December 16, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“And when the men had come to [Jesus], 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?”’ In that hour He healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind He bestowed sight.”
The prophet spoke of the Lord’s gracious visitation to His people. It was promised for those who had not seen it for years, but who desired it to be with them. Zephaniah speaks to those people, calling them to leave sorrow and enter joy: “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away the judgments against you; He has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil.” What a great call to joy that is! Sing, shout, rejoice, exult—those are the actions done by those with nothing troubling their minds, nothing burdening their hearts. They are what those who await the Messiah’s arrival are to do.
And the Messiah did arrive. That is what John the Baptist had announced, preparing the Messiah’s way. Recall his words that you heard last Sunday: “I baptize you with water, but He who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, to clear His threshing floor and to gather the wheat into His barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.” This was to bring joy to the people who had longed to have the Lord in their midst as He had promised.
But what had happened to the Forerunner who announced the Messiah’s arrival? “But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done, added this to them all, that he locked up John in prison.” So what about the singing, shouting, rejoicing, and exulting then? What about the promises that had been made through Zephaniah’s prophecy? “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by His love; He will exult over you with loud singing.” Are these to come true? Did the Messiah actually come in forgetfulness of the promises? Or had the Messiah not come at all?
These are the questions behind the inquiry that John sends to Jesus. Locked up in prison, John had heard from his disciples about Jesus’ actions—His selection of disciples, His preaching in synagogues and in public, His miraculous deeds. But there is some question because of what was happening to him. Had John been mistaken in identifying Jesus as the Messiah? Had his work been in vain? So the question is put to Jesus: “And John, 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?’” The question demands a yes-or-no answer from Jesus: are You the Messiah who has come to fulfill the promises of restoration and deliverance or not?
So Jesus answers the question for John. He gives answer for both eyes and ears to receive: “In that hour He healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind He bestowed sight. 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, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.’” Jesus performs acts that prophets had foretold about the Messiah doing. He tells John’s followers to report exactly what they saw Him do. He uses the Scriptures to confirm that He is the Messiah. And Jesus tells John that he is blessed through his faith in his confessing that Jesus is the Promised One. Even his imprisonment did not change that status, that identity which was divinely given him from birth.
But then Jesus turns this incident into a discussion about what the others thought concerning John and Him: “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? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. 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.” 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.’” Jesus states that John is the Forerunner that was prophesied to come. He is to be heard and believed, despite his imprisonment. And the One who was identified by John is to be received as the Messiah.
That is where this matter moves from a dialogue between John and Jesus to a dialogue between Jesus and you. Jesus is testifying that John’s statements were true—not only the statements that have called you to repentance, but that declared His identity as the Messiah. Jesus is the One who will fulfill the promises made about restoration and deliverance. He has begun that restoration and deliverance through His death and resurrection. Through those acts, Jesus has been the mighty one who saves, redeeming you from your sin and guilt. This is how He has taken away the judgment of condemnation against you. And because He has done so, you have everlasting life made to be your possession. This is the gracious visitation that Jesus has brought to the world and to you.
But will you receive it? Will you place your trust and hope in this? It is easy to say “Yes” to those questions when they are posed in a vacuum or as an academic exercise. But what about when you face the oppression like John did? What about the times and places when there does not seem to be any reason for singing, shouting, rejoicing, and exulting? Will the “Yes” come from your mouths when there is little evidence of the promises being kept and fulfilled? Or will that cause you to take offense at Jesus and His messengers?
That question is what this incident brings to the fore. It takes much faith to believe that someone locked up in prison is the greatest man born of woman. More is needed to believe that a carpenter from Galilee is even greater. And even more is required to believe that this One is in control over all things and works them for good when all around is the evidence of evil’s superiority and dominance. The basis for John’s question—“Are You the One who is to come or shall we look for another?”—is really no different than the questions that the Lord’s people have asked—“Will You be angry with us forever? Will You prolong Your anger to all generations? Will You not revive us again, that Your people may rejoice in You?” It is the same basis for your questions: “Where is God in all of this mess? Will He ever return? When is this great hope of everlasting life, the end of evil, and the restoration of the Lord’s order going to happen? Are we really sure that any of this has any certainty?”
So the answer is given to you through Jesus’ disciples of old. The testimony of what was seen and heard is repeated for you: the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ work for your salvation. You hear again what took place in that hour—the birth of Jesus, the teachings of Jesus, the miraculous works of Jesus, the death of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus—and how they lined up with what was foretold centuries before His arrival. As you receive the testimony of what was heard and seen, showing how the Messianic promises were fulfilled, you are directed to the promises that Jesus makes to you. Because these actions have happened, your sins are forgiven, your life does not end at the grave, your suffering at the hands of enemies will be reversed.
Like John, you are directed to the Scriptures fulfilled and being fulfilled for you. It is what the Lord’s people in the past were also given when they needed something to cling onto, something to bolster their faith in Him: “Show us Your steadfast love, O Lord, and grant us Your salvation. Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for He will speak peace to His people, to His saints; but let them not turn back to folly.” The words are spoken for you to receive. They give a blessed status as you receive them, as Jesus states: “Blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.”
This is part of the gracious visitation that you prayed for. The Lord Jesus brings it to your darkened hearts as you wait now. But with His promise, you can live in anticipation of what will be. You can act as the apostle exhorts: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Even now you can rejoice, knowing what will take place.
When the promises are completely fulfilled, you will fully know the blessed status that has been made yours. Yes, you go through much that is less-than-desirable, just as Israel was exiled and John was imprisoned. But the One who gave sight to the blind, made the lame walk, cleansed lepers, gave hearing to the deaf, and enlivened the dead has good news to preach to you: “I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival, so that you will no longer suffer reproach. Behold, at that time I will deal with all your oppressors. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you in, at the time when I gather you together; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes,’ says the Lord.” And when that gracious visitation of the Lord comes, you will sing, shout, rejoice, and exult without end.
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.