The Jesus You Need
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text is the Gospel appointed for today.
John sent his disciples to Jesus with a question: “Are you the Coming One, or do we look for another?” Now if ever there is an Advent question, this is it. All of our texts today revolve around the theme of the preaching of the Gospel, and John’s disciples really got at the heart of the matter. Are you the Messiah or not? Should we follow John or do we follow you? You can almost sense the tension in their question. Have we been wrong for following John the Baptist all these years? Some theologians think John, sitting in prison, is beginning to doubt Jesus. Or maybe John himself is concerned that when he is martyred, some of his disciples won’t follow Jesus, but will rather bask in John’s memory. Perhaps they would turn him into a folk hero, and they wouldn’t get the connection between John’s preaching of repentance and Jesus’ work of forgiving sins.
Really, though, the question of the disciples to Jesus is our question as well. In one way or another, we are all searching for answers. We all have questions about life and about our identity as God’s children. These questions draw us into the question of Jesus. Who is He? Why did He come? What does that have to do with my life here and now? Those are good questions, ones that have to be asked, maybe now more than any other time in the history of the Church.
Now Jesus knows all about John’s disciples’ fears and questions. Notice what Jesus does. He doesn’t answer their question outright. They ask, are you the Coming One, or do we seek another? Jesus doesn’t just answer, yes, I am the Coming One. No, instead He says, “Go back and tell John what you hear and see.” Jesus then gives a list of the works He’s performed in their presence: “The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” Notice how Jesus in this list moves from the least important to the most important. The blind see and the lame walk. These things didn’t make you unclean, but they incapacitated you. The lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear. These things not only incapacitate you, but they make you unclean, so that you cannot hear the Word of God. The dead are raised and the poor have the gospel preached to them. Jesus raised up the dead, but even more important than that, Jesus gives the good news of salvation and forgiveness to the poor. Or to put it another way, preaching the forgiveness of sins was the most important thing He did.
What does that have to do with Advent? It has everything to do with Advent, because this question gets at the heart of why Jesus came to earth in the first place. In Jesus’ ministry, many people were offended when Jesus said that He had to suffer and die on the cross for the sins of the world. Many quit following Him, and looked elsewhere for a more user-friendly Messiah. The tried to make Him a king; they wanted Him to rebel against Rome; they followed after Him because He fed their stomachs. But when He sought to forgive their sins, when He went to preach the Gospel to them, well, they had better things to do than that. As Paul said, preaching of the cross is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks.
This is still true today. How many people the world over go to church to have their sins forgiven? How many of you are here because you need Jesus? Think back to our Old Testament lesson, when Isaiah prophesied about the preaching of John the Baptist. “Comfort, yes, comfort my people! Says your God. Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, That her warfare is ended, That her iniquity is pardoned; For she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” This is the message of Christmas. As Isaiah said just a few verses later, “Lift up your voice with strength, lift it up, be not afraid; Say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’”
This message is significantly different than what we seek after by nature. Jesus gives us what we need, not what we want. That was His message to John. Perhaps John was wondering if Jesus would come down and get him out of prison. But that was not Jesus’ purpose; He had a higher purpose for John and for you. You want Jesus to help you with your money problems, or family problems, or conflicts with co-workers, stress about life, or school, or whatever may be ailing you. Now to be sure, Jesus cares about all these things. And He will help you with whatever the problems of your life are.
But His sights are much higher than that. Jesus did not come to earth to make you feel better, or happier, or even to make your life easier. He came to earth to raise you from the dead. He came to earth to heal the sickness of sin, which is a part of you even now. He came to preach to you that your sins are forgiven. He comes to give you Himself. He comes to lift you up out of your mess of a life, and to make you sons and daughters of heaven!
So what do you hear and see? Do you hear and see a Jesus you want? Do you see a Jesus that makes you happy, that makes you feel good about your self and about who you are. Do you see a Jesus that says it’s okay to sin and revel in wickedness? Or do you hear and see the Jesus you need? Do you hear the Jesus that says that sin cannot be brushed over? Do you see the Jesus born in a manger, dead on a cross, gone from the empty tomb? Do you hear the Jesus that forgives your sin, and who gives you Himself week after week?
That is why Jesus says to John’s disciples, “Blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.” Jesus doesn’t necessarily give you what you want; but He does give you what you need, and that is the far greater thing. He gives you His very body and blood for the forgiveness of sins. What looks on the outside like almost nothing, is in fact the thing you need the most in the whole world. Blessed are you who are not offended that Jesus uses poor preachers, mere words, simple water, and ordinary bread and wine to bring you the greatest gift of all. He gives you Himself; and this is the Jesus you need. In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.