Lent 2 – "John's Question For Jesus"- Matthew 11:2-6 – 3/1/15

Free Text after the suicide death of Danny Morren
Matthew 11:2-6

“Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

I. The Question
John’s question is our question. “Are you the one or shall we look for another?”

This is not the question of a faithless man but a faithful man who wants some assurance that everything is going to be okay – appearances to the contrary.

John is the great preacher of Christ, of whom Jesus tells the crowds, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.” (Mat.11:11)

But John’s in prison. And why is he in prison? Not because he was unfaithful. Not because he ran away from his calling like Jonah did. No. John’s in prison simply because he was faithful. Not exactly the way he expected things to go, I’m sure.

And that’s why I say that John’s question is our question. Because things have not gone the way that we expect them to go for the faithful either.

If a righteous and holy God were ruling the universe, things ought to go a lot differently than they do. And we’re not even talking about the ‘world’ here. This is not really about global unrest or the collapse of civilization.

We’re really only talking about one man, one family, one congregation, just doing our best to be faithful to our calling and vocation in life. Only to find ourselves in a dungeon of grief and despair and confusion and doubt.

“He sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

There is an unmistakable sound of desperation in John’s question. This is not some theoretical curiosity in why a good God permits evil like the theologians debate without ever having experienced it personally.

John asks his question as one on whom the shadow of death has settled. The pit has opened up under his very feet. And he is falling, falling, falling.

“Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” “Are you the lifeline that I am to cling to, or shall cut my losses and look for another?” “Are you going to catch me in your hands or drop me like a hot potato?” “Are you the one who can deliver my soul from death and my feet from stumbling, or shall I look for another?”

John’s entire career was spent preaching Christ. “Repent and believe for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” And when Jesus came to the Jordan to be baptized by John, the Father and the Spirit seemed to confirm that Jesus is the One.

But now, he sits in a miserable prison. Was he wrong? Had he been played for the fool, in his foolishness, had he also deceived others? Was the whole thing nothing more than as Freud proposed, an invention of man who needs something bigger than himself to believe in times of trouble?

“Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

There’s something very important for us to notice in John’s question that tells us a lot about John, and that I think can tell us a lot about ourselves.

John puts his question right to Jesus. He doesn’t circle around Jesus or tell his disciples to take a survey. “He sent word by his disciples AND SAID TO HIM…”
It’s like that with Jesus too. As Jesus is hanging from the cross, in what is truly His “dark night of the soul,” He too has His question that He feels He must ask.

He doesn’t say, “Where is God?” Or even, “Where is MY God?” He doesn’t fire His ultimate question, upon which the whole world holds its breath for the answer, into space or onto social media.

No, He cries out to God, ‘face to face,’ “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46).

He expects to be heard and He expects a reply. And on the 3rd day, the reply comes. Loud and clear. “Christ is risen!” “He is risen indeed, alleluia!”

God heard His question, and answered Him, and on the day of Pentecost, the whole creation exhales in a mighty, rushing wind.

When the foundation on which we thought we were safely standing gives way, it does us no good really to debate the causes and the reasons and the circumstances of how such a thing could have happened.

But when we put our questions directly to God, who has come down from heaven in the flesh and blood of His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, then we do so because we really expect an answer and not just an insight. When we put our question directly to Jesus, we give Him the chance of actually responding directly to us and taking responsibility for the promises that He has made to us.

And we are in an even better position that John was. He gave his question to his disciples to deliver to Jesus. But we have the Holy Spirit, who takes our questions to Jesus, and delivers them in “groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26).

Dear Danny must have had some questions, big ones. He was a man of faith, a child of God. Why didn’t he put his questions to Jesus? Jesus, who says, “Come to me ALL you who are weary and heavy laden…” and I will give you My answer. I FORGIVE YOU ALL OF YOUR SINS. “And you will find rest for your soul. You will find PEACE, SHALOM, – not as the world gives to you do I GIVE TO YOU.”
Why didn’t he ask his question of Jesus? Was it because he thought there was NO ANSWER? Or that the answer would be, “I DO NOT FORGIVE YOU”?

But for a man of faith, that would be INSANE. Which is just what it must have been – a moment of insanity.

