Anticipating the Advent of Christ
“Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said unto Him, ‘Art Thou He that should come, or do we look for another?’ Jesus answered and said unto them, ‘Go and show John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their 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.’”
— Matthew 11:2-5
Anticipation can be bad or good. When it is all about fear and dread, all about a negative future, it is sinful worry and anxiety. Such anticipation is forbidden by God (Matthew 6:34). However, when it is all about hope and looking forward to a positive future, based on God’s promises in His Word, it is akin to faith, “the substance of things hoped for” (Hebrews 11:1a). Such anticipation is not only commanded by God as the correct moral response to His ever trustworthy promises, His faithful Word, but is created and preserved by God through His Word (Romans 5:2, 4; 8:24-25; 15:4, 13; Hebrews 6:18; I Peter 1:13).
Our theme points us to the pre-Christmas season of Advent. “Advent” means “coming” (from the Latin); it is a season to prepare for the coming of the Son of God. In general, the season calls for repentance of sin and joyful expectation of the Lord’s gracious advent by way of the Gospel. In history, God used John the Baptist to that end. Holy Scripture teaches us that John, the son of the priest Zacharias and his wife Elisabeth (Luke 1:40-45, 57 ff.), was sent by God to announce the coming of the long anticipated Messiah, the Christ of God, the One Anointed as Savior (Luke 1:13-17; compare Matthew 11:7-14; Luke 1:67-79). John had fulfilled his office as the forerunner of Christ, preparing the people for His manifestation to Israel by preaching the Law and the Gospel rightly divided, through a “baptism of repentance” (Acts 13:24) for the remission of sins (Matthew 3:1 ff.).
The clear and uncompromised preaching of the Law of God also made John many enemies, including the Jewish religious leaders and ungodly public governmental officials. John was put into jail as the result of the enmity certain people had toward the Word of God that John proclaimed. Unmoved by either the fear or favor of men, John had proclaimed only God’s truth; he had preached the Word “out of season” (II Timothy 4:2) and had suffered for it. In particular, King Herod, who had committed gross adultery with his brother’s wife, had placated his adulteress-wife, Herodias, by putting John in prison. We read Mark’s explanation in chapter 6: “Herod himself had sent forth and laid hold upon John and bound him in prison for Herodias’ sake, his brother Philip’s wife; for he had married her. For John had said unto Herod, ‘It is not lawful for thee to have thy brother’s wife.’ Therefore Herodias had a quarrel against him and would have killed him; but she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an holy, and observed him; and when he heard him, he did many things and heard him gladly” (vv. 17-20). Later, however, in order to fulfill a wicked oath to reward Salome, Herodias’ daughter, for a lustful dance in his presence, Herod executed John by beheading him (vv. 21-28).
While John was still alive, but in Herod’s jail, he heard …“the works of Christ.” Yes, the works of Christ. The works Jesus performed, His preaching and miracles, proved Him to be “the very Christ” (John 7:26). The Incarnate Prophet revealed His person by word and deed, confounding all those who would gainsay Him in His office, proving Himself to be “very Christ” (Acts 9:22), the real and true Messiah, the authentic and genuine one!
Why, then, did John send two of his disciples to Christ with this question regarding His identity: “Art Thou He that should come, or do we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3)? Did John do this for his own sake, or was it for the sake of his disciples who needed to “move on,” as it were, to follow Christ? In Luke’s Gospel we hear how the raising of the widow’s son at Nain (Luke 7:11-15) immediately preceded what occurs in our text. The reaction of the “general public” is telling: “There came a fear on all; and they glorified God, saying that ‘a great prophet is risen up among us,’ and that ‘God hath visited His people.’ And this rumor of Him went forth throughout all Judaea and throughout all the region round about. And the disciples of John showed him of all these things” (vv. 16-18). Clearly, the miracle pointed to His divine office and origin; for, as Nicodemus correctly stated: “We know that Thou art a teacher come from God; for no man can do these miracles that Thou doest, except God be with him” (John 3:2). Doing miracles by His own power, particularly His own resurrection, “declared” Jesus to be God incarnate (Romans 1:4)! Remember what the healed blind man said to the Pharisees about the genuineness of His origin? “Why herein is a marvelous thing, that ye know not from whence He is, and yet He hath opened mine eyes. Now we know that God heareth not sinners; but if any man be a worshiper of God and doeth His will, him He heareth. Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind. If this man were not of God, He could do nothing” (John 9:30-33). Remember what happened after he was cast out of the synagogue? “Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and, when He had found him, He said unto him, ‘Dost thou believe on the Son of God?’ He answered and said, ‘Who is He, Lord, that I might believe on Him?’ And Jesus said unto him, ‘Thou hast both seen Him, and it is He that talketh with thee.’ And he said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshiped Him. And Jesus said, ‘For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see, and that they which see might be made blind.’ And some of the Pharisees which were with Him heard these words [no comma] and said unto Him, ‘Are we blind also?’ Jesus said unto them, ‘If ye were blind, ye should have no sin. But now ye say, ‘We see;’ therefore your sin remaineth” (John 9:35-41). To deny the evident and infallible proof is malicious and damning! Did John need further proof? Hardly! Dr. C. F. W. Walther remarks:
Without a doubt, John the Baptist was firmly convinced that Jesus was the Messiah. He could not doubt that, for God had said to him, “Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, the same is He which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost” (John 1:33). And John saw this when he baptized Jesus and at the same time heard God’s voice from heaven: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). He, therefore, also preached, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord” (Matthew 3:3). “There standeth one among you, whom ye know not … Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:26, 29). Not for his sake at all did he have Jesus asked this question, but for the sake of his weak disciples.
