Are You the One (Matthew 11)
- Order of Service: Divine Service 3
- Hymns: LSB #346, 344, 632, 338
Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, "Are You the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?" (Matthew 11:2-3)
This morning, we have one of the greatest mysteries of the Advent season. Why does John ask this question through his disciples? Does he ask because he has doubts about Jesus? Or is he pointing his disciples, once again, to Jesus? Regardless of the intention of the question, Jesus' answer strengthens not only John's faith but that of John's disciples and the crowd listening to Jesus. Does John have doubts about Jesus being the Messiah? If he didn't, he would have been superhuman. Doubt always accompanies faith in the human heart on this side of glory. If John had a human heart and soul, I don't believe anyone would disagree with that, he had doubts.
After all, he is in prison for preaching God's Word. John was a powerful preacher who didn't back down from the touchy subjects. So when he started proclaiming that Herod's bedroom antics weren't moral, Herod was forced to throw him in prison. John knew that he was facing execution any day. He didn't know when the ax would fall, but he knew that it would fall.
Speaking of axes, John's doubts also center around Jesus' activities and preaching. When John was preaching in the wilderness of the Jordan, his version of "the one who is to come" was a bit more violent and angry than Jesus was in His ministry. John preached Jesus like he was Rambo. Jesus seemed more like Mister Rogers. Not exactly a direct link that would put both images in the same person.
John preached, "Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." Jesus taught, "Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself."
John preached, "His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will clear His threshing floor and gather His wheat into the barn, but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire." Jesus regularly spent time with tax collectors, sinners and prostitutes. These are typically considered the chaff of human society. But Jesus is reaching out to them with soul-drenching mercy, not fire-breathing wrath. What was John supposed to do with these conflicting thoughts? He wanted to say that Jesus wasn't "the one who is coming," but God had told him, "He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit." Although Jesus didn't seem like the guy, God doesn't lie. Maybe John had gotten his message wrong. Maybe what he thought was crystal clear was really hazy. Maybe everything John preached was true and everything Jesus is doing is true. John was born to prepare the way of the Lord. Who was he to question what the Lord was doing?
On the other hand, is John simply pointing his disciples to Jesus again? Absolutely! John's entire ministry was to point to Jesus. Just as surely as he said, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world," he is sending these disciples to learn from Jesus. John's pointing led Andrew to Jesus and then, through Andrew, Simon Peter came to faith in Jesus. John's whole ministry was to prepare the way and point his disciples to Jesus.
John's question was also the question of the age. Many people were wondering if Jesus was actually the Messiah or not. And Jesus is the only one who is able to answer the question. But it takes faith to accept His answer. Those who refused to believe in Him find it hard to accept His answer. Because His answer seems most unsatisfactory. At least on the surface.
When Jesus tells John's disciples, "Go and tell John what you hear and see," he is strengthening everyone's faith. Jesus instructs John's disciples to "go and tell John." He gives them a message for John to remind him of John's earlier words in his ministry, "He must increase, but I must decrease." John has decreased to the point of being in prison, waiting for his execution. John had hit rock bottom. But Jesus reminds him that He hasn't forgotten about His forerunner. Jesus doesn't just absorb John's disciples into His own circle of disciples. He sends them back to prison so that John's faith might be strengthened.
But Jesus seeks to strengthen their faith in the process. "Go and tell John what you hear and see." John's disciples get to see the Messiah's work firsthand. They get to hear and see that Jesus is the Messiah. Their faith is strengthened because they see sight being given to the blind, the lame being able to walk, the lepers being cleansed and the dead raised from their graves. Their faith is strengthened because they hear the deaf being able to hear for the first time and the Gospel being preached to the poor. These were the proofs Isaiah had given for the Messiah. "The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy." "The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound." John's disciples see all these things happening. Their faith is strengthened because they have now seen the Messiah. The one who John pointed them to.
When John's disciples leave, Jesus turns to the crowd around Him. Their faith could also be strengthened through a few short words. "What did you go out into the wilderness to see?" Many people went out to see John because he was something new. Something different. But John wasn't anything new. He had been prophesied in the Old Testament. "Behold, I send My messenger and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His Temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts." John was the last of the Old Testament prophets, but he was "more than a prophet." He was the forerunner of the Messiah. The voice who cried out, "Prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God." The people who went out to the wilderness to hear John preach came away with the knowledge that the Messiah was coming. The LORD was going to visit His people. And that visit was going to be soon. This message was God's great comfort to His people. God was coming into the world to bring salvation. John's job was to "turn the hearts of the fathers to the children and the hearts of the children to their fathers" so they were ready for His visitation. And John was found to be a faithful steward. He faithfully spoke God's Word until it finally cost him his life. John was a faithful steward of God's Word because he knew that God was faithful with His promises. Part of his conviction came by Jesus strengthening his faith through the message delivered back by his disciples.
Was Jesus the One John was waiting for? Absolutely. Jesus is the One you are waiting for. As He says in Revelation, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty." Jesus is the beginning and end. Jesus is the first and the last. He is why we rejoice in the comfort and hope of Christmas. Amen.