Are You the One?

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Luke 7:20

And when the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, `Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?’”

Luke 7:20 RSV

“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to expect someone else?” That question, asked of Jesus, was an all-important one. It was the key issue of His entire ministry. Was He the coming One, the promised king in David’s line, the Messiah of Israel, the Savior of the world? Was He or not? Were the “hopes and fears of all the years,” as we sing, to meet in Him or in some other? “People have a right to know, Jesus. Are You the One we’ve all been looking for? Are You the mighty deliverer in whom all the promises come true? Are You the Christ or not?”

The question seemed to imply both faith and doubt. The questioner must have been impressed enough by Jesus to entertain the thought that He might be the coming One. But He was obviously not sure about it. “Maybe,” He wondered, “I’ve been mistaken about this. Maybe You aren’t the Messiah after all.”

A PAINFUL QUESTION

What must have made the question painful in this instance was that it didn’t come from a new inquirer but from an old friend. It was John the Baptist who had sent these messengers to ask the big question. It must have been disappointing to Jesus. How do you feel when your best friend doubts you, when one of your chief boosters in the past now has serious questions about whether or not you have what it takes? It’s wounding to the spirit when those who ought to know better become suspicious of us. Jesus didn’t express it at the time but He must have wondered why John was asking about this.

I wonder too. Remember how John had spoken of Jesus before? He said that He was the one mightier than he, the latchet of whose shoes he [John] was not worthy to stoop down and untie. To him Jesus was the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit, the One who, even though He comes after John, had existed long before Him. These were great affirmations of faith. What has made of this John a kind of skeptic now?

Maybe it was that he didn’t see things in Jesus’ ministry that he had been expecting. John had proclaimed Jesus as the One who would bring a crisis to His people. In His coming, the axe was laid at the root of the trees. Any tree that didn’t bear good fruit would be cut down. He was the judge whose fan was in His hand, who would thoroughly purge His threshing floor, gathering the wheat into His barn but burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire. John saw Him as the mighty One who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. But those expectations had not been fulfilled, at least not yet. No judgments of God had fallen upon the rebellious, no inbreaking of divine power had startled the masses. Israel’s beloved land was still in the hands of Roman tyrants, and rampant evils were going unchecked. Had he been mistaken? John mused. Had he said these things too hastily about Jesus?

But that was only part of the picture. John himself had gone through a traumatic experience. Bold prophet that he was, he had challenged Israel’s king about a royal marriage tinged with adultery. Herodias, the new queen, would not tolerate such defiance and had John thrown in prison. While he was languishing in his cell at Herod’s fortress, John had lots of time on his hands and not much to cheer his spirits. It must have been hard to fight back the anxiety and gloom that seemed to close in upon him. This was hardly the kind of environment in which faith grows.

John may have begun to wonder about many things. Maybe his own misfortunes became the crucial issue, coloring everything else. He, John, had been for Jesus the voice crying in the wilderness, the forerunner. But now many of John’s disciples had left him for a new allegiance. He, John, was behind bars. What kind of deliverer could Jesus be when He let things like this happen? And Jesus didn’t seem to be doing anything about it. So from prison, John sent a couple of messengers. “Jesus,” they said, “John wants to know if You really are the coming one or if we should be expecting someone else.”

ANSWERING BY ACTION

How do you think Jesus responded to that? Did He make a strong claim dispelling all doubt? Did He challenge the question and the questioner? Did He lament this sign of failing faith, of disloyalty? No, none of the above – as far as we know. Here’s the record. I’m reading from Luke 7:21.

In that hour he cured many of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many that were blind he bestowed sight. And he answered them, “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.”

Notice that Jesus gave no direct answer to the question. There was no “yes” or “no” or even “maybe.” The messengers came with their agonizing question. He listened, but was silent. Then in that hour, He turned to the multitudes who had come to Him for help. People who were infirm, afflicted with terrible diseases, demon driven, were all restored. The blind who had groped their way near Him, or had been led into His presence, were given their sight. Jesus apparently didn’t let John’s question bother Him. Having heard it, He didn’t change His course. He simply continued the characteristic work of His life, allowing the messengers who had come from John to witness it, to see and to hear. Jesus let His life speak, His love show. That’s how He responded to a pained and painful question.

When some time later He finally spoke to the messengers, He didn’t offer an answer. Instead He gave a charge. Go and tell John what you have seen and heard. Tell him how the blind are receiving their sight, the lame are walking, lepers are being cleansed. The deaf are hearing. The dead are being raised up. The poor are hearing good news. Tell him that.

