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December 10, 2023

A Bold Claim Needs Bold Validation

Passage: Matthew 11:2-10

When considering the theme of preparation during the Advent season, one character from Bible History often comes to mind: John the Baptist. John the Baptist was sent by God as a “preparer.” He was sent to prepare the hearts of the people with the uncomfortable and bold message that all have sinned and need a Savior, and he preached this to prepare their hearts for the comfortable assurance given in the Messiah. And so, John’s message is a message of boldness. To show the message of boldness John the Baptist preached, perhaps you may recall the devotional article from your copy of this month’s Lutheran Spokesman, the article titled “Comfortable?” In this article, the author portrays the bold forerunner and his preaching in this way, “imagine for a moment arriving at church this Sunday to find a guest speaker who looks like he has never had a haircut and wears rough-looking clothes. If that doesn’t make you uncomfortable, his sermon certainly will! He begins his sermon by saying to you, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”  (Though, perhaps in place of “Abraham” he would substitute “Martin Luther” or “the CLC” as he preached to us.) How comfortable would you feel hearing that sermon? This was the message of John the Baptist, a Nazarite with uncut hair, who lived in the wilderness and wore clothes made of camel hide. Isaiah calls John, “the Voice.” The man in uncomfortable clothes preaching an uncomfortable message doesn’t just tell us to say “I’m sorry” for our sins; he calls for “fruits of repentance,” that is, to show our sorrow over sin with changes in our lives. For the tax collector, this meant collecting no more than what was required. For the soldier, it meant not intimidating anyone or falsely accusing people, and to be content with their pay. What does it mean for you?”

This is the bold message of the forerunner, and it certainly startles its hearers. But when it comes to bold messages, every bold message needs bold validation. There needs to be validity, certainty, proof in the pudding. There needs to be Scriptural verification and prophetic fulfillment. And so, with John the Baptist’s message, what is the validity? I like how the Spokesman author goes on. He shows the validity and verification of John’s bold message by saying, “These are uncomfortable things to talk about—sin, wrath, and repentance. But by openly exposing the reality of sin, John was preparing their hearts for the ultimate comfort—the comfort that the Savior was bringing. This too, Isaiah writes about: “‘Comfort, yes, comfort My people!’ Says your God. ‘Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, That her warfare is ended, That her iniquity is pardoned; For she has received from the Lord’s hand Double for all her sins.'” So then, John’s bold message receives its bold validation in the Messiah, the Comfort of all people, Jesus Christ.

And so today, as our theme for this morning, we will see that bold claims need bold validation. We will see that, as the great forerunner hits a low point in his mental and spiritual health while sitting on the dungeon floor of Herod Antipas, the greatest of prophets are merely humans who waver and falter in their thinking; and, thanks be to God, we will also see with John the Baptist that every bold claim of Scripture is validated by the One who heals the impaired, the sick, the dead, and preaches the Gospel to us who are poor in spirit. Let us then see that every bold claim made on the basis of Holy Scripture that we are called to witness is boldly validated by the Coming One, the Messiah, Jesus Christ—the Lamb of God who took away the world’s sin.

(We pray…)

John the Baptist was an excellent prophet who was sent to prepare the way of the Savior by preaching the way of repentance. He had this excellent role which came with its ups and downs. At some point in his ministry, he confronted King Herod Antipas about his sinful lifestyle. John was imprisoned for this. Meanwhile, while John the excellent prophet sat in the dungeon of injustice as Herod lived in his sinful life, the Messiah of whom John preached was performing His ministry. As John was decreasing in prison so the Messiah was increasing in His ministry. Now considering the circumstances you could probably venture a guess as to how John was feeling. His whole life was devoted to preparing the way for the Messiah, and it all seemed to come to an end as he sat on the dungeon floor of a mad man. Sitting in a dark cell, it seems John showed a questioning of faith. But how? This was the great prophet who leaped in Elizabeth’s womb when meeting the prenatal Savior. John is the great prophet who had the moxy to call the Pharisees vipers. This was the great baptizer, the one who called Jesus the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. How can he be questioning Jesus? But should this surprise us? John is human. Prophets before him, Moses, David, Abraham, Jeremiah, Jonah, etc., all showed weakness like this. They need their God and His Word to sustain their faith. And here, John needs to know if Jesus, the God-Man who was the entire purpose of John’s living, was the one promised! He sent his disciples to ask, “are you it? Are you the real deal? Are you the Messiah, are you Immanuel, are you the stem of Jesse? Are you going to save me and all people?” John’s Bold claims needed bold validation.

