The Message: Reassurance During Difficult Times. There is comfort for us when someone like John the Baptist balks at Jesus. Matthew 11:2-6

Sermon:          Reassurance During Difficult Times
Scripture:       Matthew 11.2-6
Preacher:        Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location:        First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date:                December 11, 2016, Third Sunday of Advent Year A

You may listen to the sermon here.

Matthew 11:2-6

2When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 4Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”[1]

Have you ever met anyone who was so cocksure in their Christian beliefs and then something comes along and rocks those beliefs to their core?  These are the people who speak of their dogma with definitives like, “The Bible clearly says this!” or “Jesus obviously meant that!” but then their life rises like a wave and rocks their circumstances.  Perhaps there is a significant change in health, family, job or finances and suddenly that once over-confident faith has cracks in it.  Now they look heavenward and wonder out loud to God with a spirit of doubt and uncertainty.  “God, I clearly heard you say such-and-such but now this happened!  Did I hear you wrong?  Did you even hear me?  God, are you even there?

I am two-thirds through a book by Mark McHargue entitled, Finding God in the Waves – How I Lost My Faith and Found it Again through Science[2].  McHargue grew up in a Southern Baptist Church, was a Deacon and Sunday school teacher and even baptized his own daughter.  The crisis came for him as his very scientific mind began raising questions about the Bible’s validity such as reconciling the difference that the Bible says the earth and the heaven were created some 7,000 years ago while science has fossils that date back millions of years.  He totally lost his faith and became a practicing “Christian Atheist”; in other words, he still went to church, taught Sunday school and did all the churchey things but he could not reconcile his faith with scientific scrutiny.  He attended a small gathering of Christian thinkers one weekend and the leader challenged him to change the type of questions he was asking and begin to look at faith a different way.  So, McHargue was challenged to change his questions from faith versus logic and science to begin looking at his belief as a scientist would and see with openness how faith and science com complement and explain the other. This allowed him to re-approach his dogmatic assumptions about God and look anew at how quantum physics, Biblical narrative and theology shine light on the other.

Our text today from Matthew 11.2-6 is a story whereby one of the biblical giants is being asked by Jesus to change his perspective and questions.  You see John the Baptist had certain expectations of who the Christ should be and how the Christ should act.  The problem was, Jesus wasn’t living into those expectations.

Scholar Mark Yurs writes how John the Baptist in Matthew 3 last week was so sure of the Christ but now seven chapters into the narrative he asks Jesus, “Are you really the one we’ve been waiting for?”  Dr. Yurs asks, “What has happened?  For one thing, a prison has happened.  John has been arrested and jailed as a political enemy of King Herod.  Prison can put doubt in anyone’s heart.  It is easy to believe in God in the bright sunlight when all is joyful and free, but let the iron doors of difficulty slam shut, and doubt is there in the darkness.” [3]

John the Baptist had one understanding of the Christ and what the Christ would do; Jesus has an entirely different understanding and view of the Messiah’s mission. John expected that the Davidic ruler and King would have prevented him from being in King Herod’s prison cell!   Jesus’ kingship was not in executing power over others but is expressed with compassion and love for all with the lowliest of the kingdom’s subjects.  Jesus’ kingship wouldn’t occur through the overt toppling of the powers-that-be; instead, Jesus Messianic evolution would inaugurate with a revolution from below, i.e. from the deaf, that lame, and the poor.  His revolution would topple the Herods and Ceasars of the world with organic, grass-roots expression of love which will eventually batter down the ramparts of Power’s Stronghold.  He was not John the Baptist’s understanding of Messiah and when he did not live into that understanding John in his dire circumstances began to have doubt.  As Mark Yurs goes on to say, “Jesus is not acting the way John thought a Savior would act.  The lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world was not taking Herod’s sin away.  Jesus was not fitting John’s theology.  So, John wondered.”[4]  Beloved, there is comfort in the idea that a biblical giant like John the Baptist is capable of sincere doubt like yours and mine.

John was expecting one type of Jesus and his faith quaked and he was thrown into doubt when he was thrown in prison.  John the Prophet had to now become like you and me, i.e. John the disciple.  He is and becomes, as communicator Eugene Boring says, “An object lesson to Christian believers, who must not regard salvation (and unshakeable faith) as a static possession” lest the travails of life come upon us and shades our confidence in God;[5] on the contrary, John reminds us that all disciples must have growing faith that is constantly being renewed and challenged.  All that renewal and challenge helps that faith become more refined and mature.  The gift that comes with maturity is that it produces resilience and it allows our faith’s branches to sway with the hard, cyclonic gales of this world and life and enables us to move back and forth bending into the wind of life’s difficulties.

Our Story has John ask Jesus a question and the Jesus gives an answer back.  One thing we don’t have in our story is how John reacted to Jesus’ answer; Matthew leaves the answer open-ended and you and I get to answer it for ourselves.  You see, John’s struggles with doubt are our struggles with doubt.  John’s uncertainty with who Jesus is represents our own struggles in our understanding of who Jesus is.

Our Advent homework, beloved, is to reflect and respond to Jesus’ answer to John.  We may not know how John responded to what Jesus said but Advent is the time you and I enter the story ourselves and see if we believe what Jesus is telling John.  It is a time when we are asked to hold our expectation and demands of God up to the light of Jesus’ overall purposes and direction.  Maybe like John, you and I are invited to ask Jesus a different set of questions. Maybe like John, we are given the opportunity to mature in our faith as well as we undergo our life’s difficulties.

It’s something to think about. And all God’s people said, Amen!

Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
724 North Woodland Blvd.
DeLand, Florida 32720

© 2016 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, DeLand, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission.   All rights reserved.

[1] The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
[2] Mike McHargue, Finding God in the Waves. How I lost My Faith and Found it Again Through Science (New York: Convergent Publishing, 2016).
[3] Bartlett, David L.; Taylor, Barbara Brown. Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 1: Advent through Transfiguration (Feasting on the Word: Year A volume) (Kindle Locations 2719-2722). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.
[4] Bartlett, David L.; Taylor, Barbara Brown. Feasting on the Word: Year A, Volume 1: Advent through Transfiguration (Feasting on the Word: Year A volume) (Kindle Locations 2727-2729). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.
[5] Eugene Boring, as quoted from The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VIII, Leander Keck, ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 270