2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers[a] are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
7 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? 8 What then did you go out to see? A man[b] dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet?[c] Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is he of whom it is written,
“‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way before you.’ (Matt. 11:2-10)
“Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
The one who is to come, as we noted earlier in Advent this is a name for the messiah, the Christ. John the Baptist asks the question. Are you the Messiah? People read this text and they wonder. Did John doubt? Was he perhaps just sending his disciples to Jesus? It’s not hard for me to believe that John being in prison, knowing that Herod’s illegitimate wife is vying for his execution, is at least seeking some assurance in the midst of distress if he isn’t doubting the worth of his entire ministry that he himself saw as preparing the way for the messiah, the way for him who is to come.
But what is going on in John’s head is perhaps aside from the point. We have our own questions that are similar to both those of John the Baptist and his disciples. I mean this is the question. Is he the messiah? Is this child, whose birth we celebrate in the next couple of weeks the one? Is he the one in whom we should hope, really? Can we trust that he is our savior? Should we look for another? Perhaps even ourselves?
Blaise Pascal notes in his Pensees, that no other religion has this, four thousand years’ worth of prophecy, and then fulfillment. For some four thousand years, God had sustained the faith of Israel on prophecies of one who is to come. For four thousand years the people of Israel had watched men like Elijah call down fire from heaven and then say that there was one coming, a savior who was better than them. These men were prophets who performed might deeds, who could make an iron axe head float, confuse armies, and call on angels. And yet they knew a greater man was coming. And they waited for him who was to come, to come and fulfill their prophecies, to come and save Israel, to come and save mankind. And then he did. It wasn’t quite what they had expected.
Four thousand years of prophecy and then fulfilment, fulfillment of prophecies such as those that Jesus cites from Isaiah. But they didn’t quite meet with expectation. The expectations were misconceived. They thought merely of earthly things and perhaps only secondarily of heavenly things. The people weren’t all that different than us, we can see ourselves in John the Baptist, asking if Jesus is the one who is to come or should we look for another?
Don’t we look for another when times are tough? Isn’t it then that we start wondering why God doesn’t help us now? Perhaps that was John’s question as he sat in the prison. If Jesus is the one who is to come, he would get me out of this fix. If there was a God, if Jesus really loved me he would _______________. You fill in the blank. You fill in the blank with as many temporal problems as you have ever faced, and have thought the very same thing. I mean, this is what we want of a savior, that he would save us from Obamacare, or save us from cancer, that he would keep our marriages together, restore our relationships with our children or our parents, make the Republican win or the Democrat. The list could go on forever, some of the things trivial, some perhaps more serious, and none of them having anything to do with the Messiah and why he came. But each one of them something we try to manipulate God with, or make our faith dependent on.
The people in Israel were no different. They had their earthly problems, just as John did. They wanted a perfect life on earth, someone to save them from their suffering. Jesus did some of that while he was walking on the earth even as he does so much of it even now. But none of that convinced anyone then, and it rarely does now. I mean those of us who believe in Jesus at least have someone to thank for all the good things in life. But we realize that God makes the sun to shine for everyone and provides even evil people with daily bread.
But Jesus came to save us from more than a broken marriage, a president we don’t like, some new medical care policy, strained relationships, earthly death or the physical imprisonment of John. These are earthly things and we can know that God knows our sufferings even as he has numbered the hairs on our heads. But he came to save us from that which he came to save John from, not an earthly imprisonment, but a bondage to sin death and the devil. And for this he had to do something unexpectedly messianic. He had to suffer and die. He had to go to the cross. He had to be laid in a tomb. All this so that he could rise again for our justification. He had to die that those of us who die in him would never perish with eternal death, so that finally he wouldn’t save us from worldly problems, but from the world itself. No, this world is corrupted to the core. As long as we live here we will suffer here, just as our own Lord and savior suffered here, and we will suffer in him as he suffers in us. But finally he saves us from death itself so that he can take us to heaven. No, we don’t escape suffering in this world. But then, in the end, we are taken from this world to a heavnly home in Jesus Christ who died for us that we would live in him and with him. Look for another? No, our messiah has come. He has done what no other could. He has died in our place, he has risen to our justification, our salvation.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord Amen.