Last Sunday, we heard of the last of the Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist, and the message that He proclaimed: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand…. I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry.” Everything was pointing to Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah of old. Today, we find John the Baptist again; not preaching and baptizing, but in prison.
While in prison, John heard about Jesus’ activities and he was somewhat puzzled or confused. He sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Was it possible that John really was unsure about Jesus at this time? If not, why would he send two of his disciples to ask Jesus this question? There are two possibilities. The first: it was possible that John’s disciples were discouraged at the fact that Jesus had done nothing to get John out of prison. They might have wondered whether John really was God’s special messenger. If they had doubts about John, they would have doubts about Jesus, whom John had pointed to as the promised Messiah. It is possible that John wanted his disciples to go to Jesus for reassurance, even though John himself had no doubts about Jesus.
The second possibility was that John himself was troubled and unsure of whom Jesus was. It was, after all, John who was asking the question, albeit indirectly through his disciples. Doubt could have plagued John following our account last week. John gives a rather vivid account of the work of the coming Messiah, that is, gathering the wheat and burning the chaff. In other words, separating believer from unbeliever. However, that has not happened yet and could make John wonder whether or not he had the Messiah right.
In either case, can you really blame John or his disciples? John had done what he was supposed to do. He was already a prophet in his mother’s womb as he leapt for joy when Mary approached bearing Jesus in her womb. He had baptized thousands for repentance in anticipation of the coming Messiah. He had done everything he was supposed to do and yet, he ended up in jail. You can’t blame him for looking back over his ministry and wondering if it was all worth it. The disciples of John followed his teaching but when their leader ended up in prison with the Messiah doing nothing, it would be easy to doubt.
The question that was asked of Jesus so long ago is still asked today. “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Well, it’s not really asked so much as an answer is given to Jesus: “We’ll look for another.” We can thank the world for that answer. The world has perfected that answer to the point that Jesus need not even be considered for salvation. The world won’t go so far as to say Jesus is the Messiah because that would assert that there is a single means of salvation and the world doesn’t want that to happen, lest we offend someone.
For as much as the world puts forth that salvation can be found in anyone or anything other than Jesus, the Church should be the one place where you should be able to find the right answer to John’s question, but unfortunately, even that is not always the case. You will get the prosperity preaching that says believe hard enough, have enough faith and God will bless you. But notice who the subject is: it’s not Jesus but it’s you. You are the one doing the work. But as soon as you are the one doing the work, then you have a problem. It has to be, it must be Jesus who does the work and not us.
When John’s disciples came to Jesus, He answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see.” Jesus understood John’s doubts. He understood the doubts of John’s disciples. He understands the doubts that we have. He understood that John needed assurance. He understood that John’s disciples needed assurance. He understands that we need assurance. Dear saints of God, that assurance is coming for you. The promise that God made so long ago is to be fulfilled in the birth of His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
For all those times when God’s people wonder whether or not God will keep His Word regarding the Messiah, the time is soon to be fulfilled. When we have our doubts, we return to Jesus’ Word. We return to Jesus’ life. From birth to death, there was a singular mission that He was focused on: the redemption of God’s creation. Everything that was done was done with you in mind. He sends people to proclaim the wonders He has done so that we can hear about them. By this proclamation of His deeds, He sends the Holy Spirit to bear us up and strengthen us as we travel through this sinful world, especially as we travel through those darker times of doubt.
Here is the true antidote for doubt: the proclamation that Jesus forgives sins. We may think that we can take comfort and certainty in the many supernatural attributes of God; His power, His knowledge, His wisdom, His holiness, and so forth, but that is not the case. Without forgiveness, those other attributes only serve to terrify us. If there is no forgiveness, then God’s holiness only sets Him apart from sinful people like us. If there is no forgiveness, then God’s total knowledge reveals our every sin. If there is no forgiveness, then God’s power is there to punish our sin. Without forgiveness, God is simply the ultimate terror.
When there is forgiveness, then God is comfort and assurance. When there is forgiveness, God’s holiness is for us. When there is forgiveness, God’s power protects us. With forgiveness, God is the ultimate comfort. He is the ultimate re-assurance.
One thing that we must remember is that forgiveness does not come cheap. The one who earns forgiveness must satisfy God’s justice and God’s justice requires the punishment of sin. That is exactly what Jesus did. Jesus took your sin into Himself. Then, when God punished your sin, the punishment fell on Jesus and not on you. When Jesus hung on the cross, He took your place as the target of God’s just punishment of sin. This is nothing other than God’s perfect love enduring God’s perfect justice for you. This is Jesus earning forgiveness for you.
We celebrate the coming of our Savior in the manger at Bethlehem because it is through Him that our sins are forgiven and the gates of heaven are opened. Through His atoning death He conquered your death, and raises you to a new life. By faith granted through the Holy Spirit, we now have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. He came to His people, He now comes to you, who are His people by faith, and He will come again, that you would need and expect no other. 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.