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)
John was having second thoughts. There was a history between John the Baptist and Jesus. There was a greater history between the parents of these two, the fathers, Joseph and Zacharias, and especially between Mary and Elizabeth. And, there were many similarities between the narratives of the birth of John and the birth of Jesus. Zacharias was visited by the angel Gabriel who told him that John was going to be the father of a son with an important anointing and mission from God, and that he would be a forerunner of another person. He would exercise the power and authority of the prophet Elijah. Zacharias did not believe the angel and therefore he was struck dumb, unable to speak.
It was a hard message for Zechariah to swallow. They were getting older, and Elizabeth was barren. The angel told him to name the boy John, and on the day of his birth, Zachariah wrote out the name John, and his mouth was opened to speak again. We are told that Elizabeth was found comfort that she would have a child. John was at least a few months older that Jesus. We next see Elizabeth visiting Mary at their home in “the hill country of Judah”, perhaps in Hebron, but we do not know for sure. When Mary enters the house, John leaps for joy in the womb of Jesus. We do not know how long Mary stayed with Elizabeth, but from Luke we are told that she came in the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy and stayed for three months. Whether she was there or not we really can’t say. But, we do know that Mary returned home after her visit to Elizabeth’s.
It appears that John grew up in the deserts and mountains, and was not a city boy. He might have been part of Qumran community, or perhaps a friend of the community. This was a desert community that is responsible for the Dead Sea scrolls. He could have also been part of a religious community, associated with prophetic teaching, and lived with some sort of wilderness wardrobe. Like Elijah, he dressed rough and wore camel’s hair and a leather belt and lived on honey and locusts. We are not sure whether they were grasshoppers of a type of fruit grown in the desert known as locust trees, trees that bear a sweet coco like substance. I would suggest the latter since the locust trees bear fruit year-round, and the grasshoppers are more seasonal.
In our gospel passage this morning, John is in prison because he accused Herod’s wife of adultery, having an affair with her brother Herod, and then leaving the brother to marry Herod. Herod was interested and somewhat fearful of John the Baptist, and he desired to keep him alive. However, at his birthday party, he invites Salome, his daughter, to come dance. He was so impressed with her that he offered her anything she wanted. She went to her mother who told Salome to ask for John the Baptists head on a platter.
So, this is the context that we find John in this passage. He knows that he has given his life and ministry to God as a prophet preparing the way for a great Messiah. He is beginning to wonder if he was faithful in his work. “Did I make the right choices”? Is this Jesus the one to come, or is there another? He began to doubt. His life was in the balance. He began to question his ministry. Did I make the right choices? Am I on the right track? Did I miss something in my journey of faith? Have you ever had doubts like this? I think most of us do from time to time.
Jesus responds to John’s disciples with these words: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And, blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” (Matthew 11:4-6) He is carrying on the work of John the Baptist. He is taking the ministry to the next level. John preached a message of resentence, a message of preparation for the coming of the Messiah. Jesus confirms that that message is being carried out. He is ministering to the needs of the sick, the down-trodden, the hurting the blind, the discouraged, the lonely, and all those that are hurting and a desire to have those needs met.
Then Jesus went away, but he began to speak to the crowds about John with these words: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Matthew 11:7-11)
This message is a message of love. What I want you to hear this morning is that Jesus loves all of us. He knows we have hurts, things in our lives that are broken; broken dreams, broken bodies, broken minds, broken hearts. This is a time for healing. John the Baptist prepares us for this healing when he says: “Prepare ye the way of the Lord” We prepare by saying “here I am Lord, touch me and make me whole. Lay our hands on me dear Lord and make the crooked things straight”.
How can we minister to others when we don’t allow Jesus to minister to us, to meet our needs? It starts right here, right now, in this present moment. The message is this: “Perhaps your broken due to bad decisions you have made in your life. Perhaps your broken because of bad things others have done to you. Perhaps your broken just because in life things break. Hearts break, minds break, and bodies don’t work like they used to. Maybe you just need some encouragement. Maybe your lonely and need built up. Perhaps you just want a blessing, for strength to make it on your journey.
Sometimes people run out of gas, just like a car. You ever been on empty in the middle of the night, and just hope you can find a gas station open. I remember on a Christmas Day in Northern Philadelphia years ago, Naomi and I were driving, and we were running on empty, but we could not find a station that was open. When we finally found one, it was a blessing, even though we knew we were paying way too much for gas.
The altar is open this morning. And, you don’t have to look for it. It/s right here, right here in front of you, and the good part is that it doesn’t cost a thing. The grace of God is free, His blessings are here for you. “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” The prayer of love is for you. The prayer of love is for you to receive. Come and receive your prayer of love.
The Reverend Dr. David Madsen