John sent a message to Jesus through two of his own disciples: “Are you the One who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
INI + AMEN.
((5. John hears about Jesus and doubts.))
John has reaped a prophet’s reward: Locked up, in prison (ἐν τῷ δεσμητηρίῳ). Soon, in death (ἐν θανάτῳ). The void, the emptiness (בֹּהוּ) and darkness (הֹשֶׁךְ) of his cell get the better of him. Is there any hope?
Sure, he’s heard all about what Jesus is doing, but “how’s that helping me?” John thinks. “I’m still locked up in this pit.” No fancy cells back then. Usually some pit, some hole. Darkness. Emptiness. Nothingness. Then finally there would be the only release that a prophet of the Lord could expect: θανατεῖν.
John’s heart is a churning mess, a stormy see of doubt. There’s nothing firm, nothing steady, all formless (תֹּהוּ) except his doubt! The only thing that’s constant is darkness. The only thing certain is death. Pretty bleak. No wonder he doubts.
((4. You and I do, too!))
What hope do you and I have then? John’s the greatest prophet, the last prophet! Jesus says so: “Among those born of women none has a risen greater than John the Baptizer.” And that John doubts! The fire and brimstone preacher. The one who preached Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world—more on that next week. Now at the bottom of his seemingly bottomless pit, there’s a bottomless pit of doubt in John’s heart.
If that John doubts, there’s no hope for you and I then, is there? What can be expected of us? But we hide our doubt. We try and lock that away. We try and ignore it. Christians aren’t supposed to have doubts are they?
How can we who hear about “the works of the Christ” week in and week out doubt? Isn’t there something wrong with us, then? We put on a mask, a façade. We act as if doubt is for lesser Christians. That I can’t possible ask a question about my doubt, or address it, or shed light on it because then that means I might not be a Christian.
We try to put our heads in the sand when it comes to the doubts that are churning around in our hearts. But no matter how hard you close your eyes, no matter how hard you try to ignore, no matter how you try to cover it up, silence it, put it in prison, but it will just come roaring back. A question, a situation, an event, an anniversary, a person comes across your path, and then a variation of John’s question shouts in your mind: “Are you for real Jesus? Or is there someone else? Some other God? No God?”
((3. The Lord sends preachers to the doubting.))
What’s the Lord gonna do with you? Huh? Well, He’s going to do with what He did with John. He sent him preachers! He sent the preacher a preacher, and He’ll do the same for you. Not to brow beat you. Not to tell you to get your act together, not to say, “God’s gotta plan for this.” (Talk about casting more darkness into a pit!)
“Go and tell John what you see and hear: the blind see, the crippled walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them.” Jesus doesn’t tell John: “What’s your problem? Pull it together, man!” No. Jesus doesn’t “break the bruised reed or quench the smoldering wick.” Jesus is the God who speaks to the darkness, “Let there be light,” and there was light. He calms seas by His Word and presence. Out of the waters He creates “dry ground.” He establishes the firmest of foundations: Himself!
He sets you upon the Rock, Himself. That’s what He does for John. Jesus doesn’t talk about John like this: “Oh, how the mighty have fallen!” Instead Jesus sends preachers to John with one goal in mind: “Comfort, comfort my people.” What the Lord does for John. He does for you, and in this way, You “who are least in the Kingdom of heaven are greater than he.” How so? Because the Lord loves you just as much as He loves His greatest and last prophet!
((2. THE LORD’S LIGHT IS FOR THOSE IN DARKNESS.))
The Lord goes into the darkness. Calvary and Easter. “There was darkness over the whole land from noon until 3, and at 3 He cried out with a loud voice: ‘It is finished,’ and breathed His last.” Then into the pit of His darkness. Darkness, death—there the Lord went for you. Doubt deserves death, and so that’s where Jesus goes. Bears your doubt, bears its death. By His coming back to life He brought life even eternal life to light. He did all this because THE LORD’S LIGHT IS FOR THOSE IN DARKNESS.
