Advent: Waiting on God

johnthebaptist

 

12-15-13 – 3rd Sunday of Advent Sermon. Okeechobee Presbyterian Church, Rev. Loy Daniel Mershimer

Matthew 11:2-11

Today’s text is an Advent text that places before us the reality of waiting on God.

The text takes us to a first century political prison, where John the Baptist waits on death row. The last snapshot we saw of John was in his powerful preaching of repentance, in the Judean wilderness, baptizing in the Jordan River.

Today we see him in prison, on death row… waiting. What happened?

Well, he is in prison for preaching the truth. John preached that it was sinful for a man to sleep with another man’s wife. John preached that God viewed marriage as sacred… and this did not sit well with the King Herod. Herod stole his brother’s wife and lived w. her as his own… John looks him in the eye and said, “God is not pleased w. your action.”

John honors God’s word. And his reward is prison.

 

So the text places before us the first question: What about the Word? Would I be in prison with John; would I be faithful to God’s word?

Answer: Where do I stand, when my culture divides from the Word? If I do not stand for God’s view of marriage now, I would not have stood with John back then…

Our world asserts sinful desires as civil rights… what do we value most? Our desires and feelings, what culture calls right, or the word of God? Herod: It’s my personal right to do this, John, how dare you judge me?

Culture: It’s my personal right to sleep with whomever I will, whenever I will… you can’t judge. But the Word already judges. It pierces the soul, dividing between intent and action… (Heb. 4:12).

The text shows us a man in prison for the word of God. A man called faithful.

Am I faithful?

 

Second question: What about the waiting? How does this fit with God’s plan?

Picture: John on death row, in a crisis of faith. He has done everything asked of him… faithful, preaching repentance.  Jesus witnesses of him: “Among women, there is born none greater… none more faithful. He is the one spoken of in Scripture, ‘One who goes before, preparing the way… repent!’

John: Faithful, fulfilling Scripture, living for the kingdom.

Why then is he in prison?

I mean, after all, the TV preachers tell us that if we obey God we’ll be physically blessed, right? Health, wealth and prosperity to the one who sows seeds in the kingdom, right? “Your best life now!” the TV preachers promise.

That false theology has been around for a while. The oldest book in the Bible (Job) features three self-styled prophets who preach this false message… three theologians tell Job, “It is because you have sinned that God isn’t blessing you. Your lack of health, your loss of fortune and family — this is because you’re not sowing the right seeds. Get right, and get blessed!”

Such false thinking causes John to stumble. “If I have obeyed my Lord, if I have faithfully preached, what am I doing in prison?”

So he sends his followers. Ask Jesus what’s going on! If He’s really Messiah, why hasn’t he rescued me?

Honestly, this is where the enemy of our souls attacks us. “If God really loves me, why am I in this place…?” Waiting? Where are the answers to prayer? Why this trial, why this burden, if you love me Lord?

So John wondered, in prison. So Joseph wondered, sold into slavery, falsely accused… cast into prison. So Elijah wondered, running for his life in the wilderness, death sentence on his head for preaching God’s word… So Job wondered, sitting on the ash heap, in the wreckage of his former life… lost home, health, fortune and family.

There’s something about the delay, the waiting, the suffering, that causes us to doubt.

Pastor Saeed Abedini is now being held in a deadly prison in Iran — for the crime of Christianity. His wife and children — think of the prayers they’ve prayed. Waiting, waiting for an answer. This week the wife said, “My husband is suffering because he is a Christian. He’s suffering because he’s an American… Yet his own government did not fight for him when his captors were across the table.” She feels abandoned by her government. And in the long hours of darkness, the enemy surely whispers that she’s been also abandoned by God.

Have you been there?

The text moves on — what about the word? What about the waiting…?

Third question — our answer: What about the kingdom?

4 Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 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. 6 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

Why does Jesus end this with the caution, “Blessed are those who do not fall away (stumble) on account of me? It’s because the occasion to stumble is always there — as soon as we start thinking in human terms, we stumble.

Jesus is God for us, and God’s ways are not our ways. Isa. 55:9: “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts…”

So, Jesus doesn’t answer John’s friends in the way they expected. No reply to the prison problem. No get out of jail free card. No prosperity blessing. Instead, Jesus merely gives them a message: Go back and report that what Isaiah promised is happening, before your eyes.

