3rd Sunday in Advent – C LSB #849
Text – Luke 7:20
And when the men had come to Him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’”
SHALL WE LOOK FOR ANOTHER?
Gettysburg is a famous Civil War battlefield that today is a national military park. Some years ago a couple of history buffs went to visit. After driving through the area, visiting the museum & seeing the film, they came to a lookout tower. It was exactly what they wanted; enabling them to survey the entire field of battle that they’d just spent hours learning about.
They huffed & puffed their way to the top of this high structure, expecting a grand reward at the top. To their crushing disappointment they found they could see nothing beyond the trees which surrounded the tower! Apparently the designers forgot that the trees around it would continue to grow. They had become 20 foot taller than the tower.
If we contemplate that for a while, it can serve as a reminder for us, concerning our need, & the purpose, for the Church’s season of Advent. All the good & evil things of life have a way of growing up around us. Over time they block our view & take away our perspective. Not being able to see the big picture of God’s plan, we tend to begin looking in other directions.
John the Baptist famously said, “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down & thrown into the fire.” Now, John is struggling with doubts. He was struggling because he’d lost sight of the big picture. Maybe he never was completely certain of how that picture looked in the first place.
The way sin twists & betrays everything in this life makes John’s doubt absolutely common. He was under arrest & rotting in prison – facing the threat of execution. Jesus, who could perform miracles, was not springing him out of jail. Jesus was not dethroning the wicked king or establishing His own, & good, kingdom for loyal subjects like John. In his cell block on death row, there was a real temptation to assume that everything had gone terribly wrong. If you & I were in the shoes of John the Baptist, who wouldn’t be a little depressed.
To be encouraged, John needed to “see” the big picture so his heart would return to the joy which the Holy Spirit had created in him. After Jesus had been conceived in Mary’s womb, John first experienced that joy as he leapt in the womb of his mother Elizabeth at the very sound of Mary’s voice. So what was that big picture which Jesus showed John to encourage him?
The Son of God begins by taking John back thousands of years, from the book of Deuteronomy on to the book of Isaiah. Then, He couples those prophecies to the present time of John & Jesus. To John’s expression of confusion & doubt, “Shall we look for another?” His Savior responds with these words:
“Go & tell John what you have seen & heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, & the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.” Not only has Jesus been performing each of those miracles, but they are a fulfillment of Messianic prophecies spanning thousands of years back to the prophet Moses.
Yes, Jesus might not be performing miracles to spring John the Baptist out of jail, but the Son of God was performing the miracles prophesied of Messiah. Those miracles are God’s proof that Jesus is the promised & long-awaited Savior of the world. The new era of Christ’s reign has indeed broken in to the history of mankind. Time & space have been invaded by almighty God.
In highlighting the miracles, Jesus is affirming that the OT is being fulfilled in every sense of the big picture. To encourage John the Baptist, Jesus was taking John’s eyes off of his own personal circumstances, & pointing him instead to the big picture of Yahweh’s re-creation of His Creation. The work of bringing about a new heaven & a new earth, though a long way from being finished, had already begun. Our heavenly Father had brought the healing effects of His love to bear upon your lives in the birth of His only-begotten Son on that starry night in Bethlehem. It’s a beautiful message amidst a sea of corruption, brokenness & sorrow.
If you aren’t reminded of the beauty of that message, you easily lose sight of it, & of the impact that message can have on your lives. If you aren’t regularly hearing of God’s love for you, you will begin to wonder if you should be looking for another. The good & evil things of life march onward & they block our view of the incredible message that God has become man.
Yet, because of our sinful nature, we can’t just hear the good news & expect to benefit. We need to hear that good news in the context of the truth, because our sinful nature is a master of denying reality. That also began thousands of years ago, with Satan’s first words: “Did God actually say…?” In four simple words, Lucifer was denying the truth.
With those four simple words, he taught Adam & Eve to become masters of denial. As John the Baptist was sitting in prison, thousands of years later, it was only natural for him to struggle with doubts concerning the truth. Each one of us struggles as well with doubts concerning the truth. Shall you & I look for another?
Who of us can deny that we have already looked? Yet we seldom consider how readily we practice idolatry. To contemplate that for a moment, think of what happens when you feel the heavy burden of stress pressing upon your heart & soul.
Are there times when you lash out at the people around you? Do you withdraw from the people who love you? Maybe you bury yourself in work. Some people literally worry themselves sick. Substance abuse is common. We focus our time & energy on looking out for #1. We stop being courteous & considerate of others. Each of those common “coping” methods can quickly descend into not loving our neighbor as ourselves. The ways in which we cope with stress, often shift the burden to those around us. If you think about that a little, our coping methods have a lot in common with breaking the last seven commandments. If we think about it a little longer, it becomes clear that our methods of coping with stress also violate the 1st three.
In breaking the last 7, we encounter guilt which then “encourages” us to stay away from church services. That’s a violation of the 3rd commandment. You can quickly guess how the burden of stress upon heart & soul cause us to violate this command: “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.”
By now you also should easily guess which commandment comes next – “You shall have no other gods.” I’m not accusing John the Baptist of violating the 1st commandment, but his very question is headed in that direction: “Shall we look for another?” John was struggling with doubts because it seemed as if God’s plan for his life had gone all wrong.
