Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Sermon: Luke 7: 19-23 Are You The One?

I wonder if you’ve ever had unmet expectations. You had hoped that something would happen, but then things don’t turn out just the way you had thought they would. It might have been in work - a new colleague started, and you thought things would get better with someone to help you, but they actually made the work harder. They weren’t what you expected.

Or perhaps it was in a family situation. Maybe an inlaw - you thought that a new brother-in-law or sister-in-law would be great company, but they turned out to be completely different once you got to know them. You expected so much more than what you got.

It can be hardest, though, if our expectations are in relation to God. We’re facing a particular situation, praying really hard for God to act in a specific way, but he doesn’t. Or he does something we didn’t expect, and we don’t know what to think. Maybe you prayed for a loved one to become a Christian or to be healed from their illness, but they were never healed or saved. It wasn’t what you expected. It left you with lots of questions.

As the messengers from John the Baptist come to Jesus, they express a similar sort of unmet expectation. John the Baptist had been this fiery preacher, warning of the wrath to come, preparing the way for the appearing of the Lord, for that day of judgment. He had, under the guidance of the Spirit, baptised Jesus, recognising him as the Messiah, the Christ, the coming King.

John is now in prison, having been put there by Herod, and is hearing some news about what Jesus has been doing, but it’s not what John expected. Listen to John’s message: ‘Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire... His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’ (Luke 3:9, 17)

Fire, wrath, judgment. But that’s not what has been happening in Jesus’ ministry. He’s been teaching people, healing people, and even raising the dead. This wasn’t on John’s agenda, and so he has questions for Jesus. In verse 19 we find that searching question: ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’

Jesus, are you the real Messiah, are you the one that Israel has been waiting for all these hundreds of years? Are you really the hope of Israel, the Son of God, the king, the judge? I mean, all that stuff you’re doing is good and nice and all that, but it’s not really what I was expecting you to do. Where is the wrath? Notice that he knows that there’s someone to come - someone they’ve been waiting for, it’s just that Jesus didn’t match up to what he expected. John, and Israel, were waiting for the conquering king to defeat the Roman armies and free Israel from their slavery.

So it’s interesting to see Jesus’ response. Rather than a straight ‘yes’, Jesus gives an intriguing reply: ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.’

It’s as if Jesus is offering an Old Testament identikit picture of what he is doing. You know those police pictures of suspects - short hair, big ears, a long nose, thin mouth, and you have a rough image of what the robber looks like. Here, Jesus tells the messengers to tell John what they’ve seen and heard - the fulfillment of those Old Testament promises of what it will look like when the Lord is restoring his people.

It’s not what John was expecting, and yet, it’s exactly God’s agenda, promised long before. Wrongs put right, people being healed and saved. And while we read this and think - why does God not heal my relative today - we know that it’s all down to God’s timing, and he will, on that day when we rise with restored bodies, with no more sin or suffering or sickness. It’s not that Jesus will never judge - the rest of his teaching in the gospel shows that he will judge the world - but we have to get the timing right. As another promise from Isaiah says, ‘to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favour, and the day of vengeance of our God.’ (Is 61:2) Jesus’ earthly ministry proclaims God’s grace, but when Jesus returns as judge, he will exercise the vengeance of our God against his enemies.

Our unmet expectations are normally the result of us expecting the wrong things, or at the wrong time. Jesus doesn’t conform to our agendas - we must be conformed to his. Are you the one who is to come? Yes, as the signs of the kingdom confirm.

This sermon was preached in St Peter's Church, Antrim Road, Belfast on Wednesday 15th December at the midweek Communion.

No comments:

Post a Comment