We sit here this morning in this sanctuary. It’s beautiful, but not ostentatious; it’s comfortable, but not luxurious; our holiday decorations are attractive, but not glitzy. And look around at us gathered here this morning. We’re just average people from a small community. We’re not here to be showy or proud. No, we’re gathered here to humbly worship our Lord and Savior. As we sit here gathered to worship, do you realize just how offensive we are to this world?
There is nothing about us as the Body of Christ that is not offensive to this world. In fact, if you think about it, you’ll realize I’m right. How many of us sitting here this morning – believing that we are saved from the power of sin and death through faith in Jesus Christ – go out to our neighbors and share that Good News? If we really believe it, if we know that our only salvation is to be found in Him, and apart from Him there is only death, why don’t we share that news with our neighbor? Why? Because, they might be offended. It’s OK to talk about hunting, or farming, or canning, or sports, or many other things, but talk about Jesus… No we can’t do that. We might offend someone. Why? Because, deep down we realize just how offensive our Good News is to this world.
I can think of few who would have known Jesus better than His cousin John. They knew each other while they were both still in the womb. We read in the first chapter of Luke that while they were both pregnant, Elizabeth (John’s mother) was visited by her young cousin Mary,“And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.”
When Jesus was in Mary’s womb, and John was in Elizabeth’s womb, John new Jesus, and he knew who Jesus was. He would have grown up hearing about His cousin Jesus. They would have spent time together as children. John knew who Jesus was and John knew that his own prophetic task was to prepare the way for His cousin and Lord, Jesus. In chapter 3 of Luke’s Gospel we read:“As the people were in expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ, John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
I can think of no one who better knew and understood just who and what Jesus was. And yet even John was offended by Jesus.
Our Gospel text for this morning begins with the words, “The disciples of John reported all these things to him.” Well, what things? First, Jesus heals the servant of a Roman Centurion; a commander of the very troops that oppressed God’s chosen people. And Jesus holds this impure Gentile up and says of him, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” Then Jesus violates Israel’s purity laws when He touches the bier of a widow’s dead son, raising him from the dead. And when John’s disciples come to him in prison (where he is languishing for fulfilling his prophetic duty to prepare the way for Jesus), John is offended by what Jesus is doing. Instead of wielding His winnowing fork, clearing away the chaff, and burning them in unquenchable fire, Jesus is favoring the Roman enemy, and polluting himself for widows. Instead of bringing the judgment that John was expecting, Jesus brought forgiveness and healing, and John was offended. And he sent two of His disciples to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” The very one who knew His Lord from the womb; who prepared the way for Him; who baptized Him; who went to prison for Him, now asks “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
What was true for John is true for all in this world. We live in this world that says the guilty should be punished, and the righteous should be rewarded; that says our enemies should be destroyed and our friends should be raised up; that says helping those that are facing God’s righteous judgment and giving aid and comfort to the enemy of God and His chosen people is offensive. Jesus consorted with the lowest of the low and ridiculed the good and upright people in the community. Jesus did not lead His disciples to victory and institute a new golden age. No, Jesus died a criminal’s death – hung on a tree – and was abandoned by His followers. And this is the one we worship. This is the Good News that we are called to share. The apostle Paul calls this Good News offensive when he wrote in the first chapter of first Corinthians, “but we preach Christ crucified, a scandal to Jews and folly to Gentiles.
But Jesus answers John’s offense and answers the world’s at the same time. He said, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” Jesus is not saying that the one who is not offended is a good guy, or wise, or righteous. It is not that John didn’t quite get it. It isn’t that the world just does not understand. According to this sinful world, what Jesus is doing is wrong. We are fine just as we are, we don’t need saving. According to the law, what Jesus is doing is wrong. The righteous should be rewarded and the sinners should be judged. But Jesus died for the sins of those who think they’re fine just as they are; and he died to relieve those rightly under the judgment of the law from the penalty of the law. No, Jesus says that the one who is not offended is blessed (or gifted). He is literally saying that it is the gifted one who is not offended. It is the gift of the Father that removes the offense.
There is not anyone better able to accept Jesus; to have faith in Jesus than John. Jesus said of John, “I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John.” And even John saw Jesus as an offense; as a scandal. “Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” John was a prophet, but he was still a fallen sinner like everyone else. And in need of the grace of the Father, just like everyone else. Apart from the Father’s blessing, Jesus’ life and death are a scandal; an offense in the eyes of the world and the law. But by the grace of the Father, through faith, Jesus life, death, and resurrection bring not scandal and offense, but freedom, forgiveness, and eternal life.