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Mar 29 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

March 27, 2011

Summoning two of his disciples, John sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else? Luke 7:19 (read verses 18-35)

INTRO: This week, Barbara said she was going to look into getting a bus pass for next month

Gasoline is simply too expensive right now to keep filling up her tank

Gas prices right now, like the tidal changes along the West Coast due to the earthquake in Japan, illustrate the famous “Butterfly Effect”–only it’s not the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil nor is the effect a tornado in Texas
The hike in the cost of gas is the result of another famous physics’ model, the “Domino Effect” in the middle-east as the population of one nation attempts the achievement of those in another nation that brought down the authoritarian rule of an elite

I read an interesting article in Jadaliyya, in which Lina Khatib described the typical response of Arab autocrats to the current protests in their nations:

  1. At first they ignore the protests
  2. Then they offer cosmetic solutions
  3. Next, they engage in denial
  4. They then attempt to quell protests by force
  5. When they realize they are losing ground, they begin issuing warnings of civil war
  6. Finally they blame the media (or foreign plots, or al-Qaeda)

I could not help thinking that Israel learned this lesson 3500 yrs ago when the nation divided after Solomon’s reign
– it was Rehoboam’s strategy and it failed

Skip this if you know the story
The people came to Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, to protest the heavy burden his father had placed on them and demanded that the new king grant them relief (1 Ki. 12:4). Rehoboam thought he could ignore their demands and denied their request. It would seem that he was in denial about their declaration of breaking away from his rule (v. 16), because he sent to them his administrator “over the forced labor” and the people stoned him to death. Before Rehoboam could mobilize his troops against the northern tribes, God intervened and commanded him to accept the loss of the north (vv. 21-24).

Another article I read suggested that the success of protestors in Arab countries and Iran could come at a high cost to us and our nation
– perhaps we can think about the worth of hundreds of thousands human lives when we have to pay extra for our gas

At any rate, it seems we are witnessing a radical change in Arab and middle-east history
– a radical change in history is exactly what lies in the background of our story

Verses 18-23: John the Baptist began to have doubts about Jesus

The way John saw it, the Messiah could not possibly allow the world to continue on as it was
– he would surely bring God’s justice to the righteous and his judgment against the wicked
– but that was not the report he received about Jesus 
Instead he heard that Jesus was teaching, “Love your enemy,” God “is kind to ungrateful and evil men,” and that he said, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged”
– I can hear John in his prison cell fuming, “What nonsense is this?”
– what John said about the Messiah was that his “winnowing is in His hand to thoroughly clear His threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into His barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (3:17)
– and John believed the Messiah would do all this as soon as he arrived!

But Jesus wasn’t changing anything
– Rome still occupied the holy city, corrupt religious leaders still compromised with Roman officials, Herod still ruled in Galilee, and John was still in Herod’s dungeon

So John sent disciples to resolve the tension he felt over this apparent contradiction (would the Messiah just let him rot in prison?)
John needed reassurance . . . or else, he was attempting to manipulate the Lord
– “Come on Jesus, get on with it! Otherwise we’ll have to go looking for someone else to get the job done. Someone who acts more like a Messiah!”

“The Messiah is supposed to exalt Israel; he is supposed to restore the dynasty of David; he is supposed to usher in the Golden Age”
– John stumbled over the “supposed to”–everyone did; the Pharisees, the crowds, even the disciples

Some Christians cannot imagine living for God in the world as it is
– I hear them say things like, “The Lord has to return soon. Otherwise the world will be engulfed in total darkness”
But Jesus gives his followers a spiritual life designed exactly for the world as it is
– theologians refer to this spiritual life as “incarnational” – it is a life with God that is tucked into flesh and blood
– it doesn’t avoid walking on the earth, but sanctifies the ground where it places its feet
– it thrives in the mundane activities of everyday life as much as the ecstatic moments
– it brings awareness to God’s presence in every place and at all times
As Carl McComan says, “You don’t have to deny the earth to embrace heaven”

The challenge for us is to create an incarnational structure for our everyday lives
– to organize our routines around this reality

John the Baptist was struggling
– this is something I want to impress on you as strongly as I can: We all struggle!
AND, we must take our struggles seriously!

