Are You The One?

Third Sunday in Advent, December 16, 2018 — Deacon Rex Watt

Zephaniah 3:14-20 / Philippians 4:4-7 / Luke 7:18-35


+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit +

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Have any of you read the Judith Viorst book, “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day?”  In it, little Alexander is having the worst day of his little life.  One thing after another goes wrong for him.  He went to sleep the night before with gum in his mouth and woke up with gum in his hair; when he got out of bed, he tripped over his skateboard, and then dropped his sweater in the sink while the water was running.  He could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.  Later, at school, his teacher Mrs. Dickens liked Paul’s picture of a sailboat better than his picture of an invisible castle.  At singing time, she said he sang too loud; at counting time she said that he left out the number 16.  At lunchtime, he discovered that his mother had forgotten to give him dessert.  It was just one thing after another, all day long.  It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.  Little Alexander didn’t have much reason to be Gaudete.

Have you had days like that?  I know I have.  Days in which it is impossible to Gaudete, to rejoice.  In our text today, John the Baptist doesn’t seem to have much reason to rejoice.  He is in prison.  John had been placed there because he called out Herod for committing adultery with his brother’s wife.  Prisons in those days weren’t like prisons today.  There were no TV’s, beds or showers, toilet facilities, libraries, internet access, medical care, or three hot meals a day.  Prison was essentially a dark, dank dungeon where you’d be chained to a wall, left to waste away.  If, and when death came, it was a blessing.

There are two schools of thought about John’s question to Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”  One view believes that John is expressing doubt about whether Jesus is truly the Messiah or not.  The other view believes that John could not possibly have such doubts given his earlier proclamations about Jesus.  “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on Him…And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God” (Jn 1:29ff).  This view believes that John is sending these two disciples to Jesus for their benefit, not because he didn’t believe.  While the text doesn’t explicitly say which of these two views is correct, I tend to think that John is like you and me.  He was born of sinful flesh just as you and I were.  He has the Old Adam in him just as you and I do.  When we have terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days; weeks, months or years, we sometimes struggle in our faith, don’t we?  Why should we think John is any different?

I think John was struggling in his faith because he had the same expectations as the rest of the people concerning the Messiah.  While his earlier preaching did point out that Jesus was the Son of God, he also talked a lot about the axe swinging at the root of the trees; the wrath to come; the winnowing fork clearing the threshing floor and separating the wheat from the chaff; a baptism with holy wind and fire.  All that language was in line with the expectation of a coming Messiah who would rescue the people of Israel from the Roman rulers.  But Jesus wasn’t cooperating.  Jesus was going around and preaching about liberty to the captives and the oppressed.  He wasn’t raising an army; he was eating with tax collectors and sinners.  Are you the one, or shall we look for another?”

Jesus answers John’s question by His actions.  “In that hour He healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight.”  Then he told John’s disciples to go back to John and tell him what they had seen and heard, quoting two passages from the book of Isaiah: “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the good news preached to them.”  Jesus pointed John back to the Scriptures to answer his question.  Scripture doesn’t tell us what John’s response to these words was.  Did he smile?  Did he shed a tear?  Did he dance for joy?  Maybe, like Mary, he quietly pondered these things in his heart.

The most important thing Jesus says in His response to John is, “and blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”  That word “offended” in the Greek means “scandalized.”  Jesus is saying, “Blessed is the one who is not scandalized by me.  Blessed is the one who does not stumble over my unwillingness to use power, my apparent weakness against the forces of darkness, my victory hidden in defeat.  Blessed is the one who believes what is written of me in spite of what he sees around him, who sees life in my death, who sees kingdom in my cross.”  Dear Saints of Redeemer, today listen to what Jesus says to John, and to you.

John’s struggle with doubt gives encouragement to all Christians, for all Christians struggle with doubt.  Doubts can have a variety of causes.  One of those causes is unmet expectations.  One reason we have doubts about Jesus is that He turns out to be different than our expectations.  Some of us expect Jesus to be the provider of all good things that we want: the giver of bling.  Some expect Jesus to be the healer of all that besets us or ails us, whether physical or emotional: the good therapist.  Some want a Jesus who is a social justice warrior.  Others want a Jesus who is a good moral example.  When you listen to some so called contemporary Christian music you might even think Jesus is your boyfriend.  You may be struggling to make ends meet.  Always seeing more bills to pay than resources.  You may be wondering why your Jesus isn’t supplying your every need.  Maybe that cancer has come back, that injury isn’t healing, your feelings of inadequacy or depression won’t go away.  You may be wondering why your Lord hasn’t relieved you of your suffering.  You look around the culture today and wonder where is God in all this mess.

Dear Saints of Redeemer, rejoice!  Gaudete!  As we heard from Zephaniah this morning, “The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst.”  This little baby, whose birth we will be celebrating in a little over a week from today is not only the King of the Jews, but is in fact the King of Kings.  Do not be fooled or scandalized.  Beneath the weak little legs of this Babe of Bethlehem is the power to crush the head of the devil.  Attached to the little thumb being sucked on, is the hand that will be nailed to the cross for your sin and for mine.

Everyone wants to have a little Jesus in a manger with their Nativity sets at home, but no one wants a crucifix (a cross with a body on it) displayed, either in their home, or God forbid, in their church.  My friends, you cannot have an empty cross until you have an occupied cross.  This little baby Jesus, who’s first coming we are getting ready to celebrate, came for one reason and one reason only.  He came for you!

He came to take away your spiritual blindness and give you eyes to see so that you would turn from darkness to light; He put His fingers into your ears so that you would hear the good news preached to you and believe; He has lifted your drooping hands and strengthened your weak knees so that you may no longer be lame but walk as children of the light; He has cleansed not only your leprous diseased flesh, but washed you with the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit; and He has raised you up with Him and seated you with Him in the heavenly places.  He did all this for you by His birth, life, death, burial and resurrection.  He is the one who is in your midst today.

With joy we listen to His Word…words we heard earlier today: “The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down” (Psa 146:8); “The Lord, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil” (Zeph 3:15); “He will quiet you by His love” (Zeph 3:17); and, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Php 4:7).

Blessed is the one who is not scandalized by the cross of Jesus.  Blessed is the one who has not seen yet believes.  Blessed is the one who sees the dawning Day in the darkness.  Blessed are you, trusting that Jesus is the One, who came, who comes, and will come again.  You need not look for another.  “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”  Come Lord Jesus!  Amen.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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