When those doubts come crashing in, each of us is also tempted to wonder if there isn’t some other god out there who can do for us what we want done. Having more money is one of the first things that comes to mind, because with it we can often pay other people to do our will.
Haven’t you entertained the thought, that if God gives you what you want then you’ll consider giving larger offerings back to Him? If God grants your wish, then you’ll begin reading the Bible, start going to church, be nicer to your spouse, do your homework? John’s time in prison seemed to contradict what Jesus was teaching. It was shaking his faith.
John himself had prophesied of One who would come with Spirit & fire to execute judgment. John thought he was on the right side, so how does he end up in a prison cell on death row? It is so natural for us to measure God in the same earthly & material ways, with our physical eyes rather than our spiritual eyes of faith. When bad things happen to other people, that’s one thing, but when they happen to us, then it’s getting personal. Maybe we should look for another job, for another spouse, for another god? It’s for good reason that Holy Scripture encourages us to live by faith & not by sight.
Even though we do see some of our life with God, with our own physical eyes it’s only because God grants us the favor. The truth is that all of the Christian life is an apprehension & affirmation of the invisible. Faith in Jesus is a constant struggle against what appears to be the contradictory reality. That contradictory reality is not the truth, but it is what we so often see.
John saw that he was on death row. You see, & hear, the problems with your children, with your spouse, with your co-workers & boss, with your teachers & neighbors, with your parents, or friends. We hear about ISIS & terrorism, about cancer & heroin addiction. We see it on the news, read it on the internet. We see & feel the results of our own sin, day in & day out.
“Shall we look for another?” As long as we keep our doubts in perspective, as long as we consider those doubts within the big picture, they’re aren’t all bad. We shouldn’t just blindly believe everything we’re told. Our faith in Jesus as Savior is not simply about knowledge. It is also about a personal relationship with the Lord of the universe, who is also Lord of our lives.
And it’s a complicated relationship because our saintly & sinful natures are constantly at war with each other. Fortunately, Jesus is aware of that. In the big picture, throughout history, sinful human beings have been looking anywhere but to God’s Church in their search for a savior. Yet the Church, itself imperfect, is exactly what God’s Spirit has created to save us.
In today’s world, money & power are still familiar substitutes for Jesus. Increasingly, science & technology are being given the status which rightly belongs to our Lord & Savior. As we travel through the Church’s season of Advent, John the Baptist offers a striking figure of the struggle of personal hope. Do you have a certain hope of your eternal salvation in spite of what’s going on in your life today? Over against the wonderful promises of Jesus, John languishes in prison & eventually goes to his death – trusting in the Words of Jesus while living in suffering hope. If we’re honest, & if we consider the truth, we are languishing in the results of sin, our own sins, & the sins of others. However, there is still hope & good news.
To John’s question Jesus replies, “Go & tell John what you have seen & heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, & the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” Jesus points to His preaching & miracles as evidence that He is Messiah – the Coming One.
Jesus preached the Good News in the truthful context of our brokenness & sin. In this world, we will have trouble, but take heart for Jesus has overcome the world. What He preached was the presence of God’s rule & the request for repentance & faith in order that one might enter this eternal rule by our heavenly King. Faith believes what it does not see.
John couldn’t see it from his prison cell, & though clearly none of us are in prison, we too seldom see the glory of God’s kingdom in our lives. But that kingdom is here, & it is in control. When we are depressed, as John is in today’s Gospel reading, we have a difficult time accepting the truth that God is still with us.
Leaning on an invisible God, & trusting Him for everything, is not a simple task when life has dragged you down & into the dungeon. Like John, we quickly recognize all the bad things in life which suggest that God is out to lunch. Jesus’ response to John’s question teaches us an important truth:
God is with us all the time, & often He’s working for us in ways we do not expect or cannot see. Jesus uses His weakness & poverty to overcome the power & money of this corrupt world. For sinful human beings, that’s not a very satisfying way of having our enemies defeated. Jesus reveals Himself as a Messiah of mercy, compassion & forgiveness – not one of vengeance. He did not come to execute judgment but to absorb judgment. Jesus came in solidarity with all human sinners & bears in Himself the vengeance & wrath of God against His enemies, including us & our sin.
John is the greatest of the OT prophets because he announces this, though even he does not fully understand it. So when the burden of stress is weighing heavily upon your heart & soul, allow God’s Spirit to take your eyes off of your own personal circumstances & listen to the big picture in the words of St. Paul:
“The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer & supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard your hearts & your minds in Christ Jesus.” Amen.
Praise the One who breaks the darkness with a liberating light; praise the One who frees the prisoners, turning blindness into sight. Praise the One who preached the Gospel, healing every dread disease, calming storms & feeding thousands with the very Bread of peace. Let us praise the Word Incarnate, Christ who suffered in our place. Jesus died & rose victorious that we may know God by grace. Let us sing for joy & gladness, seeing what our God has done; let us praise the true Redeemer, praise the One who makes us one. Amen.
 Daniel C. Hansen, parish pastor, Fullerton, CA
 Matthew 3:10 ESV
 Philippians 4:5b-7
Pastor Dean R. Poellet