Jesus Or Someone Else?

Sermon for the 3rd Sunday of Advent by Pastor John Torgerson

Dec. 12, 2010

The sermon passage is in Matthew 11.


2 When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples 3 to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

 4 Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 6 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”


We might think that if someone was known for performing verifiable, unquestionable miracles and claimed to have a connection with God, we would follow that individual, and many others would, too.  We might even consider him a powerful individual.  Jesus was performing miracles in his hometown area, and here's what he says: (Matt 11)


21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”



            The miracles that Jesus did in the area that he grew up in did not convince the people that he was the Messiah promised by the prophets about four centuries before.   They wanted a different Messiah.  ("Messiah", "Christ", and "the anointed one" mean the same.)  These people wanted a kick-the-Roman-butt-messiah who would bring Israel back to the glory of David's kingdom.  


But there were no hints that such a kingdom was forthcoming. Jesus' miracles changed a few lives, but Roman taxation and rulership was the order of the day.  John the baptizer, must have thought that a miracle worker like Jesus would have intervened for him when he was imprisoned.  But Jesus did not.  Therefore John's question is very natural:   “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”


            The question is appropriate.  It is asked in the context that Jesus is present, but has not "come" as a Messiah for the whole nation yet.  But John knew enough about Jesus to phrase the question in the context of  "Jesus AND someone else."   John did not phrase the question in the context of there being a choice between "Jesus and the Pharisees."   He did not think there is a choice between the Pharisees and the Sadducees - or between "Jesus and the Pharisees and the Sadducees".   The choice in John's mind was "Jesus or someone else".  And that is humanity's choice today.  We do not have a choice between Buddha and Mohammed, or a choice between socialism and capitalism - our choice is between Jesus and someone else.


Here's Jesus' reply to John's question:  “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor."


            Jesus' reply of what people "hear and see" is given in the language of Isaiah:


[When God comes]   5 Then will the eyes of the blind be opened

   and the ears of the deaf unstopped.

6 Then will the lame leap like a deer,

   and the mute tongue shout for joy.

Water will gush forth in the wilderness

   and streams in the desert. (Isaiah 35)


    1 The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,

   because the LORD has anointed me

   to proclaim good news to the poor. (Isaiah 61, Which Jesus quotes in Luke 4:18-19)


Therefore, Jesus is saying that he is the Messiah that the prophets foretold.  (Remember that "Messiah" and "Christ" mean the same thing - they mean "the anointed one" - one from God who has a special mission and calling.)


Isaiah was inspired to look foreward to a time when all would be healed.  But even during the days of Jesus' earthly ministry, there was only limited fulfillment.  Not every blind person saw; not every lame person walked; not every leper was cleansed; not every deaf person heard.  Only three people, as far as we know, were raised from the dead.  And all the healed people and all three raised people eventually died.  Jesus miracles pointed toward future fulfillments - and a final fulfillment at Jesus' second coming.


And what about Jesus statement "… and the good news is proclaimed to the poor."?  If the blind see, and the lame walk, and the leper lives as a clean person, and the deaf hear, and the dead live, then shouldn't Jesus say that the poor will become rich?  - or at least less poor?  Or maybe he should say, "The poor will get better jobs?"  Or "the poor will be given a higher standard of living"?   Or "the poor will have their debts paid off?"


Today we think of "poor" as a term that describes a "standard of living".  But the categories of "poor" and "acceptable standard of living" mean different things depending on where and when we live.   The poorest of us in this country might be seen as rich in some other countries.


The term "poor" in the Bible describes relationship as much as it describes standard of living.  The poor did not have the basic necessities of life, were society's outcasts, and were not people of influence or power.  The poor had no hope and no good news.


We have a song, "Give Thanks."  And one of the lines go like this.


