“Or Shall We Look for Another?” (Luke 7:18-35)
Options, options. Comparison shopping. Never satisfied. Always looking. The grass is always greener. That’s how people are these days. They swipe a new profile on an online dating site, and they think, “Well, he looks interesting,” or “She looks kinda nice,” but, “but maybe I can find someone better.” That’s how our culture is these days. 500 channels to choose from. 6,000 websites to browse. Moving on, moving on. Always looking for something or someone better. Never content. Never satisfied. Always disappointed. No one ever lives up to our expectations.
Well, we get a little first-century version of that today in our Gospel reading. No, maybe not that extreme, in the sense of our culture’s constant distraction and never settling on one thing. But still, a sense of dissatisfaction, of maybe, just maybe, I’ve been betting on the wrong horse. It’s John the Baptist thinking this, and he’s wondering a little bit–no, let’s put it a little stronger than that–John the Baptist is perplexed, he’s mystified, he seems to be disappointed, as to why Jesus isn’t living up to his expectations. And so the question for Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come, or. . . ?” “Or Shall We Look for Another?”
What prompts this perplexity on the part of John? Well, he’s in prison, that’s what. And it doesn’t seem right that he should be. John hadn’t done anything wrong. No, in fact, he had done something right, very right. And yet here he is, languishing in prison. And what is Jesus doing about it? Nothing, it seems. “Hey, this isn’t the way it’s supposed to go! Look, Jesus, I thought you were the Messiah! How come you’re not doing the Messiah job I was expecting?” That’s kind of what’s going on.
Let’s explain and put it in context. You see, John had been preparing the way for Jesus. Calling people to repentance. Warning of wrath and judgment to come. I mean, from John’s perspective, right about to come, in the very near future. Not like, in a thousand years, but like, oh, sometime next Thursday. That’s how John was seeing things. “Even now,” John said, “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
That’s it, Jesus. Now be the Messiah. Start whacking away at those rotten trees. There are some bad guys that need knocking down. Start setting things right. Provide justice for your people who are suffering. Be their advocate and their defender. You, Jesus, as the long-expected Messiah and Judge and Liberator, your job is to see that it happens. John had said, “he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. . . . His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
There it is, judgment and salvation, fire for the bad guys, blessing for the good guys, implemented by the Expected One, the Coming One, the Mighty Messiah, namely, Jesus. And when do we want it? When do we expect it? Like, next Thursday.
So John had been going about this calling-to-repentance business, calling the impenitent types a “brood of vipers,” and so forth, and being very bold and prophetic and fearless. Well, then he called out one of the really powerful people, and that didn’t go so well. It was Herod–yeah, one of those 47 Herod guys you read about in the New Testament, and they’re all bad. Ruthless family, pretty wicked. So this particular Herod, Herod Antipas, did a bad thing by taking away his brother’s wife, Herodias, and committing adultery with her, and making her his own. That’s not good. That’s bad. And so John called him on it. Said, “Herod, you’re sinning there. God will judge you for this.” But Herod, being the powerful tetrarch that he was, and Herodias, not liking some crazy prophet calling them sinners–they had John arrested and thrown in prison.
So this presents an existential problem for John. Here he did the right thing, speaking truth to power and all that, and instead of Jesus backing him up and laying an axe to Herod’s tree–instead, Jesus is out there gallivanting around, not seeming to care about John, and John is stuck in some lousy prison, and the only axe that’s about to be laid anywhere is the axe that will be laid across John’s own neck.
Hey, this does not compute! Hello, Messiah! Where’s the justice here? What’s going on? We are officially perplexed? Did I get this all wrong? “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
Do you ever feel that way, friends? I know I do. And it seems John the Baptist was feeling that way too. Yes, even one of the greatest men of God ever, John, and he couldn’t understand why God was letting this happen–why Jesus was letting this happen.
Do you have some perplexities that you’re wondering why God isn’t doing more for you on? Why is my loved one suffering with this illness? Why did my marriage fall apart? Why are my kids letting me down? How am I going to make it financially? All sorts of questions. All sorts of disappointments. Is it God? Why doesn’t he care? We’ve prayed. Why isn’t Jesus doing something about this? “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
No, dear one. You haven’t bet on the wrong horse. Jesus is the right one, the only right one. Let him assure you today, like he assured John the Baptist: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
You see, Jesus was doing the blessing part of the Messiah job right then and there. Not everything was getting fixed, but enough good was going on to make it plain that Jesus would indeed complete the job. And that will include all the fixing up and straightening out, all the tree-whacking and grain-garnering, and all the sick-healing and dead-raising there is to do. But all in due time. Patience, child, patience. Yes, I know that can be tough, but that’s the way it is. If Jesus does the key part of being the Messiah, that assures you he will do the rest, that he will do it all. No need to be looking for someone else. He is the one who was to come and who will come.
“The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.” And the good news is, all of this will come to pass, and Jesus has already guaranteed it.
He did this by himself suffering an unjust arrest, by himself being killed most unfairly. Jesus, the most righteous one–the only perfectly righteous one–he would be arrested and tried and put to death, when it was clear he was entirely not guilty. But he did this for you, for you and for John and for all the perplexed people of this world. Justice is done. All the wrongs and the sins are paid for. By Jesus’ holy blood on the cross. Now your fears and your worries have a place to go to find an answer. To the cross of Christ. This assures you that there is ultimate hope and remedy in store for God’s oppressed. As Jesus burst forth from the tomb on Easter morning, so he will call us forth from our prisons and from our graves when he comes again. Maybe not next Thursday. Then again, maybe it will be next Thursday. Who knows? We don’t know when, but we do know will. Jesus will come again, and he will set everything right.
“Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” No, you don’t have to look for another. You don’t have to look any further than this same Jesus. For he did not come looking for perfect people. Indeed, he is the friend of tax collectors and sinners! Yes, Christ came looking for people just like you and me. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” If that describes you, then you are in good shape. Jesus came looking for you, and he has found you, right where you are.