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Please turn your attention to our Gospel lesson for today, especially the first five verses. As we listen to John’s question, and to Jesus’ answer, we are reminded how we can be sure that Jesus is the coming one, the Messiah, our Savior.
Think of some familiar things that John had said about Jesus. “You want me to baptize you? Shouldn’t you be the one to baptize me?” “I saw the Spirit of God come down from heaven and remain on him. That’s the sign God gave me so that I would know who the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit is.” “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
John sounded very confident that Jesus was indeed the one who was to come, the promised Messiah. So, these words from Matthew are jarring. John sent two of his disciples to ask him, “Are you the Coming One or should we wait for someone else? In fact, these words are so jarring that there is a huge debate among Bible scholars as to why John sent his disciples to ask this question.
Some suggest that some of John’s disciples were slow to accept what he said about Jesus. They had indicated some jealousy that Jesus was attracting larger crowds than John, to which John had replied, he must increase, and I must decrease. They suggest that he sent them with this question so that they would be convinced that Jesus was the Messiah and that they would follow Jesus.
But really, the only reason for suggesting this possibility is that you can’t believe someone like John, who had received messages from God and had so clearly pointed to Jesus as the Messiah could ever have doubts. John was a great prophet. In fact, Jesus says he was the greatest prophet ever born because he had the privilege of preparing the way for the Messiah. But he was human just like us. In fact, he is often called the second Elijah. You might remember what happened to the first Elijah after his duel of sacrifices with the prophets of Baal. When Jezebel threatened to kill him, he ran and begged God to let him die and take him to heaven. The great heroes of faith were all human. They all had a sinful nature just as we do. They were all affected by their culture. They all felt temptation. They all had expectations of how they thought their lives should unfold and what they thought God would/should do. As a result, they were all subject to doubts and even forms of depression.
It had probably been about two years since John had pointed to Jesus as the Lamb of God. Since then Herod had put him in prison because John kept publicly calling him to repentance for stealing his brother’s wife. What affect would confinement have on someone like John who was used to the freedom and open-air of the wilderness? John had preached that the axe, God’s judgment, was already at the root of the tree and soon he would come and separate the wheat from the chaff. Was his expectation that Jesus would have carried out that judgment by now? How much was he affected, as even Jesus’ disciples were, by the common idea that the Messiah would re-establish Israel to the glory it had under David? Did he have the feeling that Herod might have him executed at any moment and wonder if he was really prepared to face death? There are many things that could have been running through John’s mind as he was cooped up in prison that could have triggered doubts.
What about you? Most of you have been Christians for a long time. At your confirmation you stood before God and the congregation and promised that nothing, not even death, would cause you to deny Jesus. Have you always had the confidence you had on that day? As life happened and you got out of your sheltered “Christian bubble”; as you experienced anti-Christian professors, or got into debates with unbelieving friends, did doubts enter your mind? As you lived life and some of the expectations you had about what it would be like to live as a Christian were shattered, maybe by fellow church members who didn’t treat you in a very loving way, maybe by a marriage that didn’t turn out to be what you thought it should be, especially since you made sure you married a fellow believer, maybe by the fact that the world just seems to be getting more and more wicked and Jesus hasn’t come in judgment yet; did such things raise some questions, some doubts in your mind? Or maybe you realize you may not have many years left on this earth and you wonder if you are really prepared for death. No matter how strong we think our faith is, we are still human, we still have a sinful nature. There are many things that can trigger doubts, not the least of which is Satan still asking the age-old question – Did God really say? How can you say you have the truth when so many others don’t agree?
Doubts are going to come. The important thing is to know what to do when they do come. Whether John had doubts himself, or he was trying to help his disciples with theirs, he knew what to do. He took those doubts to Jesus. He had his disciples ask Jesus, are you the Coming One or should we wait for someone else?
Notice how Jesus answered. He could have simply said “YES, yes I am the Coming One”. He could have chided them for asking such a question, after all, hadn’t he made it perfectly clear that he was the Coming One? But what did Jesus do? He pointed them to the prophecies of Scripture. He pointed them to our first lesson for today that foretold a time when the eyes of the blind will be opened, and the ears of the deaf will be cleared. The lame will leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute will sing for joy. He pointed them to the Scripture he read in the synagogue in Nazareth which says, The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. And when he had finished reading, he proclaimed that he was the fulfillment of these words.
“In view of these words of Scripture that you, his disciples know well, and that John knows well, go, report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the gospel is preached to the poor.” Do you want to be sure that I am the Coming One? Do you want to have no doubt that I am the promised Messiah? Do you want to be prepared for the day of your death? Compare what the Scriptures say about the Messiah with what I am doing and saying. When you see that these things agree, your doubts will be beaten down. And whenever they pop up again, like the Prairie Dog game at the arcade, use these truths to beat them down again and again.”
Jesus concludes, blessed is the one who does not take offense at me. There are lots of things that might cause us to be offended at Jesus. His claim to be the only way, truth and life is very offensive to ears that are conditioned by today’s culture. His requirement that we deny ourselves, that we admit that we are helpless to save ourselves, or do anything to contribute to our salvation, is offensive to our built-in sinful pride. His humility, his lowly life, his shameful death, such things are offensive to our natural desire to idolize the rich, powerful and successful. But those who are offended at Jesus and refuse to trust that he is the only savior are not blessed. Just the opposite, they are cursed.
When we are tempted to be offended at Jesus, we need to do what John did. We need to come to Jesus with our questions and hear him point us to the Scriptures. The Scriptures foretold that the Messiah would be pierced for our transgressions. It foretold that they would cast lots for his clothing. It foretold that he would be with the rich in his death, but then, he would see the light of life.
As it was with John, when we compare what Scripture foretold with what Jesus said and did, all doubt and offence is removed. We are enabled by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the word to say with confidence, “Jesus is the Coming One, the one who came to be the lamb of God who has taken away the sin of the world, my sin included. He is the one who is coming again to take me and all who trust in him to be with him in the place where there is no blindness, deafness, lameness, disease or death; only the joy of living in his presence forever.” Even so, come Lord Jesus.