Advent III.  Saint Stephen’s, Athens.  December 12, 2021.

Saint Matthew 11, verse 3 – Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen. 

In our gospel and my text today messengers come to Christ from John the Baptist and ask, in effect, ‘Who are you?’ or, ‘Who are you?’  I told you two weeks ago that that is the main question we should be asking ourselves during Advent.  Who is Jesus?  who is he in himself and, just as importantly, who is he for me?  Or, to put this another way, What difference does he make to me and my life? 

In King James’ English, John’s followers ask, ‘Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?’  In modern English that means, ‘Are you the one we’re expecting, or will he be somebody else?’  In Jewish terms their question is, ‘Are you the messiah, or will the messiah be someone else?’ 

As is often the case, our Lord does not answer the question directly.  His answer is indirect.  He tells John’s followers to report to John what they have been witnessing.  Again, in effect, he tells them that his actions speak for themselves and provide the answer to their questions.  ‘Forget what people say about me; forget what I say about me; look at what I’m doing.’  – which is usually a good answer when we really want to understand somebody.   Actions speak louder than words.

Now at this point we have to look further back in the gospel.  Today’s lesson is the very beginning of chapter 11.  Chapter 10 is private sermon spoken by our Lord to his disciples, usually called the missionary sermon.  Chapter 10 is words, not deeds, and those words were not heard publicly or by John’s followers and therefore  could not be reported back to John by them.  So to know what ‘works’ or deeds Jesus wants reported to John we have to go back in the gospel to previous stories of deeds.  Those stories come in chapters 8 and 9. 

Fortunately for us, chapters 8 and 9 of Matthew are filled with works.  These chapters contain ten miracles, which together give a comprehensive picture of the authority of Christ over physical illnesses and infirmities, over what we now would describe as mental illness, and over the natural world.  They show Christ as the Lord and Ruler of men and women, angels and demons, storms and the sea. 

Our Lord in his answer today says, ‘Go and show John again the 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.’  That is a list of six things, five of which are miracles.  These are precisely the things that occurred in chapters 8 and 9.  In those chapters there are healings of the blind, of lepers, and of the lame, and also there is a raising up of a dead child.  Our Lord does not ask that John or John’s followers begin by listening to a sermon, but instead tells them to think about good works which he has already done. 

Now I just said that of the six things mentioned by our Lord, five were miracles.  The miracles build up to a crescendo:  ‘the dead are raised up’.  What greater deed could be done than to raise the dead?  But in fact that final miracle is not the final item in the list.  The final item in the list is this:  ‘the poor have the gospel preached to them.’  It seemed in this lesson that attention was moved away from words and placed instead squarely on deeds:  ‘Look at what I do, not at what I say.’  But then in the list of what Christ does, we circle back from his deeds to his words:  ‘the poor have the gospel preached to them.’  The point of the miracles is to authenticate the teaching.  Miracles have little permanent significance.  As I often remind you, every single person healed by God will eventually get sick again.  Every person Christ raised from the dead will die again.  Miracles are signs, not destinations.  Miracles point to something else. 

And what the miracles properly point us towards is that final item in the message to John:  Tell John that ‘the poor have the gospel preached to them.’  You, my friends, are the poor.  I am the poor.  No matter how rich we are, we have only a little store of life, which is passing quickly.  We need good news preached to us, as John in his prison, moving quickly to his execution and death, needed good news preached to him.  And here is the message from our Lord to John and to you and to me:  the Lord of creation, the Lord of the star fields; the Lord of miracles who healed the sick and raised the dead; the Lord who stilled the storm and calmed the sea; the Lord whose birth angels will proclaim to poor shepherds in a few days:  that Lord has come to our world and brought us hope and given us a life that will not end after the little dramas and the few years of our worldly time have ended.  We are dying into life, where all of this world’s sorrows will be reversed and where all things marred by sin will be healed by Christ. 

John’s followers asked, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?  The answer is that we do not need to look for another.  Our Saviour has already come and he has preached the gospel to the poor. 

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen. 

One thought on “Sermon for Advent III

  1. “The point of the miracles is to authenticate the teaching. Miracles have little permanent significance.”
    Such a critical point that is often not understood or emphasized in our modern Christianity.

    Like

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