Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
A university professor once told his class that he would give any student an A in his course who asked one intelligent question. We might think that to be intelligent means we can give answers, not ask questions. But sometimes, the question is as much a part of knowledge as the answer—often the more important part. Men had assumed from the beginning of time that a heavier object fell faster than a lighter one—until Galileo asked, “Does it?” Sometimes asking the right question is just as important as getting an answer.
Last week, St. John the Baptist was in the wilderness. We heard John preaching repentance, calling us to turn from sin to faith in Christ. This week, he’s languishing in Herod’s prison. How quickly things have changed. This morning, John asks a question from the depths of Herod’s dungeon. And it’s the right question, an intelligent question. So, we will examine John’s question and our Lord’s answer.
I. John sends his disciples
John was in prison. King Herod didn’t particularly like that John had publicly called him out for marrying his brother’s wife. For over a year, John, the great preacher, the last of the prophets, found himself confined in prison, where he would eventually be executed. But while he was there, John was receiving visits from his disciples. They reported to him that Jesus was going around teaching, preaching, and healing. These disciples didn’t quite understand John’s message. John, on several occasions, encouraged his disciples to follow Jesus (Jn 1:15-26; 3:28). It’s evident that some didn’t listen to John. Remember that John was filled with the Holy Spirit from before his birth. He witnessed the Baptism, where he heard the voice of God the Father and saw the Spirit coming down like a dove. He was thoroughly convinced that Jesus was the Messiah and had no doubts about what he was here to do. But the few disciples still clinging to him had no intention of leaving him and following Jesus. In fact, Matthew reported earlier that some of John’s disciples didn’t approve of how Jesus was doing things (Mt 9:14).
So, John’s faith is firm. But, he could not remove the doubts from all of his disciples. Some of them feel rather jealous about Jesus’ popularity (Jn 3:26). So, what will John do? John decided to give his disciples a little assignment. There was nothing much for him to do in prison, and there was no reason for John’s disciples to hang around. So, John sent them out on a field trip. He doesn’t want them keeping him company. John wants them with Jesus. He sent them with a skillfully worded question: Are you the One, Jesus? Or do we look for someone else? He sent his disciples to Jesus so that they could see for themselves. John sent his disciples, his students, to Jesus. John knew that Christ’s works would give them a better witness than he could in prison. That’s why he sent them to Jesus.
John knew that his disciples had issues with Jesus, and he knew right where to send them. What about you? You also encounter people who have issues with Jesus. You have friends and family members who have equally tricky questions. Is Jesus the One? Is Jesus really the Son of God? Is he the one who knows God better than anyone else? Is he the only way to eternal life? Is what the Gospels tell us about Jesus true? Where do you point them? Maybe, they wouldn’t word their question the same way that John did. Perhaps, their question is, “Is my spouse really going to rise again?” or, “Am I ever going to get better and be healed?” or, “Jesus, did You really die and rise again for me?” or, “Jesus do you really forgive me?” All outstanding questions. Where do we find the answers? Where are you sending the people you encounter? When friends, family, acquaintances, or even fellow Christians display some spiritual need, are you sending them to where Jesus can be found? Or are you sending them somewhere else?
Where did John send his disciples? John’s entire ministry was to prepare the people for Christ. The fact that John sends them to Jesus for an answer proves that John has faith in Jesus. He was the one who said that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! John was doing what John was called to do – pointing the way to Jesus. “Behold, the Lamb of God.” In effect, John says to them, “If you don’t believe me, then—go, see, and judge for yourselves.” This is the sign of a good and faithful preacher. He sends those he is teaching to Jesus. A preacher who doesn’t send you to Jesus is no good. When you meet people with issues or questions, John the Baptist will send them to Jesus.
II. Jesus gives an answer
Now that we’ve seen the question, we need to see something even more important—the answer. Most people prefer a simple answer to a simple question. Yet, Jesus does not respond by simply telling John’s disciples: “Yes, I am.” He answered instead, “Go and tell John what you now hear and see.” He pointed to his word and his deeds.
But there is more in Jesus’ answer than appears at first glance. Look at the Old Testament reading, and you’ll see connections to the book of Isaiah. Isaiah identifies the one who is to come! “Behold, your God will come” (Is 35:4). What does Isaiah say God will do when he comes? We hear the familiar phrases, “The eyes of the blind shall be opened,” “the ears of the deaf unstopped,” “the lame man shall leap,” and “the tongue of the mute will sing.” We recognise that this is messianic language” (Is 35:4-6). John’s disciples heard him many times before saying that Jesus was the Christ, the Saviour of the world, yet they could not believe it. So, John sent them to Jesus. Jesus didn’t refuse them, nor did he rebuke them for their unbelief. He lovingly and gently bears with their weakness. Jesus fulfils these promises right before their eyes.
Then, Jesus tells them to report what they have heard and seen to John. They could believe the evidence of their eyes and ears—the healings, the exorcisms, the raising of the dead, the preaching of forgiveness to the poor—were done by Jesus. They do not need any other response than this. These words and acts show that he is the one to come. John’s disciples knew the prophecy from Isaiah. John’s disciples did not need new proof. They simply needed to look again at the evidence he already had about who Jesus was.
That’s the answer we need today. We simply need to hear the old message again and again. John sends us to Jesus. Like John’s disciples, you need Jesus. Everyone you know needs Jesus. The church’s job is to send people to Jesus. Jesus proved by word and deed that he was the one to come. The one who will come and do what? Isaiah foretold that God would come personally to save us. “Your God will come and save you” (Is 35:4). God himself intervenes. You are encouraged to take heart and not to fear. Christ is the one to come and you need him every day. Every time you come to church, you come burdened by sins you have committed against God. You haven’t loved God with all your heart. You haven’t loved your neighbor as yourself. From the cradle to the grave, you are spiritually poor and needy. We are sent to Christ because we are poor. The poor need the gospel. They need the message that God sent his Son into the world to fulfil the law and suffer for our sins on the cross to set us free from our sins, from the fear of death, and Satan’s power. Jesus, the one to come, saves us whenever we hear the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes. Through the gospel, Jesus continues to fulfil Isaiah! When we were dead in our trespasses and sins, Jesus gave us new life in Holy Baptism. Your spiritually deaf ears have heard Jesus’ forgiveness. This forgiveness was spoken with the King’s authority, in His stead and by His command. Your sins are covered and paid for, and the King Himself has covered your debt. You are free to live in peace.
John sent his disciples to Jesus because he knew Jesus was the answer they needed. John sends us to Jesus. Jesus points us to the Bible, and the Bible tells us that Jesus is God in the flesh, who came to save us. Just like John’s disciples heard and saw the deeds of Christ, so have you! And so, go and tell others what you have seen and heard.
May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.