3rd Sunday in Advent “John: Pointing To Christ”
December 12, 2021 Luke 7:18-28
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
How many days until Christmas = 13? So the announcement is broadcast: ‘there’s just a short time left to prepare! Have you done all you need to do? The day is coming & is almost here!’ Except, this preparation is not connected to Target ads on TV, or Amazon pop-ups on your Ipad. And the cry is not from family members who want you to be ready with gadgets & goodies & holiday cheer. This is the voice of John the Baptizer. On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry, ~ announces that the Lord is nigh. ~ Awake and harken, for he brings ~
Glad tidings of the King of kings.
John brings the proper message of Advent preparation. He is pointing to the Christ. “Then cleansed be every life from sin; ~ make straight the way for God within, ~ and let us all our hearts prepare ~ For Christ to come and enter there.’ The last & the finest of the OT prophets came to announce that the waiting was over. The Son of God has come among us, and the promise of the salvation of the Lord is now fulfilled.
John was familiar with the first Christmas ‘gift list.’ It was a check list 700 years old, spoken by Isaiah, in chptr 35. God had spoken that list as another way to recognize ‘The One’ when He arrived. Check the list = check it twice; you won’t find out who’s naughty or nice; the list is a sign. The One-to-Come has brought God’s gifts of mercy to the broken people crying out to God: /the blind receive their sight, /the lame walk, /lepers are cleansed, /the deaf hear, /the dead are raised up, /& the poor have good news preached to them. That was Jesus’ answer to John’s question: check the Christmas list of Isaiah 35; the answer is clear.
John’s whole life was centered on 2 things. To identify Jesus as the Christ, and to prepare hearts to receive Him as The Savior for forgiveness and eternal life. John’s message is still pointing people to Jesus Christ, and preparing them to receive Him, and to remain steadfast in Him. John does this by his words and by his life. The Baptist’s cry is still needed, because even tho the Savior’s work on the cross is now complete, Jesus still has one more Advent in world history = His second & final coming. We must also prepare for that.
This morning we want to explore why John would ask this question in Luke 7.
John sends two of his students to Jesus to ask a question: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” To some, they hear that question and they think that John is doubting whether Jesus is the Messiah. I think that’s a wrong-read & a faulty view; and I think I can make a good case for that.
Based on all that John says & does, & based on things Jesus says about John, I believe that John using this question to prove to his disciples =and to anyone who might doubt= that Jesus was -and is- God’s promised Chosen One. It’s what a lawyer may call a ‘leading question;’ it gives the witness an opportunity to speak his own testimony of the truth.
Which, in fact, Jesus does. I believe it is also John’s way of divesting himself of his disciples so that they will follow after Jesus; because John knows that his time is done. So John’s question becomes His last testimony to the truth, and his final witness to the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. I also believe that he asked his question so that you & I will cast away any of our doubts about Jesus during this Advent season.
John the Baptist is perhaps the most unique and most remarkable person of the Bible. That’s how Jesus describes him. And compared to the unique & remarkable people we hear about in Scripture, that’s saying something. But Jesus said, “I tell you, among those born of women (which, is ALL of us) none is greater than John.”
And then Jesus explains a few things. It’s because John was not ‘a reed shaken by the wind.’ At times, Moses, Abraham & King David were swayed by the pressures of the world around them = but not John. That’s part of what impressed & attracted people to John’s preaching: his single-minded devotion to his calling. The greatest man ever born! There has to be truth to that – because Jesus said it. That’s evidence to why I believe there’s more here
to John’s question than some last-minute doubts.
Jesus even said John was not just a prophet, but more than a prophet. I think that refers to the fact that no other prophet’s arrival was prophesied ahead of time. 700 years earlier, Isaiah prophesied about the messenger who would prepare the Messiah’s way. He would be the ‘voice of one calling in the desert: prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed; and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
In verse 27, Jesus cites the prophet Malachi, chpt. 3, written 400 years earlier. It said: “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly, the Lord you are seeking, will come to His temple.” John was more than a prophet = he was the last one, sent specifically by God to prepare God’s way in the world. He was a miracle-baby of old Zechariah & Elizabeth. And even before birth, you remember, John was filled with the Holy Spirit for his unique mission of being the single forerunner of the one messiah.
From his early years, John lived in the wilderness until it was his time to cry out: ‘Repent! For the kingdom of God is at hand!’ So, John did not live with a divided heart = one torn between the things of God and the things of this world. That kind of person would dress in fine clothing, and be distracted by the luxuries of the world. But not John. John is truly self-sacrificing, and his whole life was laid down for the sake of the Gospel. It was plain to see that he had taken up his appointed cross to follow the will & the word of God, and point to the Christ.
