Sermons

pastorEric aug2014Sermon for Third Sunday of Advent

Is Jesus the Messiah?
By The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer -

This is the second week in a row with Gospel lessons about John the Baptist. Last week, Mark introduced us to John and described him as a bit of a wild man – living in the wilderness, clothed in camel’s hair and a leather belt with a diet of locusts and wild honey.

 

This week John’s Gospel also introduces us to John the Baptist. John the Baptist is drawing large crowds, preaching a gospel of repentance and that attracts the attention, the concern, of the religious leaders of the day. So, today’s Gospel lesson from St. John tells us that the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask John, “Who are you?” John the Baptist answered clearly, “I am not the Messiah.”

 

And, in St. Matthew’s Gospel, John the Baptist, from prison, through John’s disciples, sends Jesus a similar question, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

 

If it were 2017, John the Baptist might have text-messaged his question to Jesus – “R U the 1?”

 

quote neverendingJohn the Baptist’s question is most interesting when you consider what came before it in John’s life, even before John’s birth. St. Luke writes that, while John the Baptist was still inside of his pregnant mother, Elizabeth, John “leaped” in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary, pregnant with Jesus, approached Elizabeth’s home. And, again in Matthew’s Gospel, we read that, when Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River, “the heavens were opened” and the Spirit of God descended upon Jesus. “And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

 

Thus, John already knew the answer to his “Who are you?” question. John already knew that this Jesus is the Messiah, God’s Son.

 

Okay, then why did John ask this question?

 

The Messiah that the Jews were expecting, that they continue to expect to this day, was not the Messiah that Jesus became. John the Baptist and other Jewish leaders expected a Messiah who would come to set things right on earth in their here and now. This Messiah would come to be an earthly King, to establish the kingdom of God on earth. The hated Roman rulers would be put down and the Jewish people would be finally be free.

 

That is not the Messiah that Jesus came to be. Jesus came to change people’s hearts. He came to bring good news to the poor. Jesus responds to John the Baptist’s disciples’ question – “Go and tell John what you see and hear.”

 

This was not the Jesus, the Messiah, that John the Baptist had hoped for, longed for. Think of the kind of Messiah Jesus was – born in a stable, not a palace; born a moral leader of an unwed mother; born among the poorest of the poor, not among the rich and powerful; born in a backwater town in a then-forgotten nation.

 

By the time John the Baptist sent his “Who are you?” message to Jesus, John was in prison and facing nearly certain death. Despite all that John had already seen and heard about Jesus, John still hoped that this Jesus, the Messiah, would still set things right on earth. By this time Jesus was not delivering on that hope in the way John had envisioned. So, John the Baptist asked, understandably, “Are you the one???”

 

John the Baptist’s question speaks to something we all know: Sometimes it appears that God does not answer our prayers. Or, better put, sometimes God’s answer to our prayers is not what we expect.

 

You know this to be true. We pray for healing for a loved one and, instead of getting better, they become more ill. Sometimes, they even die. And we feel our prayers were not answered.

 

Or, less dramatically but more commonly, we find that our Christian friends act in a manner that is far from “Christian.” They may lie or cheat or behave in some other way that we know is less than what they should be as Christians. And we are disappointed.

 

Or, even more common, we, you and I, we act in a manner which is not Christ-like. We are unkind or hurtful or act in some other way we know is less than what we want to be as Christians. And we are disappointed with ourselves.

 

Or, thinking of this holiday season, we pray for peace within our families gathered at Christmas, and that longed-for peace does not come.

 

John the Baptist was disappointed. God had answered his prayers for a Messiah, a Savior, with a heavenly and not an earthly Savior, something John had not expected.

 

Jesus answered John the Baptist’s question with a promise – Jesus’ love for John the Baptist as well as for you and me, Jesus’ love for us will never die. Jesus will always love us.

 

And, that is the simple promise of Advent this Third Advent Sunday. No matter what happens to us in this life, God’s love for us is eternal, never-ending, and guaranteed.

 

Please hold onto this message, the message of our Gospel this Third Sunday in Advent, the Christian message of this holiday season and for all times: No matter what happens to us in this life, God’s love for us, in the person of the Messiah, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior, God’s love for us is eternal, never-ending and guaranteed.

 

God’s love for us is eternal, never-ending and guaranteed. That is the message of Jesus, the message of Christianity for this day and all days.

 

Thanks be to God!

Amen.

 

The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
Dec. 16 & 17, 2017


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