ESV Matthew 11:2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 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. 6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” 7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is he of whom it is written, “‘ Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’
ESV Malachi 3:1 “Behold, I send my messenger and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts. 2 3 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. 4 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD. 5 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years. 6 “Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the LORD of hosts.
ESV 1 Corinthians 4:1 This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. 2 Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. 3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. 4 I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.
Dear Fellow Redeemed:
Friends will be receptive to us. They will be understanding, and kind, and generous. They will open their homes to us. Friends are a very safe bet, aren’t they? An invitation sent to them will be reciprocated. Kindness to them will be “paid back.”
But what of the open-arms-invitation sent to those who fall outside the “friend” category? At a banquet one time Jesus challenged the host with these words: Luke 14:12 “When you give a dinner or a banquet, – [we might imagine Him pausing for effect because He was about to tell the person something surprising] – do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. 13 But [just to throw in a twist] when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Reminds us of Jesus’ words to the believers on the Last Day in His parable: I was a stranger, and you invited me in – and so forth.)
Is it a sin to have friends, or gatherings with just friends and family? No. But that’s what comes naturally to us. We aren’t any kind spiritual giants for being kind in a situation like that. Generosity to friends and family is the easy kind. That’s the presumed kind of generosity. Of course, you’re going to be generous to your most comfortable people. The master of that banquet was seeing himself as very generous; but Jesus was challenging him to recognize what true generosity is. Jesus challenges us to look beyond that circle of our closest people to see the great need of others around us. God said to the Israelites in the Old Testament: You shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God (Leviticus 19:10).
A sojourner was a foreigner who wasn’t among the Jewish people. In most cases that person would have been, spiritually speaking, a pagan who didn’t believe in the true God of Israel. He wants us to love people just to love them, like He does. He encourages an invitation sent to those who cannot repay. He encourages true generosity that honestly seeks to serve, rather than pretend generosity that always seeks repayment.
That paints a certain picture of us, doesn’t it? We have to be challenged to be generous like that. We wouldn’t do it otherwise. The Lord demonstrated generosity to all people; but we haven’t. We have to be reminded that it is the Lord’s way that we should follow. We have to be given power from the Holy Spirit in order to carry it out even in some fashion.
John’s disciples came to Jesus with a simple question: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Jesus could have just said, “Yes, I’m the one.” He didn’t. He asked them to take note of His actions. He said, “Go and tell John what you hear and see.” Specifically, He asked them to recall that the prophets had spoken of the one who is to come as a uniquely powerful individual. That’s not all that surprising. Everyone would imagine God in human flesh to be powerful. He would be the kind of person Who could accomplish unusually great things. Also not that surprising.
But worthy of note – especially in this season: The prophets had spoken of the one who is to come as a uniquely loving and generous individual. This would be someone Who would demonstrate with real actions that God is love. What Jesus points to as evidence that He is the One Who is to come is that he is powerfully and lovingly reaching out to people with great need in order to meet their needs.
Sent to minister to those waiting for God’s anointed
This text illustrates in a number of ways peoples’ great need. In the first place, the very fact that men had been sent to ask what they asked of Jesus indicates their need. They were waiting for someone to be sent from God – someone who would meet their need. They were waiting because prophets like Isaiah had said things like this: Isaiah 9:2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.
The ancestors of the men asking Jesus in our text had been sent these words from God’s prophet. He had sent the words in anticipation of their 70-year captivity in Babylon. They would suffer there – with many of them dying in the process. After 70 years, a remnant would return to Jerusalem to rebuild. Now, their descendants in Jesus’ time were finding a second fulfillment of that prophecy in the one who is to come. The deep darkness was unbelief, and alienation from the God Who created them. Walking in darkness was having a sense that there was a God Who required things of them, but not knowing that God – how to have peace with Him. Their guilt made them feel in need. They were missing something very important.
Sin had a great and very evident affect on their daily lives as well. They were living in a world in which people they knew got sick and died, or were living with some sort of physical impairment. They were feeling the burden of aging and wear on their own bodies like all of us do. They were feeling personally the years of toil and trouble that Moses talks about in Psalm 90. They had worries and concerns related to making a living. They worried about being good parents to their children, and about their children growing up right so that they would be respectful, and honorable, and successful. Sometimes the children didn’t become those things; that was a difficult burden to bear. The men who came to Jesus to ask if He was the One Who is to come were just the ones who happened to be asking what everyone wanted to know. They were looking for God to help them in their helplessness.
Sent to minister to those evidently suffering
We certainly see great need in the ones to whom Jesus was ministering. They couldn’t see; or they couldn’t hear; or they were sick with leprosy; or they couldn’t walk. Some to whom He ministered had even died, and He brought them back to life.
When He talks about the poor having the good news preached to them He is talking about all of those people, and the ones asking the question, and us. The news so precious is that of the Christ sent to make them right with God. That news of forgiveness brought joy to the woman at the well who was living a desperate existence, seeking happiness and fulfillment in worldly ways that hadn’t worked, and wouldn’t work. It was Jesus’ kindness and love along with the power of His words that made it evident to her that she was dealing with something other-worldly. She was seeing true love standing before her in human flesh, inviting her to trade what was never going to make her happy for what would make her happy eternally. She became a powerful witness leading others to God’s kingdom.
Sent to minister to those in danger of being offended
We see the great need of people from Jesus’ words in our text, 6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” Our need not to be offended by the Christ could be talked about as our greatest need. He is the One in Whom we have forgiveness and eternal life. He is the One of Whom Paul writes, 1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. If we are offended by the Christ – if we are trapped by human reason, if we are unwilling to accept our own frailty and lostness – we will never see God’s kingdom. Blessed is the one who is not offended by me means that many are, and are in great danger of being lost from God’s kingdom forever. All of us are by nature until the Holy Spirit is sent through Baptism and God’s Word to change us.
Sent to minister to those seeking what is missing
Our text shows us the great need of people as we see them going out into the wilderness seeking…something. Jesus asks repeatedly, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? Perhaps the one out there preaching about repentance and God’s kingdom is even a prophet, they might have thought. Jesus says John the Baptist is. In fact, he is more than that. He is the one sent to prepare the way for the coming Christ. He prepares hearts. He tells people honestly that they need God’s mercy because they are sinners. They cannot appear before Him based on their own merits. They must humble themselves and receive the Holy Spirit through Baptism so that they can believe and be saved. People are in great need. The needs of their bodies and of their lives reflect the burden of sin on the world.
The Christ was sent some 2,000 years ago to minister to people powerfully and lovingly in order to meet their great need. He came humbly because we needed Him to do so.
He continues to meet peoples’ needs of body and soul. His love pours out of believers who consider it a privilege to serve others in His stead.
I hope you do. I hope you consider it a privilege to serve others in the stead of Christ. I hope you see that baskets were carefully prepared yesterday because we want to love people. I hope you see that we operate a Christian school because we want to love people. We want to open our arms to any who would come to serve their needs out of love for Christ. As Jesus fed thousands of people at a time, excluding no one who would come to Him, so also His followers open their arms in love to their fellow man. His love is their love. They love deliberately, and generously. They share the blessings that the Lord has given them.
The Christ comes again on the Last Day in power and great glory. He comes to reap a harvest for the kingdom prepared by His servants through the preaching of His Word, and through the sharing of His love. Pray that the harvest be plentiful. Pray that the Lord use you to meet others’ needs of body and soul. Greet your friends with open arms. But go further than that. Let Christ’s love open your arms so that the whole world might see Him. Amen.