(Sermon for the 3rd Sunday in Advent, Matthew 11:2-10, Year of Grace, D. E. Heck publisher & translator).
When the two disciples of John ask Jesus this question, how does He respond? With a stern rebuke? With a thundering condemnation? Not at all! “Jesus answered and said unto them, ‘Go and show John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their 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’” (vv. 4-5). When we approach Jesus weak in faith and with a desire to grow in faith on the basis of His Word, He readily answers our requests. God never refuses prayers such as “Lord, increase our faith” (Luke 17:5), or “Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). The Bible says: “A bruised reed shall He not break, and the smoking flax shall He not quench” (Isaiah 42:3). Jesus tenderly invites the weak: “Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest … for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29). And He adds this promise: “Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out” (John 6:37).
Turn to Him in prayer for a stronger faith; and, by His Word, according to His promise, He will increase your faith! (Cf. Psalm 20:2; 27:14; 119:28; Isaiah 41:10). Behold how He instructs John’s disciples with the Word of God. He tells them to consider the audio-visual evidence, what they hear with their ears and see with their eyes, and compare that to what the Word of God says of the Messiah. Jesus proves to them that He is the Messiah, first of all, because He performs the miracles of the Messiah, literally fulfilling all the Old Testament prophecies which predict that the Christ would perform great miracles of omnipotence and grace.
“The blind receive their sight.” Consider this example: “And when Jesus departed thence, two blind men followed Him, crying, and saying, ‘Thou Son of David, have mercy on us.’ And when He was come into the house, the blind men came to Him. And Jesus saith unto them, ‘Believe ye that I am able to do this?’ They said unto Him, ‘Yea, Lord.’ Then touched He their eyes, saying, ‘According to your faith be it unto you.’ And their eyes were opened” (Matthew 9:27-30a). This certainly was a mighty proof of His deity and office.
Some refuse to accept such incontrovertible proof. We already referred to the Pharisees’ reaction to another healing of the blind. Their reaction revealed their spiritual blindness: “Then again called they the man that was blind and said unto him, ‘Give God the praise; we know that this man is a sinner.’ He answered and said, ‘Whether He be a sinner or no, I know not. One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.’ Then said they to him again, ‘What did He to thee? How opened He thine eyes?’ He answered them, ‘I have told you already, and ye did not hear. Wherefore would ye hear it again? Will ye also be His disciples?’ Then they reviled him and said, ‘Thou art His disciple, but we are Moses’ disciples. We know that God spake unto Moses. As for this fellow, we know not from whence He is” (John 9:24-29). No wonder Jesus condemned them as “blind guides” (Matthew 23:16, 24) as “fools and blind” (Matthew 23:17, 19). The “blind Pharisee” (Matthew 23:26) whom the Lord Jesus condemned was, at heart, the same as the one in the well-known parable of the Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 18:9ff.), the same as those to whom Jesus spoke the parable originally, namely, “certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others” (v. 9). The attitude of the Pharisee in the parable is the exact same attitude of gross spiritual blindness, of utter darkness, which dwells in all men by nature. All men are conceived and born into the world spiritually blind, dead and totally at enmity with God in their carnal mind: “You…were dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). “The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the Law of God, neither indeed can be” (Romans 8:7). “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them because they are spiritually discerned” (I Corinthians 2:14). Hypocrites are those with an outward form of Godliness but without true spiritual power, no genuine saving faith. The Apostle Peter warns against falling into such hypocrisy when he tells true believers to live a life of Godly fruit (II Peter 1:5-8), a life of fruit which corresponds to true repentance, adding: “He that lacketh these things is blind and cannot see afar off and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins” (II Peter 1:9). Just as the Pharisees remained blind because they refused to recognize their need to be enlightened concerning their sin and guilt and their need for rescue (Romans 2:19-20). Even so, former Christians became spiritually blind when they forgot their very same need; and the solution that God provided from eternity and continues to provide for all mankind (forgiveness, the purging of sin in Christ’s blood – I John 1:7) no longer interested them (Revelation 3:17)!
May God ever deliver us from our innate blindness lest we become blind once again! May God ever perform His miraculous work of enlightenment through the Gospel: “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (II Corinthians 4:6).
