Joy Where Only Faith Can Find It (Matthew 11:2-15)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Third Sunday of Advent + December 11, 2016
Text: Matthew 11:2-15

The theme for this Sunday is JOY – Historically the first word heard was “Gaudete!” (Latin for Rejoice) – “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4)
But in the Gospel we have a picture of persecution and uncertainty.  John is in prison for preaching the Law to Herod about his brother’s wife.  John knew that he was the one crying in the wilderness, but had he prepared the right away of the Lord?  Was there another whose coming would look more successful?
Where is the joy at the coming of the Lord?  It’s there, but it’s hidden from the world in signs that only faith can acknowledge—“the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.”  The world and the people of the world cannot bear this, even though it’s such joyous news.  For them it is a threat.  The Kingdom of heaven is invading their territory.  They would rather hold onto the signs that their kingdom has come—sexual immorality, debauchery, idolatry, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, factions, envy, and drunkenness.[1]  But the Kingdom of heaven comes and threatens to end all of that—to dethrone Satan and us and lords and let God once again rule.
Even during Jesus’ ministry this war of Kingdoms led to persecution for the faithful.  We too live in a time of persecution.  Faithful Christians are being edged out of society and government by a world that would rather throw us in prison than hear us preach against their lawless deeds.  Church membership is on the decline as love grows cold and the hunger for God and His Word are filled with earthly amusements and pleasure.  Where’s the joy?
Because this is what our eyes see, doubts arise for us just as they did for John and his disciples.  There are so many religious “options” out there.  So many varieties of Christianity that don’t seem so hardline—“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”[2]  Maybe Pope Francis is right and we should set aside old doctrinal differences so we can just share the Lord’s Supper.[3]  Maybe the progressives are right and what Paul said about homosexuality and women’s role in the Church was just based on his personal bias.  Have we truly followed the Christ or is there another whose cross isn’t so heavy?   Where is the joy?
The joy isn’t in the persecutions & doubts, but it exists in spite of them.  The joy of Christ’s Advent is in the works which only Christ can do, just as it was in the time of John the Baptist.   The Kingdom of heaven continues to come in signs that only the faithful—those who have ears to hear—can recognize.  “In this Christian Church, the Holy Spirit richly and daily forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.  On the Last Day, He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ.  This is most certainly true.”[4]
Even though this is such tremendously, earth-shattering good news to us who believe, the world will have none of it.  They call us stupid for following ancient writings and a Man we’ve haven’t met face to face.  They call us haters for believing that human sexuality is defined by our Creator.  They say we’re hypocrites, uneducated, and misled by corrupt leaders.  Where is our joy?  It’s in our Savior who has given us ears to hear and eyes to see.
But where is the world’s joy at the end of life?  Is their joy to be had in personal annihilation?  Where is joy when Christ comes again in glory?  Will not those same scoffers cry out for mercy, but find none?  On that Great Day, their kingdom and their fleeting joy will vanish.  All the power and influence, the praise of men and rich feasts, all the hope of a limitless future will melt away.
But for all who are in the Kingdom of heaven, our joy will never cease!  Then, our Kingdom will not just be in spiritual signs.  When our Redeemer stands on the earth, we shall see God in our flesh and our eyes shall behold Him.[5]  All the sorrow that now covers our joy will be erased—sin will be no more, the devil will be condemned eternally, and death—that terrible foe who robbed us of our family and friends and filled our nights with weeping—will give up all who it has taken.
Then we who are thankful, undeserving citizens of the Kingdom of heaven will bring up this taunt: “O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting?”[6]
We are those who see the coming of the Kingdom of heaven and rejoice at its signs.  Even though we now weep in persecution and doubt, our Lord will arise to bring everlasting victory and eternal joy.  Thanks and praise be to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen!
Reed shaken: change the doctrine with the times
Dressed in soft clothing: kings like Herod
A prophet: Yes!

  1. 12 – “Kingdom forcefully advancing” (NIV) – “Onward Christian soldiers…till all the world adore His sacred Name.”

“Kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force.” – “O Lord look down from heaven behold And let Thy pity waken How few are we within Thy fold, Thy saints by men forsaken! True faith is quenched on every hand, Men suffer not Thy Word to stand; Dark times have us overtaken.” (TLH 260:1)
[1] A selection from Galatians 5:19-21
[2] 1 John 2:15
[4] Small Catechism, Creed, 3rd Article
[5] Job 19:25-26
[6] 1 Corinthians 15:55