From the Word
7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to behold? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 Why then did you go out? To see a man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, those who wear soft raiment are in kings’ houses. 9 Why then did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is he of whom it is written, 'Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee.'"
Matthew 11:7–10, RSV
We must accustom ourselves to the Scriptures, in which angel means a messenger; not a bearer of messages or one who carries letters, but one who is sent to solicit orally for the message. Hence in the Scripture this name is common to all messengers of God in heaven and on earth, be they holy angels in heaven, or the prophets and apostles on earth. Thus they who proclaim God’s Word are called his angels or messengers and solicitors. But the heavenly spirits are called angels chiefly because they are the highest and most exalted messengers of God. Thus John the Baptist is also an angel or word-messenger, and not only that, but one who also prepares the way before the face of the Master in such manner that the Master himself immediately follows him, which no prophet ever did. For this reason John “is more than a prophet,” namely an angel or messenger, and a forerunner, so that in his day the Lord of all the prophets himself comes with his messenger.
The preparing here means to make ready the way, to put out of the way all that interferes with the course of the Lord, just as the servant clears the way before the face of his master by removing wood, stones, people and all that is in the way. But what was it that blocked the way of Christ and that John was to remove? Sin, without doubt, especially the good works of the haughty saints; that is, he should make known to everybody that the works and deeds of all men are sin and iniquity and that all need the grace of Christ. He who knows and acknowledges this thoroughly is himself humble and has well prepared the way for Christ.
Thus John is not a prophet, but a messenger. And not a messenger who stays at home, but one that goes before the face of his master and brings the master along with him, so that there is but one time for the messenger and for the master. Thus Christ pleads with the Jews to take John as a messenger, and not as a prophet. To this day it is the delusion of the Jews that they look for another time. They, therefore, remain shaken reeds and soft raiment seekers.
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 448–449.