Blessed Are the Unoffended

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“Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by Me” (Luke 7:22-23).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
We live in a day where it seems that everyone is easily offended. Just look at the news or social media. Some people are offended if you say, “Merry Christmas!”, others are offended by “Happy Holidays!” Some are offended by nativity scenes in public places, others are offended by red Starbucks cups that fail to mention Christmas. Some are offended by just about anything said by President Obama or Hillary Clinton, others are just as scandalized by Ben Carson or Ted Cruz. Only Donald Trump seems to be able to offend just about everybody and get more attention and gain popularity. What does it take for someone or something to offend you? Can you remember the last time you were genuinely offended? What caused it? How did it make you feel? Angry? Shocked? Vengeful? What was your response? Was it something like, “How dare you!”? “How dare you question my integrity!”? “How dare you question my intelligence!”? “How dare you accuse me of wrongdoing!”? Or did you just give them “the silent treatment”?
Our Lord Jesus was no stranger to people taking offense. His earthly ministry lasted only three years, but it was enough time to offend all sorts of people in all sorts of ways. Some, like the Pharisees, were offended by Jesus because He threatened their authority and positions of power. Others, even some of His disciples, were offended because He was not acting the way they expected of the Messiah. The Gospels record how, time and again, people were scandalized or offended by something Jesus said or did, or even by something He didn’t say or do.
There were times when His words were just too hard to swallow. In John 6, Jesus proclaimed that He is the bread of life, “the bread that came down from heaven” (v. 41). That was enough for many to begin grumbling and arguing among themselves. And when Jesus eventually used the language of eating His flesh and drinking His blood (v. 53), “many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him” (v. 66). Later in John’s Gospel, the words of our Lord created a scandal when He told the Jews, “Before Abraham was, I am” (8:58).
At other times it wasn’t Jesus’ words that caused offense; it was what He was doing. Jesus had the audacity to give sight to a blind man on the Sabbath. In response to this miraculous event, “Some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, for He does not keep the Sabbath’” (John 9:16). When Jesus healed the paralytic and told him his sins were forgiven, the scribes asked themselves, “Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mark 2:5-7).
And, of course, there were those times when Jesus was judged by the company He kept. Think how many of the culturally elite took offense as Jesus ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners or when He allowed Himself to be associated with prostitutes and Samaritans. They called him “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 7:34).
In the end, it wasn’t only what Jesus said and did that caused so many to reject Him. For some, what Jesus failed to do caused the greatest offense. Consider all those who greeted the Savior on Palm Sunday, laying down their palm branches and shouting their hosannas, believing that Jesus was the conquering hero who would lead them to political and military victory against their Roman oppressors. How disappointed, discouraged, and offended they were when Jesus turned out to be a compassionate and forgiving Messiah, full of mercy and not vengeance. In other words, He wasn’t exactly what they were expecting.
So it is, then, that John the Baptist, sitting in prison by order of Herod the tetrarch, sends two of His disciples to Jesus with the question, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Luke 7:20). A strange question, considering the fact that John is well acquainted with Jesus. He had leaped in his mother’s womb when the mother of our Lord came to visit Elizabeth, carry the recently conceived Christ child. He had been present at the Baptism of Jesus—when God the Father spoke from the clouds and proclaimed Jesus to be His “beloved Son, with whom [He is] well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). He had pointed to Jesus as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
John is no shrinking violet. John is no “reed shaken by the wind.” He is not a “yes man” or “flip-flopper,” one who changes position with every shift in public opinion. He’s in prison because he had the chutzpah to call out King Herod for his adultery. In just a minute Jesus is going to say that “among those born of women none is greater than John.” “This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I sent My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before you.’”
So why this question of doubt? Is John wavering in his faith? Is he a reed shaken by the wind? Or is it his disciples who need to be certain of who Jesus really is? It’s likely that all of them, to some degree, are struggling with the ministry of Jesus. After all, John is in prison, the Romans and other enemies of God are still in power, and nothing extraordinary seems to be happening. If Jesus is the Coming One, He certainly isn’t living up to their expectations!
It really doesn’t matter why. Here is a reasonable question put forth by those who would follow Jesus. So He directs their attention to His miracles among the blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf, the poor, and even the dead. Jesus points to His miracles as evidence that He is the One promised in the Old Testament. His message to John: “Don’t look for any other Messiah.” And then He concludes by saying, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.”