John, he trusted, would understand what that meant. The Baptist, like Jesus, was an avid student of the Old Testament scriptures. He knew about the prophecy in Isaiah 35:5. Listen: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert.” Here was the prophet’s vision of the Messianic age when God would visit His people. These would be the signs of it – the very things that Jesus had been doing. This was the day of the Lord that Isaiah had foretold: “In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see. The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the LORD, and the poor among men shall exult in the Holy One of Israel” (Isa. 29:18).

In other words, this is the Old Testament vision of Messiahship. These are the things that will happen when the coming One appears. The actions of Jesus and His appeal to these Scripture passages were powerful testimonies, but they were still indirect. They did not insist on a position, did not compel belief. They left John free to draw his own conclusions, to make up his own mind. “Here’s the evidence, John,” Jesus was saying, in effect, “Here’s what’s happening in My ministry. You decide if I’m the One or if you have to look for someone else.”

BLESSED BELIEVING

But there’s another word here. Jesus also pronounced a blessing. Listen, “And blessed is he who takes no offense at me.” Jesus knew that some might take offense; some could be caused to stumble. Some could have trouble with the question of who Jesus was because He didn’t meet their expectations. It would not be surprising if some found His ministry disturbing and refused to accept Him for what He claimed to be. Jesus sensed that it could be happening in the experience of John the Baptist. So along with a call to make up his mind on the basis of the evidence, Jesus also encouraged John with a promise of blessing. “Blessed is he who takes no offense {who is not caused to stumble] at me” (Luke 7:23).

The blessings of Jesus, remember, are always pronounced on character, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” He says, “blessed are the meek . . . blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness . . . blessed are the merciful.” People of a certain kind who live their lives in a particular way, are said to be “blessed,” happy.

At an even deeper level, blessing comes to people because they are rightly related to God. They trust in Him. They make Him their treasure. They seek first His kingdom. They endure persecution for His sake. They are the blessed ones.

This blessing promised by Jesus is of the same order. He’s not simply saying that people will become happy by believing what He says or accepting His claims. This will simply be evidence of the persons they are and the faith they cherish in God’s saving mercy. For men and women not to stumble, not to be offended at Jesus, reveals that their hearts are open to God and set on doing His will.

Jesus wanted people not to focus so much on His lowly, loving ministry that they ignored His divine majesty and rejected His claims. He wanted to anchor their faith in God’s revelation, in His promises about the Messiah and the coming age. In a real sense, He was warning them against stumbling at the clear promises of the Word when those promises didn’t match their personal expectations.

We are offended at Jesus whenever we form our own impressions of who He ought to be and then try to project them upon Him as tests. We’re like the young man who forms in his mind an ideal image of the girl he will marry some day. When he finally marries, he continually measures his wife by this preconceived image and finds inevitably that she does not measure up. But the problem is not with the woman he married, but with his own preconceptions.

Sometimes people in Israel formed an impression of who the Messiah would be on the basis of their longings, their politics, their vision of the future. Jesus is saying to them that blessing comes when they rely rather upon the testimony of God’s Word, when they expect the kind of Messiah God has promised. “Let them read the prophecies in Isaiah,” he seems to say. Let them examine the ministry of Jesus. If they stumble at what Jesus is doing, they are stumbling at the Word of God. But if they respond in a believing way to this ministry of Jesus foretold by the prophets, they show themselves obedient to God and responsive to His promises. That’s what it is not to stumble.

The promise of blessing is still there for you and me. Blessed is the one who is not offended at Jesus. At the time the Lord said this, there was more offense to come. This same Jesus would die on a cross for the sins of the world and be raised again from death. He would be proclaimed throughout the Roman empire – and since then in all the known world – as the crucified and risen Messiah. But His cross would be an offense, deeply so. His sacrifice means that there is no salvation apart from His sin-bearing death. That levels all human pride. That is a grievous offense to our self-righteousness. There’s no possibility that we can make ourselves acceptable to God on the basis of our own efforts. We must rely totally upon what God has done for us in the gift of His Son. And we find that hard to take.

It’s an offense also because the claim of Jesus is such an exclusive claim. Not only must we be saved by His death, as guilty sinners coming in repentance, but we can be saved by Him alone. There is no other name under heaven, the apostles proclaim, given among men, whereby we must be saved. This exclusive claim is extremely difficult for some people to accept. It seems to them narrow-minded, intolerant, even arrogant. Those who proclaim it are often accused of religious inperialism. But there are some who take Jesus at His word. They hear Him saying, “I am the way. No one comes to the Father accept by me.” They count Him to be worthy of trust. They believe His promises. They know that He is the One. They receive His grace and the blessing is theirs. May you be, may I be, among their number!

Prayer: Lord, may it truly be so. Don’t let our pride and prejudice keep us from seeing that Jesus is the One. Help us to put our whole trust in Him. Amen.