John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
“Are you the one?” says John. Are you the one? The promised messiah? The Son of God? Are you the one who will deliver us from all our misery and grief and sadness and shame? Or shall we look for another? Have you ever asked that question? It is a question of doubt. It is a question of uncertainty. It is a question asked by one whose faith has been shaken. Have you ever asked that question?
John asked that question. The great prophet of the Lord who by Jesus’ own estimation is greatest man ever to be born. He says it. I tell you, among those born of women, none is greater than John. And in spite of his greatness, John doubted.
Doubt comes with suffering, does it not? Doubt comes when things are so bad, so ugly, so horrible that we wonder where God has gone. If he is really there. IF he has ever been there. Perhaps they are suffering in Newtown, Connecticut. Perhaps they are doubting in Newtown Connecticut.
We don’t understand this. We are not able to relate to this. And the reason why is that in truth, most of us don’t really suffer. We are far too isolated, far too insulated, far too covered up to really see the true face of the world. We are simple country folk, surrounded by other simple country fold. We live in comfortable homes. We have nicely trimmed Christmas trees. We stress about things like whether or not we will be able to purchase all the gifts in time to get them wrapped and under the tree. That’s not suffering. It is for us. But it’s not truly suffering. We don’t understand suffering. We don’t understand evil. The people of Newtown Connecticut are suffering because they are victims of evil. A young man hell bent on murder. Murder others, murder himself. There is no other description for this than to say that it is evil. While we suffer from the difficulties and the challenges of this world, while we suffer the effects and the illnesses of this world, we don’t always get to see the evil. In fact, for the most part we are protected from it. So we don’t relate to it.
But not John. John the Baptist was suffering. The great prophet of God was suffering. He was locked away in a hole because he did what was right. He did his job. He called out the sin of a king who committed adultery with his brother’s wife. So Herod arrested John and locked him up in prison. John saw first-hand the evil that lives in the world and that lives in the heart of men. John suffered and John doubted.
Most of us can not relate.
In the second part of our text, the part that was not printed on the bulletin, Jesus said, “To what shall I compare this generation and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’” There are some in this world who suffer. The rest of us are like this. Like spoiled children sitting in the marketplace complaining. “We played the flute. You didn’t dance. We sang a dirge, you didn’t weep.”
We’re bored. Self consumed. Unimpressed. We have seen it all, done it all, experienced it all, we have it all. We are consumers. Waiting to be impressed by the next big thing. Waiting for the manufacturers to impress us, to coddle us, to comfort us with more; more comfort, more options, more zip or zing or flair. And that is how we go to church. Waiting to be wowed. Waiting to be moved. Waiting to be entertained. Waiting to have our emotions pulled, our heartstrings tugged, our funny bone tweaked. And when it doesn’t come, when don’t get what we want, we cross our arms, sit back in our chairs and we complain. We need to be more like children.
Children are a joy. Adults fancy themselves too sophisticated to express joy at the world. But not a child. That’s why we love Christmas, isn’t it? Set up a tree, decorate it with ornaments, light it with lights, and watch the glow in the eyes of a child. See the wonder and amazement as they sit with joy at the sight of it. Put a plate of cookies and a few wrapped d gifts in front of them, and watch them tear it apart, unable to contain the excitement over what they might find inside. We need to be more like that.
The Lord sets before us his gifts, better than Christmas, better than anything you could find wrapped in a package and placed under a tree, no matter how it might sparkle or beep, or whirr, no matter how many pixels or miles per gallon, there is no gift that compares to the gift that God gives every single Sunday. God himself comes to you. He comes to hear your prayer. He comes to hear what is on your mind and in your heart. He comes to care for you. While it is true that we most of the time do not suffer, while it is true that most of the time we do not understand the true plight of the world, we close our eyes to it, we avert our attention to the side that sparkles and shine, there are times that we do get to see it, that we have to see it, that it forces itself upon us. The darkness of the world is never too far away and it can always come to your house. It can take advantage of you. It can hurt you and injure you. It can cause you to lose your faith or maybe just to doubt for a while. The Lord comes to you. He comes here and he invites you to come.
“Lord have mercy.” Is the church’s cry. Have you ever noticed how many times prayer is preceded by that phrase in the Bible?
“Have mercy on me O Lord, my daughter is oppressed by a demon.” (Matthew 15:22)
“Have mercy on my son O Lord for he is an epileptic.” (Matthew 17:15)
Lepers, (Luke 17:13), and blind men (Matt 20:31) call out as he passes by, “Lord… Jesus… Master… have mercy.”
And so when we come to pray, we pray for mercy. Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.
And the Lord responds to those cries for mercy. He hears those prayers. He listens to them and he answers them. He gives help to those who need it.
And that prayer is exactly the prayer that Christians need to pray. It is the prayer that all Christians need to pray.
The bored Christians who are too sophisticated to be wowed by the simple words of faith spoken in the creed and the Lord’s prayer, who are too jaded, too mature, too cool, too busy, too contemporary, to be impressed with the simple singing of the Kryie or the Gloria need to cry out to the Lord to have mercy and grant them repentance and renewed faith. To give them the heart of a child that is once again wowed and excited by the gifts God gives when he calls them to worship.