What other works did the Savior perform and point out to John’s disciples? “The lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear.” The Scripture states: “Great multitudes came unto Him, having with them those that were lame, blind, dumb, maimed, and many others, and cast them down at Jesus’ feet; and He healed them insomuch that the multitude wondered when they saw the dumb to speak, the maimed to be whole, the lame to walk, and the blind to see; and they glorified the God of Israel” (Matthew 15:30-31). Yea, even “the dead [were] raised up” (Matthew 11:5). To Jairus’ daughter Jesus said: “Damsel, I say unto thee, Arise;” and she was called back from the dead (Matthew 9:25; Mark 5:42). To the son of the widow of Nain Jesus said: “Young man, I say unto thee, Arise” (Luke 7:14); and he sat up alive and began to speak! To Lazarus of Bethany Jesus said, “Lazarus, come forth” (John 11:43); and he who had been dead for four days walked out of his tomb alive!
There can be no doubt that Jesus literally fulfilled all the Old Testament prophecies which predicted that the Messiah would perform great miracles. Isaiah foretold, for example: “Say to them that are of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong; fear not. Behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompence; He will come and save you.’ Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart [as a deer], and the tongue of the dumb sing” (35:4-6). “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me because the Lord hath anointed Me to preach good tidings unto the meek; He hath sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to them that are bound, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all that mourn, to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness, that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified” (61:1-3).
While miracles cannot produce faith, they do “confirm” the Word of God (Mark 16:20). In the case of Christ’s miracles, they prove that Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament predictions regarding the power and compassion of the Messiah. Even the people were amazed: “Many of the people believed on Him and said, ‘When Christ cometh, will He do more miracles than these which this man hath done?’” (John 7:31). Jesus said to them: “But I have greater witness than that of John; for the works which the Father hath given Me to finish, the same works that I do bear witness of Me that the Father hath sent Me” (John 5:36). “If I do not the works of My Father, believe Me not. But if I do, though ye believe not Me, believe the works, that ye may know and believe that the Father is in Me and I in Him” (John 10:37-38).
Now Christ Jesus not only fulfilled the Scripture regarding the miracles of the Messiah, He also preached the doctrine of the Messiah: “The poor have the Gospel preached unto them.” Who are the poor? They are those who are “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3). Regarding such the Lord says: “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit and trembleth at My Word” (Isaiah 66:2b). Indeed, “The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit” (Psalm 34:18). “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise” (Psalm 51:17). The poor are those crushed and broken in heart by the Law, full of sorrow and contrition regarding their sins before God, those who humbly recognize their guilt and know that they deserve eternal punishment.
The Proverb says: “There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing; there is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches” (13:7). Dr. P. E. Kretzmann notes: “The disciples of Christ are recruited mainly from the poor and weak and base in this world, I Corinthians 1:26-29. But their most indispensable quality is poverty of the soul, that they despair of all their own riches in spiritual matters and rely entirely upon the free grace and the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Popular Commentary, N.T., Vol. I, p. 62).
The Apostle Paul says: “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things and do count them but dung that I may win Christ and be found in Him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the Law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Philippians 3:7-9).
Yes, “the poor have the Gospel preached to them” that they may be rich in faith and heirs of God’s Kingdom (James 2:5; Revelation 3:18, 2:9; Ephesians 3:8). What, then, is the Gospel? The Gospel is the marvelous good news of our salvation in Christ Jesus. The Gospel declares that Christ fulfilled the Law for us perfectly; “for Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Romans 10:4). The Gospel declares that Christ has paid for all our sins, appeasing God’s wrath for us forever; that He “was delivered [because of] our offenses, and was raised again [because of] our justification” (Romans 4:25). Dr. Luther says:
To the poor is proclaimed the divine promise of all grace and comfort, offered and brought forward in Christ and through Christ, that whosoever believes shall have all sins forgiven, the law fulfilled, his conscience delivered, and finally have eternal life donated to him. What happier news may a poor, wretched heart and afflicted conscience hear? To make the blind see and to raise the dead is rather a simple thing beside preaching the Gospel to the poor, therefore He places it last, as the greatest and best of all these works.
(Cited by P. E. Kretzmann in his Popular Commentary, New Testament, Vol. I, p. 62).
By the Gospel God performs spiritual healing. Our divine Physician, Jesus Christ, gives us spiritual eyesight in the place of blindness (Ephesians 1:18-19; Acts 26:18), gives us the ability to hear God’s Word in faith (Romans 10:17; Luke 11:28), raises us from spiritual death to spiritual life (Ephesians 2:1, 5; Colossians 2:13), cleanses us from the guilt of our leprous sin (Acts 15:9, 11; I John 1:8-10), gives us spiritual strength to walk the narrow way in faith (Hebrews 12:12-13), and assures every true believer of life everlasting in heaven as his inheritance of grace (I Peter 1:3-9). In short, the Gospel gives us spiritual health; and if you have spiritual health, you do indeed have everything.
God grant it for Jesus’ sake, the Christ of God, our Savior!
— E. J. W.