He sends His word into the darkness: “Let there be light.” “Go and tell John what you see and hear.” That’s why He sends His preachers to John to preach what they preach. They preach what Jesus does to bring Jesus’ light to John. THE LORD’S LIGHT IS FOR THOSE IN DARKNESS. He brings His light to John, so that John would dwell in God’s marvelous light.
There’s no work your way out of the darkness for John. The Lord says, “Come to the Light, the Light I’m giving you right now. I am the Light!—the Light of sight to the blind, the Light of hearing to the deaf, the Light of cleansing to the leprous, the Light of walking to the crippled, the Light of life to the dead! This is the “good news” of light and peace to those who are “poor in spirit,” those who have nothing going for them but darkness and doubt. The Lord doesn’t cast them off. Look at John! THE LORD’S LIGHT IS FOR THOSE IN DARKNESS.
You, too! The Lord loves you just like He loves John! The Lord doesn’t play favorites like that. John was greatest because of His office of last prophet, but you, least in the Kingdom, are just as beloved as John. THE LORD’S LIGHT IS FOR THOSE IN DARKNESS, even you! The Lord won’t leave you in your darkness. He doesn’t leave you in your sin. He brings His light to you. He shines His light on you to dispel and cast away the darkness.
“What you see and hear!” You see and hear what Jesus does. He resurrects the dead. He forgives sinners. He deals with doubt with His own empty tomb. That’s the foundation against all doubt! Jesus rose from the dead, and He rose from the dead for you. He delivers the light of His empty tomb right to you. You were baptized into Jesus’ own resurrection from the dead. It really is yours. No doubt can undo your baptism just as no doubt can put Jesus dead back into the tomb. Jesus is alive, never to die again.
Darkness. Doubt. Sin. More light! Absolution, forgiveness for people in darkness. You don’t have to hide the darkness. The Lord will forgive the darkness away. As much as you have darkness and doubt, the Lord has forgiveness. More than enough! The Lord is an unending light of mercy and forgiveness for you. He sent me to deliver it to you, just as He sent those two disciples back to John with the message of Jesus’ mercy and forgiveness. “Gospel” “Good News.” What a sermon they preached to John!
More doubt destroying gifts from Jesus! “My Body and Blood for you for the forgiveness of sins.” If you believe those words, Jesus’ words, then you have, no matter what, no matter how many times you receive it, you have what He’s giving right to you, right into your mouth—forgiveness of sins! A gift given you that John never received.
No matter the gift, the truth remains the same: THE LORD’S LIGHT FOR THOSE IN DARKNESS.
((1. The Lord’s unending light will come!))
The Lord gives out double forgiveness for all your sins. “Comfort, comfort, My people.” If you’ve got the chains of sin, the darkness of doubt, the fear of death, well, the Lord doesn’t expect you to get your act together. No getting out for good behavior. The Lord goes into the midst of it, with His Word He does. That’s what happens for you, as it happened for John.
THE LORD’S LIGHT IS a light that has no end FOR THOSE IN DARKNESS. “The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” The more darkness you have, all the more light Jesus is. It’s the thing our flesh, our doubt, our way of thinking tries to shift aside. We keep trying for something else besides Jesus, besides His Word and Sacraments, besides Communion, surely there’s more I have to do, and you just keep ending up in darkness, doubt, frustration.
The Lord throws Himself into the darkness at Calvary. He throws His lot in with those in darkness. THE LORD’S LIGHT IS FOR THOSE IN DARKNESS. He brings them out in the ways He’s given—only in the Gifts He gives to dispel darkness. Preachers with a sermon to John. Preacher with sermon and Sacraments to you. The Lord’s Word always does what it says. “Let there be light, and there was light.” “My Body, My Blood, forgiveness for you,” and that’s what’s there.
And one day, He will bring you into the light of His eternal day, where there will be no more darkness, no more sin, no more doubt. Just Jesus shining, just His Father shining, the Spirit Shining, and you living in the eternal light that your Triune God casts on you now and forever.
INI + AMEN.