Let’s talk about offensive things.

I would say, and I think we all agree, that we’re not offended by innocuous things—leaves on the ground in fall, for example.

But things hostile to us—those, we might count as offensive.

And, Jesus says, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Matthew 10:6).

We don’t think of Jesus or the Gospel as offensive—so how could we be offended by Him?

In His Words to John’s disciples, Jesus directs them and us all to His own Word and work.

That’s what you need to keep in mind today: Jesus points you to His Word and His Work, and He adds this beatitude: “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

And these are the works of the Christ:

Thus says the Lord through Isaiah: “the deaf shall hear…[and] the eyes of the blind shall see. The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord, and the poor…shall exult in the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 29:18-19).

Isaiah writes, regarding the coming recompense and salvation of God, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy” (Isaiah 35:5-6).

That will happen, Isaiah writes, because “[the Christ] will bring good news to the poor…bind up the broken hearted…proclaim liberty to the captives…the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God” (cf. Isaiah 61:1-2).

These descriptions of the the day and work of the Christ are clearly fulfilled in Jesus.

The work Jesus does identifies Him as the Christ.

But—again—how is that offensive?

You might say that it’s not, but if, in the secret places of your heart, you ask God for something and you don’t get it—you might think God not only wants you to suffer but to suffer alone, abandoned, and without help.

Today’s Gospel lesson includes the first verses of Matthew chapter eleven. Here’s one of the last verses of chapter ten: “Everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have no come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:32-34).

These are harsh, difficult words made harder when the dividing line of God’s Word is drawn between family members and friends. When the choice is between being faithful or familial, these verses show us how offensive Jesus is—in that He is hostile to sin.

And “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Matthew 11:6), Jesus says, because God forgives sin. And to have sin forgiven you must first have sin.

That’s the part we don’t like—owning up.

Our bruised-strawberry, offended-by-everything culture can stand by Jesus’ words, “Judge not” (cf. Matthew 7:1), but not by what Jesus means when He says, “Judge not,” because He goes on to say: “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5).

So the Christian is to judge—the log in his own eye  first, then the speck in yours—but we’d rather not be judged at all.

Likewise, no one’s offended when Jesus overturns the tables in the temple, because all those hypocritical churchy people had it coming. We never think of them as our tables but always their tables.

Yet how many bristle at Jesus’ words: “whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:33)?

How many flat out ignore Jesus when He says, “I have not come to bring peace [to the earth], but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father…” (Matthew 10:34-35)?

These words offend us because, sometimes, we’d rather offend Jesus than our wife, husband, son, daughter, or friend. We’d rather offend Jesus than be inconvenienced.

If there are 365 days in the year and 52 Sundays, and you go to church every Sunday for one hour, that’s slightly more than half of one percent of your time.

These are our tables, and Jesus overturns them.

Jesus says “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Matthew 11:6), because He is hostile to sin.

We’re happy when the Gospel saves us, but “churches should close to keep people safe.” Casinos, bars, and abortion clinics can peddle their wares, but churches are dangerous. 

When Jonah fled to Tarshish, he closed the doors of the Church to the Ninevites.

But in that case—and today—thank God for the storm.

The Gospel is for all—and—it requires all to forsake all that is not the gospel.

If you have much—or if you think you do—that’s offensive.

And—just as offensive—the gospel—the power of God for salvation to all who believe in Jesus—requires the bloody and dead human body of a crucified God.

Baby Jesus and the Laughing Christ sell more Hallmark cards and ornaments than the bloody, naked, tortured, pierced, and dead crucified God.

But an empty cross isn’t a symbol of the resurrection. Rather, it’s a confession of man’s squeamishness with and offense at the Gospel.

St. Paul writes, “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23).

In India, non-Christians despise the Bible because it’s not written eloquently.

And with what disdain do we treat the Word of God!

We have the words of eternal life, but we know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God (cf. Matthew 22:29).

We can list the great houses of Westeros, pronounce Mahomes correctly, quote several decades’ worth of nonsense songs, and tell you where you may and may not sit at church.

