Monday, December 14, 2009

Is He the One to Come, or should We Look for Another?

Third Sunday in Advent
Luke 7:18-28
Bror Erickson

[18] The disciples of John reported all these things to him. And John, [19] calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, "Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?" [20] And when the men had come to him, they said, "John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, 'Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?' " [21] In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. [22] And he answered them, "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, b the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. [23] And blessed is the one who is not offended by me."
[24] When John's messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: "What did you go out into the wilderness to see? f A reed shaken by the wind? [25] What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings' courts. [26] What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. [27] This is he of whom it is written,
" 'Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way before you.'

[28] I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he." Luke 7:18-28 (ESV)

Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?
This question has troubled faithful Christians for centuries. Why would John the Baptizer, a prophet of God have to ask this question? Wasn’t he the one who identified Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world? The one who jumped for joy in his mother’s womb, when pregnant Mary came to visit? And now in prison, facing his end, he asks “are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another? 2000 some years later, the question is asked by others. Was he the one to come? Should we be looking elsewhere? Worse yet many, ignore the answer Jesus gave to John the Baptizer, and look elsewhere. But Jesus is the Christ. He is the one to come, and we have no reason to look for another, for no one else has broken the bonds of death to prepare a place for us in his kingdom.
Why does John ask? Many answers have been given. Some hypothesize that though he was a prophet, he suffered a moment of doubt as he sat in the prison. Certainly, He knew who Jesus was earlier. Perhaps his expectations were off. Jesus hadn’t laid the axe to the root of the tree, and brought down the mighty evil men of this world. Possibly, he expected Jesus to step in and vindicate him in his condemnation of Herod. Why was he silent? Why was he not preaching repentance like him, and truth to power? Why, when he had all the power in the world to give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, to walk on water, did he not break John out of prison?
Some believe that, perhaps John wasn’t doubting at all, but was getting a bit impatient with his ally here. John is facing death. John is in prison, no longer able to preach to the crowds. No longer able to baptize. No longer able to eat his beloved locusts and wild honey. He is bearing the cross now. Paying the price of faith. John is learning the hard way, the consequences of speaking out in faith. Consequences we can barely imagine these days, and yet we still clam up around friends and family.
Still others, go with the pious, and more probable answer, that he is asking for the benefit of his thickheaded disciples, who didn’t get it when Jesus was baptized, or when John designated him “The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” The ones who couldn’t take a hint if it was a gun pointed to their head. John, knows what is happening, he is trying to get his disciples to move on. John knows that the time to decrease is over, now he must cease to exist. Preparing the way before him, John will meet his death for the law of God, as Jesus will go to the cross so that the gospel might shine from an empty tomb. The word of God kills before it raises up, law then gospel, death then life.
Whatever the reason, Jesus answers. He doesn’t speak, but he shows the kingdom. John’s disciples look on as Jesus identifies himself as the one who is to come, and opens a window to the life to come through his death and resurrection. He heals people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, on the blind he bestows sight. This is the answer, a window to the kingdom. The kingdom he has prepared for us with the forgiveness of sins, with his death and resurrection. It is the kingdom in which he has prepared a place for you, where his father’s house has many mansions.
Yet, one wonders if it was the answer John was expecting or wanting. If it did anything for John it was to stiffen his upper lip facing the tribulations of this world. It didn’t break him from Herod’s dungeon, but broke him from the prison of fear. Perhaps for the first time, John, the greatest born of women, understood that the gospel, the good news, was for his poor soul too. “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” That seems to be an inside message to John, who was perhaps expecting Jesus to be a stern judge of the law like him. Who perhaps was expecting Jesus to at that hour lay the ax to the root of the tree. Who was perhaps offended that others were raised from the dead, as he wasted away in Jail. Hear the good news, John, I am the one. Be patient now, endure to the end, don’t give up hope, the kingdom waits for you.
Perhaps, the question isn’t why did John ask the question, but why do we ask the question? Perhaps we need to ask it for our neighbor, the way John asked it for his disciples, so that they are prompted to investigate, and ask themselves if perhaps Jesus is the one they should be waiting for. But perhaps we ask it for other reasons too.
We aren’t prophets, not like John. And yet, we face the same world. No the world hasn’t changed since John’s day. The powerful are still wicked, as are the poor. Perhaps we look around and see what looks to be an easier life. Jealous of the sins of others, for which they seem to escape punishment, we get impatient, why Lord? Why Lord? When will you come and lay the axe to the root of the tree? Perhaps, broken of pride, poor in spirit, bound by chains of fear, depression, anger and doubt, trapped in sin, we begin to doubt. Why hasn’t he helped me? Why hasn’t he given me the strength to speak? Why hasn’t he given me the strength to quit? Why hasn’t he given me a spirit of joy and happiness? Why do the wicked get rich, and my bills pile up? Sick and facing death, we wonder why others are healed, but not the ones we love? So perhaps we are afraid God has abandoned us, left us hanging. Perhaps he is someone’s savior, but not mine, I heard one man say.
But then Jesus answers to us, a glimpse of the kingdom to come. The blind receives sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.
Blessed are you. For, for you Christ has died, Your sins he has forgiven, and your life he has raised, that you, when this world and all its tribulation, all its cares, wither like grass in the hot sun, fade like the deserts flowers in July, wears out like a garment, then you will see the kingdom, the you will run in the kingdom, then leprosy of death will be washed from your bodies, the voice of Christ will ring in your ears like the bells of heaven, for you will be raised up, and enjoy his victory over death, the good news, the gospel, preached to you, who are not offended, but strengthened.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


Brigitte said...

The story of John the Baptist is really something. I mean that he had to die like that... not to mention how Christ died or many others.

Someone mentioned to me that when
Christ sent John this message he left out "and set the captives free". John would have realized this.

Bror Erickson said...

I think I have heard that once before, but it is still interesting.