Sermon based on Matthew 11:2-11
For most concerts there’s a warm up act. Perhaps a lesser known musician or comedian that comes out first and entertains the crowd for a while. They might be someone trying to make a name for themselves. They’re probably someone who is okay, but no one mistakes them for the main act. The crowd is waiting for someone else.
God intended the Savior when he came to have something a little like a warm up act. Someone who would come on the scene first and get people ready for the Coming One. Not to make a name for themselves. Intended to be on scene for only a little while, and then fade away. If Jesus was the Coming One, then John the Baptist was the warm up. But he was no slouch. He was given the incredible privilege and important task of preparing the way for the Coming One.
Through his life, John’s circumstances changed a lot. His first moments preparing the way meant big crowds and much preaching. Then prison, where he didn’t have the same kind of confidence. And he doubted. Yes, the great John the Baptist doubted who Jesus was. Not that he lost his faith, but he questioned what he heard about Jesus. If it can happen to John the Baptist then it can happen to us too. We need Jesus’ answer to John’s question from the gospel…
Should we wait for someone else?
Getting answers on Jesus
Getting answers on John
Recall what you know about John the Baptist. Along the Jordan River, away from the cities, out in the wilderness, John was drawing a crowd. Jesus approached one day and wanted baptism. John had already identified Jesus as, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” Now Jesus was requesting baptism like every other sinner standing near the river. John tried to avoid it, but Jesus insisted. After, John heard the voice. Saw the dove descending. “This is my Son, whom I love. I am well pleased with him.” God the Father’s voice and the Holy Spirit made it clear. This was the Coming One God had promised.
Then John got into it with the king. The king was openly sinning, running around with a woman not his wife. John appropriately called him on it. Not wanting to be embarrassed, the king had John imprisoned to shut him up. That’s where John sat. And waited. As he continued to hear about Jesus, what he heard caused him to question. “While John was in prison, he heard about the things Christ was doing. He sent two of his disciples to ask him, are you the Coming One or should we wait for someone else?” It was a question of doubt. Jesus was doing great and powerful miracles. He was preaching with authority about the kingdom of God. He spoke of forgiveness and God’s love. It was all gospel focused. Jesus shared good news. While John sat in prison. John had preached for God. He drew crowds. He worked hard for the kingdom. But he was in prison. And where was the judgment? God’s enemies seemed to be getting away with terrible things, like a king having a mistress, all while Jesus went around freely preaching a message of forgiveness. When would God right the wrongs? The Coming One was supposed to do that, it was supposed to be Jesus.
No one here is stuck in prison because of a terrorizing king trying to make a point. So where does our doubt come from? Who are the kings who have success following them everywhere, that they can move to bigger homes on the beach, get new cars in the driveway? While we struggle in mediocrity. We make our payments, keep our cars running. But our success is limited. That doesn’t seem right. We’re Christians. We end up doubting God’s goodness. Our prison might be the temptations that plague us. Friends who are bad influences we can’t seem to break away from. Some sins we wish we weren’t doing, but we come back to them again and again. We doubt God’s mercy. We question God’s direction for our life. It’s not that doubt necessarily means faith has been lost. But doubt makes us afraid it might be.
Doubt can mean looking for a Coming One that fits our needs, really our wants. We want one who will help when we call. Help with the bills, help make the team, help pass a test. Then retreat away so we can enjoy the trappings of Christmas, the presents, overeating, laziness. We want the Coming One to bring good news to us and bad news to our enemies. And bring it now. That was John’s mistake. He doubted and questioned because he misunderstood the timing. We want Jesus saving people by grace and judging people for their wickedness at the same time. But when it seems Jesus allows bad to to happen to us, while others get away with much worse, it seems unfair. We doubt Jesus. Not necessarily lose our faith, but we feel bad for doubting.
Get your answers about Jesus from Jesus. “Go report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the gospel is preached to the poor.” That’s solid concrete evidence that tells you exactly who Jesus is. Because God gave those words about 700 years before Jesus arrived. They would allow people to look for the Coming One. If he healed people who were the injured ones of society, if he cared for those who needed it, and did amazing things like raising the dead, then that one was the Coming One. Only God could do those things, and Jesus did. Jesus restored people to the community and through the gospel preached to them he restored them to God. You hear that gospel. And Jesus raises you from the deadness of sin to life. He preaches the gospel message to you. He restores you to God. Even if we still get sick, get injured, have difficulties, suffer, that isn’t proof against Jesus being the Coming One. The evidence still proves it. Jesus is the promised Coming One, the Savior. Your Savior.
John the Baptist wasn’t questioning who he was. His whole life he knew who God had called him to be. Once he heard confirmation from Jesus, after he had experienced a bit of doubt, his faith in Jesus was stronger than ever. He had his answers, from Jesus. And now Jesus gave the people their answers about John. Because if anyone was confused about Jesus they might be confused about John. And Jesus wanted them hearing John’s message.
“What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? No, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. So what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you. And he is much more than a prophet.” No reasonable person would walk out into the wilderness to listen to someone shouting the latest thinking of the day. They could get that a lot closer to home. And John wasn’t soft peddling the message either, going easy on the rich and powerful. He was preaching law directly against the king remember. Jesus led the people to see it was mainly the spectacle that drew them into the wilderness. John dressed funny and ate funny foods. But they were actually seeing and hearing a prophet of God. A prophet who bridged between Old and New Testaments. A prophet other prophets predicted would come. A New Testament prophet who would prepare the way for the Christ, and then was granted the privilege of seeing him. Mostly a prophet with a message they needed. John called people to repent. Take that seriously. John pointed people to Jesus as the Lamb of God. Take that seriously.
The Coming One has come. But the biggest main event isn’t over. Remember Jesus promises to return. That’s for you. He comes to bring your salvation to fulfillment. Don’t doubt thinking you must wait for someone else. John the Baptist came with his message of repentance and his identification of Christ as the Savior. He pointed to the Coming One. But you have something even he didn’t. “Among those born of women there has not appeared anyone greater than John the Baptist. Yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” You have a greater answer to your doubts than anything John saw. Christ has already lived his perfect life. He took it all the way to the end, gave it on the cross. Fulfilled the promises of God to deal with your sins and the sins of the world. He sacrificed himself just as John said, but never saw. John didn’t see the Lamb of God give himself for the world. You have.
Jesus answers your doubts. He does so with a defeat of Satan. He does so ruling over sin and death. Jesus comes to you daily in his Word. So answer your doubts with Jesus. You need no one else but him. He gives you confidence as he answers all questions about who he is. Jesus is the Coming One. Jesus is the Savior. You’re saved by his grace. You don’t wait for someone else.