But do we know the Ten Commandments, the Creed, the names of the Apostles, or good, Lutheran hymns?

With what disdain do we treat the attempts to teach the faith. It’s too simple / complex. I didn’t learn. I don’t learn that way. It was boring. Too much going on. I don’t like the teacher / the time. There wasn’t any coffee. Good coffee. I don’t like sitting at church, talking about Jesus. If I go every week, I might end up spending about 1% of my time at church, and that’s just too much.

Jesus says, “Whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:33).

If you don’t sing the hymns, if you don’t say “Amen,” if you don’t go to Sunday School, if your children don’t go to church—how do you—and how do they—acknowledge Jesus before men? That’s a real question.

Because Sunday School isn’t a requirement of the Christian faith, but confessing Jesus before men is.

Blessed is he who’s not offended by me.

That’s what Jesus says.

Jesus—who gave sight to the blind, new legs to the lame, clean flesh to the lepers, perfect pitch to the deaf, life to the dead, and good news to the poor—this Jesus, the Christ, the Lamb of God took upon His flesh the penalty for our sin and sacrificed Himself for us—that all who are not offended by Him would be saved.

Confess your sins, Christians, and receive the Christ.

“Blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Matthew 11:6), He says.

And in this, the poor have had the good news preached to them. The poor, miserable, sinners have heard the Gospel, the power of God unto salvation for all who believe in Jesus.

And blessed are you who believe it.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Advent 3 Sermon, 2020
Matthew 11:2-10
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt

True or False—A Christian must—above all else—emphasize works. What do you think?

The immediate, good, Lutheran-sounding answer is, of course, False! Right?

In a way, it’s good to answer “False,” because when we hear the word “works,” we think of our works.

And the church is quite good at teaching that even our good works are like polluted garments (cf. Isaiah 64:6).

We certainly don’t need to emphasize those, we know.

But in response to the question—to Jesus—asked by John the Baptist through his disciples, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3), Jesus emphasizes works.

He says, “Go and tell John what you hear and see:the blind receive their sight…the lame walk, lepers are cleansed…the deaf hear…the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. Blessed is he who is not offended by me” (Matthew 11:4-6).

Jesus emphasizes the works of the Christ. His works.

In John’s account of the Gospel, when Jesus is explaining how He and the Father are One, He says: “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me—or else—believe on account of the works themselves” (John 14:11).

If you won’t admit that Jesus is God, you have to admit, the finger of God is at work. “Believe on account of the works themselves” (John 14:11), He says.

Believe on account of the work of the Christ—of God.

Notice the difference:

A Christian must—above all else—emphasize his own works. Obviously false.

Or, A Christian must—above all else—emphasize the works of Christ. Well, obviously.

Perspective helps.

It’s very telling that when we think of “works” we think of our own and not those of God for us.

Church is like that.

There are churches that talk about worship, what they do on Sunday morning, how well they did or how well it went. Whether they got something out of it or not.

And there are churches that receive from God, by His chosen means, forgiveness, life, and salvation.

When you think of church, don’t think of what you do.

When you think of Sunday morning, remember and rejoice in the works of God, who comes to save you.

The word “worship” derives from Old English. It meant “worthy,” and you would worship what was worth worshipping.

Lutherans called their services Gottestdienst, or God’s-Service-To-Us. In our hymnal, it’s called the Divine Service because here and now God serves the sinner. He comes to us, by His chosen means, delivering to us the forgiveness of sins, everlasting life, and salvation.

It is meet, right, and salutary to emphasize God’s work, God’s service to us.

We know better than to emphasize our polluted works.

The saying “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” may serve well, practically speaking.

But, theologically, it’s a lie from the pit of hell.

My favorite paragraph in the Small Catechism is in the explanation of the Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed:

“I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith…”

By my works, I can’t believe in God—I can’t come to Jesus.

But by the work of God…

The Holy Spirit calls me by the Gospel, enlightens me, sanctifies me, and keeps me in the faith.

By the work of God, I am saved.

So if Jesus defines “works”, there’s no problem focusing on Him and what He does.

But if we define “works”, what possible good could come from such filthy things?

