Sunday, December 16, 2007

Hear and See

Third Sunday in Advent
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Matthew 11:2-15

There are times you come to a Scripture passage and you see good reasons to interpret it one way but also good reasons to interpret it another way. What makes it especially difficult to determine is that both interpretations have value to them. Today’s Gospel reading is one of those passages. Either way you go you’ll be well served because neither interpretation goes against the rest of Scripture. So what do you do?

With today’s Gospel reading you have the question, Is John the Baptist having doubts holed up in that prison and so asks his disciples from Jesus Himself if He really is the one? Or is John holed up there in prison but the consummate teacher of his disciples, having them go to Jesus to find out for themselves that Jesus is in fact the one? There is so much here for us either way. On the one hand, it’s comforting to know that even someone like John falls into times of spiritual crisis and that Jesus is always there for him. How much more so for us! On the other hand, it’s a comfort to know that even when someone like John is in dire straits even that can be used to point to the one who is our only hope. How much more will our Lord continue to send us leaders who will point our way to Jesus!

But there may be a third option. Why can’t it be both? Or maybe another way of saying it is, Maybe God put it in the Scriptures this way so that we are enriched beyond just seeing a passage of Scripture, hearing the interpretation, and learning the lesson of it. Maybe God put it that way so that we must wrestle with it. So that when we come to the conclusion of what the interpretation is we’re forced to see that there’s a lot going for the other one and that we ought to study it more.

But not just study the particular Scripture passage more—study the Bible more. What’s really happening here is that we’re seeing that we need to be in God’s Word, ever more, ever deeper. If John is having doubts and can’t quite see straight, he’s at least sending his disciples to the right place. If he’s more convinced than ever, despite his situation, he’s seeing for himself and guiding his disciples to get into the Word of God, going straight to the source. Each interpretation accomplishes the goal, just from a different perspective. What the third option does is move us beyond just looking at this passage on its own and coming to a decision and moves us to the rest of the Scriptures.

I can’t tell you how many times I have been preparing for a sermon and in my own personal devotions or in studying for something else I have come to an insight on the particular passage I’m going to preach on. That’s because the Word of God is the Word of God. He’s the Author and He’s got it all working together.

He didn’t just give us a simple little booklet that shows us the path to salvation and we’ve got it all figured out, thank you very much. He gives us the Bible that is challenging and at times difficult to understand. But isn’t that exactly what was going on when John was in prison? Whether with John or with his disciples. Or maybe a little of both? John was as certain Jesus was the One as he was that he was in prison; even as there may have been some nagging doubts in the back of his mind there. On the other hand, John may have been genuinely in spiritual distress. It all seemed so clear. He knew Jesus was the One. And yet, now things weren’t seeming quite so clear. Nevertheless, in the back of his mind, there was that still small voice of clarity, of peace, of certainty. He did know that Jesus was the one.

Haven’t there been times when we ourselves have felt one way and at other times the other way? Aren’t there times when we’re not even sure which way we feel? This passage is for you, right where you’re at. Because you don’t necessarily have to have it all figured out. But you do need to keep studying. You do need to go directly to the source. And this is why you need to hear Jesus’ answer to the question: “Tell John what you hear and see.”

The question was asked of Jesus, but the question was asked in doubt, whether by John or his disciples. You know what Jesus does when we’re approaching Him in doubt? He points us to what we hear and see. And what is it we hear? What is it we see? We hear Him. We hear Him when His Holy Word is read. We hear Him when we read it ourselves. We hear Him when the absolution is spoken by His servant. We hear Him when His Gospel is proclaimed or taught by His servant.

When we hear Him in these ways it may not seem as dramatic as when He spoke to the deaf and the blind and the lame. But we hear the same message. We are healed of our infirmity. We are forgiven our sins.

What do we see? We see people at this font before us being Baptized. We see at this altar the bread and wine that is given to us by our Lord Himself, in which He also gives to us His very self, His body and blood. We see our Lord at work. We see our Lord coming to us in His Sacraments.

What was proclaimed in the wilderness in the Old Testament reading is a description that fits us today, with what we hear and see: “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Your God… will come and save you.’” Jesus pointed John and his disciples to what they were hearing and seeing, His marvelous acts of compassion and healing. When we hear Him and see His work in His Word and Sacraments we too are strengthened and comforted and healed, forgiven of our sin.

We are feeble. We are weak and often falter. Why did James in our Epistle reading have to say this to Christians: “Do not grumble against one another”? It’s because we’re prone to not see Jesus for who He is and live like it. We have heard and seen, and yet we grumble and doubt. We act as if Jesus isn’t really who He says He is. As if he really didn’t do all those things promised in the Old Testament and accomplished by His own voice and hands. As if He really hasn’t Baptized all those people we’ve seen Baptized. As if the bread and wine on the altar and that we receive is only bread and wine and not the life giving and sustaining Body and Blood of Christ.

What we need to do is what John did. Whether out of doubt or the confident showing of his disciples, we like him need to go to the source. To Jesus Himself. This is where we hear and see. It’s not just stuff we hear “out there”. It’s not just what we see in our day to day life. It’s what we hear and see of Jesus as He is in action. The one who healed the sick is the one who carried our sickness of sin upon Himself in His suffering and death. He continues to act, to do, to deliver His healing to you in His Holy Word. In Holy Baptism. In His Holy Supper.

So hear and see. Your Lord comes to you. You receive Him because He gives you ears to hear and eyes to see. Even when your body is decaying in the ground this hearing and seeing will remain. And when that very body is raised in glory you will hear and see face to face. Amen.


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