I think we need to start were we left off last Sunday, at Luke 7:14 where it says that Jesus “… came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” 15The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” 17This word about him (Jesus) spread throughout Judea and all the surrounding country.
So after Jesus healed the centurion’s slave and restored the life of the widow’s son, the news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding area. No Fox News, MSNBC or CNN. No Spokesman Review, Twitter or Facebook. Strictly word of mouth, people telling people, the news about Jesus and what he was doing became a hot topic.
As you recall, Luke told us back in the third chapter of his Gospel, John the Baptist was in prison. We read that “…Herod the ruler, who had been rebuked by him (John the Baptist) because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and because of all the evil things that Herod had done, 20added to them all by shutting up John in prison. The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus wrote that John the Baptist was imprisoned in the palace of Macherus and was there put to death. The castle was located about 15 miles southeast of where the Jordan River flows into the Dead Sea, almost 200 miles from Capernaum.
Yet the news about Jesus’ miracles reached John’s ears. It disturbed him. From his earliest childhood John was aware of the relationship his mother had with Jesus’ mother and believed Jesus to be the Messiah and beyond that he considered Jesus divine. He said, “He existed before me.” John would not have declared that Jesus was “the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world” if he was not convinced that Jesus was on a divine mission. But after hearing about the miracles that Jesus was performing John was apparently either more confused or had real doubts. Is Jesus the Messiah that was expected? The Biblical texts we have to rely on set out a “job description” of sorts for the Messiah — and Jesus fails the test, horribly. Jesus fails to free his people from the Roman yoke. He fails to setup a new kingdom like that of David and Solomon. As one in prison, it was clear to John that he certainly hadn’t set the prisoners free. Those things didn’t seem to appear on his to-do list. John seems to have expected an active and vigorous cleansing, more repentance and sin stuff. Jesus doesn’t seem to be doing that either.
Remember, John proclaimed that another was coming, one who would be greater than John, one who will change the world. John must have started wondering if he had made a mistake. As many of us do when things do not go as we expected, he may have started having “second thoughts.” He must have thought, “Why am I still in prison?” “When is Jesus going to start the kingdom?” “When will I be released from my prison?” “How does the forgiveness of our sins fit into Jesus’ plan?” “Why isn’t something important happening?” “Is Jesus really the Messiah?”
Luke tells us that the disciples of John reported all these things to him. But being in prison he has no first-hand knowledge? So he sends two of his disciples to Jesus in order to discover the answer to his burning question: “Are you the one I was waiting for?”
When the men arrived to where Jesus was working they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’” 21Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. 22And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. 23And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
On the face of it it is a straight yes/no question. However Jesus does not answer the question directly. Instead he puts it back on the questioners “Tell John what you have seen”. He tells them to witness to God at work. He challenges them, and John to whom they will (presumably) report, to see things differently. The answer to John’s question is going, in the end, to depend on John. Can John overcome his very specific expectation and his disappointment to see that Jesus is the one, just in a way different than he had imagined?
Any of us can become prisoners to our expectations of how God is at work in the world. Are there times we miss what God is doing because it is different from what we hoped for and what we had expected? Are we like John, desperately hoping to see one thing, hearing about something wonderful, and wondering what to make of it?
Or maybe we are like the messengers sent by John. Are there people in our lives asking what God is doing, if Christ is present somewhere and the only answer we can give is to tell them what we see, we what hear, what we experience? It is often true that we see Jesus, we see Christ, we see God more clearly when we are open to see something other than what we expect. Sometimes that is based on what we experience, sometimes it is based on what we hear from others. But rarely is it actually a straight-forward yes/no question.
Fascinating, isn’t it, how we set limits on Grace because we’re convinced that someone is outside the embrace of their creator?
The music group Orleans, in 1976, released a song with these words:
You’re still the one — that makes me strong
Still the one — I want to take along
We’re still having fun, and you’re still the one…
With John the Baptist, and with us, the message Luke has for us is Jesus is still the one.