Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on the third Sunday of Advent 12/12/2021. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 11:00am, and is now available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Advent3 Bulletin
The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson. To read the Bible texts for the Third Sunday of Advent, click here.
The Third Sunday of Advent has historically been called “Gaudete.” It gets that name from the first word of the Introit we sang this morning: “Rejoice.”
Rejoice because of God’s righteous acts! Rejoice because of His mighty deeds! And now, this morning, rejoice because we draw one Sunday nearer to Christ’s coming; then in the manger, and soon on the last day.
That call to rejoice is also why the candle turns a rosy color today. It’s what you get when you take the violet color signifying repentance, and mix it with the brilliant white of Christmas: rose-colored rejoicing.
Nevertheless, things are not so rosy for the Baptizer.
Despite the rigors of a long Advent, John has stayed the course. He has been faithful to His task, and steadfast in His proclamation. He would not let Israel’s sins go un-repented; he would not let Israel’s people go unwashed. He would not look the other way when Herod took his brother’s wife, even when everyone else did.
And so, while the Pharisees are out playing in the fresh air and the breeze, John is stuck in prison because he would not be moved by the winds that move them. He will not go with the flow. He will not compromise. And why should He?
He is the greatest man born of woman. He is the prophet par excellence. He is even the one called upon to baptize Jesus Himself.
For now, however, John must be content with preaching to prison guards and inmates; at least until Jesus comes to free Him – and all of Israel, as well.
Which should be happening any moment now…
Any day now…
Any week now…
In light of the apparent delay, it would be easy for John to be offended by Jesus.
After all, John has done everything asked of him. He has prepared God’s people. He has spoken truth to power. He has decreased so that the Christ might increase. He has suffered for the sake of the Gospel, and this is what he gets.
Jesus goes on preaching in the cities, while he rots in a prison cell.
John was born to prepare God’s people for their King, but now he awaits death in the dungeon of a tyrant. And so “offended” is a great word to describe the feelings and actions John’s situation might provoke. Especially because, in such a case as this, being offended would also be a get-out-of-jail-free card.
If John would only be offended by Jesus, he could begin to bend and compromise. If John would only be offended by Jesus, he could get over his outdated view of marriage and just let Herod do what he wants. If John would be even a little offended by Jesus, he could blow in the breeze with the other reeds, and he could look the other way at sin and darkness. If John would only be offended by Jesus, his persecution might end.
If you were here last week, you should have gotten the idea that Advent is not a time of waiting, but of preparation.
So, to prepare you for Christmas, Jesus’ question – for you and for John the Baptist is this: Does He offend you?
The Baby in the Manger treads rather softly, of course; and that’s one of the many great things about Christmas. He’s so gentle that it’s difficult to imagine the little Christ Child offending anyone. The coos and gurgles of a baby just don’t do that.
As it goes with most children, though, it isn’t long before baby-talk becomes grown-up talk. And grown-up talk isn’t always so pleasant. Sometimes it even runs the risk of being offensive.
Consider what he says to John. Jesus repeats to John God’s Word and promise. He shows John the signs, and reminds him of what the Messiah would do.
This is important because difficult circumstances can impair your vision. It’s possible that in prison John is struggling with the fact that Jesus is the Messiah. And not to over-psychologize him, but it could easily be that this experience is making him a bit myopic, causing him to be laser focused on certain aspects of the Messiah’s coming: fire and ax and root and chop, and so on.
This isn’t a new problem. The people wanted Jesus to give them bread and miracles. The disciples wanted him to make Jerusalem great again. And it is understandable that John would like Jesus to set him free.
It’s not all that different for you. There are, no doubt, some things you would like Jesus to rescue you from as well: from grief, anxiety and loss, to pain that seems to have no purpose; from an apparent disruption of your plans and dreams; to the very real possibility that your life won’t end up the way you’d hoped. And if it seems that the rescue is delayed or even cancelled, then it can feel as if Jesus is either trying to offend you, or, worse, He just doesn’t care.
So it might come off as cheap when, in the midst of all sorts of pain, Jesus says something like, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.”
He does not care for you any less than He cares for His cousin, John ,who would really like to see things going differently; who would like to see his disciples return with Jesus in tow, and not just a message. But that message is enough.
Because the report that the blind receive sight, and the lame walk, that the lepers are made clean, that the deaf hear and the dead are pulled up out of the grave, that the poor are having the Gospel preached to them: that report means that Isaiah’s prophecies are being fulfilled.
That Jesus is the one John was looking for. That Advent really is ending. And God’s Kingdom has come to earth. It means that He really does care. It means God cares enough about him and everyone else, to join us here in this broken world, so that we could join Him in His new creation.
That is enough for John. The Word of God is sufficient for him. It sends him to his martyrdom in confidence. The comfort He gave to God’s people is for him also.
The big comfort for John and for you is that Jesus is offended. The word He uses to say so is one that I think you’ll recognize. We translate it as “offense,” but in Greek it is σκανδαλισθῇ “scandalized.”
That’s what the cross is. For every time you were offended by Him and His Word, His preachers, and His Church, His Name, and His Gifts, His Love, and His Discipline; for all the times you were offended, embarrassed, or scandalized by Him. On the cross, He is scandalized, offended, and crucified, for you; so that you would be free from scandal, free from shame, and free from offense.
Not only are you free from sin, but come what may, you are free to live in confidence and comfort.
Jesus cares for you and loves you every bit as much as he cared for and loved John. And so, He has brought you here to receive the same report.
Blessed is the One who is offended by you. Blessed are you who are not offended by Him.