LCMS Singapore Mission
December 15th, 2013
Theologians have debated just what is going on with John the Baptist in this passage. On the one hand, here is a great prophet, the last of the prophets, and more than a prophet as Jesus himself testifies. John is the voice crying in the wilderness, the Elijah who was to come, the herald of the Messiah – sent ahead to prepare the way for Christ. John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, baptized many, and pointed to Christ, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (which we sing to this day in our liturgy, when we are about to “behold the lamb of God” in the Sacrament of the Altar). Jesus heaps high praise on John as one of the greatest men ever born. John is surely important, and we naturally remember him during Advent, as we prepare the way for the celebration of Jesus' birth.
But on the other hand, it seems here that John was having a bit of a crisis of faith. And who wouldn't, in his shoes? John sat, rotting in the dungeon of a Herod, locked up for an ancient version of “hate speech” which was really just pointing out the sins of powerful people. In earthly terms, John had little hope, and of course we know how the story goes – John would soon lose his head to the wickedness of spiteful Herodias and cowardly Herod. Evil would seem to triumph. And what was Jesus going to do about it?
Did John waver in his faith? Perhaps yes, perhaps no. So often the Bible doesn't let us in to the inner thoughts of a person's heart, we read only the words and actions. Here John's actions, whatever their motivation, fit well with his whole persona. Whether purposely or in spite of himself, he points people to Christ. He sends his disciples to Christ. He directs them again to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
But is he the one? Or should we look for another? You and I are tempted to look for another Christ, too. And we certainly waver in our faith. We know who the true Christ is, but the sinful nature within us would have us running after other christs – other saviors. A religious leader? A wise mentor? Perhaps.
Or perhaps your Christ is less a person, and more a thing. Do you falsely seek your salvation in the pleasures and distractions of life? Do you deaden the accusation of the law with the club of a twisted rationalization, explaining away your sins to utter irrelevance? Or do you salve your throbbing conscience with the balm of good works, and a full dose of works-righteousness?
All of these false Christs fail us in the end, for they do not solve our problems, for they do not solve our problem... of sin. They are false Christs with a false Gospel. Only the true Christ brings good news to the poor. All those other things- the healings and wonders- are signs, calling cards the Messiah would drop. But the true mark of the true Christ is he brings good news. He is the good news.
True, some are offended because of him. But those who are not, those who have ears to hear this good news – are blessed. For the good news is that he was offended on account of our offenses. He faced death for our murderous lies. He was shamed for our scandalous adulteries. He was crucified by wicked men for our evil ways and humiliated on account of our selfishness and prideful puffery. He is the Christ – seek no other – he brings good news to the poor sinner like you.
Yes, John was quite a spectacle. Funny clothes, a diet that would make for a good cable tv show. An odd fellow living out in the wilderness all alone. But what did all the people go out to see in John? A prophet. What did they go out to hear from John? A message – message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. A message that would find its fulfillment in the one John wasn't even worthy to untie his sandals.
Like the prophets before him, and like so many witnesses to the Gospel after – John faced foes. The world hates the Christ. They reject his message and kill his messengers. They persecute his church. But do not despair. If you feel trapped in a dungeon of your sins, and know that death is looming, let John point you again to Christ. If you are blind or lame or leprous or deaf, look to Christ for healing more profound than an earthly miracle. If you face death, take courage, for in Christ there is life stronger than death. And if you are poor, a beggar, bringing nothing of value to the king – come and hear the good news from the only one who has it, but gives it freely to the likes of even you and me.
Christ has come. Christ has died. Christ lives, and Christ will come again! What good news! Believe it for Jesus' sake, amen.