Blessed says Jesus is the one who is not scandalized by me.
And to those who suffer, those who see the world for what it really is, those who have received the worst that this world has to give, the Lord says this: “The least in the Kingdom of God is greater even than John.” He who was the greatest ever to be born is less than you.
You see, John only saw the Kingdom of God from the not yet. He knew it was coming. He knew that Jesus was the one who would bring it. He knew that it was soon to be delivered. But he never saw it. He never saw that Kingdom come to its fulfillment. He never saw it come in its completion. He didn’t know what it would be. He did not see how glorious it would be. He didn’t know the plan. But you? You do. You do see it. You do see what the Lord has done and how he has saved you and how he has redeemed you.
You see Jesus did what no one ever would have suspected. We fight fire with fire; strength with strength; muscle with muscle. Jesus fought strength with weakness. Muscle with submission. Power with surrender. Jesus fought Satan and sin and death and hell but submitting to all of it. He gave himself to be crucified.
That wickedness, that single mindedness of murder are destruction that continues to find it way into the hearts and minds of America’s young people – Aurora Colorado, Oregon, Newtown Connecticut; the unrestrained evil that lives in the hearts of men – while most of us are isolated from this horror, Jesus was not. He knew it fully. He felt it completely. Jesus suffered terrible suffering. Jesus was at the mercy of those who knew no mercy. Maybe you can relate to that.
Jesus also suffered justice at the hands of the One who gives out justice. The only true and only Just Judge of Heaven. And he suffered justice in the place of the unjust. He suffered for this sins of the bored and the complacent and the jaded and the judgmental. Jesus suffered for you.
And Jesus calls us all to faith. He calls us all to fall on our knees before him, to cry out to him for mercy, for help, for salvation because he has already prepared it for us. It is ready. Ready to be given, distributed richly and freely and undeservedly. Jesus will give it all to you. Because he loves you.
The heart of a child receives gifts with joy and excitement and eager anticipation. May you receive the Lord’s gifts with that same joy.
One summer, when I was in college, my family took the opportunity to travel through Europe. One of the places we stopped along the way a castle in Vienne Austria. The castle is called Schonnbrun, or “beautiful spring”. The castle gets its name from the natural underground spring that feeds the reflecting pools and ponds on the palace grounds and in the gardens. The palace is palatial and the décor in rich. Gold leaf in the paint on the walls; each room filled with sculptures and words of art. Every piece of furniture was rich and ornate, each one hand crafted and one of a kind. The entire palace is a livable (although just barely) work of art. Walking through the palace, you couldn’t help but be impressed with its beauty.
If you turn in the pages of the Old Testament to the book of 2 Chronicles, you will get the description of a structure even more richly appointed and more carefully crafted. The book records for us Solomon’s construction of a temple, a place for the worship of the true God. Solomon’s father David began collecting the building materials even before Solomon began his reign and there were stores of gold and precious jewels and fine metals and costly wood all stockpiled for use in this house that would serve as the Lord’s throne room among his people. It was a palace fit for Heaven’s King where he would come to rule amidst his people. And there, at his atonement seat he would give out mercy to those who came seeking his forgiveness and favor.
Give the plans for either structure to any modern day contractor and you are sure to have him scratching his head. The work and the effort to construct either building would be staggering. And not just because of the materials and skill of the craftsmanship. The place where each was built is its own obstacle. The Palace Schonnbrun was built in a marsh – the soggy site had to be filled in with load after load of soil so that the palace could have a firm foundation. And Solomon’s temple? Well, that was constructed on the top of a mountain. Can you imagine the work needed to be done to carve off the top of that mountain to create a level place to begin laying stone?
As challenging a construction project as either one of these examples might have been – there is an even greater project; greater in its beauty and appointment, but also greater in its challenge to build and prepare. It is a temple built by the Lord himself, a place for him to dwell. But it is not built with brick and mortar, chisel and stone. Instead this is a temple of human flesh. A temple of the heart no less, where the Lord himself sends his Spirit to dwell. And that temple is the heart of the Christian. It is you! You are a temple of the Holy Spirit; or so says St. Paul, by virtue of the price paid for you by Jesus himself and by virtue of your baptism that gives to you God’s Spirit. And if Solomon spared no expense to construct his temple so that it would be worthy for the Lord and appointed richly enough for a Heaven’s King, then certainly this temple is no exception.
Now, our sermon this morning is really a sermon in two parts. The first part, where we have come so far, the temple of the Spirit – the walking Spiritual mansions that you are; well, in all truth, that is the second part of our message today. The first part is to talk about the construction of this temple.
You see, as we said, when Solomon built his temple he had to shave how many yards of dirt from the top of Mount Zion? The thought of it is staggering. All of it done before the days of our gigantic trucks and tractors that can carry away several tons of dirt at a time. Likewise, When Schonnbrun was built, its engineers had to import load after load of dirt to create a suitable site before they could begin construction. The same can be said for you. Within each Christian, the Lord builds for himself a temple. But right off the bat you’re not quite ready for that construction to begin. Just like Solomon’s temple and the Venetian Palace needed to have the landscape rearranged before they were ready for construction to begin, the Lord does that identical thing with us.
