St. Matthew 11:2-11
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
St. Matthew 11:4-5 – Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind receive their sight and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the Gospel preached to them.”
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord…Earlier in today’s service we prayed these words in the Collect for Gaudete Sunday: “Lord Jesus Christ, we implore You to hear our prayers and lighten the darkness of our hearts by Your gracious visitation.”
Gaudete, as was mentioned earlier, is Latin for “Rejoice.” In that prayer we confess that we understand a thing or two about where John is coming from—that we too have, at times, been utterly perplexed at our Savior’s way of being our Savior; that we have truly felt let down and even at times abandoned by Him; that we know what it is to be in prison, trapped behind bars stronger than iron and colder than steel; that we know what it is to be lonely and afraid, especially when we think we’ve done the right thing, the thing God expected of us, and then been hung out to dry for doing it. And when all that happens, the first question that comes to our mind is: “What have I done? What is my sin that God is letting this happen to me?”
At such times, we most certainly need to pray: “hear our prayers and lighten the darkness of our hearts.”
Notice how that prayer is answered for John. John sends two disciples to Jesus because he is perplexed and anxious, he is fearful, he is in doubt. Where should he turn? To whom shall he go? Where else but to the Lord Jesus Himself! So he sends word to Jesus, for he knows that Jesus speaks the word that can sustain the weary.
And so John’s messengers come to Jesus with the question: “Are you the Coming One, or do we look for another?” Hidden in that question is this thought: “Was I wrong about you, Jesus? ARE you the one who whose “winnowing fork is in his hand”? Are you the one who will “clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn”? Are you the one who will “burn the chaff with unquenchable fire”? (Matt 3:12) Are you the one about whom the Scriptures speak?”
Now, think about why John asks this. John was the Lord’s prophet. John was the one who had confronted Herod with his sin and had told him publicly and flat out that it was wrong to marry his brother’s wife. John had done the Lord’s work; he had spoken the Lord’s word as he was given to do.
And what was the result? John was thrown into prison and it seemed that his ministry had come to an end. He had pointed to Jesus. He had said that Jesus was the one who would take care of these bullies who dare to trample the Word of God on their way to sin against others. He had pointed to Jesus and said He would burn them up with unquenchable fire. So where was the fire? Why was it that all anyone heard about Jesus was that He was going around healing people and telling them “good news”?
What word can Jesus send to John to “lighten the darkness of [his] heart?” Jesus knows exactly what was waiting for John; He knows this in the same way that He knows exactly what is waiting for you. Jesus knew that John’s head would be presented to the mother of a dancing girl. Jesus saw already these men here before him today, crying in grief and anguish as they brought John’s headless body from Herod’s prison. What possible good could come from this? What word can Jesus speak to them that will drive the darkness away and fill them with light?
In Matthew 11 Jesus said: “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind receive their sight and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the Gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended by me” (Matt 11:4-6).
Did you catch what Jesus slipped in there? There, with all the other miracles that they could hear and see, was one that was of utmost importance for John to hear and know about; and it was one which John’s poor disciples needed to know about too. It is one that is VITAL for you and me to know about. Not just the blind seeing; not just the lame walking; not just that the lepers are cleansed; not just that the deaf hear.
Above and beyond all of these, Jesus said, “the dead are raised up.” And THIS is the good news that is preached to the poor. This is the good news that in Christ we encounter “the light no darkness can overcome,” because in Him is life and that life is the light of men; in Him is a life that death itself cannot conquer. Jesus calls Himself “the Resurrection and the Life” because when HE encounters death, He is death’s undoing.
It happened with Jairus’ daughter (Matthew 9:18-26). It happened again with the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11-17). It happened with Lazarus (John 11:38-44). And all of these were indications for those who had ears to hear and eyes to see of what would happen when Jesus Himself met death and took it into Himself. Death never stood a chance.
“Go and tell John….that the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.” In other words, “John, you are about to go into greater darkness than you have yet known. But do not despair. You were the one to “go before the Lord to prepare His way.” And so you will also go before Me, even into death. But do not let that darkness frighten you, John, for the One who comes after you, the One whose sandal you were not worthy to untie, He will come into death after you, and He will raise you from death itself – you and all who have trusted in Him. I will do it, John! I will set you free from that final darkness. I will raise you to life with Me. I will raise to life with Myself all who go into that final darkness trusting in Me. Don’t stumble now, John. Hold tight and I will see you through.”
This is the word which Jesus speaks to “lighten the darkness of [John’s] heart.” This is the word Jesus speaks to drive away your darkness today: “This is my body given for you; this is my blood shed for you, for the forgiveness of your sins.” That is a word that can see you through your darkest hours and bring you safely into the light of glory.
No, we do not understand all the ways of our Savior, and we will not, as long as we live in this sinful world and in these sinful bodies. But, as our Epistle reminded us, we should not “judge [anything] before the time, until the Lord comes, who will bring to light the hidden things of darkness” (1 Cor. 4:5).
Until that day when the Lord brings us to Himself and gives us the eternal and heavenly peace of which we sing at this time of the year, the Lord will keep us in His grace through His constantly delivered word of Absolution to you, through the regular preaching and hearing of His Gospel of sins forgiven, and through the deliverance from death and the devil which comes from our Baptism into Christ.
Until then, we receive the body and blood of the Lord who Himself went into the darkness for us, and by faith we trust that just as He was raised from that darkness so He will also raise us and all the dead and give eternal life to us and to all believers in Christ.
This is most certainly true!
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.