Monday, December 13, 2010

Asking the Hard Question

Matthew 11:2-3
2 When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?"
James 5:7-8a
7 Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. 8 You also must be patient.
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989

Have you ever wondered at some point in your life, Am I doing the right thing, making the right choice? How do you know if you’re doing right or choosing well when it comes to that job or a major decision that affects your family? How do people make the right choices when the doctor says there’s no hope? We wonder, don’t we?
John the Baptist wondered too. He had just gotten done preaching how Messiah would come in power and judgment, harvest-sickle flashing and slashing. Now Jesus has come; John has declared Him the Son of God – and, instead of cleaning house Jesus is preaching love your enemies and turn the other cheek. It is little wonder John had doubts!
Where was this Messiah who was going to set everything right and punish sinners? Marc Axelrod wrote:
But instead of preaching brimstone, Jesus preached grace. Instead of punishing sinners, He reached out to sinners. Instead of ushering in a political kingdom, Jesus preached about a heavenly kingdom.
And John was confused. “Why is Jesus letting the Herods of this world get away with murder? Why is he letting an innocent man like me sit here in this prison? Why is He letting my life come to an end like this? Are you the One who was to come? Or should we expect someone else?”
We do have those kinds of questions, don’t we?
Questions reveal what’s inside; like running to the water fountain reveals your need to quench a deep thirst after playing basketball for four hours straight. Honest searching questions about (or to) God – do not reveal a lack of faith; they reveal a longing for faith to be strong.
I believe God had Matthew write this account of John the Baptist’s struggling faith because the main focus of the Gospel is faith in Jesus. We begin life in the Spirit by faith, and the Bible tells us in at least three of Paul’s writings[2] that we continue that life by faith.
The Bible’s message on following Jesus is all about faith! So, let’s focus on the faith that drove John’s question, and the answer Jesus gave him.
I. John’s Question is Like Our Questions
When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Matthew 11:2-3 (NRSV)
One commentary posed an interesting question about John’s question: Isn't it fascinating to realize that if John was going to believe Jesus was the Messiah, he would have to do so the exact same way we do: by believing what OTHER people report about Jesus and his ministry! John himself was not able to hear Jesus' words directly nor could he witness a single miracle in person. John would just have to believe the testimony of the disciples, which is all we have to go on, too. We have to believe that what the disciples claim they saw and heard is the truth.[3] So our questions are exactly like John’s.
The real issue is – what drives such questions? In our Wednesday Conversation this week we focused on John’s reasons for questioning Jesus. John asked, “Are you the one?” John was expecting a political ruler as well as God’s spiritual Messiah; he was looking for someone who would literally sit on David’s throne. Jesus just didn’t fit that mold and it probably confused the Baptist no end.
Perhaps John’s question was designed to help Jesus get back on track, or even force his hand. John may have imagined that a little shove in the right political direction was all his cousin may have needed to pick up God’s ball and carry it.
A man was driving the winding mountainous road home late one night. He swerved on one hazardous turn and the car crashed through the guard rail and went sailing off into the night over the cliff. The man was thrown from the car and he managed to grab onto a small branch growing out of the mountainside. When he caught his breath and realized he wasn’t dead he began to check out the surroundings.
Holding tight to the branch he looked down at a straight drop of 300 feet; he looked up at a 20-foot climb with nothing to hold onto. There he dangled between heaven and the hard earth.
The man figured he was done-for, so he began crying out to God: “Hello, God. Are you up there somewhere? If you can hear me, I’m sorry I ever doubted you. If you’ll get me out of this mess I’ll be good. I’ll go to church and serve on committees; man, I’ll even tithe!” Suddenly a voice from above said,
“I hear you, my son – and I will help you…let go of the branch”.
“Uh, Lord, it’s a 300-foot drop.”
“I know – trust me and I’ll help you…let go of the branch.”
--- a 10 second pause followed, and the man then said:
“Is there anyone else up there?”
“Are you really the one?” John asked. “Or is there anyone else up there? If I stake my life and eternity on you, can I count on you, or am I hollering down a dry well?”
What drove John’s question was the same thing that drives ours – fear. Trusting someone else is hard enough when it’s something little like repairing your car or fixing the garbage disposal. But having confidence in the decision of all decisions – what do I do with my soul? – now that makes us fearful…or it should.
So…it comes down to this about your soul – you can ask “is there anyone else up there” – or you can decide to trust what Jesus has done for you and trust your eternity to Him.
It’s a leap of faith…because it comes down to either believing and being saved…or back-pedaling away from faith, and being lost forever! Salvation through faith is available to anyone who asks, but it is most certainly everyone’s individual decision to make.
