Third Sunday in Advent

“How Do You Know?”

Matthew 11:2-15


In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

How do you know that this Jesus is your Savior? How do you know that He is the one for whom creation has waited ever since Adam and Eve left the Garden in shame? There is certainly no shortage of people willing to challenge you on that point. Richard Dawkins says your belief in God is a delusion. Sam Harris prays (well, not really) for the end of your faith. Christopher Hitchens thinks you should know that God is not good. These are only the latest, and not even very good, attempts to shake your faith in and your knowledge of God and His Son Jesus. In the face of their sneering challenges, how do you know?

John wanted to know. Which seems surprising, since this is the same John who declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29, ESV). This is the same John who baptized Jesus and saw the dove and heard the Voice of God. Perhaps John sent his disciples for their sake, so they would recognize Jesus and become His disciples. Or maybe John had genuine doubts. He was sitting in Herod’s prison, which he would not leave alive or whole, and maybe he’s wondering, if the Messiah truly had come, why he was still there. Why was Rome still in power? Why hadn’t the threshing floor been cleared (Matthew 3:12)? Why hadn’t the wheat been gathered in and why hadn’t the chaff been burned (ibid.)? Whatever John was thinking, we know what Jesus said to John’s disciples. To those who want to know if He is the one long-promised, Jesus says: Hear My words and look at My actions, and see if they match what was promised in the Scriptures. Do the blind see blue sky and green trees moving in the wind? Do the legs of the lame become strong? Do the lepers find themselves with newborn flesh? Do the deaf hear the sound of little children laughing? Do dead people have new breath in their lungs and new blood in their hearts? Do the poor hear that true treasure is found only in the realm of creation’s King? He who causes these things to happen with His words or His touch is He who spoke creation into existence with a word. When God walks on the earth, created things lower their eyes at the brightness of His glory, even when it is hidden behind the skin and bones of a man. When God walks on the earth, He makes a way in the wilderness and waters break forth. He goes into the desert to be tempted and streams of living water flow. Burning sand becomes an oasis, and the thirst of the ground is quenched. This is His creation, and it rejoices to be in His presence.

But though God walks on earth, the crown of His creation no longer recognizes Him. Men and women who were made to be pictures of the Maker reject Him for things made in their own pitiful images. We hold ourselves to be the kings and queens of creation, to whom science and technology must bow. If it can be done, it should be done. If we can help some people at the cost of less “worthy” lives, why shouldn’t we? If it is possible to give our children the perfect physical DNA, why shouldn’t we fix what God won’t or can’t? And if we can’t fix them, maybe it is better that they not be brought into this world at all. The only creatures whom God called “very good” lower themselves to the level of animals, and elevate animals to the level of humans. We know so much about ourselves that we think we’re no different from them. So if you can euthanize your dog, why not your grandmother? The logic is indisputable.

But there are some things that science and technology cannot “fix.” They can give you a new nose, bigger breasts, more muscles, and tighter skin, but they cannot make you happy. However new they make your outside, your inside is still full of the same emptiness. There is nothing new under the skin. It is no coincidence that the same men and women who fell in Adam’s fall keep throwing themselves down from the heights of creation. We need someone to break our fall and make us new, even on the inside. We have so defaced and scarred the image of God in ourselves that it is scarcely recognizable. And there the atheist mockers are right: we have been faces of hatred rather than of love. We have separated ourselves from one another because of petty personality conflicts; at the same time we find no problem uniting with those who confess a different Christ or a different god.

Into the midst of the mockers and defacers of the image, the flawless Image of the invisible God comes (Colossians 1:15). His way was made ready before Him by a prophet, the greatest of all the sons born of women (Matthew 11:11). He came: into a desert of thirsty and dying wanderers; into a wilderness that used to be a Garden; walking on a Kings’ Highway overgrown with the thorns and briers of murder, theft, gossip, infidelity, and greed. Daughter of Jerusalem, behold, your King comes to you (Zechariah 9:9; Matthew 21:5). He comes in flesh and blood, with our hungers and thirsts, with our limitations and our needs. Can it be? Can this man really be the savior of the whole world? Or should we wait for another? Someone more impressive, with a little more tact and a little more flare. Someone who knows how to handle the channels of publicity to get His message out. Someone who will solve all our problems now, heal all the victims of AIDS, end world hunger, and make poverty history. Someone who doesn’t heal only a few people in a remote corner of the earth, but who makes sickness and death things of vague memory. Jesus, are you the Coming One, or should we wait for another?

How can you know? If you confine knowledge to the sphere of that which can be tested in a laboratory, you cannot know that this Jesus is the fulfillment of all prophecy and the hope of all creation. But that does not mean that He cannot be touched and handled. God became a man who is able to be touched-touched with a whip and thorns, wood and nails; He became a man who is able to be handled-handled violently by the rough hands of sinners. We have rejected the image of God in ourselves, so it is natural that we would reject Him who is the image of God. And though He was hidden, though He came in the form of a servant, least in the Kingdom of Heaven, He was revealed as the Son of God on the day that His Father raised Him from the dead. That day was His vindication, the proof of His claims to be the Coming One for whom the eyes of faith had been waiting. God said at His baptism by John in the Jordan, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). And to prove it, He raised Him from the dead and gave Him, as God and Man, all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18; 11:27; Daniel 7:13-14).

But there are still doubters. You are not going to prove beyond any doubt that this one who fulfilled the Law and the Prophets was also raised from the dead. To those who do not have ears to hear, whom the Holy Spirit has not yet called, gathered, enlightened, and sanctified, all of this is foolishness. The waiting, the hoping, the believing; to do those things is not to know. That’s what they will tell you. But “the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned…But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:14, 16b, ESV). There are two levels of knowledge here, and those who do not have the mind of Christ can only observe, feel, taste, hear, and see the one level. Those who do have the mind of Christ have knowledge of the other level, which can also be observed, felt, tasted, heard and seen. Those with the mind of Christ observe that lives are changed by the word of Jesus. They feel the water wash over them and know that their sins are gone in the blood of His cross. They hear the Word, and they believe and know that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God (John 6:69; 11:27). They see not just bread and wine, but the body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. It is not yet that we have evidence of the sort that will convince every skeptic and the mockers of the Christ. “For now we see in a mirror dimly…now I know in part” (1 Corinthians 13:12, ESV). But the day is coming when our faith will be vindicated and shown for what it is, even as our Lord has been raised from the dead and shown for who He is. Then we shall see “face to face…Then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (ibid.). And, know this, the one who came eating and drinking, the friend of tax collectors and sinners (Matthew 11:19), will come again in full glory. He will heal all diseases, put an end to poverty and hunger, and make death a thing of distant memory (Revelation 21:4). Every eye will see Him (Revelation 1:7) and there will be no doubt-everyone will know-that He is the one for whom we have been waiting.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

–Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 12/12/07


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