When any building project is begun the site is prepared through the work of the engineers who find and fill the low spots and to cut down the high spots. When the Lord purposes to prepare the hearts of people, like you and me, to receive his construction plan, the Lord does this work through the preacher armed with God’s Word of Law.
We can see this process occur so clearly in our Gospel text. The Lord himself was on his way to construct his kingdom; heaven’s king had come to earth and he brought with him the reign of heaven; but before construction could begin the Lord sent his engineer to bulldoze – to push and pull down. To make ready the hearts of the people to receive God’s gift of grace.
This is what the Gospel writer is telling us in our text this morning. Luke tell us that John, “Went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” And then Luke proceeds to quote verses from Old Testament prophets to give us further understanding of the work that John was coming to do. John was, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” (Luke 3:3-6 ESV)
Luke goes on to tell us the content of John’s message, this Word given by God. It was a word of judgment. Fiery and pointed. John’s word condemned each and every sin of each and every sinner. His message was terrifying.
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:7-9 ESV)
The message is clear. The king is coming. He is coming to you. He is bringing with him his right and righteous judgment and each person, each man woman and child from the least to the greatest, will be condemned. Repent. John came to rearrange the landscape in us so that we would be ready to receive the kingdom.
You see, it is the Lord’s intention to build in you a temple, rich and glorious. A temple that exceeds even the beauty of the one built by Solomon. But you and I – in our natural state - we are far from ready for construction to begin. Our hearts must be prepared.
· We are sometimes too high and lofty – prideful and overconfident, convinced we deserve to be the dwelling place of the Lord.
· And then there are the other times that we are too low, choosing to “slum it” as we test the boundaries to see just how low and down in the dirt we can get.
· And then there are the times that where the Lord demands we be straight and true, we choose the crooked and deceptive path.
· And finally, where the Lord would have us be smooth – kind and generous and loving, our demeanor can get a bit rough; jostling and jarring those we run across.
And so the Lord levels us off. He sends his preachers out in to the world to pull us down from our lofty heights, to pull us out of the mud, straighten us up and level us off. The Lord sends out his prophets.
The Lord’s prophets preach repentance. Our Gospel text tells us that John came to preach repentance. The goal wasn’t just come to cut everyone down to size, to condemn and criticize, he did just have in mind to make people feel badly about themselves. The work of the preacher is to help you to see yourself for who you really are, that is to say, to see yourself the way the Lord sees you. John preached God’s Word and God’s Word says about us that we are sinners. But there is a purpose for preaching this message.
In the same way that a bulldozer doesn’t bulldoze just for the fun of pushing around the dirt, the Lord doesn’t send his preachers to preach God’s law into our hearts just for the fun of condemning us. No, this is only the first stage in the Lord’s construction plan. The Lord is building out of you a beautiful temple.
The message preached by John was repentance and the forgiveness of sins. Our small catechism says that repentance has two parts, contrition (or sorrow for sin) and faith. Contrition is that condemnation part, where we see the truth of who we really are in the preaching of God’s law. But that is only part, only the first half. The temple still has not been built. After contrition comes faith.
You see, Johns work was to prepare hearts to meet Jesus. And as John was out baptizing in the wilderness, low and behold Jesus came. Jesus, the perfect, sinless Son of God, stepped down into the water. In that action the King became a commoner, the clean climbed down into the muck and the mire, and he was anointed with our sin. At that moment Jesus took on the work of living as one of us in our place so that when this work was done he could be nailed to the cross for us in our place. The construction of the temple built for you by Jesus himself was built for you by the absolutely perfect and clean and without sin life that Jesus lived for you in your place. Throughout the life of Jesus, as he was teaching and healing and helping and forgiving and loving and serving he was collecting the building materials, the costly provisions that would go into the construction of you, dear Christian. And then, when all that was finished, when the final work was complete, the one thing left to be done the final gift to be given that Jesus would prepare for you was the gift of his own life. Jesus gave his life into death as he died on the cross for you.
The other half of repentance is faith. The other half of repentance is to look onto the cross of Jesus, see him dying there in his suffering and see on that cross the one who died in your place. The other half of repentance is simply to say of Jesus as he hangs that He did this for me.
And then its gone. The sin that ruffles and rumbles your heart and makes you unfit to be the Spirits temple, why, that is gone. It is carried away in a moment never to be seen again. The Lord has made you ready and prepared, the Lord has built out of you a beautiful temple, a palace from which he comes to reign and rule, from where he hands out his gifts of love and mercy and service and help and healing, both for you but also through you. You serve as God’s heart and hands and help in the place where you live because you are his holy temple.
There are some construction projects that far outshine all others – that are world renown for their beauty and ingenuity and style and costliness. But you, my friend, my fellow Christian brothers and sisters you far outshine them all, because Christ has built on you a temple that is fit even for him to live.
In the name of Jesus.
This Sermon is preached from a series written by Dr. David Schmitt