11. December 2022
And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to Him, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see.
In the holy Name of + Jesus. Amen.
Everybody needs a preacher. Herod needed a preacher. John’s disciples needed a preacher. John, in prison, needed a preacher. Without a preacher, the objective truth gets overwhelmed by subjectivity. Without a preacher, we get so caught up in our proverbial male cow dung that we lose sight of what is good, right, and true. Without a preacher, we turn inward to our delusions and story-telling and stop hearing and seeing what is real. Without a preacher, we get lost in our sin—with its lusts, desires, and passions—and lose the gift of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Everybody needs a preacher.
So, John the Baptist took his vocation seriously as a preacher. He preached a baptism of repentance in the river Jordan. He called all the Pharisees and scribes who came out to Him what they were, “a brood of venomous snakes,” inflecting God’s people with a religion of self-righteousness by their substitute law. He fulfilled the prophetic testimony of Isaiah, “making straight the way of the LORD.” God’s people needed a preacher. John the Baptist preached the truth in love for the confession of sin. He points to the capital “T” truth, Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the world’s sin.
John took his vocation seriously as a preacher. He knew the Psalms and their exhortation that everyone needs a preacher, even the powerful, ruling elite. “I will speak of Your testimonies also before kings, And will not be ashamed” (Ps 119:46). And so, He called King Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee and Perea, to repentance.
Herod violated the Law of God written on every human heart and took Herodias, his half-brother Philip’s wife, as his own (Mt 14:3-5). This Herod was one of the fourteen children of murderous Herod the Great, who sought Jesus’s death as an infant and slew the holy innocents, Jesus’s relatives of Bethlehem. And Herodias was also the daughter of Aristobulus, an older brother. So, she married an uncle and later married her other uncle, Herod Antipas. And you thought your family history was a mess!
Herod, Herodias, and the whole lot needed a preacher. They lived as a law unto themselves, violating nature and God’s Word. At least, that’s what John believed. He called Herod to repentance for the forgiveness of sins. It’s not good to have civil rulers who openly rebel against God. Where there is one unlawful act, even personal, among the civil estate, there will be many more to follow that are pretty public and affect us. Herod needs a preacher.
And for preaching the truth in love, John the Baptist was thrown into prison and later beheaded. It didn’t matter that Herod Antipas seemed to like John. His wife and niece Herodias, conspiring with Herod’s stepdaughter Salome, hated the Word John preached. They hated the truth because it exposed their inward-looking, self-justifying sinful hearts. They hated the preacher because he dared to tell them. “And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.” But John took his vocation seriously as a preacher. He called them all to repentance, even though it meant his languishing in prison and ultimate death.
John’s disciples needed a preacher. These catastrophic events have left them like sheep without a shepherd. What next? Where do they go from here? Who is going to preach to them? So, “when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to Him, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” The Coming One is another name for the Messiah-Christ, whom John preached to prepare for and show the way to. If Jesus is the Christ, John’s preaching vocation has ended, and he can die in peace. But if Jesus is not the Messiah, John must continue preaching until that Coming One arrives.
Jesus is now their preacher, and John’s, too. All the testimony of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms speak to Him. John the Baptist is the capstone of many millennia of finger-pointing and looking for. Ever since Eve heard the promise of the Serpent-crushing Seed, the faithful have been looking for this Jesus, who saves His people from their sins. John’s work is complete. Jesus has come.
So, “Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear; the dead are raised, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” Jesus’s Word and works confirm who He is. And with this confirmation, John and his disciples can be confident that the Savior is here! But they’re not so sure. They’re caught up in their dreams and mythic tradition of who and what this Messiah would do. They need a preacher to speak outside themselves with the truth in love.
Yes, Isaiah’s prophecy and their hopes are being fulfilled. The great reversal of the sin and its consequence on all flesh is being undone. The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are clean, and the deaf hear. Alleluia! Praise God! But there’s more! The dead are resurrected. Not since Elijah and Elisha have they seen that happen. And maybe this Jesus is beginning to fulfill the prophetic vision of Ezekiel and the resurrection of the slain in the battle valley? Hope beyond hope!
But the last statement of Jesus turns everything on its head. “And the poor have the gospel preached to them!” Huh? What’s that? The poor should have their wealth restored! This is supposed to be the perennial year of Jubilee, the utopian vision we’ve never stopped imagining, where all are wealthy in the great commune and social order. But no, Jesus says, “And the poor have the gospel preached to them!” But which is more significant (to borrow from another story), poverty eliminated or sins forgiven? But Jesus says to you, “take heart, child, your sins are forgiven!”
Now, that’s Gospel good news. That’s better news than anything else Jesus could preach. Because where there is forgiveness of sins, there is life and salvation. The good news Jesus preaches exceeds anything our hearts could want or our reason expect. His preaching turns us outward to hear His Word. His preaching promises and lets us see what is truly good, right, and trustworthy. His preaching gives us to taste and see that the LORD is good. His preaching scatters the darkness of our delusions and doubts, and gives us faith to suffer all, even death, rather than give up on Him.
Everybody needs a preacher. Herod needed a preacher. John’s disciples needed a preacher. John, in prison, needed a preacher. With a preacher, the objective truth overcomes our subjectivity. We see what is good, right, and true with a preacher. With a preacher, we turn outward in faith to trust in what Jesus says. With a preacher, we live confident in the gift of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Everybody needs a preacher. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin