The New Webster?s Dictionary defines ?patience? like this. ?The quality of bearing trials without murmuring; the quality of enduring with calmness.? Patience is on display in the face of trials and trouble and suffering. When things are going poorly, you need to be patient. No one thinks about being patient in the face of prosperity and ease and good times. When things are going well, no one ever thinks to say to you, ?be patient, it?ll soon be over.?
In today?s Epistle reading, James, the half brother of Jesus says, ?Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord.? ?As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.? (James 5:7,10).
So, lets take James? advice and take a prophet who spoke in the name of the Lord as an example of suffering and patience. Let?s take John the Baptizer, who is all of the Old Testament prophets rolled up into one. Or as Jesus says, John?s a prophet and ?more than a prophet.?
Last week, we met John in the desert, preaching a baptism for repentance. Many came to the desert from the surrounding area and were ?baptized confessing their sins.? But there were some who didn?t respond so favorably to John?s preaching. One in particular was Herod who was King of the region of Galilee which included the wilderness where John was busy baptizing.
Seems that Herod had invited his brother Philip and his wife to come and live with them in the royal palace. Things turned into a regular ?reality TV,? wife exchange. John was not one of those preachers who was afraid to speak out on the politics and politicians of the day. He called what was going on in Herod?s palace what it was, and still is to this day ? adultery. ?Repent,? he said. No ?reed shaken by the wind? was John. For his boldness to preach God?s Word, especially the Law, John got invited to live at Herod?s palace too. But he wasn?t given ?soft clothing? to wear. He wore shackles and chains and clothing with lots of stripes on them.
This morning, we meet John in prison. John is suffering because he ?spoke the name of the Lord.? That?s not what you?d expect is it? You?d expect that if you ?speak the name of the Lord,? that you should be rewarded ? not punished. You?d expect that if you do good things, the right thing, then bad things won?t happen to you. That?s the way we expect things to work.
So how does John deal with his suffering for the sake of the gospel? ?Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord.? If anyone knew that the Lord was coming, it was John. Not only did John know that Jesus was coming, he knew that the time was ?at hand.? ?The time had fully come.? It wouldn?t be long before the Lord would set things right and make all things new. And knowing this, John bore his troubles without murmuring and endured with calmness.
So when some of his disciples visited him in prison, he sent them to Jesus with a question. John wanted to know, ?are you the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?? This is John the Baptist who wonders if Jesus is the One or not. This is he, of whom Jesus says, ?among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.? John had known Jesus was the One from the moment they had first met, which was while each of them was still in the their mother?s womb. He had pointed right at Jesus as He came over the hill and down to where he was preaching and baptizing, ?Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.? But now, from his prison cell, he needs to be reassured that Jesus is the One.
Listen, if you ever begin to think that you don?t need the regular, weekly reassurance that Jesus is the One and that you are to look for no other, then learn something from John. He?s the greatest among those born of women and he needs to be reassured. So do you who are not the greatest of those born of women.
The old sinful nature in us will not simply surrender and give up. We are continually tempted to doubt. God?s Word is far more powerful than our doubts. His Word of assurance and reassurance overcomes all of our doubts and drives away our despair. But if you go too long without that Word or without that reassurance, doubts will be sure to rise up and take hold again.
John?s disciples must have had visitation rights and they had told John of what Jesus was doing. Yet still, John needed the reassurance of hearing it from Jesus Himself. Maybe John had certain expectations of how it would be at the coming of the Lord. Maybe Jesus wasn?t meeting John?s expectations.
Maybe John expected Jesus to bring justice, and quickly. The axe was already at the root of the tree. The winnowing fork was already in his hand. What was the delay?
As far as John was concerned, it was high time for Jesus to start swinging and clear the place of all the chaff.
We all have certain expectations, don?t we? Tis the season of great expectations. Children expect certain things from their parents and parents have expectations of their children.
Marriage comes with certain expectations. Wives expect certain things from their husbands and husbands from their wives and when one doesn?t meet the expectations of the other ? impatience leads to anything but calmness. ?Are you the one I married or should I look for another??
