15 December 2019 – Advent 3
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
Rush United Methodist Church
When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
Prayer: Unlock our minds and open our hearts, O Lord, that your word may satisfy every spiritual need. Amen.
John the Baptist is sitting in prison.
In prison, a person has a lot of time to think.
His followers still looked to him for direction, now more than ever.
John faced mortal danger at every turn and in every direction.
John asks the question
That is THE Advent question
Many of us share:
“Is Jesus the one?”
Our Jewish ancestors had been promised a Messiah,
An anointed one,
Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel all prophesized,
All spoke on behalf of the Lord who sent them,
That God was sending to the world a Messiah.
What is a Messiah?
Messiah was understood to be a person,
Selected by God,
Sent on a mission to liberate and redeem the Jewish people.
God would send a Messiah who would
- Be a human descendant of King David
- Redeem Jews in exile (forgive them of the sins that sent them to exile) and return them to Jerusalem
- Rebuild the Temple
- Restore the Kingdom of Israel as it was during the time of King David
- Replace the current flawed age with a world of justice and peace
Sounds pretty good to me!
“Is Jesus the one?” John asked.
He needed to know because his life hung by a thread.
Had his life been in vain?
Or, had he faithfully fulfilled God’s call and will for his life
To prepare the world for Jesus the Messiah?
John sounds like a man who has doubts and questions about faith,
Just like you and me.
The liberation people expected
wasn’t exactly the liberation that God had in mind.
The Messiah God was sending was far more
Then any could conceive, imagine, or dream.
- God planned to send His Son, Jesus.
In some mysterious ‘immaculate conception’ sort of way.
Jesus would be both a descendant of King David and God in the flesh.
- God planned to liberate us from our slavery to sin,
Redeeming us by the blood of the cross,
Just as Israel had been redeemed of their sin and allowed to return from exile to Jerusalem, rebuild the Temple, and re-establish the kingdom of David.
- God was planning to liberate us from the constraints of mortality,
With all its associated trials, disease, frailty, and tribulations.
With the resurrection of Jesus
Our mortality would be replaced with immortality,
A never-ending kingdom of justice and peace.
God had in mind saving the entire world,
Not just the Jewish people.
Because God so loved the world …
Our imagination is far too small for what God had in mind.
“Is Jesus the one? Or, should I wait for another?” John the Baptist wondered.
Doubts and questions of faith
are often understood as signs of weakness.
In fact, I encourage each of us to
- Question everything – Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience
- Explore faith with youthful curiosity and energy
- Prepare spiritually for doubts that will inevitably come
Is Jesus the one?
Tell what you hear and see.
Report the observable evidence.
Return and report miracles that can only be explained as super-natural,
Beyond the natural order of the physical universe.
Miracles are more than what is unexplainable.
Miracles are possible by means of God’s personal intervention, and, therefore,
Will always remain mysterious.
Is Jesus the one?
Report the collected evidence.
Blind people receive the miracle of sight.
Not just one, but many!
Hearing is restored to the deaf.
Not just once, but confirmed by numerous eyewitnesses on several occasions.
The lame walk.
Not just one!
One was let down through a hole cut in the roof,
Another was rolled into the pool of Bethesda.
There were dozens, if not hundreds, of eyewitnesses!
The prophet Isaiah promised:
“Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.”
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert.”
Is Jesus the one?
Report the evidence!
People are healed of chronic, communicable diseases.
Not just one, but a crowd of ten people with leprosy were healed on one occasion!
The poor are given good news.
Not just one homeless person, but everyone at the soup kitchen and in the unemployment line was on the receiving end of good news.
Here’s the clincher,
The most impressive piece of observable evidence:
The dead are raised back to life,
Reanimated to a living, breathing human being
Who will live to die another day.
Not just once,
Jesus raised the dead multiple times
In front of hundreds of witnesses.
What did you expect when you went searching for the Messiah?
A beautiful church led by a charismatic pastor who pleases everyone?
A flawless denomination where everyone is unified in belief?
Christianity united in dogma and doctrine?
A perfect world where diseases are cured and life is easy-peasy?
God’s reality far exceeds human expectations or imagination.
The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the church in Ephesus, writes
“Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.”
God is able to accomplish
Than all we can ask,
Than all we can imagine.
Watch and listen this season of Advent,
Watch and listen for
All that exceeds our expectations,
All that is super-natural,
All that is divine.
Let us release ourselves from the constraints of our imagination;
To envision Jesus as more than a historical figure,
Whose birthday we celebrate on the twenty-fifth.
What might God have in store for us?
We can hardly imagine, but let us try:
- Jesus promised to return, not just once, but many times to many disciples and early Christians.
- Jesus tells us to love God and neighbor, and to bring the entire world to discipleship.
- Jesus instructed us to actively watch and wait for his return and the completion of his kingdom.
What did you expect?
A messenger to prepare the way?
Another year of carols, cantatas, and pageant plays?
Don’t limit your imagination of what God is doing.
God is bigger than that!
This year, ask of yourself, “What do I expect?”
What God has in mind
Then my highest expectation.