I’ve been a pastor now for just over ten years. Ten years in a profession such as this is an interesting thing. While I’m no longer considered a rookie or simply one of the young guys I don’t have the seniority amongst the clergy the way someone who has 30 or 40 years in the ministry would. But one thing that has changes is the type of advice I hear from older pastors, not advice on how to do certain acts of the office, be a better preacher or teacher or something like that. No, it is now advice on how to take vacations, how to get away and prevent burnout.
I think something dangerous can happen to pastors at this stage of the game and I think these older and wiser men are trying to warn me in their own way about it. You see a man can come out of the seminary full of vigor and desire to change lives with the Word that he preaches, to make an impact, to be an Ezekiel preaching life into dead bones causing them to live again. But the weeks turn into months and they blur into years. And as each anniversary goes by, not much seems to have changed not much seemed to be accomplished, the same battles are being fought, the same trials are faced, the same resistance if felt. And so you begin to wonder what has it all been about, have I just been preaching to wind, are my words just empty breath.
So we find the long awaited forerunner of Christ, the promised Elijah who was to come and he’s locked away in prison (Matt. 11:2-10). John had for many years been a faithful preacher and teacher of the people. He bought many to the water’s of repentance and it was him who over and again pointed to this Jesus and said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the word.” But nothing seems to be getting any better, nothing seems to be changing, he’s rotting away in prison, he seems to know his days are numbered, and he’s brave enough to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
This Jesus doesn’t seem to be doing the things that John wants done, he’s not living up to the Jesus he had been ready and waiting for. How often this is the case, isn’t it? How often do our dreams our desires of what this Jesus ought to be come crumbling down when they are faced with the reality of the one who did in fact come. How many dreams of a mighty victory for Jerusalem ended when God was born in a manger in Bethlehem? How many hopes of a mass conversion and renewal for the landscape crumbled when Jesus wandered around the countryside with just 12 disciples? How many hopes and dreams were shattered when the forerunner of Christ himself would not only spend time in prison bout would never leave there with his head still intact. How often have we failed to find the Jesus we want? How often do we want to ask with John, “Should we look for another?”
We question and wonder and doubt, because with the passing of years our passions die down and the monotony of the day to day makes us long for something else. We have itching ears and soon go looking for the things that will scratch them. So Jesus reminds us of just what it was that John was doing in the wilderness, just what was it that they went out to see, why did he come, what did he do that was so important? He was a prophet and more than a prophet he was the last great prophet that prepared the way for the coming of God himself into our human story. He was the one who directed the eyes of the people not to himself or to his own glory but to the Christ, the one he baptized in the Jordan, the Lamb of God that came to take away the sins of the world. John’s purpose, his joy, is mission was to point to Christ and so Jesus reminds us that he fulfilled his vocation – for in finding John they found him.
Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Behold the one who has taken away your sins. You are free and forgiven in Christ! This is what we have come to see, this one and no other.