So—True or False: A Christian must—above all else—emphasize works.

The answer is True.

Above all else, we emphasize, believe, and hold fast to what our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has done.

When in trouble, it’s not how strong we are that gets us through anything.

When near death, it’s not our beating hearts to which we pray.

We emphasize, believe in, and hold fast to Jesus.

The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.

That’s who Jesus is. That’s what He does.

We know who we’re dealing with.

We know who’s dealing with us.

John knew. Those works identify Jesus. They also identify what the Kingdom and reign of God look like.

Eyes are made to see, ears to hear, and mouths to confess—Jesus as Lord and Christ.

Blessed is the one who’s not offended by Him.

When Jesus says that, when He says, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Mt. 11:11), He says it for the sake of John, for all the disciples, and for us.

Jesus quotes Isaiah. Chapter thirty-five: “The eyes of the blind shall be opened…the ears of the deaf unstopped; then…the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy” (Isaiah 35:5-6).

And He quotes chapter sixty one: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted” (Isaiah 61:1).

Jesus preaches great news.

John would’ve known these verses—He’s the one preparing the way of the Lord.

But John would also know the bit that Jesus leaves out.

According to the rest of the verse in chapter sixty-one, Jesus should also “proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound” (Isaiah 61:1).

That’s important, because John’s in prison.

He hears from behind bars about the deeds of the Christ and sends his disciples to inquire.

If you’re in prison, and you know that the Christ proclaims liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to those who are bound, those are the verses you want to hear Jesus quote.

But. Instead. Jesus says, “Blessed is he who is not offended by me” (Matthew 11:11).

John the Baptist is no fool.

He knows what happened to the Old Testament prophets. He doesn’t expect to get out. He’s not offended by Jesus when Jesus doesn’t specifically mention setting him free.

But John’s disciples still need to learn.

And so do we.

Contrary to the antichrist, the Pope and his papacy, we believe that God does lead us into temptation but that most especially He delivers us from the evil one.

Jesus opened the eyes of the blind—but that’s not the way it always is. To know that God has and can but doesn’t—that is leading us into temptation.

Not that we would despair but that we would trust Him.

The ears of the deaf He unstopped. The deaf remain. The lame leapt like deer when Jesus sent them forth. We have heating pads, Icy Hot, and hot toddies—not always in that order.

The dead He raised up, calling them forth from sleep, while ours, young and old, stay in the ground or on our hearts.

To sit in prison while the one sent to proclaim liberty to the captives does everything but…

To endure the cross, fashioned from the unpretty bits of your life while the God who can do all things seems to do anything but…

These are our daily temptations.

But again—perspective helps.

In Isaiah chapter thirty-five—which Jesus quotes, speaking to John’s disciples—before the lame leap, before the deaf hear, before the blind see, immediately before the words that Jesus quotes, Jesus and John knew that the Lord, through Isaiah, said this:

“Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you’” (Isaiah 35:4).

That’s the work of Christ. He will come and save you.

That’s the work of Jesus—God’s work for you.

“Blessed is the one who is not offended by me,” (Mt. 11:11) Jesus says. Blessed is the one who’s not offended at being saved. Being helped. Being empty and filled by God—a beggar, served—a sinner, sanctified. Blessed are you.

Jesus preaches the good news to us poor, miserable, sinners, the Gospel, for those with an anxious heart.

Be strong. Fear not. Christ our Lord came with vengeance and the recompense of God.

When Jesus died, sin and satan and the fear of eternal death were destroyed.

The vengeance of God was exacted for your good.

When Jesus died, the debt humanity owed was swallowed up in the sacrifice of Jesus.

God justifies the ungodly, and his faith is counted to him as righteousness (cf. Romans 4:5).

The recompense of God. The work of the Christ.

The work of Jesus. God’s service to you.

Above all else, we must emphasize, believe in, and hold fast to the word and work of God, in Christ.

That’s most certainly true.

For in His work and by His Word, He comes to save us.

In Jesus’ name, Amen!

Advent 3 Sermon, 2019
Matthew 11:2-11
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt