Jesus Tells John
Third Sunday in Advent, 2012 C
Zion Lutheran Church
Mount Pleasant, Michigan
Pastor Jonathon Bakker
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, amen. The Holy Scripture for our consideration this day is the Gospel reading from St. Luke.
Then the disciples of John reported to him concerning all these things. And John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to Jesus, saying, ‘Are you the Coming One, or do we look for another?’ When the men had come to him, they said, ‘John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the Coming One, or do we look for another?’’ And that very hour he cured many of infirmities, afflictions, and evil spirits; and to many blind he gave sight. Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of me.’ When the messengers of John had departed, he began to speak to the multitudes concerning John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Indeed those who are gorgeously appareled and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to 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.’ For I say to you, among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.’
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus is gifted at preaching. Now, that may sound odd to our ears, because Jesus is much more than just a preacher, but in this Gospel that is exactly what he does. ‘Tell us,’ John the Baptist’s disciples implored; ‘we were sent by John the Baptist!’ they said. ‘Are you the Coming One? Or do we look for another?’
It is incredible, when you think about it. John the Baptist, born to Zechariah and Elizabeth when they were long past the age of childbearing, was brought up in the knowledge that he was the forerunner to the Messiah. He was not the true Light, but he was to bear witness of that Light. He was not the Christ, but pointed to Jesus and told those following, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.’ The same John the Baptist now wonders if Jesus truly is this Messiah. Or should he look to someone else?
It was John of whom the prophets spoke when they foretold a voice, crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.’ John was the new Elijah, the new Isaiah, and the new Malachi, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sin. Many flocked to him for baptism. When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan to fulfill all righteousness, John saw the Holy Spirit come down as a dove upon Jesus; he heard the voice of God the Father, calling Jesus his beloved Son, in whom he is well pleased. And still John wondered, is Jesus truly the one whose sandals he was unworthy to untie? Or is there another?
It is mind boggling. If anyone had reason to trust, without question, whether Jesus was truly the coming one – the Savior of the world – it was John. Yet here you see him not simply harboring doubts about Jesus; he is deeply troubled. Troubled enough to send his disciples to Jesus to ask whether he is the coming one, or should he look for another?
The first part of this 7th chapter of Luke consists of Jesus performing some of his most spectacular miracles. He raised the son of the Roman Centurion, who believed that Jesus had the authority to speak the command and the miracle would happen; and he raised the son of the widow from Nain who was in the midst of a funeral procession as the Lord approached that city. In both cases, Jesus spoke the command, and the dead were raised. With these miracles, news about Jesus was travelling quickly, and this was the report given to John the Baptist.
You would expect that someone like John, who was predisposed by his life’s circumstances to believe that Jesus was the Christ, would believe it. But his new circumstances made it difficult. John the Baptist at this point in his life was in prison, held there by King Herod at the wish of his wife. John’s preaching of repentance knew no bounds, and when Herod committed adultery by taking his brother’s wife as his own, John condemned it and proclaimed repentance, even for the royal family. King Herod knew he had done wrong, and didn’t hold it against John, but his wife was livid. John had to be imprisoned, and once he was imprisoned, he had to die. Scripture shows that she eventually got her way.
So John was not sitting well. The one who had lived on locusts and wild honey, who clad himself in camels’ hair, who proclaimed the coming Christ in the wilderness, had real concerns. His days were numbered, and his situation had changed. No more preaching, no more baptizing, no more pointing out Jesus to others; he was sitting in a prison while the world went on without him. He had time to think, and the second thoughts, the questions, and the doubts came.
Was all of this really going the way it was supposed to go? How could his being in prison possibly further the proclamation of the Messiah that he was – he had believed – born to do? Had he been wrong about Jesus, all along?
