Welcome. Luke’s gospel.
Awful last week in the news both here and around the world. Unsettling and worrying. We, as Christian people believe that God is for us. He cares about his world. In Jesus Christ he has entered this world as one of us - to know us, to suffer with us and for us.
But sometimes we are tempted to question whether the coming of Jesus has really made a huge difference. The world goes on just as it always has.. perhaps some things are better, perhaps some things are worse.
For many people this is reason enough to keep God at arms length, to reject him. If really came at all he certainly hasn’t done anything. He hasn’t solved our problems. He hasn’t done the thing we most need. The things we’d want him to do.
For others of us. We don’t reject God perhaps but the lack of seeming change in the world and in our own lives creates doubts. Has anything really changed? It’s not what we expected. Is Jesus really who he said he was. The long awaited Messiah. God’s King. God’s Son in human flesh, The Son of Man come to save??
These were the exact kinds of questions that John the Baptist had and that we’ve read about in our reading today.
We learned about John the Baptist in 3v1-20. In the ancient OT prophecies of the coming of the Messiah another figure appears - a messenger; a prophet who comes just before the Messiah to prepare the way for the Lord (Isaiah 40) John the Baptist believed himself to be this figure. So did the thousands who streamed to him in the desert - repenting of their sins and being baptised in the Jordan river. So did Jesus who also comes to John to be baptised. end of chapter 3.
But now John is in prison (3v20) and though his disciples report to him the healings and miracles of Jesus (7v18) John is confused, he has doubts over Jesus identity and he sends 2 disciples to Jesus to ask ‘Are you the one who was to come or should we expect someone else?’ It’s a crucial question. Luke has it repeated in v19 and then v20
Even as the disciples of John ask Jesus these questions, Jesus is curing diseases, sicknesses, evil spirits, giving sight to the blind. and he sends the messengers back to John to report what they had seen and heard; The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”
There’s a sense in which John’s disciples would be going back and reporting to John exactly what had already been reported to him
So, What’s going on here? Why did John doubt?
John doubted because things hadn’t changed the way he thought they would change; Because Jesus was not fully doing what John expected the Messiah should be doing..
And what was that?
Well. The Hebrew Scriptures (OT) separated history into 2 ages:
‘The present age’ and ‘the age to come.’ The present age is evil and broken. The age to come is about restoration, perfect peace, freedom from enemies, healing. And the cataclysmic event that will bring an end to the present age and kick off the age to come is the arrival of the Messiah bringing the judgement of God!
So, listen to Malachi 3 - one of the passages in the OT that talks about the messenger preparing the way and the Messiah arriving.
“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple, says the Lord Almighty.
2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.
When Messiah comes he will bring refining fire, he will scrub the world clean..
That’s the message.. and it’s the message John the baptist preached in the desert:
3v7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 18 And (stunning verse, v18) with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them. !!
This is the coming of the Messiah - Judgement, cleansing and Healing
Now we modern people are quite confused about Judgement: We hate the idea of a god of wrath who casts people into hell and rightly so. And yet at the same time we long for justice, for wrongs to be put right. We ask ‘Where’s God?” when terrible things happen in the world, when people get away with murder. Where is justice? Well God says here is justice. All wrongs will be righted. The world will be refined and purified and washed.
But then of course the question lingers what about our wrongs?
‘who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears?’ Can you? Can I? And so even while we begin to recognise the rightness of God’s justice we also wonder about the possibility of mercy…
And this is where it get’s interesting…
So, there’s all this preparation for the coming of Messiah.. Ancient prophecies; John’s urgent warnings.
Thousands stream to him to receive a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. They’re holding up their hands before the Judgement comes. ‘I’m sorry for my sin. God be merciful.’ Closing their eyes, holding hands over their ears and waiting.
AND THEN HE COMES … MESSIAH COMES …AND HE’S…..…
a baby in a manger, a humble, homeless, carpenter, a compassionate healer, who will ultimately die on a cross, rise again and return to his Father..
No wonder John the baptist sends the question to Jesus: “ARE you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”
What has happened with the coming of the Messiah ?? Where’s the promised judgement of all wickedness? The cleansing of the world of sin? The refining fire, the winnowing fork, the launderers bleach… Had Malachi and John got it wrong?
Well No, Malachi and John had not got it wrong. It’s just that God’s timing and God’s ways are more wonderful than they could possibly see or imagine.. If the idea of God’s judgement causes you to withdraw from God… Well just listen now to what he has done..
As it transpires the coming of the Messiah is separated into 2 stages, 2 comings.
The first we have already experienced. God came in Jesus as a tiny child, a compassionate shepherd, a sacrificial lamb.
In his second coming, Jesus Christ will come -says the book of Revelation- as a lion, a conqueror on a white horse. He will then completely put the world to rights - the final judgement, erasing the world of the presence of sin..
