************ Sermon on Matthew 11:1-6 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on December 19, 2004
"He Came to Show Compassion"
Today is the fourth Sunday of advent. We remember and celebrate the first coming of Christ Jesus. We prepare our hearts for Christmas. We look forward to His second coming.
As we celebrate advent and Christmas I want to ask the question: why did Jesus come, why did the second person of the triune Godhead take on our human flesh, why the incarnation?
The first Sunday of advent we were reminded that "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 Tim 1:15). The second Sunday of advent we were reminded that Christ came to humble himself. The third Sunday of advent we learned that Christ came for sick sinners. Today, we are told that Christ came to show compassion.
I John's Question
A We cannot understand our Bible reading for this morning apart from the question of John the Baptist in verse 3: "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?"
John knew that the Messiah, the Christ, was going to come as God's anointed servant to save and to rule. He wanted to know if Jesus was this Messiah.
In the light of earlier statements John had made about Jesus, this question is puzzling, to say the least.
(Jn 1:29-34) The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (30) This is the one I meant when I said, 'A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.' (31) I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel." (32) Then John gave this testimony: "I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. (33) I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, 'The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.' (34) I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God."According to these passages, John the Baptist is already convinced that Jesus is the promised Messiah. So, why is he asking now for further proof?
(Mt 3:11) "I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire."
B Some say we need to remember that John the Baptist was in prison. He was thrown into prison by Herod because he dared to speak against Herod's relationship with his brother's wife. Perhaps John needed assurance and comfort because he knew that most of those who opposed Herod ended up being killed. We need to realize that even those with the greatest faith become discouraged sometimes. However, this doesn't fit the John we see in the Bible. He spent most of his adult life and ministry in the wilderness so he was used to deprivation, loneliness, and hardship.
Another suggestion is that John the Baptist sent his followers to Jesus for their benefit. Don't forget, some of John's followers were concerned and upset that people were following Jesus instead of John. At that time John told his disciples that "He must become greater; I must become less" (Jn 3:30). By sending his disciples to Jesus they could see first-hand why people should be leaving John in order to follow Jesus. This is an interesting hypothesis but this does not fit the Bible either.
C Why did John the Baptist ask his question? John the Baptist asked his question because Jesus was not the kind of Messiah that John envisioned.
Don't forget, it was the calling (the job) of John the Baptist to prepare the way for the Lord. John did that by preaching, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near" (Mt 3:2). John warned the people to "produce fruit in keeping with repentance" (Mt 3:8). So, his followers confessed their sins and were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John's message was an unrelenting, unchanging message of judgment and the need for repentance. John's sermon title, "Turn or Burn," did not change from week-to-week. It was this uncompromising and unchanging message that landed John in jail – because he even dared to tell King Herod to repent or else.
When Jesus first started His ministry He preached exactly the same as John: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near" (Mt 4:17). From John's point-of-view, it seemed at first that Jesus was continuing or building upon the work and preaching of John. In fact, when we listen to what John says in Matthew 3:12 we realize that John expected Jesus to do this:
(Mt 3:12) "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 was expecting Jesus to be a firebrand, an avenging angel, someone Who defended and protected the holiness of God.
But then John the Baptist started to hear things about Jesus and His ministry that confused him. John heard that Jesus associated with tax collectors and sinners. John heard that Jesus made a tax collector one of his disciples. John heard that Jesus hung around with loose women. John heard that Jesus healed lepers and Samaritans. John heard that Jesus befriended some Roman soldiers. John heard that Jesus made friends with some of the Pharisees.
John the Baptist became confused because Jesus did not dethrone the tyrants of Rome. John the Baptist became confused because Jesus did not abolish the rule of the hypocritical Pharisees who controlled the religious establishment. John the Baptist became confused because Jesus seemed to tolerate sinners rather than confront them.
"Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" Jesus was not at all what John expected.
D I want to tell those of you who professed your faith this morning that Jesus is not always what we expect either. Sometimes your prayers don't get answered – at least not the way you think they should be. Sometimes you feel like Jesus let you down – you get sick, or a loved one dies, or your dreams are shattered. Sometimes it seems that believing in Jesus is the start of your problems – your beliefs get you fired, your ethics keep you from getting rich, your religious outlook keeps you from having the kind of boyfriend or girlfriend you have always dreamed about. Sometimes your faith in Jesus will be tested rather than blessed and you will wonder if Jesus is worth it. Do you think life will be easier just because you have confessed Christ? Sometimes, life gets harder and more difficult as you struggle to do what is right.
John wondered. "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?"
II Jesus' Answer
A I want you to notice that Jesus did not really answer John's question – at least not directly. Instead, Jesus points to what He is doing and has done:
(Mt 11:4-5) "Go back and report to John what you hear and see: (5) The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.
