December 22, 2018
Pastor John Hering
2 When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples 3 to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
4 Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see:5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 6 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”
7 As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 8 If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces.9 Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written:
“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’
11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
Dear Friends and family of Beau, Rachel, Rhonda, Emily, Elizabeth, and Meagan,
Do you enjoy taking pictures? Some of the most interesting pictures would be like you in the foreground holding out your finger with the Eiffel Tower in the background as if you were touching the top of it! Or holding your hands in the air cupped around the moon, as if they were holding it. Or a man stretching his arms and hands up toward an airplane landing, making it looks as if he was holding it. You see the pictures, but you realize that THINGS ARE NOT ALWAYS WHAT THEY SEEM.
Life is like that. You experience things based on your life’s experiences and draw conclusions based on what you see. There are Trials, Troubles and Tragedy that give us a certain impression, but what’s actually happening may not be true. The truth might actually be just the opposite. Trials, Troubles and Tragedy can lead us to doubt God’s goodness, his love and his plan for our lives—especially when those we love pass away. These doubts may be caused by incorrect impressions distorted perspectives on reality, and ultimately on sin. So, what can we do with our doubts, fears, sorrow, and pain? The Word of God before us today gives us the answers to doubt, courage for fear, comfort for sorrow by pointing us to God’s love for us in Christ Jesus. For in Christ Jesus
Things Aren’t Always As They Seem, but Jesus gives us
Answers to Doubt
John the Baptist sent his disciples to Jesus to ask him a question: Matthew 11 starts out this way,
“2 When John, who was in prison,”
STOP! Why is John in prison? It has to do with the two sons of Herod the Great—Philip and Herod Antipas. Philip, who’s wife of Herodias, had lost his rule in the area and moved back to Rome. Herod Antipas visited Rome and took his brother’s wife back home. John the Baptist was a fiery preacher and openly condemned Herod for stealing his brother’s wife. Herodias hated John. So, Herod had John thrown into prison—they wanted John dead, but feared the people who regarded John as a great prophet.
So, there is John sitting in prison, having pointed to Jesus was the
“Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”
saw his miracles and ministry and sends his disciples with this question,
“2 When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples 3 to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
John was called by God to be the forerunner of Jesus, why would he be asking this question? Certainly, it would be good for John’s disciples to hear Jesus’ answer from his own lips. But I wonder if John had his doubts. He was sitting in prison with plenty of time to think, and for Satan to tempt him to doubt. It doesn’t really matter if John or his disciples were doubting because Jesus gave the perfect answer:
“4 Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see:5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 6 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”
Remember John’s message?
“11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
John preached God’s judgment on sin just like all the OT prophets. Then after the people took his message to heart and repented, he preached forgiveness in Jesus. And now John is in prison perplexed. Maybe he thought, “I’ve seen Jesus’ mercy, but where is the judgment? And if Jesus is the one to bring judgment on the world, why am I rotting in this prison for doing what God called me to do?” John was full of doubt, Trials, Troubles and Tragedy.
The Bible graciously shows us the heroes of faith in their moments of strength, but also in their moments of weakness. Abraham sacrificed his courage on the altar of fear while living in Egypt—willing to introduce his wife as his sister. Moses sacrificed his patience on the altar anger when he hit the rock to provide water for the Children of Israel. David sacrificed his chastity on the altar of lust when he had an affair with Bathsheba. John the Baptist sacrificed his trust on the altar of doubt when he questioned the validity of Jesus. All of these Scripture are recorded for our benefit. If all of these famous Bible people could have sin and doubt, couldn’t we also?
We have our doubts and we know what leads to our doubts. Maybe we even have our doubts about Beau? When a brother makes mistakes while playing his tuba, we know he isn’t a perfect tuba player—but pretty close to perfect! When a father isn’t the perfect dad because he failed you, when a husband isn’t the perfect husband because he isn’t faithful, when a church member isn’t living according to God’s holy word, or the doctor says we have cancer that we’re not going to beat, or we lose a loved one right before the holidays, we might all have our doubts! We might wonder how all of this demonstrates God’s goodness and love for us?
