Dear believers in Christ, baptized of God, you who are eternally and everlasting rich in the forgivness of your sins in Christ -
“On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry announces that the Lord is nigh.” In Sunday school, we learned that John the Baptist was a rough man, wearing camel’s hair, eating grasshoppers and wild honey.
And so, people did not come to John to see a soft, well-dressed man. They didn’t come to see royalty. They didn’t come to hear someone tell them whatever they wanted to hear. They didn’t come to hear a reed preacher, bending whatever direction the wind of popular opinion blows.
John had one purpose in life, and he had one mission: to preach Christ, the Savior of sinners. “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” And so people came to hear him preach God’s Word.
They came to hear a fearless, courageous, gutsy, bold preacher. Not afraid to stand up to anyone, even king Herod. He didn’t come to be politically correct, but to be Biblically correct.
His message was to prepare us for the coming of the Savior into our hearts. So John said, “Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
“On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry announces that the Lord is nigh.”
And Scripture says, “The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.”
And so may we continue to receive our humble King, with humble, repentant hearts. He comes in meekness and gentleness now, in His lowly means of grace. And He will come again in glory on the Last day.
But what happened to John? He was such a bold preacher, but then, things seemed to change. From a dark prison cell, there came not a big, bold, gutsy sermon - but rather, what sounds more like a small, uncertain, question of doubt: Jesus, are you the one to come? “Art Thou He that should come, or do we look for another?”
John was in prison for preaching God’s Word to Herod, who had taken his brother’s wife. That was the public sin of adultery, and John publicly rebuked him (and for other things). And this landed him in jail.
But why? Why God? Why did God have to allow this to happen, and why didn’t God get him out of jail? Jesus Himself said that John was greater than all the prophets that came before him. So how could it be good for him to be stuck in prison?
God doesn’t always seem to work things the way we would. And certainly not the way the world would. Where’s the protestors, and the marches down main street, the likes of which we see in New York and Washington? Where is the grand jury to hear John’s case? Where are the high profile lawyers demanding John’s rights? Where’s the big talkers, the Al Sharptons who stir things up in hopes of getting some sort of justice, or some sort of vengeance, or at least a riot?
We may not agree with all of those methods, but more importantly, how could this be God’s way for John to just remain there? The greatest prophet of the Old Testament, just stuck there? God’s ways are not always our ways. His thoughts are not always (aligned with) our thoughts. And so Jesus says, “Blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in Me.”
Jesus’ way, is the way of hidden glory. Jesus’ way is the way of the cross. It is the way of suffering. It is the way of dying and rising again, but not only His, but ours also. Not only on the last day, but right here and now, His Spirit working in our hearts, through the Word, causing us to die to sin, and to rise to new life in Him, just as surely as He is risen.
So instead of the way of earthly strength and worldly power, it is the hidden way - power hidden behind weakness and meekness, and the preaching of His Word, and repentance and faith. And so “it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.”
The wisdom of the world says, “ya right, please, what can a few words do for me”? Yet Jesus says, “the Words that I speak unto you, they are Spirit, and they are life.”
This is a kingdom not of earthly power, but a kingdom where the greatest prophet can be arrested, and the coming Messiah too can get captured, and is, and is spit upon, and is crucified. For that is the way in which He brought peace and salvation for the whole world.
And so the way He works also in our life, is not always going to be the way we expect, or want, either. Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world.” But we can always know, and trust, that it is the absolute best way possible for us, the way the best serves our eternal soul.
From prison comes that question, Jesus are you the one, or do we look for another? The only thing the wisdom of the world can see in that is failure, weakness, a once-great man of great influence, completely helpless. But God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. And it becomes the perfect teaching moment for John’s disciples.
Jesus answered John’s question, and in His answer, there was reassurance for them like never before. They knew well the signs connected to the coming Messiah. Isaiah foretold it hundreds of years ago in the Scriptures. The lame would walk, the deaf would hear, the blind would see, the dead would be raised, and most of all: the poor would have the Gospel preached to them. And John prophesied also that he would decrease, while Jesus would increase.
John’s disciples were given that assurance in the Word – the one they were waiting for, the one promised of long ago, had come. And behold, He comes meek, and lowly. “for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”
May we continue to receive our humble king, with humble hearts. The poor have the Gospel preached to them. Not poor necessarily in a financial way, but definitely in a spiritual way. “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.”
That is the way in Jesus’ kingdom. The poor have the Gospel preached to them. Those who know they are sinners, receiving the full forgiveness of all their sins. The Spiritually blind seeing the light of God’s Word. The Spiritually deaf hearing the promises of God. The spiritually dead being raised to new life through the power of His Word and Spirit. The spiritually poor becoming eternally and everlastingly rich in the forgiveness of our sins.
This Christmas, may we treasure most the spiritual blessings that God brings. “Behold, I send My messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.” “On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry announces that the Lord is nigh.” In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Click here for a higher resolution image (500dpi)