Sent: Jesus is God with Us
“When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’” (Matthew 11:2-3, NRSV)
The religious landscape in Jesus' day was varied and nuanced. The Jews were the primary religious group in the region; however, just as there are different denominations in our day, there were different sects and brands of Judaism in Jesus' day. While some Jews embraced and collaborated with the Roman rulers, others resisted with protest and violence. There were four dominant Jewish expressions: Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and Zealots. Some leaders had devoted followers from all these groups who strongly identified with their sect.
Some scholars argue that John the Baptist was an Essene. They base this argument on writings found at Qumran. We know John had followers of his own. Even when John the Baptist was arrested and imprisoned by Herod at his compound at Machaerus, John's disciples were nearby and continued to engage with him about current events. They heard stories of Jesus' miraculous healings, and as they relayed them to John the Baptist, questions began to arise among them as to Jesus' place in the religious landscape. So John sent them directly to Jesus to ask him if he was the messiah promised by God? They asked:
"Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" (Matthew 11:3, NRSV)
Jesus responded to their question with instructions to bear witness to John the Baptist of what they had seen Jesus do with their own eyes. Jesus healed the blind, helped the crippled walk again, cleansed some lepers of their disease, restored the hearing of the deaf, raised the dead, and last, but not least, shared some good news with the poor. Jesus wanted them to tell John what they experienced and let him decide for himself whether Jesus was the messiah or not. Couldn't he have just said "yes" or "no" in answer to their question?
Jesus' response was not evasive as much as it was accurate. Even though we would love for faith to be nothing more than acceptance of a fact, ultimately, faith in Jesus is the result of a personal and life-changing encounter with him. If someone tells you that Jesus can save you, although you may be able to intellectually assent to the idea, until you experience God's saving grace for yourself, it's only a concept. Jesus wants us to observe what he does, reflect on what we see or hear or feel, discover how the encounter impacts us, and finally, to experience the freedom and renewal of our spirits that only faith in Jesus brings. Then we will realize that we gained faith by experiencing it!
This week the sermon will focus on how Jesus is God with us. I hope to see you on Sunday!