These are doubts that come from our life’s experiences. Satan loves to use Trials, Troubles and Tragedy to lead us to doubt. They give us a distorted perspective on how things really are. They move our eyes off from where they really need to be. It was a lesson for John and it’s a lesson for us—yes, we all have our doubts of God’s plan for us. Where can we go with these doubts? Shall we go deep inside ourselves for greater strength? Shall we reflect on all the good we did in our life to bail us out before God? Shall we fill our ears with how good we are, and get advice from Opra, Steve or Dr Phil? No! Look to Jesus and listen to his Word! For Jesus gives us the perfect answers to doubt. He also
Gives us courage for fear
“4 Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see:5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”
Jesus’ ministry of mercy was the answer for the doubts of John and his disciples. Just like the prophets had foretold many times, now was the time of Jesus’ ministry of mercy, love, forgiveness and peace. And just like Jesus fulfilled his ministry of mercy, you can well count on it that Jesus will also fulfill his ministry of judgment someday. Do not fear, but have courage in Jesus. Wait and see. Jesus gives his final word of encouragement to them and to us:
“6 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”
Don’t fall away when you see Trials, Troubles and Tragedy. Don’t doubt God’s love when you see him allow things like mistakes, failures, sickness, sorrow and pain in your life. God’s plan to form and fashion us into his dearly loved children may not line up with you think God should be doing in your life. Because Things Aren’t Always What They Seem! The cure for doubt and fear is to listen to Jesus and believe his Word over the circumstances and things in your life you can’t possibly make sense or understand. Too many times we try to do it our own way and we get frustrated and ask, “What’s happening?” or “Why is my life such a mess?” Then one day we are blessed to have a godly person put their arm around us and say, “You’ve been trying to handle this your way and it hasn’t turned out so well. How about you try it God’s Way!” Then we will have Jesus’ answers to doubt, courage for fear and
Comfort for Sorrow
Then Jesus turned to the crowd and to us, to teach and comfort us.
“7 As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 8 If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces.9 Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’”
Jesus did not want anyone to dismiss John’s work or his message, but to take it to heart. Jesus paints a vivid picture of John’s work. He wasn’t in a palace, wearing designer clothes, eating fine foods. But in the desert, wearing camel’s hair clothes and eating locust and wild honey. He was eating, wearing and smelling like a bum! Yet, the multitudes were going out to see him because he proclaimed God’s truth to prince and pauper alike, and for this he now finds himself in prison! Jesus call him a Great Prophet because he was sent to prepare people’s heart for Jesus. Jesus defends John’s honor not because he was his cousin, or a great guy, but because his message is vitally important to lead people to repentance and trust in Jesus for their salvation.
“11 Truly I tell you,”
and when Jesus says, “Truly” it isn’t because he had been telling lies up to this point, but because he wants you to perk up and pay attention!
“11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
Jesus heaps the greatest praise possible on John. No human being is greater than John…..sitting in prison! That certainly doesn’t seem to be true! But, Jesus give this caveat… the smallest believer in Jesus as Savior is greater than John the Baptist. Not because John had his doubts, but because he longed to see Jesus fulfill it all and soon he would be put to death while in prison. So, all believers who came after him, including you, me and Beau, would be at a tremendous advantage—you have seen what John longed to see! You have seen Jesus, the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world do it. You get to kneel beside his manger in a few days remembering that Jesus would live the perfect life we could not, die a perfect death on the cross to pay the penalty of all our sins, rise from the dead to show his power over death, and ascend into heaven to prepare a place for you, me and secure heaven for Beau!
Jesus makes this point clear a little later on to his disciples and to us when he said,
““16 But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. 17 For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”
Emily, Elizabeth, Meagan, Rhonda, Rachel, and all of you, the greatest people in the Bible had their doubts, fears and sorrow due to their Trials, Troubles and Tragedy but you are the greatest, because you have Jesus. Jesus is everything you need to dispel every doubt, sorrow, trial, trouble and tragedy.
Amazing how God’s Word applies to our lives. While we face our various doubts and situations in life (airport TCW story), God is hard at work to change you. I would even argue that we grow more in our faith during tough times than during good times. When we are at our lowest, then we’re forced to ask the important questions and find the answer in his Word. There we hear about a baby born Bethlehem—and we all know when we see this that Things Aren’t Always What They Seem! There we see our Savior who came to reverse the curse of sin. When we see his earthly life of mercy, we only get a glimpse of what heaven will be like, without sin, suffering or pain. Now, Beau has reached the goal of his faith with Jesus and enjoys the bliss of eternity with Jesus.
We are still here. We still go through life with doubts, trials, troubles and tragedy. But, we also know and believe that Things Aren’t Always As They Seem. We also know and believe that today is the perfect time to look to Jesus, to trust in him, and to worship him as we listen to his Good News. So, let Jesus be your comfort today and wait patiently for the day when Jesus comes to remove your doubts, fears, and sorrow when things aren’t always as they seem….. until the day when we, like Beau, awake in heaven and we will see things just as they are! Amen!