The Third Sunday in Advent
December 12-13, 2009
Text: Luke 7:18-28
Dear Friends in Christ,
How do we think about things in general? How do we think about the task of doing theology? What are our filters? What are our presuppositions. That is what is at the heart of this text. It really is a lesson about how we view the world and how we do theology.
Late in his ministry, John the Baptist picked a fight. He went to King Herod Antipas and confronted him as a public sinner, much as the Prophet Nathan confronted King David. Herod had divorced his wife and then married a woman who had been married to one of his many brothers. Herodius had likewise divorced her husband to marry Herod. So in essence, Herod had stolen his brother’s wife. John confronted Herod with his sin. Herod, fearing John, because he appeared to be a prophet, would not put him to death, but did throw John in prison. Why did John do this. He could have condemned Herod from afar. He could have stayed in Judea, out of Herod’s reach. John did this because he knew that it was time for his ministry to end, and that this was how it was to end. John’s work of pointing people to Christ was nearly complete. There was one more group of people he needed to point to Christ - his disciples.
John’s disciples reported to him all that Jesus was doing. John was now in Herod’s dungeon and so could not travel himself. So what does he do. He sent two of His disciples to Jesus to ask if He is the Messiah. Why did John do this? Not for his sake. He knew the answer. But they need to see the answer. But John didn’t want to just tell them. He wanted the to understand this in a very special way. Jesus gave John just as exactly the answer, John was seeking for his disciples.
They to Jesus as he was preaching and healing. Now we need to put this in perspective. The Old Testament prophets had performed some miracles, on occasion. But they were not common. They didn’t happen every day. If fact Jesus says that in the days of Elisha the prophet, only Naaman the Syrian was cleansed of leprosy. No one else. Both Elijah and Elisha each raised one person from the dead. One of those was a foreigner. There are no other instances in the Old Testament of anyone being raised from the dead. But now Jesus comes and he heals people right and left. There are three occasions mentioned where he raised someone from the dead. But it appears from the Gospels that there were others as well. It was bad time to be the funeral business. It’s like a glass that is already full and they just keep pouring. God’s gifts are overflowing in every direction. Christ heals a the daughter of a Phoenician women and the servant of a Roman centurion. He feeds multitudes, walks on water, calms storms, and on and on.
So John’s disciples come and ask Jesus are you the coming One. What does Jesus do? At first He doesn’t answer them. He makes them watch for a while. Then He quotes from Isaiah 29 where it talks about what would happen when the Holy One of Israel came. The lame would walk, the blind would see, the deaf would hear and so forth. Why did Jesus do this? What John and Jesus were trying to do was to get the disciples of John to think Biblically. We might say today that they wanted them to put on their Biblical glasses. Think this through Biblically. What does the Bible say will happen when the Messiah comes? Is that what you are seeing? Start with what you know to be true - the Word of God. Don’t just follow here or there because something impresses you. Lot’s of false teachers impress people. Think Biblically. See if what you are seeing matches what you read in the Bible. John’s disciples would have reported that Jesus was doing all the things that the Messiah was to do. And these were extraordinary things that had never been done before or since. We don’t know if they every reported back to John. It may well be that John was dead by the time they returned. If so, they would have reported to the other disciples of John. That was John’s purpose. That John’s death was near we see in our text. The last verses are often called Jesus’ eulogy for John. Our text doesn’t quite have the sense of the Greek. It leaves us with the impression Jesus said this after the disciples of John had left. Rather, Jesus said this just as they were beginning to leave. So John’s disciples would have still heard this. Jesus said: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?... A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, 'Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.' 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."
We live an age of great fear. We also live at a time when there are many false teachers and false messiahs. Many do not know where to turn. This was much as in Jesus day. The Greek word that is used for “the poor” in our text could also be rendered, those in fear. In this context that makes more sense. Those in fear have the good news preached to them. We also, in our age, are those in fear. We fear life. We fear the economy. We fear poor health. We fear death. We fear what children will do, what our grandchildren will do. We fear random disasters. But there is good news that overcomes all these things, that overcomes our fear. Where do we find it? In the same place where John directed his disciples. We find it in Christ and in Scripture. Christ and Scripture cannot ever be separated. They are one and the same. In fact Christ is called the living Word of God by St. John. So where do you find Christ? Where do you find the good news? In Scripture. This also requires us to know Scripture. Faith is both knowledge and trust. John’s disciples knew immediately what Jesus was saying. As good Jews they knew vast parts of the Old Testament from memory. And so for us. We find the good news in the words of Scripture.
What then is this good news? That God dwells among men, not to destroy them or punish them. God dwells among men, not to cause fear and panic. But God dwells among men to give the good gifts of God. Chief among these gifts is forgiveness and eternal life. With this understanding that God is among us giving His gifts, also allows us to resolve the fears that plague us. The world is going to hell in a hand basket. It’s been doing that from the time Adam and Eve ate the fruit in the garden. But we have God’s favor. That doen’t make bad things go away. It does allow us to face them, with the knowledge we are in God’s loving hands.