So what then was Jesus doing in his first coming if that wasn’t about Judgement and cleansing the world of sin? Oh but you see … it was…
Let me try to explain..
Listen to these enigmatic words of Jesus from a few chapters on in Luke 12:49
He says, I have come to bring fire on the earth and how I wish it were already kindled but here’s the very next verse I have a baptism to undergo and how distressed I am until it is completed.
What do these words mean? Jesus is going to call fire onto the earth – call down the righteous judgement deserved by all who have rejected God, justice will come, cleansing fire - but here’s the shock – Jesus Christ will call the fire down upon himself - the baptism, the immersion ..in the flames he will undergo for us on the cross of calvary.
Do you see? God comes with righteous judgement to deal with evil, he comes with launderers bleach to eradicate it. But he does so by, as a human, taking humanity’s place, taking responsibility for our sins - he takes the judgement, he takes the punishment for us so that we might be redeemed, set free! So that on the day of God’s future coming, that great and dreadful day of the Lord - those who have put their hope in Jesus - will endure; when his judgement comes to refine the world finally- those who have put their trust in Jesus will stand. Because Jesus has already taken our judgement for us. And so those who revere God’s name will be part of that restoration that Jesus’ healings and miracles and his preaching to the poor looks forward to. As Malachi puts it - the sun of righteousness will rise upon you with healing in its wings and you shall go out with joy and leap about like calves coming from their stall at last..
Go back, says Jesus to John’s disciples and tell John all that you see me doing. The healings, the raising from the dead. The good news of forgiveness and life and a future being preached. I am making the world new. Blessed is he who does not fall away on account of me.
Don’t get so hung up on what you think i should be doing that i’m not doing that you miss what i AM doing!!
Don’t get so hung up by what you think i should be doing in your life right now or in the world right now that you miss WHO I AM for you and to you.
You think that nothing has changed with my coming? Everything has changed. The age to come has been planted within this present evil age. The Messianic age HAS begun! Forgiveness and Life and relationship with me in my family, says Jesus, is bestowed through the cross upon all who believe in me. Everything has changed
Look how jesus explains this in vv24-28. He waxes lyrical about the greatness of John the Baptist. A prophet v26 More than a Prophet. The last and the greatest of all the prophets foretelling the coming of Messiah because John is the messenger of Malachi - preparing the way for the Lord. John is the bridge from the present evil age to the life of the age to come. He is the last voice of the old age and so Jesus says v28 I tell you among those born of women there is no-one greater than John.. AND YET the one who is least in the Kingdom of God is greater than he!!!!
Jesus isn’t saying that John is not a Christian, that he’s not in the Kingdom of God. He’s drawing a contrast to show how eveything has changed with His coming. The least person who is now forgiven, adopted re-born in the kingdom of God, is greater than the GREATEST person ever born by human generation.
Has anything really changed when i became a Christian? Not what i expected. Still in prison says John, I still struggle, I think Jesus could at least have done that for me. he’s just not done much… Really? ….Really?? When you turn to Christ he forgives you, he adopts you, you become an inheritor of the kingdom of God, your future is extraordinary - you are ushered into a greatness that is greater than the greatest person who has ever been born.
Jesus ends this section with strong words directed at people who keep God at arms length. (and sometimes these are religious people). They don’t hear God’s counsel through John and through Jesus to humble themselves in repentance to receive forgiveness through the cross because they’re too hung up on the fact that ‘God hasn’t solved our problems. He hasn’t done the thing we most need. The things we want him to do.’
To what then can i compare the people of this generation says Jesus v31, what are they like? They are like children …. sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other. ‘We played the flute for you and you didn’t dance. We sang a dirge and you didn’t cry’
Here’s what these people are like. They’re like children. Spoilt brattish kids. And a spoilt brat -- You can never please.
“I wanted to go the park and you didn’t take me to the park” “… alright let’s go to the park then..” “I didn’t wanna go to the park i wanted to go to the toy shop and you didn’t take me to the toy shop.” “alright let’s go to the toy shop!!”
verse 34 ‘We’re not listening to John the Baptist cos he fasts and doesn’t drink wine and associates with nobody - he’s probably demon possessed.’
ok so what about Jesus, he doesn’t fast, drinks wine and associates with anybody - nah he’s a dodgy liberal.
you can be so obsessed with your idea of what God should be like. of what God should be doing that you miss God when he is staring you in the face.
But, final verse, those who will stop and will lay down their expectations of what God should do; of what should change; and who will listen and look at Jesus and what he is doing, what he has done. They are wisdom’s children.
The world is a confusing place. Nothing seems to change. And yet with the coming of Jesus - everything has changed. He is working out his plan. Good news is preached to those who recognise their poverty and One day he will make all things right. Praise him.