"Are You the One who is to Come?"
sermon based on Matthew
Christians believe that Jesus embodies in word & deed, the Spirit of God’s own being -- the Almighty God, the Eternal One, the Living God… "in the flesh" (as it were), if such a thing were possible. The doctrine of "Incarnation" simply means that in the life of Jesus Christ we see "God… with skin on".
The Jews in Jesus’ day had long been looking for a God-sent Messiah -- and they had very clear definitions of who that promised Savior, that Anointed One, would be -- a son of David, a warrior who would overthrow the Romans and jettison all evil from the land, the Lord of the heavenly host, someone superhuman & divine in all aspects.
By way of contrast, we who are called "Christian" (which means "Christ-like") believe that we see a manifestation of God’s Spirit in the teachings and life-stories of Jesus, "the Christ." The title "Christ" is simply the Greek translation of the Hebrew word, "Messiah" -- the Savior, the "Anointed One", sent by God. For us Christians, Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah. (!)
For most people in Jesus’ day, however, recognizing Jesus as God’s "Christ" (the Messiah/ Savior) did not happen! It did not happen in Bethlehem, where he had been born; nor even in Nazareth, where Jesus grew up (we talked about that back on January 28).
I suppose, most folks would have been like us... having to wait and see what kind of life & teachings (and what kind of public actions!) this "Messiah" would bring about, before they would decide whether or not to believe in him. (Which reminds me that faith is always a free choice! We can believe, or… we can disbelieve. That’s on us, not on God.)
After his baptism, Jesus and his small band of disciples began to draw crowds up in Galilee, but they had nowhere near as many followers as did John the Baptist. (!) Jesus did not yet have the public eye -- the daring confrontation with power -- that John’s followers did.
It seems that King Herod did not see in Jesus’ lifestyle the kind of subversive activities that John’s movement was threatening to become. As we spoke about back on Feb. 4, John the Baptist had been arrested by King Herod. What I didn’t mention back then, is that John was taken to the desert fortress Macherus (in what is today the Kingdom of Jordan).
The followers of the Baptist (who were mostly zealot, rabble-rousing types like John) were furiously apocalyptic Jews, who were looking for a militant Messiah to overthrow the Temple power structure and purge Israel of Roman occupation troops.
The closest parallel today (I suppose) would be either the Pales-tinian intifada -- that is, the effort of the native people in Israel to take control over their own civic affairs and drive out the foreign occupiers (in this case they would be the immigrant European, American, & Russian Jews) -- or the Zionist settlers of Israel, who want to purge Palestinians.
You may notice that I refer to John’s followers as "Baptists" in order to distinguish them from the followers of Rabbi Jesus. John’s disciples kept the Baptist’s militant vision alive, even after they began to mix in with other "Jesus following" Christians later.
When John the Baptist was arrested by Herod, Jesus and his disciples were left in relative peace. Jesus was too much of a Lamb of God, not a Lion of Judah, as John had seemed to indicate; Jesus was a prince of peace, not a warrior. Jesus was, in the eyes of the Baptists, too meek and mild to be the long-awaited, long-promised "One who is to come." In other words, Jesus was not their idea of a true Messiah.
Remember how John the Baptist had described the "One who is to Come?" John had compared the Messiah to a woods-man, who was cutting down dead trees for firewood; and to a harvester who was mowing down the field in order to collect the grain, after which he will "burn the chaff with unquenchable fire!" (High expectations!)
John the Baptist himself had pointed to Jesus as the one who was coming after him; one who would be mightier than himself; one whose very sandals he was not worthy to untie! But Jesus displayed no hint of such "might", no such violence, no such judgment against others during his ministry. (!) Was John the Baptist wrong?
Let’s imagine ourselves visiting in the prison where John the Baptist is being held. He has pointed out Jesus as the Messiah, the One who is to come after him. He has said that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire! Now, a few of his followers have come to visit the Baptist in prison, and they are not buying it!
What's up, John? Where's the glory which was about to be revealed? We see nothing. Nothing’s happening. No uprising, no conquering, no action!
John, you know I love you like a brother. I'm very sorry we have to have this conversation. But, frankly, we see nothing of the Kingdom of God out there. Herod's Kingdom is still pretty powerful. Just look at you, John, stuck here in jail! The Roman Empire is still in control everywhere.
So, where's the majesty, John? Where’s the glory? (?) We're supposed to be ruling something, John! Would you just look around... Things sure aren't working out the way ya’ preached it.
You know I have the utmost respect for you, John. But if all flesh is gonna see the salvation of the Lord... we're still looking! And it ain't happening. (!) There's a credibility issue going on here. All, John. A.L.L. If all will be able to see it, then our enemies should be able to see it coming, too, don’t you think? -- and let you go. (You do know what the word all means, don’t ya’ John?)
And, John, there’s something else. We know you meant well, but this thing with Jesus just hasn't worked out. I mean, telling everyone that Jesus was taking over for you!? You're still the main man, John. You're the top dog, but you've backed off. If he's the man, what does that make you, John, chopped liver?
I mean no disrespect, John, but how can a kingdom be built by a carpenter? What kind of kingdom are we going to get with fishermen, & tax collectors, & a bunch of loose women; people with no experience! ?
We've been waiting for a kingdom John. You know: with a king! Not a "follow-me" crusade.
Read your Bible, John. Jesus is not the one. How's he ever gonna get on the Throne of David?
Look at you, John. You're in King Herod's prison, for God's sake! Jesus parties all the time, bread and wine, sweet perfume; and you're in here. It's just not right! This is pitiful, John. It's a mess! We're embarrassed. Our whole movement's credibility is on the line, John. It's damage control time!
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You know, those Baptists have a point, don’t you think? There is something wrong with a salvation that we can't see. I mean, what good is a savior who cannot save? If Messiah has come, why is there still suffering? Why has the earth not been healed?
Why are people still thrown into prisons and children left to hun