* We have been experimenting with some hearing assistance equipment and were not able to record the sermon.
“Love Sparklers” by Danielle Elder, 2010 (CC BY 2.0)
Matthew 11.2-11 (NIV)
When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”
As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written:
“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’
Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
John the Baptist’s question is jarring.
“Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
… Not something I would expect to hear from John.
He had so much confidence before.
This was the guy who seemed so sure of Jesus before. When Jesus lined up to baptized with the crowds of people in the wilderness, by the Jordan river, and when it finally was Jesus’ turn, John wouldn’t baptize him. “You come to me for baptism? Jesus, you should be baptizing me.” Jesus insisted. It had to happen to “fulfill righteousness” Jesus explained. John gave in and baptized Jesus.
“Are you the one? Should we be looking for someone else?”
Matthew doesn’t give us much insight into what was going on inside of John the Baptist that led to these questions.
Maybe it was the transition from free, wide open wilderness, the Jordan River’s flowing waters, and enthusiastic crowds, to stuck and locked up in Herod’s dark, stale, confining, and lonely prison cell that sparked the question.
Maybe Jesus just didn’t fit with John’s expectations of a Messiah?
Maybe Jesus wasn’t moving fast enough?
Maybe Jesus wasn’t revolutionary enough?
Maybe Jesus wasn’t warrior enough?
Maybe John didn’t understand why Jesus wasn’t spending his energy rallying the powerful for an uprising, but instead was spending so much time caring for the poor, the hurting, the outcast and misfits?
Maybe they were simply the honest questions of someone making a life shaping commitment?
I don’t know and Matthew doesn’t seem all that interested in telling us.
“Is it you?”
“Is it someone else?”
Whatever John’s motivation was, Jesus’ response tells us a lot … and that’s what seems interesting to Matthew. It shows how Jesus understands his purpose and mission … it reveals the intentions behind his actions, methods, and reasons.
“Go tell John what you see … tell him what you hear …
The blind receive sight … the lame walk … those who have leprosy are cleansed … the deaf hear … the dead are raised … and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”
At that, John’s disciples head back to the prison … I suppose to tell John what they have seen and heard from Jesus. Later in Matthew, we hear the appalling circumstances of John’s death, but in true gospel-writer-style, Matthew never tells us if John found Jesus’ response satisfying. I would bet that isn’t what Matthew is most interested in.
The Gospel writers tend to leave questions like this unresolved, not because they are lazy and not because they don’t know the answers, Matthew leaves this tension because he wants us to wrestle with John’s questions and answer it for ourselves … Matthew is interested in your response, do you find Jesus’ response compelling?
Is Jesus the one God has sent to reveal and establish God’s desires and purposes … or is it someone else?
Does Jesus fit your expectations of a Messiah?
(I should also mention that Matthew has answered this question for himself … and he has a definite bias. He is convinced Jesus is the “one who is to come” … maybe it would better to say Jesus is the one who has come.)
Jesus says, yes, he is the one, though maybe not in the way John, or any of us, would have imagined. There was a wide spectrum of things people would have been looking for in the “One who was to come” – and they could find a scriptural basis for most of them … I suspect the majority of was hoping for a military … warrior type messiah … who would kick Roman butt and take names. Not many people would have been expecting a Messiah who was a healer – though there is a solid basis in scripture for the Messiah to do that.
Jesus’ answer connects us to the ancient Israelite prophet Isaiah’s understanding of what it would look like for God’s will to come in power to God’s people. Here are just a few of the ways Isaiah was convinced God would powerfully enact his will:
But your dead will live, Lord; their bodies will rise—let those who dwell in the dust wake up and shout for joy—your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.
In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll, and out of gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind will see. Once more the humble will rejoice in the Lord; the needy will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.
Jesus’ answer is yes.
Jesus’ answer to John’s question gives us a powerful picture of what God’s will and purposes – what God’s love looks like and what God’s love does. God’s love is healing … it leaves people better off … it can change their situation …
as the Apostle Paul later says it in his first letter to the church in Corinth, God’s love, true love “builds up.”
God’s healing doesn’t just have to do with physical diseases, physical pain, or physical limitations – in the ancient world (and even in our world), diseases, injuries, and disabilities, not only impacted a person’s ability to navigate everyday life, they impacted a person’s connection and ability to participate in their community. Often Jesus heals people who were shamed, shunned, and excluded from community life. More often than not, when we hear about Jesus healing in scripture, people aren’t just physically healed, they are reminded that God is with them, that God cares for them, and they are reconnected with the people around them … they are placed back into community.
Jesus’ response to John’s question, “Are you the one, or should we be watching for someone else,” reveals the shape and form of God’s love for us. This is the love we lit that Advent candle celebrating and seeking. This is the love we experience and share when we celebrate communion. This is Christ’s love that sacrifices itself to build others up … This is love The Apostle Paul writes so much about in his letters to the early church, his most excellent way:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres (1 Corinthians 13.4-7 NIV)
This is love that leaves people better than they were when they started … This is love that builds and heals relationships … it is love that draws people to God and to each other … this is the love Christ offers to us at Christmas … and everyday.