The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
Are You the One?
Third Sunday in Advent, 12 December 2010
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
John the Baptizer is no longer baptizing. He’s in prison. And you know he won’t ever be released alive. Herod’s stepdaughter will do a little dance. Her mother will ask for John’s head on a platter. Did John know what would happen to him? Perhaps. Maybe that is why he sent his disciples to ask Jesus questions: "Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?" John was the one who baptized Jesus. John was the one who said about Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Was John having doubts now that he himself was in prison?
Such sad things about John, his doubts and coming death, seem out of place in modern American preparations for Christmas. And at first glance, they seem out of place in Advent, especially the pink candle week that used to be known for its theme of “joy.” The joy John found, the joy you will find, is in Jesus, especially Jesus’ answer to John’s question.
Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?"
John heard what Jesus was doing. Chapter 11, verse one, tells us what that was. When Jesus had finished instructing His twelve disciples, He went on from there to teach and preach in their cities.
Teach? Preach? Instruct disciples? This wasn’t what John expected. Remember what John said last week about the One? What was to become of: "I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."
Was John wrong about what He said? No. He was just a little premature in his expectation. As the forerunner of the Messiah, John looked forward to Jesus’ work and Judgment Day. They looked like one event to him. We know they are actually two from our perspective. Jesus would preach, teach, make disciples, be crucified, die, rise, and ascend into heaven, before returning at the end of time to clear His threshing floor and gather His wheat into the barn, and burn the chaff with unquenchable fire.
Why did John see things this way? He had the perspective of an Old Testament prophet. In fact, John fits in better with Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the rest than he does with the twelve or Matthew, Mark, or Paul. Jesus explains it this way: “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptizer. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. “
You know the rest of the story. You have a perspective on God’s plan that not even Isaiah or John the Baptizer had. You have a New Testament, post-resurrection-of-Jesus view of salvation history. Jesus continues:”From the days of John the Baptizer until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
You have heard. You believe. You confess that Christ has come, Christ has died, Christ has risen, and Christ will come again.
"Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?" This is a question the Jewish people of Jesus’ day also could have asked. Jesus didn’t fit their expectations of what Messiah ought to be. When they came upon Him to make him king after He fed the 5000+ plus, He withdrew to the mountain by Himself. When Jesus gave the “turn the other cheek” sermon, some left. The Zealots were disappointed that he wasn’t ready to lead a rebellion. After all, isn’t that what Barabbas was arrested for? And on the cross, Jesus refused to come down, to save His own skin. No, this wasn’t the kind of Messiah many of Jesus’ own people expected. Why are we so surprised that many, including the leadership, did not recognize Him as the Messiah God intended?
"Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?" How many people do you know today who have done just that? Many people have heard about the Biblical Triune God, not liked what they’ve seen, and left to find something more palatable?
Adam and Eve were the first two humans, created by God. Back then, everyone on earth knew that there was one God. What happened? Their kids or grandkids or great-howevermanytimes-grandkids fell away. Then the flood. Then the pattern repeated itself. Worship of the true God was undesirable to some, because they heard something they didn’t want to hear, so they made up their own customized gods.
Before we start pointing the finger at them, how do we create our own false gods? Some today do worship false gods, mere mute idols of metal, wood, or stone. Others worship idols of paper and gold, power and pleasure. We’re uncomfortable with a God who takes us to account for our sins, who makes us confess them, honestly face them, repent of them, and be forgiven of them. We’d much rather have a god who is our buddy, our tolerant friend who condemns nothing, who tells us our sins are not that bad, and in fact, aren’t really sins at all. We’re uncomfortable with a God who calls a spade a spade, sin what it is, sin, who has called us to live the life of the Baptized, and show up so that we may be given what He has promised in His Gospel.
"Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?"
And Jesus answered them, "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."
Jesus’ answer is the best answer, isn’t it? 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. If that’s not a reason for joy, what is? No one else can do all these things. Sure, eye surgons can do wonders, but the blind are still among us. Reconstructive surgery and artificial limbs are modern marvels, but what about paralysis? Many destructive skin diseases have treatment, but some do not. Even melanomas can be malignant. The deaf have many more options today, but sign language interpreters still have plenty of work. Jesus said that we will always have the poor with us. They need the Good News He brings and He is. Blessed are the poor in spirit, the repentant, poor, miserable, sinner, for theirs is the kingdom of God.
