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Let Him Hear

October 25, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our mediation on this Reformation Sunday weekend comes from our gospel text, especially where Matthew records Jesus’s words, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Here ends our text; my dear Christian friends …

Those are the words that escape our Lord’s lips after an interesting encounter with the disciples of John the Baptist. They relay the question from their now-imprisoned teacher to his holy cousin: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Jesus replies, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.  And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

It’s then that Jesus begins speaking to the crowds: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

“What did you go out to see?” That’s the question that Jesus poses to them. If it sounds a little terse, perhaps even a bit antagonistic, that’s because it is. This is something of a turning point in Matthew’s gospel account, and you are able to see more readily that the opposition to Jesus’s ministry is growing. The people were becoming discontent with what He had been doing. Like children, they were fickle and flighty – Jesus compared them to “children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’” They were inconsistent whiners, incapable of being happy or content. God saw fit to send to them a man who proclaimed His Word while wearing camel hair and eating locusts … but their sensibilities were offended and they scoffed, “He has a demon!” Then when the Son of Man came, and He ate and drank with sinners, in horrified revulsion, they cried, “Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” They wanted the gifts God had to give … but they wanted those gifts on their terms.

That’s the core issue of this text, what Jesus is convicting the crowds of: the issue of men – then, now, throughout history – wanting to put God into a box, making Him in their image. The men of Israel, in particular, thought they had it figured out, what to expect of God’s actions in their midst, what He would do, how He would save them. They wanted salvation, but they wanted it their way. They wanted the prophets to speak God’s Word, but only the words their itching ears longed to hear. They wanted the Messiah, but they wanted Him to conform to their preconceived notions of who He was supposed to be. They were not content with the way that God saw fit to send His salvation, His Messiah … and this was part of the reason they were violent against John and, ultimately, Jesus. They may have had ears, but they refused to hear.

Alas, even after Jesus’s victory over sin, death, and the grave, men who claimed to be of God still continued to harden their hearts and close their ears to the truth of His salvation. Over the centuries, through countless small deviations, the Church based in Rome had gone from proclaiming the good news of Christ and Him crucified, to, by Martin Luther’s time, declaring “When a coin in the coffer rings, a soul up from purgatory springs.” They were still discontent with the way that God chose to save His people – purely by His grace, with no input or works of ours. That wasn’t good enough; still, they wanted salvation, but they wanted it their way – not through Christ, the crucified and resurrected Lord, but through the intervention of the saints and Mary and the pope. They wanted more than God’s Word; they also wanted the words of popes and councils – which often contradicted themselves. They still wanted to make God in their image, painting Him as this terrible, vengeful, wrathful monster … so the people would pay at the reliquaries and indulgence stations to avoid damnation. “So much salvation … for so little coin.” They may have had ears, but when the Rev. Dr. Luther attempted to call their attention to the abuses and the error, they refused to hear.

Nevertheless, thanks be to God, there were ears to hear what Jesus had to say – during His earthly ministry, and during the Reformation. Dr. Luther, plagued by the image of God that Rome had painted, went back to the source, the Scriptures. What he found there was not a God of wrath, who delighted in damning sinners to hell, but a God of love who showed “His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” He found a God no sinful human being could ever fabricate or invent; His ways are far too high and wonderful for us to imagine. He found a Savior that does not demand sacrifices of gold or silver, of bulls or goats, but who offered Himself as a sacrifice, a satisfaction and propitiation of the wrath of God for our sins. He found and proclaimed a God who is God, who cannot be put into a box and who will not be mocked. Today is a celebration of Martin Luther’s rediscovery of the actual gospel of Jesus Christ, Him crucified and resurrected for us, and we thank God that there were, and continue to be, ears to hear that Word.

Because the truth is, man does not change – he is still the same sinner he has been since the first man fell into sin. Man has always tried, and continues to try, to put God in a box. Even Christians today, even those of us who have the benefit of being the spiritual descendants of the Reformation, are not immune to this dastardly form of idolatry. We may not have reliquaries and indulgences, we may not have hard-hearted people who want to do violence to God’s prophets, but we would be fools of the highest caliber if we thought that we were above the malcontent with how God has chosen to save His people. It is endemic to our sinful nature, and none of us are immune to it. However, those who have been redeemed by the Spirit of the living God in the waters of Holy Baptism are given ears that hear His Word, that are kept steadfast in and by it. God is still doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He is still giving to the world His Word of salvation simply, and only, through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus of Nazarath for the sins of the world. This was the message of the Reformation, and it’s the same today, as it was then, as it was in the days of the apostles: Jesus Christ is the same – yesterday, today, and forever! He who has ears to hear … let him hear.

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.