And now let the weak say, "I am strong"

Let the poor say, "I am rich

Because of what the Lord has done for us"


            My Mother and Dad were poor by most standards.   My mother was mentally unstable, so Dad was the breadwinner and head of household.  Dad was rich enough to stay with my mother, even though her mental state made Dad's life almost unbearable at times.   Dad was rich enough to practice some pretty strange economics - he didn't spend any more than what came in. (What as radical idea!!) Dad was rich enough to take a few chickens from his farm to his brothers and sisters during the depression when some of them had lost their city jobs.  He was rich enough to have a 40-acre farm. And he had a 40-acre farm rather than a 20-acre farm because he looked out for an old bachelor farmer on the 20 acres south of his farm.  When that farmer died, he willed the 20 acres to my Mother and Dad in return for their kindness.  And my dad recounted that some in his immediate community were jealous about that - those were people who were richer financially than he was - but poorer spiritually.


            Dad was able to be rich in his relationships even though he was not a man of great material wealth or influence.   Dad was rich "Because of what the Lord has done for us".   If we live in the reality of God's love and pass that love on, we can have richness in what most people would call poverty.  We can turn what many people would see as hopelessness into hopefulness, and we can turn a gift, like a 20-acre plot of land into a blessing - even on to generations to come, and I am the only heir of that generation.


            If we are clueless about what God has done for us - the Gospel - the Good News - every material gift begets the need for a bigger gift, and relationships tend to be hollow and empty.  And regardless of what our bank account says, we are poor. 


            "…the good news is proclaimed to the poor…"  That is no fluff.   That is what the poor really need.


            And all the other maladies mentioned have their spiritual counterparts.   Our human nature tends toward blindness, and we need to see the truth of who God is and what he does for us.     We tend to be lame and we need to walk with God in the truth of the Gospel.   Without the truth of the Gospel, God has every reason to see us as repugnant, ugly creations.  Jesus has cleansed all so that we are beautiful in God's sight.    We naturally turn a deaf ear to God, but God gives grace to hear, and a loving Father will give all grace to hear at least once.   Humanity has been "surely dead" since Adam.   Jesus said, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."


            Then Jesus says, 6 "Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”


How could they (can we) see Jesus' miracles and "stumble" on account of him?  People stumble when they see that Jesus is not the messiah that they want.


Some people expect Jesus to be the Messiah of the  "Health and Wealth Gospel".   They want God to be a vending machine. We put the money in and expect the can of soda to come out.  We say the right prayer, obey enough commandments, give enough to the poor, serve enough, and God will deliver health and wealth.  


God's blessings are not necessarily health and wealth, though if we have those gifts, God can help them be blessings or us and those around us.  And God can turn health and financial setbacks into blessings.   The most important help that we need from God is help in having right relationships with God and with one another.   Sometimes those relationships are happy; sometimes those relationships are a cross to bear, where we are willing carry the cross without revenge.   People who want a health and wealth messiah will stumble when they are confronted with Jesus.


Some people expect Jesus to be the Messiah of self-worship.  Their hymn is.


And now let the weak say, "I am strong"

Let the poor say, "I am rich”

Because being who I was meant to be.


Seminary president and Christian author, Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. says "In the same way that Church fathers judged pride, some of our contemporaries judge self-denial: they think it's the first of the seven deadly sins." (p. 180, Beyond Doubt)   People want their Messiah to bless their lifestyles and their attitude of "being who I was meant to be".  These will stumble when they hear of the real Messiah and are presented with the Jesus of the Gospel.


Our culture today suffers from a great deal of Gospel deficiency - both in the Church and outside the Church.  Whether Christian or non-Christian, we come to this season of the year and hear the angels proclaim, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people."  We are told to not be afraid, but many fear that a living Jesus Christ won't deliver good news that causes great joy.  Therefore many look for "someone else" or "something else".  


The question for all people is the same as John's question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”  People may search different religions.  People may search for different philosophies.  People may search for five, ten, fifteen or more commandments, principles, or mottos for living, while denying that a living Jesus is present in the person of the Holy Spirit to help us live productive, loving relationships every second of every day.  But we need to know the God of the Gospel so that we can tell the voice of the Holy Spirit from our own voice.


As Gospel-believing followers of Jesus, we come to our God daily in prayer believing that we have no more to offer him than a month old baby can offer her parents. We trust him to take the gifts he gives us and the crosses we bear and turn them into joy for us and all that we come in contact with.


Who brings good news of great joy for all people?  There are only two choices - Jesus or someone else.

On Earth, Peace Goodwill Towards Men, the Christmas Message of 2010

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