By Paul Koch –
We all know who John the Baptist was. We know that he was the great forerunner of our Lord Jesus Christ. He was the voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” He was that bridge between the Old Testament prophecies about the one who would come to execute justice and righteousness in the land. John not only baptized our Lord in the Jordan River but he saw the heavens tear open as the Spirit descended upon him like a dove. He was the one who pointed all who came to him, not to himself but to Jesus Christ and declared, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” John the Baptist has a featured place in all four of the Gospel accounts as he preached, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
But it doesn’t take us too long into the story of our Lord’s great work that we find John in quite a tough place. He’s no longer boldly preaching and baptizing in the region of Judea. No, now he’s in prison. He’s been locked away by King Herod Antipas and has been there for a while. He begins to have some doubts about what it is Jesus is up to. Think about it, he was the one preparing the way of the Lord. He was the one doing that good work. Now he’s in prison and Jesus doesn’t seem to care much about it. Oh sure, Jesus is wandering around preaching and teaching even doing some miracles but now John is in prison, and things don’t seem to be adding up. Why not use one of those miracles to open some prison doors and to set the captives free? So John sends some of his followers to go and double check with our Lord to make sure this is how things are supposed to be going. Their question is bold and straightforward, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
This is a serious question, should we look for another? It’s an important question for us to ponder today, for like it or not it is a question that all of us struggle with. John told everyone else that Jesus was the one, the long-awaited Messiah, but where was the great and awesome day of the Lord that is supposed to come with him? Where was the power and might, the King of kings? Things don’t look how John thought they were going to look. But now listen to Jesus’ response. It is brilliant. He says, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.” This is quoting a few verses from Isaiah, and the second line about the poor having the good news preached to them is from Isaiah 61 verse 1. The very next part of that verse is, “he proclaims liberty to the captives, and opens the prison to those who are bound.” That is the part that Jesus leaves out of his answer. Instead he has them tell John, “blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
So John wants to know if he should look for another, and Jesus points out all the great things that he is doing, fulfilling Old Testament prophecies. Jesus leaves out the part about setting the captives free, and then he speaks about a blessing given to those who are not offended by him. So, that question, “should we look for another,” is huge. Think of it this way, how many people do you think are disappointed in Jesus? Now, you may say they aren’t really disappointed in Jesus, but some image of Jesus that has been presented to them. But still, how many have confessed their faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, that he is indeed the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world? Yet, as time goes on, as the twists and turns of the daily grind unfold, they begin ever so slowly to look for another.
Let me tell you, I know that pastors do this. I’m not saying that they turn away from Christ to go after something else. But they often wonder, at least late at night when no one else is around, if there might be something else they need, something other than Christ. Think of a pastor that is called to preach the Word of God in truth and purity, to be a minister of the mysteries of God, and administer the sacraments as God established them. As he goes about that task, he (like John) begins to look around
only to see that other congregations are growing faster, they have better attendance and more dynamic ministries. Now, he’s not being unfaithful. He’s preaching Christ crucified, but he begins to wonder if it is enough. Is Christ enough? Perhaps he needs something more, something else that he can focus on, or something else to draw in the people. There are a great abundance of other things that promise to produce the desired result. You should see the amount of junk mail and e-mail and even voice messages from all sorts of groups promising to solve that disappointment.
But of course, it’s not just pastors that find themselves locked into this mode where they pine away for something more. No, Christians throughout the world do this all the time. After all, we all believe in the same Lord. We confess that our salvation rests in the one born of Mary who died for our salvation. And yet, we look around and we see those who seem to be so incredibly blessed in their lives. They have a happy and wonderful marriage, well-behaved kids, and are financially secure. We see talent and accomplishment, and they give the glory to God for all they have. But then we look at ourselves. We see the struggle and failure. We may put on that happy exterior, especially when we come to church; but on the inside, we battle with depression and anxiety. We find ourselves overwhelmed and unsure and fearful about the future and about our security. So, we begin to look for another.
The “other” that we look for can be a myriad of things. For the faithful children of God, the other will usually come cloaked in some form of churchy covering. Perhaps you look around and see the blessings in others life, perhaps you see the struggles and hardships in your own life and you think that Jesus isn’t enough, so you need to gain control and take up the slack. You may rededicate yourself to a more diligent and fervent prayer life. Perhaps you say you’re going to turn over a new leaf in the way you interact with others, be a little more forgiving and a little more compassionate. Maybe you give more to your church, more money in the offering plate, or you give your time and skills, you may even volunteer to help the children. At least now you have some control, some say in the outcome of things, and so you feel a bit better about yourself.
After Jesus spoke to the crowds about the significance of John the Baptist, he said this, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take bit by force.” In other words, the kingdom of heaven is not going to look like what you might want it to look like. The kingdom of heaven comes as Christ brings it, and not by some other way. The is no “other” to look for. John finds himself in prison and begins to second guess things. In fact, if you know the story of the Baptist, he never gets out; at least not with his head still attached to his shoulders. The temptation that you face is to trust in what you can control, to make your salvation look like what you want it to be. The temptation is to trust more in your endeavors than in what Christ has given to you. That temptation becomes the prison that binds you.
For when you look at your own life, when you examine your ability to sure up your image of salvation and blessing by what you can do, why, you are headed down a road of despair. To begin to trust that your own work, no matter how wonderful it may look in the church, is how you will endure through this age is a futile task. Sin, my friends, is real. Sin hangs about your neck and so you fall short of the glory of God time and time again. The good that you want to do, you fail to do. The wicked things you know you should avoid, you find yourselves doing over and over and over.
But blessed is the one who is not offended by Christ. Blessed is the one who clings, not to the cleverness of man or their own pious endeavors, but to the one born of Mary: the child who was baptized by John to bear your sins and die in your place. Blessed are you my friends. Blessed are you, where you are in your trial and struggles, in your highs and lows, in your failures and victories. Blessed are you. For Christ, has called you by name. He has declared to you that you are forgiven, you are loved, you are never forgotten nor forsaken, but you are the jewels in the crown of God and saints of the most high. For as Christ says, “The least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John himself.” The least, the broken, the hurting, the scared. You are the greatest, for you belong to Christ
And when you have Christ, there is no need to look for another.