Sunday, December 17, 2006

What Are You Coming to See?

Third Sunday Advent

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Luke 7:18-35

Last week we saw John the forerunner of Christ doing what the forerunner is supposed to do—he was paving the way for Christ, the Messiah. He was pointing the way to Jesus so that people would know from where their salvation comes.

Now this week we have something very odd. Jesus, the Messiah, the One to whom all the prophets pointed; the One prophesied from the beginning of the Scriptures; the One John the Baptist made abundantly clear was the promised Savior— was now pointing people to John.

What is this all about? When the disciples of John were finding out whether Jesus was the Messiah, and Jesus showed them that, yes He was, why then did Jesus start making a big deal about John?

Well we might not be surprised to find out that it’s all about helping us see what it means that He, Jesus, is our Savior. Because, let’s face it, we often have a distorted view of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Who He is. What He does. What He means for you and me. How who He is and what He does applies to our daily lives. What it means for who we are and how we live.

So Jesus asks a question. “What did you go out to see?” What were you expecting when you went out to hear that strange prophet in the wilderness? A reed shaken by the wind? You weren’t going out there just to see the foliage in the desert. No, of course not. You were going out to see the spectacle. Who was this guy out there in the camel’s hair? Were you expecting someone who would vacillate? Since he might have wanted to draw attention to himself, he might have tried to get a pulse on what the crowd wanted so that he could tailor his message to what they wanted to hear. Is that what you went out to see? If so, you quickly found out that John was not a reed shaken by the wind. He was there to proclaim what God had called him to proclaim, not anything anyone might have pressured him to say.

What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Might this curious prophet out in the wilderness have been one of those impressive court preachers that was specially commissioned by a king or prominent ruler? If so, he’d be well worth hearing. And it would be quite a sight there among the rocks and bushes and dirt to see a man dressed in fine clothes and delivering a fine message. But those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. He wasn’t out there because of his status but his call from God.

What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. Prophets have a way of attracting people. Sadly, even a false prophet. But John being out there in the wilderness with something provocative to say was going to draw you out there. So you went. But what were you expecting this prophet to say? I tell you that this is who this prophet was, he of whom it is written, “Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You.”

So why was Jesus telling the crowds about John when it was all about Him, Jesus Christ; the Savior, the Messiah, the Promised One, the One in whom is all our hope? Because He wanted them to see that what God had done in sending John had accomplished what He had intended it to. John paved the way. John pointed the crowds to Jesus. Jesus now stood here before them all, including John the Baptist’s disciples only moments before, fulfilling those very prophecies of the Old Testament of healing people, of bringing hope to those in need. John said this would happen, and now here it was, happening in the flesh in Jesus Christ.

But there was another reason Jesus was pointing out the importance of the forerunner: “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 says that there is no one who is greater than John. A stunning statement in and of itself. There were a handful of saints every good Jew could point to that could be “the greatest among men”: Moses, Abraham, David. And as far as prophets go, what about Elijah or Isaiah? But no, it’s John. Strange as it was to hear on its own, it was even more preposterous being as John was at the very moment in a jail cell. And on top of that, sending his own disciples to Jesus to ask if He was the Messiah or if they should look for another.

What is Jesus getting at? How is John the greatest among men? It probably won’t surprise us that it has nothing to do with him in and of himself. But rather what God had called him to. To be the first to proclaim the new era. The era in which the very Savior of God walked the earth. In which God Himself was among men in the flesh. This was a unique task of John, and he was the culmination of all the prophets who went before him, pointing the way to Christ, the Messiah.

Jesus never lacked for remarkable statements. After this doozy he tells the crowds: “the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than [John]”. So even though they could come to understand how John was the greatest, how could it possibly be that they could be greater? But here Jesus is showing the effects of this new era John was ushering in. It has to do, in fact, with Jesus Christ Himself, who is the source and center of this new era. He brings about this greatness.

What had they been coming to see? Healings? A spectacle? Some rousing preaching? Greatness? They would find it. But not in the way they would expect. It would come in the topsy-turvy way of Jesus lifting up the very lowliest of the lowly. The ones who didn’t have much. Who were looked down upon and probably didn’t even think much of themselves. These were to be made the greatest, because Jesus came to lift up the lowly. To raise the insecure, the poor, the sick in spirit.

What are you coming to see? Are you expecting out of worship an emotional or spiritual spark? Are you coming to God seeking success in your life or at least a smoother road? Are you looking for spiritual guidance that is catered to your needs and feelings? We hear a lot about God’s power and His love for us. What are you coming to see? What are you searching for and expecting to find?

The things John’s disciples came to him in prison to tell him were the healing of a centurion’s servant and another miracle. And while healing the servant was spectacular, it could have been a fluke. He could have been using magical arts. But then He did something beyond healing a disease. He raised a man from the dead. He was walking along when a funeral procession passed Him. The mother of her dead son was distraught. In compassion Jesus brought him to life. John’s disciples wanted to know, does this prove to us that Jesus is the Messiah? We must wonder what John thought through all of this. When his disciples asked Jesus, His answer was not, “Go tell John I’m springing him from prison.” After all the power He exhibited He certainly could have. But He doesn’t. And He doesn’t even save John from his ultimate fate later on of being beheaded by Herod.

What do you think John thought of Jesus now? After all his forerunning, pointing the way, paving the road for the hearts and minds of the people for their Savior— what was he in prison now seeking in that very same Savior? Luke calls John’s disciples “messengers”. They were sent by John and Jesus sent them back with a message. The message was the very same one John had been proclaiming—Jesus is the Savior. He is the One they had been seeking. There was no need to look for another.

We can search far and wide. We can try to mold Jesus and the Bible into our own little package. But Jesus’ message is clear: He is the Savior. Whether we’re locked up or roaming free. Whether we’re battling cancer or at the top of our game. If we’re feeling run down or the sky’s the limit. In anything and everything, He is the Lord. He is the Promised One, and God always keeps His promises. His power and love He comes to us with, though, don’t always match our expectations.

He did, after all, sufferer brutally. He wasn’t a powerful example of a ruler. He was beaten down. He quietly took the insults heaped on Him. He stretched His arms out so that they could be nailed to the wood, when He could have easily stretched them out in revenge. That would have shown Him in all His power. But it would have removed His love.

What are you coming to see? A Savior? You will find Him wrapped in a manger. You will see Him as a bloody mess on the cross. You will behold Him in glory and triumph over death. He doesn’t just show you who He is. He comes to you, His very Body and Blood, in His Supper so that you too may be healed, bound up, and raised to new life. Amen.

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