Monday, December 14, 2009

Sermon on Zephaniah 3:14-20 & Luke 7:18-28, for the 3rd Sunday in Advent, "Shall We Look for Another?"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Today we come with the disciples of John the Baptist to ask Jesus an urgent question. While John is languishing in prison, facing what will soon be his death, his disciples come to Jesus with the question: “Are you the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Were they just seeking confirmation that He was in fact the Messiah, or did they or John have doubts? Was John, captive in chains, wondering what had become of Jesus’ first sermon, where He said He’d come to “proclaim liberty to the captives?” Where was John’s liberty? What was Jesus doing to show He was the “real deal?” Jesus gives us the answer in the gospel reading, and we find confirmation in the Old Testament reading from Zephaniah, that Jesus fits the bill. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

When John’s disciples came to Jesus with this question, they were reporting back to John information about some of Jesus’ recent miracles and the crowd’s reaction. Jesus had been teaching boldly and recently healed a centurion’s servant and raised the dead son of the widow at Nain. Crowds were proclaiming Him as a great prophet among us, and that God had visited His people (Luke 7:16). It would seem this was already the confirmation that John and his disciples needed. But they asked, “Shall we look for another?” Isn’t it a completely human reaction to see all this evidence of God’s work, and yet still ask questions like “Shall we look for another?” This Advent season, are we waiting for another? Is there doubt in our minds whether Jesus is really the King we’re waiting for, or if He’s coming back? Scripture tells that some will consider Jesus’ late return as slowness on God’s part to keep His promises (2 Pet. 3). In contrast to seeing it as God’s patience in waiting for as many as possible to come to repentance, before God judges all people on the acceptance or rejection of His message.

Do we look for another, perhaps hoping for a “better deal?” Maybe this isn’t working out as good as I’d hoped. Maybe the promises of something else sound better—whether that’s another religion, whether it’s the latest trendy preacher or self-help system, whether it’s the unvarnished pursuit of wealth and possessions. Jesus doesn’t seem to offer me a guarantee of all these things I want. He doesn’t seem to fit the picture of what I expected. These idolatrous pursuits of something better than Jesus will only end up in profound disappointment. Sometimes what sounds like a great deal is really a deception. What a person needs to examine is whether their faith is put in something that can really deliver on its promises. Even if some religious movement or program or life pursuit satisfies for this life, in the end, all paths other than Christ lead to destruction. John likely didn’t know that following Jesus could end up costing him his life. We don’t know what paths and turns our lives may take; what challenges may lay ahead. But we don’t travel that path unguided, or as first time explorers. We have a sure-footed guide in Jesus who’ll navigate us through every obstacle, even death that He Himself experienced, and lead us on that narrow path to heaven. We have One who is able to deliver on all His promises.

But to the inquiring disciples of John, Jesus gives the most remarkable answer. When they asked “shall we look for another”—it’s almost like He put their question on hold, and said, “Watch this!” It says, “In that hour”—at the very moment they came to Him seeking proof that He was their Messiah—He put on a flurried show of Messianic activity. In that hour He healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. His miracles and power spoke for themselves. He didn’t even need to answer their question with words, He just showed them. You wanted proof, here it is! So He said to go back to John and tell him what you have seen and heard: “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

We have no answer from the disciples of John—in all likelihood they left speechless with jaws agape. As Jesus would say elsewhere, if you can’t believe in me because of my words and teaching, then at least believe because of the miracles and works that I do, as proof that I’m from the Father (John 10:22-42). He demonstrated in spades that He was the real deal. In order to do so, He had to fit the pattern of Messianic signs and prophecies to prove that He was in fact the coming one—the one who John prepared the way for as the coming of the Lord. The whole Old Testament provided the pattern or template that He had to fit—the job description, as it were, of the coming Savior. So we can look at a passage like our Old Testament reading from Zephaniah today and see what some of those characteristics were.

Zephaniah, a little-known prophet of the Old Testament, here tells the people of Jerusalem, which was also called Zion, to “sing aloud…shout…rejoice and exult with all you heart!” Why such joy and celebration? Because the LORD had taken away the judgments against them, and cleared away their enemies. This is the same reason for Christian joy—the often inexpressible delight and wonder at what God has done for us. It’s difficult to even imagine what it really means that God has taken away all the judgments against us. That in Christ Jesus God has lifted the penalty of our sin and spared us the eternal destruction we deserved. We really can’t fully appreciate the greatness of that sacrifice—we’ve never even seen what hell is like. We don’t have anything adequate to match it against, in seeing how God spared us from a terrible fate. Sometimes we’ve had a clearer picture of who and what our spiritual enemies are, and endured great pains or sorrows in life, or the heaviness of guilt that can load us down. Though we never felt it like Jesus did, carrying the full load of sin, we’ve all experienced the burden of our sin one way or another, and have some idea of what it means that God clears away our enemies of sin, death, and the devil. We know the relief of being spared the devil’s accusations.

