December 12, 2010
Matthew 11:2-11

Jesus and John the Baptist are two men who are linked together in all four of the gospel narratives. In Luke, they are linked together from before their birth. John was the miracle child born of Zechariah and Elizabeth when she was well past the age of giving birth. Jesus was the miracle child born of Mary and of the Holy Spirit while she was still a virgin; fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 where a virgin (almah) would bear a son (Luke 1:26-38).

In Mark, they are joined together by the common focus on repentance in both of their first sermons (Mark 1:4-15). In John, we see John the Baptist not only baptized Jesus in the Jordan River, but he also directed two of his own disciples to become disciples of Jesus with the words “Behold the Lamb of God” (John 1:36). Jesus and John the Baptist are inseparably linked throughout the gospel story.

However, their relationship reaches an especially poignant moment in Matthew 11:2-11. John the Baptist was sitting in a prison cell awaiting execution by order of Herod Antipas. He did not want to face that death without being sure that what he had believed and said about Jesus was true. So, John sent two of his disciples to Jesus with a question that must be heard as rising up from the soul of a condemned man in search of hard evidence or of a blessed assurance that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah for whose cause John was now imprisoned.

Are You the One?
John wanted to know: “Are You the One who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” The problem for John was that he had no more time to wait for another. He knew he would be dead in days, perhaps even in hours. He had to know for sure, and he had to know right now. “Are You the One?”

Jesus Is the One Who Changes Lives
John got the answer he needed when Jesus said, “Tell John what you have seen.” The sick are being healed, sinners are being saved, the dead are being raised, and the poor are hearing a word of hope and encouragement for the first time in their lives. The Messianic Age which John had announced was unfolding. The Messiah whose imminent appearance John had declared was on the scene. Similar to Simeon, who encountered the infant Jesus in Luke 2:25-32, John also could die in peace because his eyes had seen God’s salvation.

I think of this passage whenever I encounter someone who is wearing a bracelet or carrying a book covered with the letters WWJD, which stands for What Would Jesus Do? If such people would read the biblical accounts, they would discover that a much better set of initials is DWJD: Do What Jesus Did.

We do not have to wonder about the actions or priorities of Jesus. He demonstrated them for all to see and to hear. In fact, He continues to do those same things today. The sick are still being healed. Sinners are still being saved. The dead are still being raised. The poor are still being encouraged. We can see Jesus at work with our own eyes.

Jesus Is the One Who Gives Grace
While Jesus and John the Baptist were linked together throughout the gospels, they did not necessarily see the Messianic Age through the same lens. John the Baptist was a strict moralist who preached the judgment of God as penalty for human sin. After all, he was sitting in prison for that very reason, having condemned Herod Antipas for divorcing his own wife in order to marry the wife of his brother Philip while his brother was still alive. Not only was this something straight out of “The Jerry Springer Show,” but it also violated Mosaic Law in Leviticus 18:16. For John, the Messianic Age would be marked by God’s awful judgment as with the Day of the Lord in Amos 5:18-20.

However, for Jesus the coming of the Messianic Age was to be marked more by God’s offer of mercy and grace. One almost could read Romans 6:23 and see the views of these two men: “The wages of sin is death” (John the Baptist), “but the gift of God is eternal life” (Jesus). Sin was taken no less seriously by Jesus, but His focus was not on the penalty for sin; it was primarily on the possibility of forgiveness.
 In the midst of Advent as we look to the second coming of Christ, let us focus on the grace of God so beautifully given in Isaiah 55:6-7:
 “Seek the Lord while He may be found,
 Call upon Him while He is near.
 Let the wicked forsake his way,
And the unrighteous man his thoughts
Let him return to the Lord,
And He will have mercy upon him,
And to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.

We need not harbor any doubts or uncertainties. Until Christ comes again, the issue for us is DWJD. Let us be about the business of the One whose coming was announced, whose church has been established and whose promise was: “Greater works than these shall you do” (John 14:12).

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