Grace and peace in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
We began the season of Advent as a time of reflection. To think about our lives, to repent of our sins and prepare for the coming of the Lord. Indeed, Christ is with us now, but this season we remember His first coming as the fulfillment of all the prophecies of the Old Testament and the hope of the faithful who lived before His birth. In the figure of John the Baptist we see the last of the prophets, the men whom God sent to the people of Israel to call the people to repentance and remember the covenant between them and God to be the people from whom would be born the Savior of the world.
Jesus was born after the birth of John the Baptist. When Mary conceived Him by the Holy Spirit,she visited her relative, Elizabeth, six months pregnant with John and he leaped in his mother's womb to greet Him who was in the womb of Mary. Many years later the cousins found each other again when John was preaching a baptism of repentance alongside the Jordan River. Jesus came to John to be baptized and John said to him, "I should not baptize you, I should be baptized by you. You are the Messiah, the Promised One of Israel.” However, Jesus began his public ministry with the baptism in the Jordan River. We will talk more about this theme on January 8th, in the dedication service of this chapel.
In our text for today, John was in prison. He preached the need for repentance to all: the poor, the middle class and the rich and powerful, including King Herod Antipas. The king lived in adultery with his half-brother's wife, and John told him that was not right. The king had power to put John in jail and he did. Later Herod ordered the death of John.
Even in prison John had two disciples. He sent them to Jesus and to ask Him, "Are you the one who is to come, or should we wait for another?" The text does not make it clear whether John did this for his own interest or the well-being of his disciples. By the Jordan River, in his freedom, John said that Jesus was the Christ, the Promised One of Israel. However, perhaps Juan had his doubts in jail. It is easy to confess that Christ is Lord when all is well, in time of safety and prosperity. Of course, many people forget God in good times, but others declare their faith. But, the test of faith is to keep it in difficult times. When they tease us, when they persecute us, when the government imprisons us, our nature is to doubt. Where is God in this situation? That is our question. For John the reward for preaching the Word of God was imprisonment and death in jail.
There is another possibility: John anticipated his death and sent his disciples to Jesus for their welfare. Jesus was the fulfillment of all that John preached and he wanted his disciples to have life in Christ, not for them to remain with him until his death.
Never mind, Jesus' response was the same. Go and tell John the things that you hear and see: The blind see, and the lame walk; The lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear; The dead are raised up, and the gospel is preached to the poor. These are signs of the coming of the Messiah according to Old Testament prophecies. God, the Creator of heaven and earth, has made an ordered universe. There are natural laws. When you touch a flame with your finger, your finger burns. This is a natural law. God has the power to suspend natural laws, but He does not want to abrogate His own law without purpose. The miracles of God are signs that this is the Word of God and is sure. Another sign that the prophet Isaiah spoke: A virgin shall conceive a son. That's why we celebrate Christmas.
So, when Jesus told them, look at the signs of the Messiah, he declared, I am the Messiah, I am the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies. Messianic prophecies were the hope of the believers before Christ and all the prophets until John the Baptist pointed to Christ.
But Jesus told them about John: Verily I say unto you, There is not raised among them that are born of women greater than John the Baptist. He was the greatest of the prophets because John saw the Christ in a visible form. However, John died before the death and resurrection of Christ. He did not see the Messiah's victory. But he that is least in the kingdom of the heaven, is greater than him. Those who have the testimony of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are greater than John. Each of us has more of the Word of God than John and the prophets.
We only lack the experience of the second coming of Christ in glory. We anticipate that glorious day in the season of Advent too, because when Christ comes in glory, we have the fulfillment of the promise of eternal life. In that we have peace that surpasses all understanding. Amen.
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