Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “Are You Qualified for this Job?” based on Matthew 11:2-11 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered on Sunday, December 15, 2019
She submitted a resume filled with impressive academic qualifications and extensive work experience. Only most of it was embellished and some of it was flat out lies.
She received a glowing endorsement from a former employer she’d listed as a reference. Only it turned out that it wasn’t the actual employer, who gave the reference, but the applicant herself impersonating her former employer.
She uploaded a picture of herself to the linked in website. Only it wasn’t a picture of herself, but of supermodel Kate Upton.
Monica Hilda Theriault got the job she applied for in the Australian government, a position that paid her a $185,000/year salary. Only now she’s going to jail after her resume inflation was uncovered and she was prosecuted for her crimes. She definitely wasn’t who she claimed to be.
One wonders if John the Baptist was thinking the same thing about Jesus in the Word of God before us today. What else would’ve prompted him to send his disciples to Jesus and ask that question: “Are you the One who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” Now truthfully, some scholars have maintained that John remained unwavering in his belief about the Christ—and that it was actually his followers who needed assurance, and that’s why he sent them to Jesus to see it firsthand.
But it’s not at all far fetched to imagine that it was the Baptizer himself who was wondering if Jesus was indeed the One who was qualified to save the world. Who could blame him? Imagine that you are John. You’ve been selected and groomed from birth to be the forerunner of the Messiah. You have proclaimed quite loudly that when the Messiah comes, he will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. You’ve pointed specifically to Jesus of Nazareth as that Messiah. And then Jesus shows up on the scene….and there’s no glorious day of Judgment. If you’re John, who would fault you for exhaling deeply and lamenting, “Well, I guess I thought there was going to be more brimstone!” Jesus shows up and there’s no immediate day of reckoning for the evil doer, in fact quite the opposite. The evil doer continues to thrive and who ends up in prison? You!
It’s not all that far fetched to picture a deflated John, sitting in his rat infested dungeon of a prison cell and thinking to himself, “Maybe he’s not the One.” It’s not all that far fetched because you, too, know what it’s like to deal with doubts, crushed hopes and unmet expectations, even when it comes to Jesus.
That’s where this account steps out of the murky black and white of the past and into the vivid colors of real life today. For Advent is a season of hope and expectation. But what happens our hopes and expectations fall to the ground?
Golden plans for our golden years get derailed by spouse’s illness and all of sudden, there is new plan, and its only guarantee is that life is about to get a whole lot harder for everybody. Hopes that our children would imitate us in faith instead see our children test the boundaries of faith or reject it all together. Our marriages, our careers, our finances all can turn out very differently than we had anticipated—and not in a good way. Spiritual expectations go unfulfilled, expectations we had that by now we’d be more mature in faith, more consistent in obedience, that by this age temptations would no longer sway us so easily. Every day that passes without Jesus’ return feels like another day when we’re left dangling over a pit of hungry, growling spiritual predators who sooner or later are going to get to us and destroy our faith.
“Jesus I thought you were in control of all things. And I thought you saw me and knew the desires of my heart and loved me and wanted to bless me. Is it possible that you’re not who I thought you were? Could it be possible that all my words, including even these very words, fall upon deaf ears and maybe you don’t exist at all?”
I know those are pretty raw thoughts. But hopes and expectations falling to the ground tend to make us think raw thoughts—our own doubt filled variations on the Baptist’s question: Are you the One who is to come or should we expect someone else?
I could never keep my hold through life’s fearful path; For my love is often cold; He must hold me fast.
And he does. See how Jesus metaphorically reaches into the Baptist’s dungeon of doubt and holds John fast. He doesn’t furiously tell John to get his act together. He doesn’t shake his head in disappointment saying, “John, I really expected better from you.” Rather, the bruised he does not break. The smoldering wick he does not snuff out. (Isaiah 42:3, Matthew 12:20) He tends his flock like a shepherd, he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart. (Isaiah 40:11) The Steady holds fast the unsteady.
When we have doubts about who he is, Jesus point us back to his marvelous deeds. Do you want to know who I am? Do you want to know if I am qualified? Here’s my resume: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.
Quoting Isaiah 35, our Old Testament Lesson, Jesus stacks miracle on top of miracle on top of miracle to reassure John. All the things that Isaiah said the Messiah would do, Jesus is doing. The blind eyes now see. The unwalkable legs now run. The dead are even raised. But my favorite is last one in the list. Because I could live albeit with great difficulty without my sight, or without being able to walk. I could live with great pains of body and heart. But if I didn’t hear any good news from my God…good news for my poor heart, this world would indeed be a dark, dark place.
For my life He bled and died, Christ will hold me fast; Justice has been satisfied; He will hold me fast.
That’s the good news proclaimed to the poor. God loves you! You have a clean slate, updated by the minute, in God’s sight because of Jesus. You are a temple of the Holy Spirit. You have a Father-God who keeps you, yes keeps you as the apple of his eye and hides you, yes hides you in the shadow of his wings. (Psalm 17:8)
Which brings us back to those times when we find hopes dashed and expectations unmet in our lives. And we might be left wondering, “Did Jesus lie on his resume? Does he not really have the influence that he claims?”
Rather than ask ourselves “Did Jesus meet my expectations?” We need to ask ourselves, “Has Jesus done what he promised he would do?” Meeting all of our expectations would make him a genie. But keeping all of his promises makes him God and our Savior.
Yes, when our lives don’t go as we’ve planned, we feel disappointment. But part of growing in spiritual maturity (Hebrews 6:1) is to understand that what we think we need and what we actually need are often two very different things.
Jesus will not always meet all of our expectations. That’s a good thing. Because our expectations can lack foresight, lack priority and can be very messed up. Jesus won’t always meet our expectations. But he will always keep his promises. Sins forgiven. A home in heaven. A plan for our lives, even when we can’t see it.
He will hold me fast, he will hold me fast. For my Savior loves me so, he will hold me fast.
Jesus has not promised to meet all our hopes for this life. But he has promised to be our hope of a better life to come. And for that role, the role of saving you and me, Jesus is eminently qualified. He’s the right man for the job. Amen.