Answer: Make the kingdom your focus, & not your condition, & you will know that I am He. And that is our answer, in the prison of our own waiting…

Kingdom Focus: Look for the good of God, the saving work of God around you and through you, even in trial. Look for the work of God, and partner with it — in heart and mind and soul. Find a way every day, in the midst of the worst circumstances, to work the work of God for someone else — a call, a word, a card, a note, a favor, an act of kindness, and a prayer…

Kingdom Joy: Take joy from God at work. Let the saving work of God in others’ lives be counted as your personal gain. Make the kingdom your basis of life, not your condition. In captivity, the faithful people of God took Jerusalem, the City of God, as their highest joy, their reason for living. “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill! If I do not take Jerusalem as my highest joy, may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!” Ps. 139:5 This is the pathway of peace for us: Intentionally looking to the kingdom, and taking it as our highest joy, intentionally: 1. Songs of faith (making myself listen & worship, daily); 2. Disciplines of faith — Scripture, prayer, obedience; 3. Right eating, exercising. 4. Acts of service… if the kingdom is our joy, we live fully, as if our answer were already accomplished. We do today what we would do if we were perfectly fulfilled.

Kingdom Permission: Here, we permit God to work out answers in His time even into eternity. People say, “God has a wonderful plan for your life.” And He does. But that plan primarily includes conforming you to the character of Christ, fitting you for eternity… and sometimes that conformity takes place amidst great pain, struggle over time. When that happens, do we give Him permission to answer our prayers, even in eternity? God doesn’t need our permission, of course. But in a very real sense, WE need to give the permission for our own good — releasing our dream to God, and agreeing with God’s timing of fulfillment, even if it is fulfilled in eternity, not time.

This is how Job reasoned his way to the resurrection, centuries before the birth of Christ… Baseline fact: 1. God is just. 2. What I am suffering is unjust. 3. God, because He is just, holy, loving, true — He will fix it. 4. He doesn’t fix everything in this life; therefore, there must be eternity: There is Resurrection to higher life!

It’s in great darkness that Job cries out, “I know that My Redeemer lives, and on this earth again will stand… yea, though this body be destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God!”

Jesus promised: “I go to prepare a place for you.” Peace, shalom, I give you — not as the world gives. Thus Scripture speaks: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love Him.”

God is working out a plan of justice that far exceeds our paltry view of justice.

Why then does He delay? Why does He delay coming when Lazarus is dying? He waits three days — on purpose. Why does He leave John in prison?

Greater glory.

His answer is greater, infinitely greater, than our current dream.

In 2009, twenty-nine-year-old Maryam Rostampour and thirty-two-year old Marzieh Amirizadeh spent 259 days in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison. They faced the threat of life imprisonment and the possibility of execution, simply because they loved and followed Jesus Christ. Solitary confinement, and endless hours of interrogation… months of horrid living conditions, sickness.

When they were first arrested, they were beaten and cursed… not allowed to drink water from the public tap or use the wash basin. Educated prisoners called them ‘Mortad Kasif’ (Unclean apostates). But Maryam says, that in a month, everything changed. “As they got to know us, they were curious about our faith, they respected us and called upon us to sort out arguments they had between themselves.” Marzieh says, “We became an example to them, and they would take our side.”

In the midst of this terrible injustice, Maryam and Marzieh prayed, sang and lived the light of Jesus… people began to hear of Christ, and many prostitutes came, praying the Sinner’s Prayer, receiving the grace and forgiveness of God. Many others were too frightened to confess their faith, but they were touched by grace all the same.

It was the dream of these women (and their families) that they would be freed from prison, but as they make the kingdom their goal, grace flowed, gospel given, light dawned in darkness… a very dark place, filled w. the hope of Christ.

So John’s friends come to Jesus. Lord, are you…?

Answer: Go back and tell John, Kingdom Come. Rejoice.

Actively participate in the kingdom by rejoicing, even when your personal answers delay. Actively participate in the kingdom by making it your highest joy, even above personal need.

11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

For those who trust unto the kingdom, there is such transformation awaiting us… that the least of us will be greater than the greatest down here. The answers there are so much greater, that our questions here will lose their meaning.

4 Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 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. 6 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

Lord, we will not stumble this Advent. We will honor your Word…. We will wait for you. We will hope in the kingdom.

Amen.

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