Sermons That Work

This Is a Story about Jesus…, Advent 3 (A) – 1998

December 13, 1998

This is a story about Jesus and John the Baptist. John the Baptist is near the end of his life. He wants to know if his life work is being fulfilled. He sent those who lived with him to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come?” Jesus responds by saying to them, “go and tell him what you hear and see.” Then Jesus speaks to his disciples and teaches them about John the Baptist and the prophets.

Jesus’ authenticity as the anointed one of God is not grounded in his credentials. In fact, other than some angels singing in celebration at this birth, some wise men showing up to bring him gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and the Holy Spirit swooping down on him while a voice in heaven says,” this is my beloved son, listen to him,” Jesus didn’t have much in the way of credentials. And if the Gospels are reliable, we have no evidence that Jesus ever pulled out his credentials to impress anyone.

Instead, Jesus told John’s disciples, “tell John what you hear and see. The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news brought to them, and blessed is anyone who takes no offense in me. ”

What Jesus did to impress everyone was change things. And Jesus wasn’t being vague or puzzling when at the end he says “…blessed is anyone who takes no offense in me.” Change is scary to human beings. Some would say that all change is regarded as a loss. All pastors have known people fearful of making the most basic and obvious of decisions because they don’t want to lose any of their options. All physicians know of people who don’t want to be well because wellness would change the boundaries of their lives and relationships.

Jesus went around changing things. At first glance we ask, “How can anyone be upset by blind people being given sight, or deaf people being able to hear, or lepers cleansed, or the lame walk, or the dead raised, or the poor hearing good news? How can this be regarded as troubling?” But think about it. What if a person wants someone dead and then the person is raised to life? We live in the bloodiest century in human history. Millions have been killed in war, famine, and persecution. This century coined the word genocide. We went to a lot of trouble and expense to kill each other. The images that Jesus uses are not only events, but they are also metaphors. The image of the deaf hearing is also a metaphor for understanding. We use the phrase, “I see,” when we come to an understanding. We describe an idea as “having legs” when the idea is generally accepted. We describe a bill in Congress that will not be passed as “dead”. We characterize the victims of new and desperate illnesses as being “the new lepers” and seek to isolate ourselves from them. And the notion of good new for the poor is really offensive to some of us. In fact, some of us are angry with the poor because they are poor. Human kind is generally uncomfortable with change. We go to great lengths to avoid change. We are especially distressed with change when it means a change in us.

Jesus said, “blessed is anyone who takes no offense in me”. The word blessed could appropriately be translated as happy. Listen to this. “Happy is anyone who takes no offense in me.” The changes that Jesus shows to John’s disciples are changes that lead to sight–understanding, walking-movement, hearing-knowledge, life-new life- cleansing, wellness. People are moved from despair to hope, understanding, movement, knowledge, new life, wellness and hope. These are powerful forces. These are forces that generate positive, God-ward change. When we are able to embrace them, we are happy. When we fear them, we are offended by those who bring them. Jesus was offensive enough to be killed.

And John was offensive enough to be killed, too. Jesus very plainly tells why when he names John the Baptist as a prophet. In fact, Jesus identifies John the Baptist as the greatest of the prophets. Prophets weren’t necessarily predictors of the future. What they did was examine the conduct of the people or the government and, based on the examination, describe alternatives. The basis for the examination was the will and law of God. A prophet might say, “if you the king continue idolatry, excessive taxation, and persist in stealing land from the poor. Then the dogs will lick up your blood in the streets. If on the other hand, you repent, turn to true worship, stop the excessive taxation, and return what you have stolen, the kingdom will be secure for your heirs.”

The message John proclaimed was simple, “repent, he is coming.” Jesus is the one who came. He changed everything. His resurrection is the ultimate change. Death no longer has the final say over our lives and us. The fact that death no longer has the last word is hard for us. Despair is a changeless place to live. Nothing can happen that will change anything. Despair is perfect stability. We humans crave stability.

But that craving is a consequence of our fears and our sins. Be your own personal prophet. Examine yourself by God’s will and God’s law. Claim and accept that God loves you and seeks to give you a new life that is happy with change because you are not offended by Jesus. Repent. He is coming.

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Christopher Sikkema


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