As the final OT prophet, John was -also- more than a prophet because he alone could witness directly to the Savior. All the other prophets could only say ‘the messiah is coming; believe and wait.’ But John was able to actually point his finger to Him and say, ‘He is here! Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.’ And then, this final prophet was given a new & improved gift for the Church = Baptism; and his hands -alone- would apply that Baptism to the Messiah in the Jordan River. John would testify to the Father’s voice that day, approving of the Son of Heaven; and John would be the official witness of the anointing of the Holy Spirit upon the Christ. All these things were making John firmly faithful, and uniquely dependable; not timid, and not doubting.
In Luke 7, John is in prison. Why? Because he was not a ‘swaying reed.’ John did not waver because of popular opinion or fear of others =like what often affects you & me. He knew no fear except the ‘fear of the Lord.’ Before God, there is no difference between peasant & king. So, with God’s Word, John came as a hammer to crush every proud & sinful heart; that’s the only way for any soul to see their desperate need for the arriving Savior. Of course, John was just a messenger who delivered God’s Living Word; it’s The Spirit that does the crushing -and then the healing- of the human soul.
Those who would resist the truth hated John; just as they hated all the prophets of God. John was in prison because he announced God’s law against king Herod; John called him out for living in adultery. Eventually, Herod would give the command to execute him. With all of this evidence, it certainly does not follow that in His final days, John would now doubt. He knew full-well that Jesus was The One & Only -Immanuel- in the flesh.
A final piece of evidence is something we read in the Gospel of John, ch.3. Before he was thrown into prison, John’s followers became worried that Jesus was getting more followers than he was. One of John’s disciples, Andrew, who became one of the chosen Twelve, he came to John & said, ‘Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan, the one you testified about, well, He is baptizing, and everyone is going to Him.’
To this John replied, “a man can receive only what is given him from heaven.
You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but am sent ahead of him.’
The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who assists the bridegroom waits and
listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine,
and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less. The one who comes
from heaven is above all. The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in His hands.
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life,
for God’s wrath remains on him.” There is no doubt in those words.
Now, putting all these pieces together, this is some powerful evidence that John is not doubting that Jesus is The One. Even tho John is not perfect; he was a sinner in need of the Savior Jesus. Still, it just doesn’t fit that a lack of faith was one of his sins. It does fit that he would use that question as a final pointing to the Christ, and a way to let Jesus proclaim the fulfilment of the Scripture, including that list from Isaiah 35. That fits with the evidence of John’s words & actions.
However, I also think that there could be some other things behind this question John asked. People can ask a question for more than one reason; I can think of three. First, it could be that John was weary. It appears as if John has been in prison for some months.
With the horrible conditions of those prisons, including the lack of food & water, anyone, even John, would welcome some reassurance & encouragement. So maybe with his question he was seeking to be strengthened by the words of His Savior and Lord.
Second, perhaps John was a little impatient. Since his life had just one purpose, to prepare the way for the Lord, he couldn’t do that very well in prison. He was wasting time.
If he did have more hills to bring low, and more crooked hearts to straighten out, maybe he could ask and Jesus would release him from prison. He had a job to do, until it was finished. So, he could’ve been asking his Lord if his job was done.
And third, maybe John was puzzled. The very Creator and Judge of all mankind was here in the flesh. Yet, He was remaining so lowly in the eyes of men; and the arrogant pharisees & teachers of the law were still in charge of the people & the temple. Why? Here again, John could not know everything about the perfect working & timing of God. Why was Jesus doing things so differently than what most had expected? Perhaps John was puzzled at the ways of God. So -maybe- those are 3 more reasons why John sent his question to Jesus. weary, impatient, or puzzled. But, none of those show a lack of faith.
So, I rest my case. It does not make sense that John would ask this question because of doubt, or lack of faith. But it does fit that he would use that question as another opportunity to do his unique work: to prepare hearts to hear the good news that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God; and that by believing, to have life in His name. And then, after hearing Jesus’ answer, and the check list from Isaiah 35, and being assured by Scripture that Jesus was fulfilling the works of the Promised One, John could face the executioner’s axe without fear.
John would not live to see how Jesus had remained humble and suffered all things for us on the tree of the cross, and so fulfills other parts of Isaiah. He only believed firmly that Jesus was The One. And like no one else before him, John lived & died according to that faith; pointing to the Christ. And so John is our mentor & example in the faith.
John calls us to that same firm, fearless & comforting faith in Christ. Peter tells us that we have ‘the words of the prophets made even more certain’ because we have the full written record of Scripture. We have seen The One & Only make His way to the cross, and then roll back the stone from His own tomb. We have seen Jesus fulfill everything said about Him in the Law, the Prophets & the Psalms. Our eyes have seen our salvation in the Christ, the Son of God.
‘on Jordan’s bank, the Baptist still cries = announcing that the Lord is nigh.’
With John, we have no doubt or fear. Our hearts are prepared to receive The Lord.