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?”
(1) In the Gospel lesson last week, we read and heard about John's ministry by the Jordan River. His prophetic message was about the Messiah of whom John had said:
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:11-12)Thus far, while calling people to repentance as John had done, Jesus hadn't enacted judgment.
This confused John. Jesus wasn't acting the way he expected the Messiah to act. John wonders if his identification of Jesus as the Messiah was right.
It's not that John's expectations of the Messiah were wrong. It's that they were incomplete, as we'll see.
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.”
(1) Jesus points to His actions, foretold of the Messiah in Isaiah 42:7 and 61:1, as signs that He is the Messiah.
(2) A time of judgment will come, on what the New Testament calls "the day of the Lord." But Jesus' signs and the ministry of the Church exist to point people to Him as Messiah, God, and King and with that made clear, to their need to repent and believe in Christ.
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 out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.
(1) Last week, in one of these passes, I asked what accounted for the appeal of John and his stark message of repentance. Jesus asks the same question here. What drew people to John, Jesus concludes, isn't that he was a frail plant blown by the wind or he wore soft attire.
The reason, quite simply, is that John spoke the Word of God, plainly and bluntly. That's what prophets did. The prophets' mission wasn't to foretell the future. Instead, they held a mirror up before people to show them their need to return to God and to assure them that if they walked with God, their wholeness would be restored.
John's prophetic ministry was designed to prepare people to receive the Messiah.
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.
(1) Jesus cites Isaiah 40:3 and says that it refers to John. In popular piety, these words became associated with the Old Testament prophet, Elijah. In v. 14, Jesus will identify John's ministry with that of Elijah.
(2) Jesus speaks a good word about John. But his words show us that great as John was, he was just a man and though faithful in his ministry, as capable of being wrong about the Messiah as anybody else. Like all of us, John, in spite of his own predispositions, was called to believe what God revealed about Himself and His character in Jesus. Since Jesus performed all the signs of the Messiah, John was left with the same call we receive this Advent season and every day of our lives: Repent and believe!