The word “offended” or “scandalized” is a translation of a Greek verb which pictures a person stumbling over a stone. Isaiah had prophesied the Messiah “will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel” (8:14). St. Peter would apply that prophecy to Christ. For some who believe, Jesus is the cornerstone of God’s presence among His people, for those who reject Him, He is the stone of stumbling (1 Peter 2:6-8). The Pharisees and experts in the law stumble over Jesus; so do the people at His home synagogue in Nazareth. They are offended by what He teaches and does and does not do. Jesus urges John and his disciples not to be offended by the Gospel, too.
“Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” Those words ring loud and clear even in our day, don’t they? We live in a time where many are scandalized by Jesus. Just a week ago, one of the nation’s largest newspapers mocked Christians for offering our thoughts and prayers for the victims and families of those shot in San Bernardino, with the headline “God’s Not Fixing This.”
Oh, in the days leading up to the Christmas celebration, it might seem like the world is less offended than at most other times, but there’s no getting around the fact that for most, Jesus Christ is far too controversial to be included in our holidays—let alone the thought of including Him in every day of our lives. Particularly if that following involves any sort of hardship.
The offense of the Gospel is understandable, if not regrettable, among unbelievers. But the truth is, even those who profess themselves to be Christians can, at times, seem embarrassed by the exclusive claims of Christianity. Over the years, many television talk-show hosts have interviewed well-known television evangelists. During the course of these interviews, the question always comes up: “Are Christians the only ones going to heaven? What about devout Jews, Muslims, and others? Are these good and sincere people really going to hell just because they don’t happen to believe that Jesus is their Savior?”
It’s usually at this point the evangelist will say something like, “Well, it’s not for me to judge,” or “That’s in God’s hand, not mine.” Instead of confessing the truth that Jesus is the only way to the Father, too many have allowed their convictions to melt under the television camera’s bright lights. They have cared more about public opinion than confessing the exclusiveness of Christianity.
But is it just the television preachers who sometimes have a problem when it comes to speaking and living the truth about Jesus? Hardly. We’re all guilty. We’ve all acted as though Jesus was offensive to us. I’m sure you can remember times when you’ve failed to speak a corrective word to an erring brother. Or those times we were too squeamish to defend our Christian beliefs when confronted by a neighbor, a co-worker, or a family member? Or what about those times, even now, when Jesus doesn’t exactly live up to our expectations—when our lives seem to be coming apart at the seams and our hope for a brighter future is waning?
Why do we so often fail to let our Christian light shine before men? Why do we become so easily discouraged when it comes to matters of faith and Christian hope? Are we afraid? Are we worried about what other people will think of us? Or is it that deep down inside we wonder whether or not we have any faith, let alone a faith that we can speak about and share with others?
To us reeds shaken in the wind, us discouraged disciples, Jesus’ words to John and his disciples apply as well: “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.”
Let me remind you: It’s Advent, a season of repentance. A time to prepare for the coming of the Lord. Which is to say, it’s time to confess our sins, hand them over to Jesus, and then move on forgiven, strengthened, and encouraged by the grace of God! It’s almost Christmas! When God became one of us, a physical, breathing human being, so that He could speak a word of blessing to us.
“Blessed are you. Blessed are you—not because of anything you have (or haven’t) done, but because of what I’ve done for you. I’ve done it all for you! I created you to be My own, and I’ve given you everything you need to support you in this body and life. I redeemed you when you were a lost and condemned creature. I purchased and won you from all sin, from death, and from the power of the devil with My precious blood and My innocent suffering and death on the cross, so that you may be My own, live under Me in My kingdom, and serve Me in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. I have called you by the Gospel. I’ve enlightened you with My gifts. And I have sanctified and kept you in the one true faith. All this I have done for you out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness on your part, so that on the Last Day I can raise you from the dead and give you and all who have died in the Lord eternal life. There is nothing that I have left undone for your salvation and eternal life!”
As we ready ourselves once again this Advent season to hear and believe the message of the Christmas Gospel, blessed are the unoffended! Blessed are those who are not offended by Christ and His Word of forgiveness and His work of salvation—His Incarnation, His Nativity, His perfect obedient life, His sacrificial death, His victorious resurrection, His glorious ascension, and imminent return to judge the living and the dead!
Blessed are those who are reminded of all their blessings. Blessed are you who have been washed clean in the waters of Holy Baptism. Blessed are you who hear the words of Absolution spoken to your troubled hearts. Blessed are you who receive the body and blood of our Lord for complete forgiveness. Blessed are you who trust in God to be faithful—because He has been, He is, and He always will be! Blessed are you, for you are forgiven of all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.         

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