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“How do you know he, Jesus, is the one?”
– the one sent by God, the creator of the universe
– the one called the messiah of God…
– the one who, this season, we sing and say is the hopes and fears of all the years…
How do you know he, Jesus is the one? The Messiah… God in the flesh… the Savior of the world… How do you know, Jesus is the one? Or should we be waiting for someone else?
If you have ever asked that question or are asking that question right now… know you are not alone… and you are not the first one to ask that question.
John the Baptist is the first one to ask that question… which is sort of interesting.
John is Jesus’ cousin… they are the same age… they likely knew each other well… grew up with each other… played together as kids … maybe even attended Sabbath lessons together… (John’s dad was the priest, you know) John knows Jesus well.
Earlier in Matthew’s gospel, he seemed so sure about Jesus… remember that famous baptism scene… John has been baptizing crowds of people… he has been preaching, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” (with confidence and vigor)…
He said, “I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with fire and the Holy Spirit… the one who is coming after me, I’m not even worthy to lace up his sandals …”
Then Jesus shows up… to be baptized by John! John, reluctantly baptizes Jesus… then sees the heavens open with a Spirit descending like a dove… then the voice from heaven says, “This is my son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased!” John seemed so sure that he was the one.
Maybe some of you can relate… when you were young… the story of Christmas and later the story of Easter made you so sure that Jesus was the one… God in the flesh… the one who would show us God’s ways and save us from sin and one another… (the one who would bring peace, love and justice to the world)
You read your Bible, regularly went to worship and youth group… sang in the choir—you were super involved– and it was so easy… It was so easy to believe back then… you were so sure… he was the one… like John.
Then we come to this passage and we hear that John has asked his disciples to ask Jesus a question: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
So, what happened? I know what happened and so do you. I’ll tell you what happened. Life happened.
John is in prison. It seems that when the Messiah comes, life is not like it is in the movies where everyone lives happily ever after—at least, not yet. Life had happened to John and the doubts began to enter his mind… A short time before he had reprimanded and embarrassed King Herod publically… revealing Herod’s sordid soap opera affair with his brother’s wife… (Can you imagine a political leader having an affair??!!) and John, in his less than tactful way pulled no punches in exposing Herod’s selfish, sinful ways…
Turns out kings really don’t like that too much. So Herod took his revenge… he arrested John the Baptist and threw him into the dungeons of Machaeurus, a fortress in the mountains near the Dead Sea.
Here in prison, John the Baptist begins to wonder… Prison gives you a lot of time to think. So he sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Look, are you the one who is to come or are we to wait for another?” One can hardly blame John for wondering… No doubt the questions plagued him in prison.
“If you are the messiah, what are you waiting for? You have the power. When are you going to rally the people and lead the march on Rome? When are you going to fix this broken world… when are you going to bring justice to the world?
Jesus, when are you going to get with the program? When are you going to get this kingdom going? When are you going to smash the Romans, throw out the corrupt religious leaders, and bring heaven to earth?”
You can hardly blame John for wondering…
What is interesting is Jesus’ response. He doesn’t send back to John a detailed Bible study on the prophecies of Isaiah – with footnotes and commentary to prove to John that he is the messiah… He doesn’t give him a copy of his family tree, tracing his heritage to King David… No talk about proving a virgin birth. And, note this: he does not even reprimand John for his doubts…
No, here is Jesus’ answer:“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.”
In fact, instead of rebuking John, he seeks to reassure John…he redirects John to think about the messiah in a new way. John had thought, as many thought that when the messiah came— he would come in political power and wipe out the enemies and bring God’s rule to earth with any use of force necessary.
What Jesus wants John to understand is this:Jesus had not chosen the way of might or power or wrath to change the world… but the way of love… love which is more powerful than all of those other forces. Jesus had chosen to bring God’s kingdom with love because he knew that love is the most powerful force in the world… the most lasting thing in this world.
This week, that’s the force people remembered most about the life of Nelson Mandela. Again and again people were amazed at his ability to forgive his enemies… to reach out to those who had hurt him rather than retaliate… in other words to love… Any of this sound familiar?
That’s what John has to learn… he has to rethink the role of the Messiah.