John’s question was asked so he could get off the roller coaster of doubt. His was the kind of question a man asks when he doubts; but it is a kind of holy question that wants to haul that doubt onto the examination table to deal openly with what causes him to doubt. Jesus gave John an answer that spoke to John’s faith.
If we will listen, it will speak to us too, because…
II. Jesus’ Answer is Still His Answer
Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. Matthew 11:4-5
John is in prison and has one simple question for Jesus – Just answer this one thing and I can die a happy man; Are YOU the Messiah? And what does Jesus say…He tells the condemned man to figure it out for himself! Really great, eh?
I used to wonder why Jesus just couldn’t give his poor imprisoned cousin John a straight answer; just tell him “yes” or “no” Jesus! But we serve a God who never wastes an opportunity to increase our faith. Had Jesus just given a simple “yes” John would have been in the same spot, and still wondering to this day! But, by pointing to the evidence, Jesus kept the issue of faith and personal decision in the forefront. John had to exercise his faith in Jesus, or be content with his unbelief.
Jesus’ indirect answer to John helps us understand the very same answer today because Jesus asks us the same question he asked the disciples….Who do YOU say that I am?
In other words, Jesus tells us mortals, prisoners of our own sinful nature and this lost world, that our task here on earth is to consider the evidence…which is:
Jesus has done it all – healed the deaf, blind, disabled and even raised the dead…and by Easter morning his sacrifice would be the final proof that a dead man really would live again. The sacrifice would make it possible for us to know God, and to be saved from our sins.
Our task is to come close to God and experience his love just as certainly as the blind, deaf and dead felt the compassionate touch of Jesus two thousand years ago. The Psalmist gave us the same advice:
O taste and see that the LORD is good; Psalm 34:8a
Jesus isn’t hiding, but if you want to find out how good he really is, you’ve got to taste that goodness personally…nobody else can use your taste buds!
John’s Question is Our Question
John was waiting, along with all the other Israelites, for a Messiah that would come and take over – politically. He wanted Jesus to come and clean up the mess that is our world. How is that any different twenty centuries later?
Nothing much has really changed in that department. Every four years we elect a president, hoping that this one will be different, but they’re not. We hope against hope – but even the most politically-adept of men fall short. We are disappointed again! And so we look upward; and we hope that Jesus will come back and clean up the mess. We’re the same as John. John’s question is also our question; and so…
IS He the ONE? I mean, is He the ONE for YOU?
But John wasn’t the only one who asked questions on that day. Jesus had a question for the people …he asked, what did you think you were going to see when you went out to see John? He asks us the same question about why we’re here today; what would you tell him?
· Did you come here today because there is an emptiness in you that drove you here?
· Do you experience tiredness with the things of this world; does it leave you ragged and hopeless? All that Christmas hustle and rush?
· Are you wondering if it’s all true – the cross and empty tomb?
· Have you tried everything else and now there’s nowhere else to turn?
Answer to the Hard Question in a Silent Movie
Charlie Chaplin was the great silent film star. In one movie he plays a prisoner being transported to jail, but the boat shipwrecks. At the film’s beginning he is sitting on a beach looking at the clasp around his leg attaching him to a ball and chain. The whole film is about his relationship to that ball and chain, and his attempts to escape from its grasp.
First he tries telling jokes to distract his captor leg irons; then, when its guard is down he tries to run away, but at the end of the length of chain, he falls face-down in the sand.
Then he tries to outsmart it, nonchalantly walking away…again he falls down in the sand. Then he tries to reason with the ball and chain – he talks to it! Down again!
Finally, at the end of his patience, he pretends the ball and chain are not there. He kicks sand over it, and for a while it looks as if his problem has vanished. Thinking he has solved his dilemma, he strides to the end of the chain. Down he goes!
At this point the insight finally dawns. Like a light turning on in Chaplin’s head he realizes that he cannot solve the problem alone. If he is going to be helped, it has to come from the outside. The movie closes with him looking upward for rescue.[4]
If you’re struggling, go ahead, look upward, and ask the question –
Are you the one…or is there someone, something, some experience that’s better?
Let me assure you, you’ll get the same answer John got – God’s big enough to handle your questions, so go ahead, judge for yourself…
You judge; whatever you CAME here to see, our prayer is that you will not LEAVE here before having chosen to believe in Jesus Christ; Look upward, and take a leap of faith.
In the name of the Father, because of the Son, cooperating with the Spirit.
[1] Mark Axelrod, Second Thoughts About Jesus, on
[2] Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, Hebrews 10:38
[3] This Week in Preaching at The Center for Excellence in Preaching

No comments:

Post a Comment