe you’re not. Maybe you are a little shaken up, maybe you can relate to John a bit as he questions Jesus, “Are you the one to come or should we look for someone else?” Our perspective can change so quickly that we move from one extreme to another as quickly as one day ends and a new one begins.
No matter where we sit and no matter what our perspective is on things today, Jesus has good news for us: He is the one who is to come. Jesus answers John’s question with a clear and definitive answer. “Go and tell John, what you hear and see,” Jesus says, “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, and the poor have good news preached to them.” Jesus is pointing out to John and his disciples that in Him all the promises of the Old Testament about the Messiah and Saviour are being fulfilled. In particular, He’s directing their attention to the prophet Isaiah and the words of our Old Testament reading today. “The eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped; the lame man shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will sing for joy.” When we read the gospels, the stories of Jesus life and ministry, we find many examples of Jesus doing precisely these things for people who suffer. In the midst of his doubts and questions as he sits there in prison Jesus invites John to consider again the Word of God and what it says about the coming Messiah. In these words we see that Jesus really is the one to come. When we doubt, when we question, when we struggle we have this same assurance that comes to us through the Word of God that Jesus is the one who has come to save us, who has taken our sin to the cross and died for us and risen again. He is the answer, the fulfillment to all these promises.
Jesus adds one more thing to the list from our Old Testament reading today though. Isaiah doesn’t saying anything about the good news being preached to the poor, but Jesus adds it in for our sake. As long as the good news is being preached, as long as the gospel that Jesus Christ died and rose again to save sinners is being proclaimed, we can know that Jesus is working in this world. He has not abandoned us. That might seem like a lame promise in the midst of our suffering. When things are so bad and we just wish Jesus would do something about it and make it all better preaching about the gospel, about the forgiveness of sins, may seem like not much good. But this is the thing, Jesus says, that assures us of God’s love for us. The good news is preached to the poor, to the poor like us, poor miserable sinners like us. Jesus still preaches His good news to us. He has died for us. He has risen for us. Our sins are forgiven. We are His.
Our perspective might change a lot throughout our lives. When we are twenty we see things a lot differently than we do when we are forty or fifty or sixty. When we experience the ups and downs of life our perspective changes too. In the midst of all the change, uncertainty, and questions Jesus remains the same. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is the one who is to come. He is our Saviour from sin and death. He is God’s Son who died for us. He has come into this world as a child born in Bethlehem and He will come again to take us to be with Him forever.
Because Jesus does not change and is always salvation for us we can rejoice even in down times of suffering and sadness. He changes our perspective in those times. The cross where our salvation was won changes our perspective. There in something that looks evil and terrible God was accomplishing the ultimate good and our perspective is turned on its head. Because of that cross even if we were in prison like John, locked up for speaking the truth in love, we can rejoice. Even in the depths of grief and mourning when we mourn for ourselves and for others we can rejoice. Even in the darkest of days when all hope seems lost we can rejoice because Jesus our Lord has redeemed us from sin, saved us from death, and He will come and save us. He is the one to come, we need not look for anyone else. In Jesus name. Amen.