If ever a man was born with a purpose, it was John the Baptizer.
Zechariah, his father, did not believe and lost his speech, only to regain it after John’s birth, after he wrote John’s name.
Then he sang, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed His people.”
From an early age, John knew he would go before the face of the Lord to prepare His way. He would lead God’s people out of darkness by bringing them to Christ.
John’s life was shaped by the stories of his birth. He knew who he was and what he was going to do. He was the one whom the prophet Isaiah called “the voice crying in the wilderness.”
Valleys would be lifted up and mountains lowered to prepare a level road for the promised Messiah. Jesus called John “Elijah,” whom Malachi foretold would come “... before the great and terrible day of the Lord.”
John the Baptist’s purpose was confirmed by his success as a preacher. He was so eloquent that some thought him to be the promised Messiah.
After John died, his memory had such a hold that the people thought Jesus was John the Baptist, returned. Yet John had always preached that he was a prophet, not the Christ.
Those without disappointments often have difficulty dealing with life’s setbacks. This may have been true of John the Baptist. After a life of success with audiences so large that all Jerusalem and Judea turned out to hear him, he now sat in prison (not for wrongs, he had done nothing wrong).
He had preached that Christ would release captives from prison, so what about him?
We Christians know that life can turn sad. Do we sometimes wonder if God really cares? Here, John sent his disciples to ask: “Are you the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
John appears to be toying with the idea that he could have been wrong about Jesus. And if Jesus was not the Christ, then John’s ministry was a total waste of time.
Some cannot accept this and say John asked not for himself, but for his disciples. Our lesson shows how Jesus dealt with John’s struggle. First, John’s doubts do not take away his greatness. Jesus called him the greatest man born of woman.
Still, we all wrestle with the fact that Satan never leaves us alone. John was no exception.
But if we only had a miracle ... popular thought says miracles cure unbelief.
Pastors hear this excuse often. “I will believe, if God does a miracle.” But John had only the Words of Jesus: “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see.
“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. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.”
Here, Jesus placed the Gospel higher than all the physical miracles. John the Baptizer must be content that his sins are forgiven in Christ. He is now a hearer and hears Christ preach to him, “That the poor have the Gospel preached to them.” Then, Jesus concludes with this cryptic message: “ Blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.”
Take Jesus at His Word and receive what God has promised in Christ. We, like John, have our purpose, in bringing others to Christ, but, the only promise we receive is our sins are forgiven.
John must get out of the way, to make room for the New Testament, but this does not belittle Jesus’ extraordinary claim — that of those born of women, none is greater than John. Those who believe the good news about Jesus are the poor, who by faith are joined to Him and are saved by the shed blood of Christ on the Cross. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
The Rev. ROBERT WAGNER is pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Copperas Cove.