3rd Sunday in Advent

by Crossings

LIKE JESUS OR LIKE JOHN, THE GREAT OR THE NEAR-GREAT?
Matthew 11:2-11
(Third Sunday in Advent)
analysis by Bob Bertram


2When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 4Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5the 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. 6And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” 7As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 8What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. 9What then did you go to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10This is the one about whom it is written. ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ 11Truly 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.”


DIAGNOSIS: The Law’s Best (Near-Great)

Step 1-Initial Diagnosis: Little to Show
John’s problem, and ours, begins with the mistaken notion that it is really Jesus who is having a problem: the latter’s movement has so little to show for it in the way of world improvement. Just look at the “deeds of the Christ,” how disappointing they are. If he is really who he is supposed to be, why is there still such corruption and oppression in high places, including the religious establishment? And why are we, who have supported him, so hog-tied, so sidelined, so resented for advancing his cause?

Step 2-Advanced Diagnosis: Offended
John’s worse problem — ours, too? — is that his doubts about Jesus (“Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?”) betray a misconception about the kind of Christ we need. Are we, like John, expecting someone who majors in laying down the law, telling people off, giving them what they’ve got coming to them? If so, our problem, to put it bluntly, is that we are “offended at” the kind of Christ which Jesus turned out to be. Taking offense at him — what else is that but unbelief?

Step 3-Final Diagnosis: Left Out
The worst of John’s problems (and not only his) is not that he wasn’t a great prophet. Of all the prophetic critics, he was the greatest. By his unsparing critique, he, perhaps more than anyone, ushered the way to Jesus. But did he ever himself make it into Jesus’ discipleship, that is, into “the kingdom of heaven? (v.11) Does anyone? — anyone, that is, who takes offense at Jesus’ apparently passive, permissive mode of operating? For people who ultimately doubt such a Christ, the prospects are doubtful.

PROGNOSIS: Faith-Blest (Great)

Step 4-Initial Prognosis: Messianic Deeds
What does distinguish Jesus as the “the Christ,” “the one who is to come,” is the very thing which caused John to have doubts about him, namely, Jesus’ “deeds” (v. 2). But first we had better point out that, if there was anything Jesus did not do, it was to pull his punches as a preacher of the Law. Indeed not. In fact, no sooner had John been put in prison than Jesus picked up John’s message and continued to relay it, verbatim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (4:12, 17). Yet Jesus’ uniquely Messianic “deeds,” the ones he tells John’s disciples to report back to their master, are not the deeds of denunciation and accusation but, on the contrary, deeds of quite another sort: deeds of the “good news,” of mercy and healing, deeds of the Lord’s Suffering Servant. To underscore the point that these “deeds” truly were the mark of Messiah, Jesus phrases them in the Messianic oracles of Isaiah (35:5; 61:1).

Step 5- Advanced Prognosis: Greatness in Believing
A whole new regime is ushered in thereby, namely, the company of those who believe this Jesus to be “the Christ,” “the One who is to come.” They are the new “great” ones, greater even than the greatest of all the prophets like John, even though they may be “the least in the Kingdom, of Heaven” — the blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf, the dead, the poor. They are the great because “great is [their] faith.”

Step 6- Final Prognosis: Hopeful Discerning
These believers, furthermore, have a radar for discerning — in the very midst of today’s corrupt and oppressive regimes — a new Regime on the way, in which cruelty is replaced with mercy, cynicism with confidence. In fact, as the firsthand beneficiaries of Christ Jesus these believers, emboldened by their new greatness, are the Regime’s avant-garde for infiltrating it right into the thick of the old creation.

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    Crossings is a community of welcoming, inquisitive people who want to explore how what we hear at church is useful and beneficial in our daily lives.

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