Luke 7:18-35

Are You the One?

By The Rev. James T. Batchelor

Today’s Gospel contains a very important question: “Are you the one who is coming, or should we look for another?” (Luke 7:19)  The answer that we would give to this question on the day of our death would reveal our eternal destiny.  It is a variation on the question: “Is Jesus my Savior?”  John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask this question of Jesus.

In a way, it seems very odd that John should ask this question.  After all, he is the one who leaped in the womb when his mother heard the greeting of the Lord’s mother.  He is also the one who saw Jesus coming to him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) It was John’s mission as prophet to identify Jesus to the world.  He was the forerunner of the Messiah.  Surely, he, of all people, knew who Jesus was.  Surely, he knew that Jesus was the fulfillment of prophecy.  Never the less, John is sending his disciples to ask the question: “Are you the one who is coming, or should we look for another?”

Perhaps the very fact that John could not ask this question in person also gives us some understanding of the reason for the question.  He was in jail.  He had followed his vocation as prophet.  He had spoken truth to power.  The power did not like the truth.  Herod, the son of Herod the Great, had John arrested.  John wasn’t going anywhere.  John had dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s, but still found himself in prison.

Now John had no delusions that he wasn’t a sinner who deserved punishment.  After all He is the one who answered them all, “I indeed baptize you with water, but he comes who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to loosen.” (Luke 3:16)

John’s problem isn’t that he was in jail, but that he was in jail for doing the right thing.  He, the prophet of God, was in jail for proclaiming God’s truth.  After all, Jesus referred to Himself as the fulfillment of the prophecy:  “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.” (Luke 4:18)  Who is more captive than John the Baptist as he sits in prison because of his ministry as the forerunner of Jesus?

John’s question is still valid for us today.  We are not in prison for our faith in Jesus, but doubts come our way never the less.  We all have those times when we consider Jesus and we wonder: “Are you the one who is coming, or should we look for another?”

The world gets more dangerous every day.  Those who have worked hard for a lifetime now wonder if those hard earned retirement benefits will still be there.  Some of us have aches and pains in places that we didn’t even know we had.  Loved ones live clear across the country and we don’t see them as often as we wish.  Loved ones die and are missing from our lives.  All these things and more bring doubts into our lives.  When Jesus answers John’s doubts, we too should pay attention.  His words are not just for John, but they are for us as well.

Jesus responded to John’s question with more than simple words.  “In that hour he cured many of diseases and plagues and evil spirits; and to many who were blind he gave sight.” (Luke 7:21)  Jesus showed John’s disciples how He was the fulfillment of the promises that God had made through His prophets.  Then Jesus sent His answer back to John. “Go and tell John the things which you have seen and heard: that the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.  Blessed is he who finds no occasion for stumbling in me.” (Luke 7:22-23)  Jesus certified that He is the promised Messiah by pointing to the prophetic signs of His healing and teaching.

John is not the only one who receives this answer.  The Holy Spirit inspired Luke to record this account so that we would also have Jesus’ answer.  We can also know that Jesus is the promised Messiah by virtue of His miraculous signs.  In fact, we have even more signs than John had.  The Bible tells us that Herod would order his beheading soon, and John would not live to see the greatest signs that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promises.

We, on the other hand, live after Jesus accomplished His mission to earn our salvation.  We have the history of our Savior’s saving work in ink on paper.  We know that Jesus lived a perfect life.  We know that through Baptism he gives that perfect life to us and takes all our sins, all our doubts onto Himself.  We know that the corrupt leadership in Jerusalem used a political scheme to force Pontius Pilate to execute Jesus on a cross.  We know that through that cross, Jesus received the punishment we earned with our doubts and other sins.  We know that through His death, Jesus conquered all our sins.  We know that through his resurrection, Jesus leads us to eternal life with Him.  We experience Christ’s baptism of Spirit and fire.  We know the intimacy of Jesus’ presence within us as we eat His body and drink His blood in the Sacrament of the altar.  John experienced none of these things during his life on this earth.

John proclaimed the New Testament, but never got to experience it in this life.  This is the key to understanding the strange statement that Jesus made about John.  Jesus said, “I tell you, among those who are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptizer, yet he who is least in God’s Kingdom is greater than he.” (Luke 7:28)  How can the least be greater than the greatest?  The least in the kingdom of God is greater than John because the most insignificant member of the kingdom participates in signs that John never experienced before he died.

So it is that, while none of us will be the prophet that John was, we are all greater than John.  We experience signs that John never lived to see.  We experience them now and so have the greater blessing from God.  We have even greater reason to believe that Jesus is our savior from sin, death, and the power of the devil.

Today’s reading tells us that many people believed that this teaching was from God.  These people see God’s salvation breaking into the world in Jesus.  Luke specifically mentions the tax collectors who were considered to be the scum of society.  Even the tax collectors eagerly listened to Jesus and believed His words.  They had submitted to John’s baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins and were ready for the coming of Jesus.

Sadly, there were others who were not ready for Jesus.  The Holy Spirit inspired Luke to tell us that the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the counsel of God, not being baptized by him themselves. (Luke 7:30)  These people represent the opposition and are hostile to both John and Jesus.  They deny their need for repentance or forgiveness.

Jesus had some very harsh words for them.  He told a story of children who refused to dance to the flute or mourn to the dirge.  Then He told how both He and John had the same message, but two different styles.  John was strict and austere and kept to himself.  Jesus participated in the life of the community and enjoyed the good gifts of God’s creation.  In each case, the opponents found something to criticize.  They were not willing to listen no matter how God delivered the truth to them.

There will always be people who rationalize the rejection of the truth with these words, “It’s not what he says.  It’s the way he says it.”  Such people follow the example of the opposition in today’s Gospel.  In reality, it doesn’t make any difference how anyone shares the Word of God with them, they will reject it.

On the other hand, the people who listened to Jesus also listened to John.  They did not care how eccentric the teacher was.  Their focus was on the grace that God was pouring out on them through the message.

During this Advent season of penitential preparation, we consider our doubts and other sins.  As we consider these sins, their consequences and punishment should terrify us.  How wonderful it is, then, to learn that in Jesus Christ we have all the signs of God’s promise.  We have the signs of His miracles and His teaching, but especially we have the sign of His crucifixion and resurrection that earn forgiveness for our sins and give us the promise of life everlasting in His gracious presence.

Today is Gaudete Sunday – the Sunday of rejoicing – the Sunday of the rose candle.  On this Sunday, we rejoice that the Son of God came into this world to offer Himself up as our substitute and take away our sins.  We rejoice that by His resurrection He has opened heaven for us.  We rejoice that, although our sin is great, our savior is even greater.  We rejoice in the way He came to conquer sin.  We rejoice in the way He now comes to offer forgiveness to all people.  We rejoice in the way He will come to give eternal life to all who believe in Him.  We rejoice that a day is coming when Jesus will remove all doubt.  Amen

Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.

Copyright 2012 James T. Batchelor.  Used by permission.