Listen, if it’s okay for John the Baptist to bring his great question to Jesus, then it’s okay for us. If Jesus brings His great question to the Father, then it’s certainly okay for us to do the same. We bring our questions to Him because we trust that He will answer as ONLY HE CAN.

II. The Reply
So, what is Jesus’ reply to this little lamb, crying in the wilderness? First of all lets be sure to notice that Jesus replies not with a general announcement to anyone who should have questions like John has. But specifically to John, face to face.

If John was hoping for a direct answer to his question, he is bound to be disappointed with this one. Jesus doesn’t say, “I am fully God and fully man. Begotten from the substance of the Father before all ages, and man, born of the substance of His mother in this age… Equal to the Father with respect to His divinity, less than the Father in respect to His humanity…” (Athanasian Creed)

No, this is no time for dogmatics lecture on the two natures of Christ and the communication of attributes.

Jesus doesn’t tell John WHO He is but only WHAT He is doing. You know who Jesus is by what He does.

“Tell John what you hear and see, the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up and the poor have good news preached to them.”

It seems to me however that this is a risky way for Jesus to answer to John’s question. To tell John of all of the wonderful things that are happening in His name, has the potential of cutting in the wrong direction with John.

How many in the gospels saw first hand the miracles that Jesus did simply by the power of His Word, not through messengers but with their own eyes, and instead of worshipping Him, accused Him of being in league with the devil?

And what about John? First of all, he’s already heard about these things. Word about what Jesus was doing had reached John in his prison cell and that’s what prompted John to ask his question in the first place.

And didn’t Jesus’ reply have the potential of pushing John even deeper into despair. “Sure, that’s all well and good that you’re doing such wonderful things OUT THERE. But what about me?”

The point is, if you’ve already made up your mind AGAINST Jesus, every miracle will only be interpreted against Him with a scientific or psychological explanation for why it’s not a miracle at all. It’s not the miracles in and of themselves that create or strengthen faith.

But to the one who believes in Jesus,
• who has taken the great risk of throwing it all in with Him,
• who looks to Jesus as his only hope,
• who calls upon Him in the day of trouble and the hour of distress,
to that one, every sign of His work in this world is received with the relief of a man, who even though he loose his very head, still knows that it will all be okay.

He doesn’t need detailed explanations. He doesn’t need to know WHY. It’s enough only to know that my Jesus is at work in this world. He is not far away at the Father’s right hand where He only sees me from a great distance. But He is near to me and hears me when I call upon Him, and answers me with His assurance that He will never leave me nor forsake me.

So, even as the shadow of death engulfs him, and he is falling, falling, falling, still he says:
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” (Psalm 46)

There is also something else here that stands out in bold relief for those who look to Jesus in faith. Just look at those to whom His miracles are directed. “The BLIND receive their sight and the LAME walk, LEPERS are cleansed and the DEAF hear, and the DEAD ARE RAISED UP and the POOR have good news preached to them.”

Jesus does not tell John what He is doing among the highest levels of society and for the movers and shakers with whom we are so impressed. But look what I am doing for lowest and least and the lost. THERE IS NO DEPTH SO DEEP THAT JESUS HASN’T GONE DEEPER. THERE IS NO PROBLEM SO GREAT THAT JESUS HAS NOT OVERCOME.

He has come down from heaven, to dwell among us, meek and lowly, humble and poor, just so He may tend to the injured and wounded, the weary and heavy laden, the outcast, the prisoner. Even the insane.

He hears our desperate question and answers with his gracious miracle. “Look John. See what I am doing. I am giving them my very body to take and eat, and my very blood to take and drink, so that they may know that I am with them and I will raise them up on the last day.”

St. Luke reports that at one point along the way to the cross, many of Jesus’ followers began to turn back. This was not at all the direction that they expected the Messiah to lead them. “Are you the Christ, or should we expect another.” They probably never even asked the question. They just left in search of another way and another savior.

Turning to the 12, not waiting for them to ask Him, He asks them, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (Luke 6:67-69).

It’s like that for us. We don’t have all the answers and never will. We don’t why, and what good would it do if we did? We only know one thing for sure. Jesus has the words of eternal life. To whom shall we go but Him?

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