John will not be let down by the answer he is about to receive, for Jesus gives John’s disciples some very uplifting news. “Tell John what you hear and see,” namely what Jesus preaches and what he does. Tell John the good news Jesus brings, that is He has come to save the world from sin and tell him of the miracles He performs to give us a glimpse of this blessed fact. Jesus then gets more specific by telling the disciples to report on the various actions performed by Jesus. Actions speak louder than words, yes; and they speak even louder when they have been prophesied by Scripture. Jesus knows that John the Baptist is a prophet well familiar with Old Testament Scripture. And so, Jesus connects the dots by connecting Himself with the message of the prophet Isaiah, for what bolder validation is there then God’s Inspired Word. Blind, lame, and deaf are all healed (Isaiah 35.) Death and disease are conquered (Isaiah 25:8.) I preach Gospel to the poor of spirit (Isaiah 61!) This was foretold as prophecy, and Jesus is the fulfillment. John prepared for the right man, the one who will save all people. Jesus is the real deal! He preaches the Gospel and is that very Gospel in the flesh. He will bring healing. John’s faith life and ministry were not in vain, and neither is any other Christian’s life and ministry; for Jesus is the bold validation for every bold, Scriptural claim that we confess as truth and practice in our lives. Jesus is the real deal. And so, Jesus adds that blessed is anyone who is not offended because of Him. No, not feelings hurt kind of offended, but are disdained by Jesus. Many think that with His lowly appearance Jesus can’t be the Messiah. Many want to make Jesus something else than what He truly is: Back then, an abolisher of Roman oppression; and today, social justice warrior. But Jesus is this plain and simple: the destruction of sin and death and the culmination of the Gospel. Those who see Jesus as what He really is are truly blessed even if they are sitting locked up in the dungeon of a mad man. Blessed are they who are not offended by Him, for Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are the validation, the blessing that has come to everyone of us.

And so, the question of John is answered: Jesus is the Messiah! Jesus is the bringer of Good news, the Savior who takes away our sins, and the bold validation of John’s bold ministry. But what are the people going to think? “John the Baptist is saying these things? This is the man who preached with such boldness that we needed to repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Is he wrong? Was he just a flukey prophet?” Ans so, to dispel these faulty notions, Jesus the Messiah defends His forerunner! “When you came to see the great enigmatic preacher John did you expect to see a pushover? No! Did you expect to see a mamby pamby prince? No! You came to see a prophet with a bold conviction of truth! You came to see a Law and Gospel preacher! You came to see someone who’s more than a prophet even, the prophet nearest to the Savior’s coming: the forerunner! John the Baptist’s message is therefore true. The Kingdom of God is now here. Though John falters just like you, his message is still truer than ever, and it is standing right in front of you. John has prepared the way, and Jesus is now here to preach the Gospel for all to hear!

And so, every bold claim needs bold validation. John’s bold claims were validated by the bold Messiah, Jesus Christ. And what about your claims? What about your bold convictions? And no, I don’t mean the lesser opinions of what food, color, and sports team are the best. I mean the bold claims about morality and salvation that you believe. As a Christian you confess that the Lord Jehovah, the triune God, is the only God. That would be considered bold these days. You claim that He created the world in 6 consecutive 24-hour days. That’s bold. You claim that this creator God has ordained that marriage be between only one man and one woman, and that there are only man and woman, and that you are what you are. That’s bold. You claim anyone who sins against God is damned to hell. That’s bold. You claim that Jesus is the only way to heaven. That’s bold. All these things you claim as Christians. And it gets even bolder. As Lutherans, you claim that we don’t bring anything to the table in our salvation. We don’t do any works to save ourselves. We don’t even get to choose Jesus, for He chose us first. That’s bold. You claim that God only comes to us in Word and Sacrament. That’s bold. You claim that God’s voice can only be heard in Holy Scripture. That’s bold. You claim that His Sacraments are more than symbols but actually provide the forgiveness of sins and faith strengthening. That’s bold. And perhaps one of the boldest stances you claim is that no doctrine of Scripture can be dropped for convenience, and that we shall not practice fellowship with anyone who thinks otherwise. That is very bold. And in claiming any of these bold stances, have these gotten you in hard places. Perhaps not as bad as a psychopath’s dungeon floor, but I’m sure that you’ve been burned by taking a Scriptural stance or you’ve been afraid of the burn that comes from taking this stance.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we hold to some very bold claims as Christians and as Lutherans, and so remember that just as John’s claims were validated, so are yours. If you claim bold truths in the name of God, perhaps it would pay to see how your God validates the claims He leads you to take. All these bold claims are built on one foundation. As Jesus sent John’s disciples back to him with the truth and validity of His Gospel ministry, so I am sent to tell you this. The bold teachings of Scripture which you boldly confess are valid, for all of them lay on the foundation of Jesus, your Lord and Savior. I’m here to tell you that Your Lord and Savior, the foundation of your bold claims, serves as your validation. For he has healed the blind, both physical and spiritual, leading people to see with their own eyes and believe with saving faith. He has healed the lame, giving men both the ability to walk again and the ability to move about in God’s loving ways. He has healed the leprosy of sin. He has through His cross taken on the gruesome death that your leprosy of sin deserved and has promised that one day He will make you glorious. He has also raised the dead, showing you that through His own resurrection and His power to raise the dead that you too will rise when this world is over. And He preaches the good news to the poor in spirit. Jesus still today preaches to the world that all sinners are saved in Him. His perfect life, innocent death, and glorious resurrection are this very news; and they are the very validation for every bold claim you take concerning God and His Word.

So then, how about all those times you wavered in your bold convictions? Well, what did Jesus do for John with His waverings? He offered John comfort and forgiveness. He pointed John to Himself and then validated John’s message. Did John’s message become less true when He fell into doubt? No, for his convictions were founded on the Living Word of God. And so, it is with you and your bold, Scriptural claims. Every time you falter and waver in faith, turn in repentance to hear, “the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are healed, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news preached to them.” Hear that Christ is the very validation for all your claims. Know that Scripture is certain because of Him. And know that your sin of weakness has been forgiven in Him. And finally, know that your bold Scriptural claims are still rock solid even when you falter, for it is your validation—Jesus Christ—who makes them that way. Amen.