  • progress in our spiritual journey comes only by growing through our struggles
  • to ignore or avoid struggling with God blocks growth and results in deformity and dysfunction
  • the Psalms are filled with the struggles of devout believers
  • if we stay with our struggle then, like Jacob who wrestled with God, we will walk away with a new name
    – coming through our struggle to the other side will redefine who we are
    – it will also redefine our passions, purpose, and goals

Jesus did not give John a straight answer
– he doesn’t say, “Yes, John, relax. I’m the One. I’m just starting differently than you assumed.”
– this was the big question, Is Jesus the Messiah?
“How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly” (Jn. 10:24) 
But he didn’t

I think it’s fair to say that what John wanted was certainty
– it is similar to the request of those who will come later asking for a sign (11:16)
– and it is similar to our own requests for miracles
We want proof that we’ve made the right decision
– but life in God is not based on certainty, it’s based on faith
Jesus does not provide us with proof or certainty
– instead, he gives us answers that lead us to faith

What Jesus does for John is like the role of a “spiritual director”
– both the director and person receiving direction listen to that person’s life
– they listen also to God in prayer to discern:

  • What is going on with the person spiritually
  • The next step that God is indicating

Jesus did not hand John the answer, but gave him clues for finding the right path
– but it was up to John to draw the right conclusion and put his faith in Jesus
Jesus does not make faith easy, he does not simply hand it to us
– but he gives us what we need in order to find our way to faith

The Lord’s answer to John: Who I am can be discovered in My works
– but that was just the problem for John
– the works Jesus was doing weren’t what John had been expecting

In the gospels, the works of Jesus get people asking who he is
– at the same time, it is his works that reveal who he is

Jesus sends John’s disciples back with quotes from Isaiah
– it is as if he were telling him, “I am this One” (see Lk. 4:18-21)
Isaiah was given a vision of new world – that world was being born in Jesus
– his works reveal the labor pains of a radical change in history

After listing the miracles they had witnessed, Jesus adds, “the poor have the gospel preached to them”
– now we have the full picture
– Jesus is known through his works when they are coupled to his word
This is important, because it tells us how we come to know the person of Jesus today

Jesus’ last word to John, “Blessed is he who does not take offense at Me”
– blessed is the man or woman who discovers Jesus and accepts him for who he is
This is the central issue that confronts John (and us), the “ME” – “does not take offense at Me”
– the ME who had given sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, life to the dead
– this ME is the heart of the whole story; the heart of the gospel
– this ME is where heaven touches earth and God connects with humans

Verses 24-30, Jesus questions the crowd about John

A “reed” – moves in whatever direction the wind blows
– like leaders who create policy based on what is reported in the polls
– this is sort of the way John appears now–vacillating–, but that’s not what drew people to him in the wilderness
“Those who are splendidly clothed” are found in palaces (and among some televangelists)
– but that’s not what drew crowds to John

What is Jesus getting at?
– he is getting the crowd thinking about why they were so strongly affected by John
– he is bringing their awareness to the fact that John was a prophet; even “more that prophet”
“More” because he had the greatest task and it came at the climax of prophetic history
– he stood at the end of an era – history was crossing a threshold that would radically change how God and humans relate

The greatness of “the least kingdom of God” is due to the fact that what was coming is so much greater than what was

Verses 31-35, Jesus uncovers a serious problem

Although the way he went about ministry was the opposite of John’s way, there were still people who were not happy and did not respond
– they were like petulant children whom no one could please

Again, Jesus fills the role of a spiritual director; this time for the crowd

  • he asks them questions that draw their problem to the surface
  • he provides analogies to enlighten them
  • he guides them to the issue they need to face and fix

“Wisdom is vindicated by all her children” – the truth will win out in the end
Friday I participated in a grave side service in El Toro
– while waiting for everyone to arrive, I read the engravings on a few markers, “To a loving mother,” “We will always remember our wonderful father and grandfather,” and so on
– I was reminded that life is not a sprint, but a marathon – it can only be judged at the end and not in the moment
When all is said and done, we will see who was wise and who was not
– and those who are vindicated will not necessarily be those who seem to have it all together now

CONC: The contrast between Jesus and John can serve as model of two types of Christians

The dreary kind and the joyful kind – the legalists and the free spirits (see Romans 14)
– as for me, I would rather feast with Jesus than fast with John
– I would rather dance with Jesus than weep with John

But the point that the Lord is making is that, one way or the other, we must respond
– we must get up and go, following either the music of the flute or the singing of a lament

I suggest that, regardless of whether or not we’ve got rhythm, we get up and dance to the music of Jesus

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