Immanuel Lutheran Church

Sermon

Advent 3

"Struggling with Doubt"

Matthew 11:2-10

December 11, 2016

If anything, the Gospel reading for today reflects the confession of the distraught father at the Mt. of Transfiguration who cried out to Jesus, "Lord, I believe, help me to overcome my unbelief." We all have times when we struggle with the things of faith. We have intellectual questions that seem contradicted by the demands of faith. How is it possible that Jesus is who He claims to be? Even if He is why didn't He prove Himself to be God more dramatically? What's the deal? Is it any wonder that the imprisoned John the Baptist was dealing with doubts and second guessing the ministry of Jesus?

Matthew 11:2-15. Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, "Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?" Jesus answered and said to them, "Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me."

As these men were going away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, "What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who wear soft clothing are in kings' palaces! But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and one who is more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, 'Behold, I send My messenger ahead of You, Who will prepare Your way before You.'

Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force. For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

John was used to being in the great outdoors. Stuck in a claustrophobic dungeon cell had to be a form of torture. After all, Isaiah said that the Messiah would come to free the prisoners. Here John was in jail without any glimmer of hope. The great prophet Elijah had faced down the wicked Jezebel but had never fallen into her hands. John took on the evil Herodias and was not going to leave prison alive. This wasn't exactly what he had imagined his life and the role as the forerunner of the Messiah to be. Had he not connected the dots correctly?

As we read the Gospel for this morning, we can identify with John. We all pass through doubts, whether of the head or the heart. The temptation that began in Eden continues when the devil hisses the troubling questions and heaven seems silent. Where is God with the clear and easy answers? Why must we struggle with our doubts?

John and his disciples were dealing with two kinds of doubt. One was of the person of Jesus and the other of His work. Was Jesus the promised Messiah? If He was the Messiah, why wasn't He doing the things they were expecting the Messiah to be doing? These doubts brought out the contrast between the expectancy of the people as a whole and the spiritual reality they saw in the Christ.

These are not new questions. Doubt is part and parcel of the walk of faith. Only as we struggle will we grow. The question before us is this: Will our doubt lead us to Christ or from Christ?

The theme in the readings today is comfort! Are you expecting comfort today? The comfort we receive from God is the source of our joy. Are you expecting joy for Christmas? This is supposed to be the season of peace and joy, yet, peace and joy seem to be in short supply. Why is that?

Maybe our expectations are too high in the wrong places. Because Christmas has become more a secular holiday than a religious one, the hype is on sentimentality. What are those sentiments? Listen to the songs. "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas; I'll be home for Christmas; I'm dreaming of a white Christmas; Deck the halls with boughs of holly; and Walking in a winter wonderland." The focus is on the magical moment.

But what happens if you're so busy doing other things that you miss that moment? What happens if, in spite of your best efforts, that moment doesn't materialize? Is it possible to celebrate Christmas without the magical moment? Yes, if your focus is on the Gift and not on the accessories.

Christmas is the celebration of the birth of our Prince of Peace. Yet, we're busy doing everything but truly celebrating the reason for the season. Yes, Christmas is coming. What are you expecting? Don't be disappointed because you're not getting what you're expecting.

John wasn't exactly what the people were expecting but he prepared the way for Jesus. Jesus wasn't exactly what the people were expecting, yet He is exactly what we need. They weren't expecting the King of Kings to be born in a lowly stable. They weren't expecting the Prince of Peace to die on the cross.

When we don't get what we expect, we begin to doubt. Why isn't life what I thought it was supposed to be? Where are the answers and results I was expecting? Jesus doesn't engage John's disciples in dialogue. In fact he doesn't really answer their question. He simply points to the results. When the delegation from John leaves, Jesus gives testimony of John's ministry. He asked, "what were you expecting of him?" If John wasn't what they expected as the forerunner of the Messiah, why would Jesus meet their expectations? Their mistaken expectations did not diminish John as a prophet. In every way John lived up to his calling.

In the same way our mistaken expectations of Jesus do not diminish who He is as the Messiah. Just as John did, He lived up to His calling. He is the promised Savior and Redeemer. This is why we express our joy this morning. God kept His promises. He kept His promises in John and Jesus.

We don't always get what we expect. Sometimes we're surprised with joy by the very unexpected. As you prepare for Christmas Eve and Christmas, lower your sentimental expectations. As we hear the familiar words of the carols and Christmas narrative, let the Lord surprise you with the unexpected. He will help you overcome your doubts and find comfort in His promises revealed in Jesus Christ. The Lord's comfort and joy be with you today and throughout this holy season. Amen.


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January
01/29/2017
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December
12/25/2016
12/18/2016
12/11/2016
12/04/2016
November
11/27/2016
11/20/2016
11/13/2016
11/06/2016
October
10/30/2016
10/23/2016
10/16/2016
10/09/2016
10/02/2016
September
09/25/2016
09/18/2016
09/11/2016
09/04/2016
August
08/28/2016
08/21/2016
July
07/31/2016
07/24/2016
07/17/2016
07/03/2016
June
06/26/2016
06/19/2016
06/05/2016
May
05/29/2016
05/22/2016
05/15/2016
05/08/2016
05/01/2016
April
04/17/2016
04/10/2016
04/03/2016
March
03/27/2016
03/20/2016
03/13/2016
03/06/2016
February
02/28/2016
02/21/2016
02/17/2016
02/14/2016
02/07/2016
January
01/31/2016
01/24/2016
01/03/2016
01/01/2016

December
12/27/2015
12/20/2015
12/13/2015
12/06/2015
November
11/22/2015
11/15/2015
11/08/2015
11/01/2015
October
10/25/2015
10/18/2015
10/11/2015
10/04/2015
September
09/27/2015
09/20/2015
09/13/2015
09/06/2015
August
08/30/2015
08/23/2015
08/16/2015
08/09/2015
08/02/2015
July
07/26/2015
07/19/2015
07/12/2015
07/05/2015
June
06/28/2015
06/21/2015
06/14/2015
06/07/2015
May
05/31/2015
05/24/2015
05/17/2015
05/10/2015
April
04/19/2015
04/12/2015
04/12/2015
04/05/2015
March
03/29/2015
03/22/2015
03/15/2015
03/08/2015
February
02/15/2015
02/15/2015
02/08/2015
02/01/2015
January
01/25/2015
01/25/2015
01/18/2015
01/11/2015
01/04/2015

December
12/28/2014
12/21/2014
12/14/2014
12/07/2014
November
11/23/2014
11/16/2014
11/09/2014
11/02/2014
October
10/12/2014
10/05/2014
September
09/28/2014
09/21/2014
09/14/2014
09/07/2014
August
08/31/2014
08/24/2014
08/17/2014
08/10/2014
08/03/2014
July
07/27/2014
07/20/2014
07/13/2014
07/06/2014
June
06/29/2014
06/22/2014
06/15/2014
06/08/2014
06/01/2014
May
05/11/2014
April
04/27/2014
04/20/2014
04/13/2014
04/06/2014
March
03/30/2014
03/23/2014
03/16/2014
03/02/2014
February
02/02/2014
January
01/26/2014
01/19/2014
01/12/2014
01/05/2014