Those are tough questions. Tough questions naturally arise when things don’t go according to plan, when people have to try to put things together and try to make sense of what has happened. This whole country and many around the world are struggling with the same sense of bewilderment in the aftermath of the shootings that took place in Connecticut on Friday. The fact that most of the victims were defenseless children only intensifies the injustice and horror. People everywhere mourn with the families of all of those children and of their fallen teachers and school staff as well. One of those children was a member of Christ The King Lutheran Church, LCMS, of Newtown. Her family had recently joined the congregation and she had been involved in the Sunday School.
At such times, people learn the news and go through a range of responses. Anger, sorrow, grief, helplessness, confusion…even anger at God. No doubt, there will be those who see this event as just one more reason to disavow Christianity or doubt God’s love. They will point to this as a sure sign that your faith is misplaced, that the God who watched this happen and did not stop it cannot possibly be as good as you say he is. These, too, are certainly tough questions, and like John, those who find themselves heartbroken, confused, or even angry at God will not find peace on their own.
Man’s explorations of God’s will in search of an explanation – a justification for why something took place – usually end up in the realm of speculation, and often go far beyond the boundaries of Holy Scripture. Much of the time this happens because there are things about God that you and I like to believe, and at the same time, there are things about God that terrify you and me. When he forgives sin, gives life, and promises salvation, he is a good God working for those he loves; but when there is a violent killing, when there is a war, or when there is an earthquake, and lives are lost, then God is barely involved. Theologians have tried to soften God’s tricky edges by making distinctions between the active will of God and the passive will of God. The problem is that when you take away those words, ‘active’ and ‘passive’, you are still talking about the will of God.
I don’t tell you this to alarm you or shake your faith; but rather to clear away every excuse for God that immediately comes to mind when bad things happen, when things don’t go according to plan. If God is there and with you for all of the good things, when you are at your best, then he is most certainly also there and with you for all of the bad things, when you are at your worst, when the world itself appears to be turned upside down by evil. God is not the author of death or wickedness; he doesn’t even take pleasure in the death of evil or wicked people. His desire is that sinners would turn from their evil way and live. But apart from a solid word from God otherwise pertaining to any situation or circumstances, He gives no further explanation.
The Lord does not do it to frustrate you or confuse you, but to give you no where else to turn for help but back to him. In every trouble, in every sorrow, in every loss, God alone is your refuge and your strength. Your health, your wealth, your friends, and even your family all fall short in the end. God is your only help in the face of every need. This is what Martin Luther called the theology of the cross – the distinctly Lutheran perspective that God does not reveal himself primarily to you in glory, but in humility, in weakness, and in suffering. He did not come as a vengeful king to lead his people out of Roman occupation and conquer the world; he came as a little baby to sacrifice himself for the life of the world.
When awful things happen in this world, you and I are just as perplexed as John the Baptist was when injustice was being visited upon him. In the midst of all the wickedness of the world, your question to Jesus could very well be the same as John’s, ‘are you the coming one, or do we look for another?’ And Jesus’ answer is far from simple, but it is the answer John needed and it is the answer you need.
‘The blind see. The lame walk. The lepers are cleansed. The deaf hear. The dead are raised.’ And last, but certainly not least, ‘the poor have the Gospel preached to them.’ There is no miracle from Jesus to stave off John’s execution and there is no clever turn of phrase to make what happened in Connecticut okay, but in Jesus’ preaching, John is sprung from the prison of unbelief, and you receive the peace that only comes from faith.
Jesus speaks of miraculous cures and resurrections, but the most important thing is that the poor have the Gospel preached to them. Those other miracles were for others, but for you, John the Baptist, and for you, Zion Lutheran Church, you must instead be content that in Christ your sins are forgiven. You must take refuge in the promise of everlasting life in heaven. This is what it means to have the Gospel preached to you. Faith does not feed on the super-intelligent explanations of theologians or on the miraculous; faith feeds on Jesus and Jesus alone, and his word, and his flesh and blood, are your comfort and your food to help you in every time and every need.
To Christ alone be all the glory, forever and ever, amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus, our Lord, amen.