An important question is asked today in our Gospel reading, one which has great ramifications. The question is this: “Are you the one who is the come, or shall we look for another?”
At first glance, it might not seem like that big of a question at all. Or, on the other hand, this could be about as big of a question as one could ask, for you see, the answer that we give to this question on the day of our death reveals our eternal destination.
Leading up to our text for today, we see Jesus coming onto the scene in a very big way. Following His Baptism, Jesus is tempted into the wilderness by the devil. As He begins His ministry, He heals a man with an unclean demon, many who are sick that have been brought to Him, He calls His disciples and He begins His preaching ministry. He heals more individuals and eventually raises a widow’s son from the dead. News had spread of what Jesus had done and the disciples of John come and report all that has happened to him. John calls two of his disciples and sends them to Jesus to ask if Jesus is the one who is to come or should they look for someone else.
This question has been interpreted in two ways. First, some hold that John himself was still convinced that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the Coming One, but he wanted to renew the faith of his disciples and therefore sent them to Jesus to be strengthened. Others see this questions as an example of how even such a person as John, the herald of Christ, could waver. As a prisoner, isolated and cut off, he might have fallen prey to doubts. In either case, the question John asks through his disciples gives Jesus the opportunity to again point out his role as the Messiah, the servant of God.
Jesus sends the disciples back to John, instructing them to report what they had heard and seen. Jesus points to His miracles, including also the raising of the dead at Nain, as evidence that He is the one promised in the Old Testament. His message to John and to all of us: don’t look for any other messiah because the true Messiah is here.
The question that John poses is still a valid question for us today. Many today doubt and question whether or not Jesus is who He says He is, if He can do what He says He can do. Jesus responded to John’s question with more than just “yes” or “no.” He showed those who were there that He was the fulfillment of the promises that God had made long ago through the prophets. Jesus showed that He is the Messiah by the signs of His healing and His preaching.
What faulty expectations might we have about Jesus? The people of Jesus’ time thought of Him as a great earthly king, one who would kick out the Romans and restore Jerusalem to all of its glory from the days of old. Others thought that the Messiah would be a great prophet. But for us today, who do we think Jesus is? What do we doubt about His life and His ministry? Is He who He says He is? Can He really forgive me my sins like He claims that He can? Can He really give to me everlasting life because of His death and resurrection?
The answer to all of these questions and more is yes. Yes, He is who He claims to be, the Christ, the Son of God. Yes, He can and does forgive you all of your sins. Yes, He can and does give to you everlasting life on account of His life, death, and resurrection.
There should be no doubt as to whether or not Jesus is the one who is to come. John was right all along. Jesus is a prophet, but not just a prophet. He is the prophet. He is the one to whom Zephaniah speaks of in our Old Testament reading for today: “The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save….”
Jesus fulfills all that had been prophesied about Him. He was born of woman, being one with us sinners. He became the least in the Kingdom of God while on the cross so that He could make us sinners the greatest in the Kingdom by faith. Jesus is the One to whom we can look to for assurance with all our doubts for He has reconciled us to God.
Here is a question: Are you—right now—under the reign and rule of Christ Jesus as your Lord and Savior and King? The answer, of course, is “yes.” You see, from the perspective of history, we are greater than John the Baptist because we know and hold to the whole salvation story. We know the truth that “It is finished.” We know that Christ Jesus accomplished all of salvation in His all-redeeming life, death, and resurrection. Not even John the Baptist understood all that. Remember: John, the greatest of anyone on earth, still didn’t fully understand what Christ and His ministry was all about. He didn’t understand that Christ’s glory necessarily involved a cross. John only saw the victorious, glorified Jesus at the end of salvation history. He only understood the triumphant Christ, who would bear the righteous winnowing fork and put the axe to the tree. He didn’t get that this same victorious Christ had to first suffer and die. As a consequence of this misunderstanding, John struggled. When times got really tough and he was languishing on death row in prison he struggled and wavered and doubted, and understandably so.
During this Advent season of penitential preparation, we consider our doubts and other sins. As we consider these sins, their consequences and punishment should terrify us. How wonderful it is to learn that in Jesus Christ we have all of the signs of God’s promise. We have the signs of His miracles and His teaching, but especially we have the sign of His crucifixion and resurrection that earn forgiveness for our sins and give us the promise of life everlasting in His gracious presence.
Today, we rejoice that the Son of God came into the world to offer Himself up for us as our substitute and to take away our sins. We rejoice that by His resurrection, He has opened heaven for us. We rejoice that, although our sin is great, our Savior is greater. We rejoice in the way He came to conquer our sin. We rejoice in the way He now comes to offer forgiveness to all people. We rejoice in the way He will come to give eternal life to all who believe in Him. In the name of Jesus, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.