So Christians rejoice, and it’s a spontaneous part of our Christian life. Some of us may rejoice with hands raised and a loud cry of joy. Some may rejoice with a sense of transcendent peace on our face and tears of joy on our face, as we marvel quietly in our hearts at the wonders of God’s love for us. Some may rejoice through giving from their blessing. Your own expression of joy is unique to yourself, but we can always join in the heavenly anthems of celebration that fill our worship services, and we give thanks for what God has done for us. But the most remarkable thing about what Zephaniah prophesies is that the reason Israel can rejoice is because The King of Israel, the LORD is in your midst. In your midst—standing among you—here is the King?!? What’s more remarkable is that it’s clearly no earthly king spoken of, for He’s called the LORD. Not the word lord like we use the title master or duke or governor or senator. This word LORD isn’t a title that means ruler—this is the Divine Name of God, YHWH. The King of Israel, YHWH is standing in your midst! It’s not every day that this happens! It’s not a usual occurrence to have God walking among you. But in case it didn’t grab us the first time, Zephaniah repeats it two verses later with this clarification: “The LORD (YHWH) your God is in your midst, a mighty One who will save.”

Here’s the Messiah described loud and bold through prophecy. Zephaniah’s job description for the Messiah is as a King of Israel, one who drives away evil, who keeps His people from fear, who strengthens our weak hands. This Messiah is a mighty one who’ll save—He’s a Savior and a King—and most importantly, He’s God Himself. Who else has the power to deliver us from evil, and to take away our fear? Zephaniah says this guy will be in your midst! The remarkable description of our Messiah and Savior goes on to say that “He will rejoice over [us] with gladness, He will quiet [us] by his love, he will exult over [us] with singing.” The Messiah actually rejoices over us! God sings over us! Have you ever thought of that?! That God sings? What would that sound like? What’s the joyful sound of God rejoicing and breaking into song? A fellow pastor in Hawaii said this passage sounds like a picture of a new dad holding his first child in his hands, rejoicing with gladness at this new life, quieting the crying child with his love, and singing to his child.

So what a marvel to consider that we’re newborns in God’s kingdom because we’ve experienced the rebirth of water and the Spirit in our baptism. The LORD our Messiah rejoices over us, and the heavenly Father has all the joy of a new dad, holding His precious child. Is it any wonder that Jesus delighted in children, and that God pointed to them as the model of faith and trust and humility? God rejoices with the joys of fatherhood, to call us His own to see in us the new life that He has created and sustained. He saved us, lifting us up like helpless babes and cleaning us and providing for us. He has all the joy of a father to care for his children and supply their needs. This is a pale reflection of the rejoicing that our LORD does over us.

In verse 19 it turns to what the Messiah does for His people. He’ll save the lame and gather the outcast, and will change their shame into praise. In that very hour that the disciples of John asked Him, “shall we look for another?”—they witnessed Jesus saving the lame, gathering up the outcast lepers, demoniacs, and those afflicted with disease, and healing them. More than just what Zephaniah described, He not only filled, but exceeded the “job description” of the Messiah. Other prophets spoke of Him opening the ears of the deaf and eyes of the blind (Is. 29:18; 35:5), or delivering the poor and needy (Ps. 72:12-14). But Jesus did more than just fit the minimum requirements. He showed all the characteristics of the Messiah and more.

But the greatest thing Jesus did to show He was the Messiah was the last proof He gave to the disciples of John. He told them “The poor have good news preached to them.” For all the physical miracles and signs that marked Jesus as the promised Messiah, none of them carried the weight and significance of His preaching of the gospel, the good news, to the poor. Here was the heart and center of His ministry—not the flashy works, but the announcement of God’s mercy toward sinners. If it weren’t for the miracles, some of the people might have never paid attention to this central purpose of His ministry. Even when He ascended into heaven, it was the proclamation of repentance and forgiveness—the good news—that He commissioned the apostles to continue. The preaching of Christ and Him crucified for the forgiveness of our sins was always to remain central. Because ultimately, the Messiah, the LORD your God who is in your midst, is the Mighty One who will save. And it is His salvation—the good news that He came to redeem us sinners, that makes Him the One who we’re to look for.

So don’t look for another. Don’t seek any other Savior or LORD than the Lord Jesus Christ. He has a track record like no one else, and He’s faithful to all His promises. Look for Jesus Christ alone, who was awaited by countless prophets, described by the ancient messengers of God’s Word, and whose arrival was hailed by multitudes of angels, by shepherds, by wise men from afar, by aged and faithful servants of the Word in God’s temple, and even by John the Baptist—a prophet who was the greatest of those born of women. While many didn’t know what to make of Him, and while His shameful death was an offense to many, all things happened for a precise reason in God’s plan. It all led forward to His mighty act of love to save us, so that in Him and in His death and resurrection, we can truly say “blessed is the one who is not offended by [Jesus].” For He’s our blessing and salvation. Amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
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1. Read Luke 7 from the start of the chapter. What things might John’s disciples have been reporting to him? (v. 18)

2. What are some ways in which we ask the question “Shall we look for another” of Jesus? How do people today express their dissatisfaction with Jesus or His teachings, or His body the church? What substitutes do people look for instead of Jesus?

3. How did Jesus demonstrate that He was the Messiah that they looked for? What are some of the characteristics the Messiah was supposed to fill? (Messiah is the Hebrew word that means “anointed one”—the Greek translation of the same word is Christ). Read Zephaniah 3:14-20; Isaiah 29:18-19; 35:5, 61:1-7

4. How does the Advent (coming) of our Messianic King spark joy and rejoicing? What is it like to know that God rejoices and sings over us? Zephaniah 3:17

5. How do the verses in Zephaniah 3:15, 17 speak directly of the Messiah? How do they communicate the truth of the name “Immanuel” (see Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23)?

6. What is the most important proof of Jesus as the Messiah? What was the central purpose of His ministry? How does Jesus’ central purpose and central act of ministry bring salvation and blessing to all believers?

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