INI + AMEN.
((5. Oops!: John doubted Jesus.))
John doubted. He was in prison. John was a “servant of Christ and a steward of the mysteries of God,” as Paul says. He preached Christ. John preached the Messiah’s coming, His Advent, His Salvation. John preached repentance: “prepare the Lord’s Way!” He delivered a “baptism for the forgiveness of sins.” He was greatest and last prophet of God, and he doubted Jesus.
From the darkness of prison, the pit Herod had put him in, John had heard what Jesus was doing. But so what? He was in prison. What did it matter how awesome Jesus was? Clearly it wasn’t for John. No good deed goes unpunished, I guess. Obviously Jesus wasn’t who He said He was, or at least wasn’t who John said he was. What kind of Christ, what kind of God lets this happen. But there John was rotting away in a pit, in darkness, waiting for his inevitable execution.
John’s trust wasn’t in the Jesus he preached. He trusted something else. The darkness of his cell brought it out: “Are you the coming one?” All Judea had gone out to him, but now, just two followers. He’d thundered away at sinners, religious leaders, even Herod. This is what it had got him. Failed message. Failed Christ. John figured he’d put his eggs in the wrong basket. Eyes on his work, rather than the LORD who sent him. In John’s thinking, his prison cell defined him, defined who he was, defined what he’d done, defined what sort of Christ Jesus was. John darkness, pain, suffering, and what got him there consumed him.
((4. Ugh!: We’re just like John.))
This isn’t unfamiliar to us. We doubt, too. We fall into the same trap as John. Eyes on us. What we do defines us. What we’ve done defines us, too. The suffering we endure consumes us. Our past does, too. Our insecurities and worries and fears about what lies ahead consume us, too. Our sins and mistakes define us. We put on a good show, good masks, a good front, but the pain, worry, sadness, and sins are all there.
And this is clear to us especially this time of year. The holidays really aren’t so jolly for many people. The scripts are all written, the roles in life all set. Can’t break the mold. People are who they always are, who they’ve always been. The happy are always happy. The troubled are always troubled. The empty chairs, smiles, and hearts are all there. There’s no escape. Play your part. Smile it away.
We put walls up to cover our pain and darkness. Temporary ways to cope with it. Shopping, partying, drinking, family, work, maybe even church and religion—they’re all walls and masks to hide the darkness. It doesn’t matter the ways we choose to deal with it, because they’re just walls that imprison us even more.
We think Jesus is for someone else, for whatever reason. Jesus is for them, and not for me. We doubt. What’s the problem? Maybe Jesus is. Maybe I am. We’re held captive to our hopes and dreams, our fears and worries, our past and sins, our future, too. We’ve all got our solutions, our walls, the roles and boxes family, friends, or others put us in, the roles and boxes we give ourselves. There’s no hope of escape for us. Is there? How can there be? If John the Baptist doubted, well, that’s pretty much it for you and me. Isn’t it? It is…
((3. Aha!: JESUS GIVES LIFE TO THE DEAD.))
Jesus will have none of that. Jesus won’t let our doubts define us. He comes to us in the midst our darkness, our pain, our sins, our chasing after every other solution we can cook up. He comes to the trapped, “the blind, the lame, the leprous, the deaf.” He comes to “the dead.” He preaches to “the poor,” those who’ve got nothing else. He’s Immanuel, after all. God with us. God become man to come into our darkness, into our pain, into our sadness.
He comes to do something about it. He gives sight to the blind, cleansing to lepers, walking to the lame, hearing to the deaf. He brings His light into the darkness. He even sends preachers back to John. In each of those Jesus is really doing the same thing. JESUS GIVES LIFE TO THE DEAD.
He unites Himself to the trapped, to the sick, the dying, the poor, the dead. He goes into the darkness of our sins, our death, our world and He suffers it all at Calvary. There JESUS GIVES His LIFE for THE DEAD. He rises from the dead, which is what all His healing points forward to. JESUS GIVES LIFE—His Life—TO THE DEAD.
((2. Whee!: It’s true right now through faith.))
It’s true right now. He defines you with His life. He didn’t leave John alone to work out his own doubt and worries. He sends preachers. “Tell John what you see and hear,” so that John would be given peace in his suffering, light in his darkness, forgiveness in his doubt, and life in the midst of death.
What Jesus did, really is for you. It’s given to you. You are what He says you are. John’s doubt disqualifies hi doesn’t it? It should. But Jesus still says, “John’s the greatest prophet.” You’re defined not by what’s going on around you or within you, who you are before God isn’t based on what you’ve done or continue you to do, your value isn’t what label you get from others or whatever label you give to yourself. You and your life are defined by what He says and what He’s done for you. He died for your doubts, your sins. He went through your darkness, your death, your loneliness and pain, and the doubt that flows from your heart because of all of that.
He opens your ears and eyes and heart and mind to His light, His life. He doesn’t give worth to the worthy, salvation to the savable, forgiveness to the forgivable, love to the lovable. Just the opposite! JESUS GIVES LIFE TO THE DEAD. Life to you.
He’s the Friend of sinners, the Healer of the sick, the Raiser of the dead. He sends preachers not to the deserving, but to those who are doubting. He washes the unclean, feeds the hungry, loves the unloveable, forgives the unforgiveable.
He pours out His life for those who pour their energy into all sorts of masks for their pain. He puts His Words into their ears, your ears. He opens your eyes to see “the wonders of His love”: a manger, a cross, a tomb. All the things He did for you.
It really is yours now because He delivers it now. We trust that. Gift received! You’re defined by what He’s done and delivers now to you through His men, His pastors. He baptized you through one. He opens your ears to hear His absolution for all your sins as often as you need it. He says, “Open up! This is My body for you, My blood shed for you.” A meal for the starving and empty, those in pain, the sad. Jesus’ Supper, His body and blood, is LIFE FOR THE DEAD, GIVEN and shed for you, delivered to you that you would live forever.
((1. Yeah!: It will all be true on the Last Day.))
John died. You’ll die, too. But that will define you as much as your darkness, sin, and life do. They don’t! You’re baptized. God’s script has been written for you. He will raise you from the dead. That’s the promise Jesus is making in His ministry to the sick, the dying, the dead, the sinner. That’s the promise of His Supper, too. It’s really true now. Your faith isn’t false. You’re forgiven! (Even in the midst of your doubt.) It’s not just face to face yet. John got his messengers. You get me. But one day, the Last Day, all that Jesus said and did and promised will all come true. JESUS GIVES LIFE TO THE DEAD, and so you will see Him. Not just in passing, not just a little bit, like how the holidays fly by. No, you’ll see Him forever, be with Him forever. He’ll be with you forever, too. He really already is.
INI + AMEN.