Jesus points John's disciples to the wondrous miracles He has performed. Who can forget the story of the two blind men Jesus healed simply by His touch (Mt 9:27-30). Or, who can help but think of the paralytic, lying on a mat, brought to Jesus by some friends; Jesus not only forgave his sins but also commanded him "Get up, take your mat and go home" (Mt 9:1-7). I think of the man with leprosy whom Jesus touched and said, "Be clean!" and immediately he was cured of his leprosy (Mt 8:1-4). I think of a deaf and mute man whom Jesus took aside, put His fingers into the man's ears and touched the man's tongue, and said "Be opened" and the man's ears were opened and his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly (Mk 7:31-35). Then there was the dead girl Jesus took by the hand and she got up (Mt 9:23-25). Finally, there was the preaching of the good news. Jesus sent out the twelve to preach and to heal (Mt 10) and when they left He Himself went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee (Mt 11:1).
All of these activities were miracles, supernatural in scope. And, they all were acts of compassion.
Why did Jesus come, why did the second person of the triune Godhead take on our human flesh, why the incarnation? According to Jesus, He came to show and give compassion – to the most unexpected of people, to people who don't really deserve it.
B In the Old Testament there are three kinds of passages dealing with the Messiah. Sometimes the Messiah is presented as a great warrior king; as David had slain the Philistines, so the Messiah would slay God's enemies. Sometimes the Messiah is presented as God Himself or the Son of God. And, sometimes the Messiah is presented as the Suffering Servant. Over time, however, the last two possibilities began to fade from people's minds. By the time of Jesus' birth most people thought the Messiah would be a mighty and royal warrior who would lead a revolt against the Romans.
John the Baptist was one of those who thought this way. So, the ministry of Christ surprised him. John's emphasis was on sin and repentance. But it stopped there. John the Baptist showed no mercy and had no room for compassion.
In His answer Jesus quotes the language of Isaiah 35 and Isaiah 61 – Messianic prophecies that declare the Messiah is more than a warrior king. According to Isaiah, the Messiah will come to show and give compassion to the blind, the lame, the leper, the deaf, and the grieving. "He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows" (Is 53:4). "A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out" (Is 42:3).
C Why did Jesus come, why did the second person of the triune Godhead take on our human flesh, why the incarnation? According to Jesus, He came to show and give compassion. The greatest and biggest act of compassion, of course, took place at the cross. There Christ dealt with mankind's biggest problem – sin and death. There Christ showed compassion by taking on our sin and shouldering death in our place. What compassion!
John the Baptist wondered. "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" Jesus' answer: "Yes I am, but not the way you expect it."
III Jesus' Warning
A Why did Jesus come, why did the second person of the triune Godhead take on our human flesh, why the incarnation? Jesus came to show and give compassion. John the Baptist did not understand this. Most of the people did not understand this.
So, they became confused when they saw Jesus with tax collectors and sinners, when they saw Jesus spend time and energy on the sick and lonely, when they saw Jesus befriend unpopular people. What a strange and perplexing and confusing Messiah Jesus turned out to be. He did not fit any of the popular molds at all.
B Jesus knew this so He ends our Bible reading with a warning: "Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me" (Mt 11:6).
The Greek word for "fall away" is "skandalizo", from which is derived our English work "scandal." It literally means "to trip up, to stumble."
To be scandalized by Jesus, to stumble over Jesus, is an often repeated theme in the Bible. The people of Jesus' home town of Nazareth, for instance, "took offense at him" (Mt 13:57). They took such offense that
(Lk 4:29) They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff.It reached the point that "many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him" (Jn 6:66; cf Jn 6:60). They were scandalized and took offense at what Jesus said and did.
Jesus knew that His ministry of compassion to the poor and lame and blind and tax collectors and other sinners did not make Him popular with John. Jesus knew that what He was doing did not make Him popular with the people looking for a Jewish Caesar. Jesus knew that what He was doing did not make Him popular with the scribes and Pharisees.
Simeon predicted this would happen. When Simeon held the baby Jesus in his arms he predicted men would stumble and fall over Jesus:
(Lk 2:34) "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against ..."Quoting from Isaiah (Is 8:14; 28:16), both the Apostle Paul and the Apostle Peter admit that Jesus is a stumbling stone and a rock of offense:
(Rom 9:33) As it is written: "See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame." (Cf 1 Pet 2:8)
C Why did Jesus come, why did the second person of the triune Godhead take on our human flesh, why the incarnation? Jesus came to show and give compassion. Sometimes people want Jesus to give judgment but, instead, Jesus gives grace. Sometimes people want Jesus to straighten out this sad, sick world but, instead, Jesus seems to tolerate and be patient with sin and evil. Sometimes Jesus does the totally unexpected. Sometimes life with Jesus is not the way we think it should be.
"Don't stumble over this," says Jesus. Don't stumble when life with Christ is different from the way you thought it would be or should be.
Why did Jesus come, why did the second person of the triune Godhead take on our human flesh, why the incarnation? Jesus came to show and give compassion.
"Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me."
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