Advent 3, 2022
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
December 11, 2022
Is. 35:1-10, James 5:7-11, Matt. 11:2-15

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            When I was in sixth grade, I had an English teacher I really liked, because instead of learning grammar that year we focused on creative writing.  One special project I remember was writing, illustrating and binding an original comic book.  It was a fun project, but I did not learn much about subjects and predicates and independent clauses and it turns out, grammar is actually pretty valuable in life.  Today we see the importance of present tense and future tense. 

            Last week we had John the Baptist out at Jordan River preaching his short sermon, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”  He baptizes the crowds coming from all over causing quite a stir and attracting the attention of the Jewish religious leaders.  John boldly and harshly confronts them and warns them to repent before it is too late.  John is at the height of his ministry in the wilderness preparing the way for Jesus. 

            In our Gospel reading today everything has changed.  John has confronted the local king, Herod Antipas, for sleeping with his brother’s wife, Herodias.  Herod is offended by this.  Herodias is especially offended by this, so Herod throws John in the dungeon of his palace overlooking the Dead Sea.  John sits in the lonely darkness of the dungeon, praying for freedom and nothing happens.  He prays for freedom and remains imprisoned, scared, alone, facing unknown horrors. John wants Jesus to rescue him. It is not a crazy request.  John knows that Jesus is the anointed one of God, He is the Christ.  He is God in flesh and John is the one to prepare the way for the Lord.  John sends messengers to Jesus to ask, “Matthew 11:3 (ESV)  3 … “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 

            Too much time alone has gotten John wondering.  “Why does Jesus leave me in this dungeon of despair feeling abandoned by God?”  You have never been imprisoned by the king for criticizing his romantic life, but you do know how John feels.  You have been in your dungeon of despair.  You have been at the bedside of a loved one and prayed for healing and it did not come. You have stood by an open grave as your loved one is laid to rest.  You have prayed for God to deliver you from your ugly desires and sins and it feels like God is ignoring you.  You reach out to God in desperate times and He does not answer you the way you want Him to answer.  You have been in your dungeon of despair feeling abandoned by God.

            That’s why this lesson today is such a hard lesson.  God does not always answer your prayers the way you want Him to -- when you want Him to.  Jesus sends word to John that He is indeed the Christ of God but Jesus does not do what John wants Him to do.  People get offended that Jesus is not some kind of genie with a magic lamp obligated to grant them three wishes.  This is truly a hard lesson because it teaches the truth that Jesus does not do everything you want Him to do, even when what you want is a good thing.  Jesus does not promise that your life will be easy and trouble free.  You already know this, but it is still a hard lesson -- and it is also a great comfort. It is a wonderful comfort, because you learn that your suffering does not mean God has abandoned you.  You know the truth that even during difficult times Jesus is still God and you still belong to Him. 

            This teaching flies in the face of so many churches that basically teach that if you have enough faith you will not get sick or have hardships.  They teach that if you are sick it is because of some unrepentant sin in your life.  If you are experiencing financial difficulties it is because you are not faithful enough.  This is terrible theology.  This is heresy.  Does no one ever die in these churches?  Are there no funerals?  If you are sick or have troubles you’re told to believe it is because you lack faith which leaves you doubting if you are even a Christian.  You think, “a real Christian would not have the kinds of troubles I have.” 

            Our Gospel lesson this morning destroys the prosperity Gospel; it destroys false preaching that God promises health and wealth if you have enough faith.  The truth is that God is with you through all the trials of life, but there is no promise of an easy road.  Matthew 16:24 (ESV)  24 …Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  Jesus teaches, Matthew 7:14 (ESV) 14 …the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”  As Jesus says in our lesson today, Matthew 11:6 (ESV) “6 … blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”  And know, Jesus’ most offensive act is dying on the cross for the sins of the world. 

            Being a follower of Jesus is not easy.  Jesus makes lots of promises, but Jesus is not your genie to grant wishes.  Jesus does not do whatever you want Him to do and this can be offensive to your sinful nature because you so much want to be in control; even control of God.  Being a follower of Jesus actually makes your life harder in many ways.  It calls you to resist your sinful nature and live as a redeemed child of God.  It calls you to live in truth and light in a world of darkness and lies.  It is a blessed life, but it is not an easy life.  John the Baptist learns the hard way that being a faithful follower of Jesus can bring severe consequences.

            This is where grammar helps us understand Jesus’ promises.  Jesus makes promises in the beatitudes, in the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.”  Lots of promises and this is where we need to look at the grammar.  Only the first and eighth promises here are in the present tense. Matthew 5:3 (ESV) 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  You are right now in the Kingdom of Heaven.  As a baptized child of God you are under the rule and reign of Jesus; right now.  And no one can take that away from you.  The eighth beatitude is also present tense.  Matthew 5:10 (ESV) 10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

            Jesus promises that you are blessed with a blessing for the judgment day because you are -- right now -- under the reign of Jesus, and you are destined for eternal life with Jesus in the Heavenly City of New Jerusalem.

            Jesus has not abandoned John in his dungeon of despair and He has not abandoned you even in your misery and suffering.  You remain under the reign of Jesus right now.  Jesus is your king and you belong to him.  You are His treasure. 

            The other six beatitudes about mourning, meekness, hunger and thirst for righteousness, mercifulness, being pure in heart, being peacemakers, these are all future tense promises.  They shall be comforted, shall inherit the earth, shallbe satisfied, shall receive mercy, shall see God, shall be called sons of God.  These will be fulfilled -- when Jesus returns. And so we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly.”

            Present tense or future tense?  Makes a big difference.  It manages expectations according to God’s promise.  There is one last beatitude and it has a lot to say to John the Baptist and a lot to say to you and me as we go through life.  Matthew 5:11–12 (ESV) 11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

            Jesus has not abandoned John in his dungeon of despair and He has not abandoned you even in your misery and suffering.  You remain under the reign of Jesus right now.  Jesus is your king and you belong to him.  You are His treasure. 

            Jesus is offensive to the ways of the world.  Jesus does not do what people think He should do.  Herod Antipas and Herodias are offended and attack John the Baptist.  Christians throughout the centuries have been attacked and that continues to this day.  Jesus’ kingdom suffers violence and attack but this does not change Jesus’ promise to you. You are and remain Jesus’ treasured possession.  He forgives you and redeems you.  Matthew 10:28 (ESV)  28 … do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”  

            Learn from John the Baptist that life is hard and being a Christian does not mean that God will take away your difficulties.  You already know this.  There will be pain, and suffering and death.  But as you walk through the valley of the shadow of death you fear no evil -- for the Lord is with you.  His rod and his staff they comfort you.  In our gathering here this morning you have the rod of God’s Word and the staff of baptismal remembrance and the Body and Blood of Jesus in Holy Communion.  The Lord’s rod and staff comfort you on your journey.  Through the trials and turmoil and struggles of life you do not need to fear evil. God is with you.  You are in the Kingdom of Heaven.  You will be comforted and healed and raised from the dead.  Amen.