All these things are in fulfillment of what Jesus was given to do. Remember this quote from Isaiah when Jesus preaches at the Nazareth Synagogue? "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
I skipped one. Did you notice? Jesus, the One Who was to come, does another amazing thing. The dead are raised. A girl has already been restored to life. Lazarus will be raised. Three times in Matthew Jesus predicts His own death. Three times Jesus predicts His own Resurrection. At the time of His death on the cross, tombs in Jerusalem opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many. You, too, will rise.
"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." This is the hope Jesus sent back to John.
As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: "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.
… if you are willing to accept it, [John] is Elijah who is to come. He dressed like it, preached like it, ate like it, suffered like it. He was a prophet, the Elijah who would prepare the way for Jesus to come that 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.
Rejoice, rejoice, believers, Jesus is the One. In Him you have hope. In Him are the best gifts of Christmas. In Him you have no need to fear what comes after death or on the Judgment Day. Rejoice. Jesus is the One. No matter what we wanted before, Jesus rewrites our expectations for what “the One” should be like. He meets needs you didn’t even know you had. He ushers in the kingdom, previews His own Resurrection and those on the Last Day by His miracles of healing, gives you spiritual sight, and healing for your wounds of guilt and sin.
And blessed is the one who is not offended by me. You believe Jesus is the One. You have no need to ask, "Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?" , for Jesus, the One Who was to come, looked for you and found you. He gives you joy and hope. Jesus’ joy and hope given to you, friends, and family, is the whole point of Christmas.
An elderly woman named Stella Thornhope was struggling with her first Christmas alone. Her husband had died just a few months prior through a slow developing cancer. Now, several days before Christmas, she was almost snowed in by a brutal weather system. She felt terribly alone—so much so she decided she was not going to decorate for Christmas. [She needed the hope and joy and answers that John the Baptizer was seeking.]
Late that afternoon the doorbell rang, and there was a delivery boy with a box. He said, "Mrs. Thornhope?" She nodded. He said, "Would you sign here?" She invited him to step inside and closed the door to get away from the cold. She signed the paper and said, "What's in the box?" The young man laughed and opened up the flap, and inside was a little puppy, a golden Labrador Retriever. The delivery boy picked up the squirming pup and explained, "This is for you, Ma'am. He's six weeks old, completely housebroken." The young puppy began to wiggle in happiness at being released from captivity.
"Who sent this?" Mrs. Thornhope asked.
The young man set the animal down and handed her an envelope and said, "It's all explained here in this envelope, Ma'am. The dog was bought last July while its mother was still pregnant. It was meant to be a Christmas gift to you." The young man then handed her a book, How to Care for Your Labrador Retriever.
In desperation she again asked, "Who sent me this puppy?"
As the young man turned to leave, he said, "Your husband, Ma'am. Merry Christmas."
She opened up the letter from her husband. He had written it three weeks before he died and left it with the kennel owners to be delivered with the puppy as his last Christmas gift to her. The letter was full of love and encouragement and admonishments to be strong. He vowed that he was waiting for the day when she would join him. He had sent her this young animal to keep her company until then.
She wiped away the tears, put the letter down, and then remembering the puppy at her feet, she picked up that golden furry ball and held it to her neck. Then she looked out the window at the lights that outlined the neighbor's house, and she heard from the radio in the kitchen the strains of "Joy to the World, the Lord has Come." Stella’s heart felt a joy and a wonder greater than the grief and loneliness.
"Little fella," she said to the dog, "it's just you and me. But you know what? There's a box down in the basement I'll bet you'd like. It's got a little Christmas tree in it and some decorations and some lights that are going to impress you. And there's a manger scene down there. Let's go get it." Citation: James Dobson, retold Robert Russell, writer and pastor, Preaching Today #195
Jesus is the only one who can give you true hope. Soon we will sing the song of Christian Christmas joy in Christ: Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns! Let all their songs employ while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains Repeat the sounding joy, Repeat the sounding joy, Repeat, repeat the sounding joy. Amen.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.