You’ve seen it happen. You’ve probably done it yourself. Someone shows you something and you respond, “That’s nice”, but on the inside you find the whole thing tedious. Why do you have to go through a tour of someone’s house, or looking at their paper clip collection, or some other point of pride in their life? That’s not your thing, but you go through with it, say your pious platitudes, and wait for your opportunity to get out of there.
Translate tedious experiences to the Christian faith. It is clear and certain that Jesus is the promised Messiah, the Savior of the world. Jesus proves this to the entire world by His miracles and deeds and by His preaching. Yet many hear His preaching, read His words, even attend church after being invited to worship, say, “That’s nice”, and want nothing more to do with Jesus.
His little band of disciples is so small. Yes, there are those congregations that meet in former sports arenas and other large buildings. But most Christian congregations are small. If Jesus says He is Who He is, and John the Baptist prepares His way like no other prophet, then why doesn’t everyone get on board with Jesus? If such a small crowd of people cling to Him as their Savior, then there’s no opportunity to get lost in the crowd. That’s nice, Christians. You have a Savior. Now where’s the door?
Such a reaction ought to be proof that Jesus is the promised Messiah. It’s scandalous to be a Christian. Consider the disciples of John who are still offended at Jesus. They wanted to cling to John as long as possible. This newcomer Jesus was raining on their man’s parade. So John sends two of His disciples asking Jesus, Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another? Take a look at all He has done and preached. You’ll find your answer there. Jesus is nice enough to add, Blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.
What was the offense? Consider both Jesus and John and their lives to this point. Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem. John was from a priestly family. Jesus looked like your typical Jew and preached a message that sounded unlike anything anyone had ever heard. John was scraggly, but was an earnest preacher of repentance in the wilderness. Jesus had a small following, but John stood in high prestige among all the people. Even the high priests and elders thought well of John, as we’ll hear in next week’s Gospel.
What is the offense today? People are willing to believe Jesus’ preaching as long as it doesn’t offend them or their neighbor. People love to hear Jesus help the poor and downtrodden of society, but when it comes to preaching forgiveness of sins and eternal life to the poor and downtrodden, especially to the outcasts of society, that’s out of line. Who doesn’t love the parable of the Good Samaritan? Jesus tells a story about a Samaritan helping a Jew when other Jews won’t help. Helping your neighbor in such a circumstance is a good thing. Yet there’s more to the story than merely helping the hurting neighbor. Consider that the Samaritan helping the Jew is an outrageous scandal. A Jew is supposed to ignore the Samaritan and let that person die.
“That’s nice.” Jesus died for your sins by shedding His blood for you. “That’s nice.” Jesus comes today through humble preaching of the Word and the inconspicuous Sacraments. “That’s nice.” No matter the size of a congregation, Jesus is there giving out His gifts to the poor and lowly, using a poor and lowly man standing in His stead to give the Gifts. “That’s nice.” The Gospel of Jesus Christ wrecks all wisdom and righteousness of this world. His all-availing sacrifice upon the cross and His resurrection from the dead is for every human being, even the worst of humanity, even the vilest of all sinners. “That’s nice.”
There must be offense at the preaching of Jesus Christ. The prophet Isaiah says, [The Lord of hosts] will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. The apostles are told early in the book of Acts to stop preaching the resurrection of Jesus. These words, among many others, along with the offense of many at the mere speaking of Jesus’ name, are proof that Jesus is the prophesied Messiah.
If it were not so, then churches would be full and no one would get angry at the proclamation of the Gospel. That’s the way it is among many. The Scriptures promised it. Jesus shows it as many come to Him to try to trick Him or try to trap Him. Ultimately Jesus is betrayed into the hands of men, suffers cruel torture, and dies for the sin of the world. Those who sent Him to the cross have their sin forgiven in the shedding of His blood. They tried to silence His voice, but they could not silence the shedding of His blood for their sake.
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. Amid the indifference of the world to the Good News of forgiveness of sins and eternal life, you find joy in this Good News. It would be nice for the entire world to believe this message of hope.
Yet there remains many who will openly reject it or merely give it a “That’s nice” and go on about their business. In this disappointing response you have confirmation that Jesus is the Savior of the world, your Savior, in Whom you are not offended. You find instead life and salvation in Jesus Christ. John prophecies it. Jesus delivers it. You receive it in His preaching, His baptism, and His Supper. Forgiveness is yours. New life is yours. Jesus gives you every good and eternal thing as a gift. He does all the work of saving you. You receive all the benefits of His saving work on your behalf.
Yes, that is nice. It’s also life-saving, life-giving Good News from a giving God to a needy people. People went out into the wilderness to hear John prepare the way for that News. Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life for you.