We have our expectations of God too. We expect God to hear our prayers and answer us ? quickly! We expect God to punish evil and reward good. If it?s broken He should fix it. If it?s wrong He should make it right. And so when we see babies aborted and women abused and terrorism increasing and sickness and tumors even among the faithful, we loose our patience and begin doubt. And we wonder, ?are you the one or should we expect another??
This is the way that the old Adam in us works to stir up doubts within us about Jesus.
Jesus replies to John?s disciples. ?Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.? As if to say, ?Tell John, everything is going exactly according to the plan.?
Let?s be sure to grasp Jesus? response to John. How does Jesus reassure John and settle his doubts? It may well be that you have asked this same question yourself. Jesus? answer to John is His answer to you too.
Notice please that Jesus does not tell John to ?look into his heart.? He doesn?t tell John to ?trust in his faith.? He doesn?t tell John that it doesn?t matter if He is the One or not, but what he really needs to do is to believe in himself.
No, Jesus answers John?s question by pointing John to concrete, objective actions that He is doing. ?The blind receive sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.? The proof that Jesus is the One is based on the works that He is doing. These specific actions had been broadcast by the prophet Isaiah long ago so that when someone finally came along who did these things, we may know without doubt, that He is the One and we are to look for no other.
We are currently being bombarded with men and woman who are claiming that they are the one and that we should expect no other. But the words of assurance that they are offering to dispel our doubts and set our minds at ease are based on promises with no real connection to reality. We know that the candidates are not able to do everything that they say they will do.
But when Jesus offers us the assurance that He is the One, He does so by directing our attention to His deeds that are based in reality. Real deeds that He really has done. In the 10th chapter of John?s gospel, we read that when Jesus tried to convince the Jews that He was the One and that they should not expect another, He said, ?If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works??
When we have doubts, which we are bound to have, we dare not look into our heart, which is fatally flawed by sin. Nor should we trust in our faith, which is pathetically weak and small as a mustard seed. Rather, we are to look at the works that Jesus has done. Jesus gives us reality-based proof that He is the One in whom, all our expectations are met. He is the One from whom we are to expect deliverance from all our suffering, trials and troubles. He is the One who will make all things new and good and right and salutary.
Granted, He doesn?t come according to our expectations. Rather than preventing evil coming into the world and causing the suffering in our life that it causes, Jesus jumped right into the mess Himself. He Himself, suffered for doing good. And in the face of His suffering He is patient. As Webster?s puts it, He has ?the quality of bearing trials without murmuring.? As Isaiah puts it, ?He was oppressed, and afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth?? (Is.53:7). He is patient even as He is arrested, flogged and crucified. He knows that He is the Lord and that He has come to deliver His people from all evil and suffering and to make all things new again. And on the third day, He rose again from the dead.
John is about to die and he knows it. John wants to know from Jesus, ?since you thought it right to be born into humanity, will you also consider it right to die for humanity?? ?Since You came to us in this life Jesus, will you come to us in our death too?? ?I announced your coming to the world. Shall I announce your coming to the grave??
?Among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.? But among those born of God, John the Baptist is just the example. In fact, ?the one who is least in the Kingdom of God is greater than he.?
You are the least in the Kingdom of God. Yet, just like John, you have heard about the deeds of the Christ. And you are even greater than John, not because you doubt less or are more patient than he was. But you are greater than John because the deeds that you have heard that Christ has done are greater than what John heard.
You have heard that Jesus has suffered and died on the cross in your place and for your sins. You have heard that He has risen from the dead on the 3rd day for your justification and the assurance that He is greater than your trouble and suffering. You have heard that He has ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty. You have heard that He has worked faith in you through His Holy Spirit who has united you to Jesus through holy baptism. In the concrete reality of your baptism, He has given you His Spirit who will sustain and keep you in this one true faith. You have heard that And He has given you the assurance of His presence with you always, not in the mystical imaginations of your heart, but by His body and blood given to you in the concrete reality of bread and wine.
These are the objective actions of Jesus Christ. By these you may rest assured that He is the One and remain patient until He comes again.