Messengers from John the Baptist
2 When John heard in prison what the Messiah[a] was doing, he sent word by his[b] disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 4 Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers[c] are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6 And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
Jesus Praises John the Baptist
7 As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 8 What then did you go out to see? Someone[d] dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9 What then did you go out to see? A prophet?[e] Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’
11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
Wait. It’s an interesting word. It literally means “to stay where one is or delay action until a particular time or until something else happens” and/or is a word “used to indicate that one is eagerly impatient to do something or for something to happen.”
During this season of the year, Advent, we are said to be waiting for something to happen, waiting for the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, or promised one that will bring deliverance from whatever we are held in bondage to…and will bring peace and hope to the world, right?
So, we wait for something to happen, or to come. Often, we don’t like to wait. Especially in lines, which is another thing we do a lot of at Christmas. We go to stores, shops and wait in line. We drive somewhere and wait in traffic. We often look at waiting with frustration, anxiety, impatience.
Our passage in Matthew this morning has something to say about waiting. John the Baptist has been waiting for the Messiah. As we discussed last week, his voice cried out in the wilderness, outside the city, outside the established norms of institutional religion, calling people towards a change of heart and mind, repentance, in order to be able to be cleansed and recognize the Son of God when he came. John was a prophet living before Jesus comes on to the scene fully, but recognizes Jesus early on as that Messiah.
Now, John finds himself in prison because of his prophetic words that rubbed King Herod, the Jewish ruler a the time under Roman occupation. John had been going full steam, now he had to slow down…alone with his thoughts, dispirited by imprisonment, he questions whether Jesus is the Messiah that John’s been waiting for…Jesus doesn’t exactly fit the image that John had.
Sometimes, when we wait for something or someone, we may become disillusioned during the waiting. The waiting may be over, but we still may not understand what is before us. It may not give us the desired outcome, or what we had anticipated.
At that point, we can give up and look for something else, or we can begin to ask the deeper questions of what exactly are we looking for? Is there something else going on? But, the important thing is to ask, sincerely and honestly.
John sends his disciples to Jesus to ask Jesus if he’s the one. Jesus sends them back with this simple statement. Yes. He is. He then gives evidence that more than simply proclaiming or preaching a message of deliverance, to look at Jesus’ actions. The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are healed and restored to community, the deaf hear, the dead rise from the grave, and the poor are told the good news that they too are to be fully included and loved by God.
Jesus goes on to say, in effect that those who can see Jesus and his actions of radically inclusive love and grace and not stumble on theology, politics, or maintaining the status quo, can experience joy, true spiritual growth.
Jesus states that John was great, that he came and gave a message that wasn’t driven by popular opinion, by winning arguments, or giving out eloquent speech that made folks feel good. People came to him because he was a prophet, a messenger, a herald even greater than Elijah telling of a new day that was upon them and that the Messiah was coming.
The translation in verse 10 is that God was sending a messenger before our face…this was no syrupy feel good message, this was a message of repentance, get ready, the wait is almost over, the promised one will come and things will change. We cannot hide, it’s literally in our face. Therefore, get rid of the old way of thinking and prepare your hearts and minds for new ways of thinking and acting. It was a hard message, but it was effective.
Jesus says if the listeners in that passage, and us today, have ears to hear and are willing to accept this message, then the wait is over, we can begin to live lives even now filled with love, acceptance, and growth.
In the verses following after this passage, Jesus says that this generation doesn’t know what it wants…that it’s like children yelling at each other in the marketplaces, complaining about everything. John comes along with a message of repentance with a simple lifestyle, not eating or drinking…Jesus comes along eating and drinking with a message of grace, acceptance, and God’s inclusiveness…people say John must have been demon possessed and Jesus was greedy, likes to drink, and is friends with tax collectors and sinners.
Yet, more than words said by prophets and preachers, wisdom is born out of waiting and receiving with patience the actions of a prophet and of a Messiah.
So, waiting is good, it produces character and gives us perspective. Yet, as we approach Advent, the coming of Jesus, what are we waiting for? What are our expectations? Can we wait with intention and with humility with one another? Can we queue up towards Christmas? Friends, may it be so and may we repent, may we have a change of heart and mind…and may we laugh and dance with a God who loves us, who accepts us, and who includes us in communion with Godself and others.