What Jesus is saying to his cousin is this:It is love that sets us free. ‘Look, John, at what is happening. Can’t you see it? People are being set free, that that is what the Kingdom is about. The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed…”
Or in the words of one Christmas carol, “Love came down at Christmas” ….
You want to know where the Messiah is? Look in places where love is lived among those who are poor and hurting and hungry… You want proof?
Look to those places where love conquers hate… where hope conquers fear… where joy breaks through sorrow… look there and you will likely find Jesus…
I think we know this truth at some level. We seem to recognize this truth when we see it.
We see a Mother Teresa devote her life to the poorest of the poor in Calcutta… and we see Christ’s love at work…
I’ve been struck by our reaction to the new pope. I’m old enough to have seen a few popes come and go. But people inside and outside the Catholic church are listening to this pope like no other in my lifetime. Why is that? Here is what I’m thinking… He lives in the way Jesus lived… as best one can from the Vatican. He drives an old car… lives in a simple apartment… He is not caught up in the trappings of power and prestige that comes with being the Pope… he has a passion for the poor and homeless like no other… He does not just talk about caring for the poor… he washes the feet of those no one else will touch…he slips out at night, dressed as a common priest so he can eat meals with the homeless… And the world is fascinated…believers and nonbelievers alike…they’ve never seen a pope rule with a power like this… the power of love…
I think this is what Jesus wants John to see… that love is the power of God that is meant to rule and change lives and change the world.
No need to wait for another messiah to come, the messiah is here… just look—to the places where the hungry are fed… where people receive their sight… where lepers who are the rejects of society are cleansed… where those who thought their lives were over find new life… where the poor have good news brought to them…
You want to know where Jesus is, look there!
And where do we look for Jesus today? Katie Songey, one of our youth knows where to look. I hope you read the story she told in her Kirk devotion this week:
“Two summers ago, three recovering drug addicts and alcoholics sat down to eat lunch with a stranger. And as they talked to this stranger, they told her about their pasts, their memories, and their lessons learned. They shared their hearts with a stranger. They gave her the kind of advice an uncle or father would give. They told her to listen to her parents, to get a good education, to hang out with the right friends, and to learn from the mistakes they had made. These three men wanted this stranger to have a safe, secure, and happy life. These three men reached out to care for a stranger. I was that stranger.
At the time, I was a 14-year old girl on a mission trip in Charlotte, and I was looking for a chance to form relationships. I was looking for proof that God was present in this world. And I found evidence of God’s presence when I ate lunch with three recovering drug addicts and alcoholics. The care that I experienced is unforgettable.”
“Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look to another?
Go tell John what you see… drug addicts and alcoholics share a meal and experience with a 14 year old who had gone on a mission trip with my followers … shared their hearts… and cared for a teenager… “
A story my pastor and friend Roland Perdue reminds me where to look. Every year on Christmas eve he would tell a story-poem by Edwin Markham… (which is why I like to retell it from time to time)
Conrad, the godly old cobbler, one night dreamed that Christ would come to his shop the following day. Early the next morning, Conrad went to the woods to gather green branches to decorate his shop for the Lord’s coming.
All morning he waited, but the only visitor was an old man who asked if he might come in to rest. Conrad saw that his shoes were worn, so he gave him the best pair in the shop.
He waited throughout the long afternoon. But the only person he saw was an old woman who struggled under a heavy load. Out of compassion, he brought her into his shop and gave her some of the food he had prepared for the Christ.
Just as evening was falling a lost child wandered into his shop. Conrad comforted the child and carried him home, and then hurried back so he would not miss the coming of the Christ. But even though he waited long and patiently, Christ did not come.
Finally, in disappointment, Conrad cried out:
Why is it Lord, that your feet delay?
Did you forget that this was the day?
Then soft in the silence a Voice he heard:
“Lift up your heart, for I kept my word.
Three times I came to your friendly door;
Three times my shadow was on your floor.
I was the beggar with the bruised feet;
I was the woman you gave to eat;
I was the child on the homeless street.”
If you are wondering if Jesus is the one who is to come, or should you wait for another… look for him where love is shared…and lives are transformed… look there and you’ll find him. You won’t have to wait anymore.