Did John send his disciples to Jesus to ease their doubts and fears? Or did he send them so that his own doubts and fears would be eased? It’s a question whose answer divides even the greatest of theologians and preachers. I can honestly say that I have preached from both sides of the fence. On the one hand, Jesus Himself says that there has not been a man born who is greater than John. John preached fire and brimstone in his task, preparing the way of the Lord by preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Surely it took great faith to join the Nazarenes and then to sojourn on his own into the wilderness. And yet, as great as he is, John is a sinner, an heir of the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” as Paul writes to the Romans. Not even John, great as he is, has escaped that verdict.
Whether it’s John or his disciples who need comfort, the disciples come to Jesus with the question: “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” Are You the Savior who was promised to Adam and Eve? Are You the One whose coming John has preached all this time? If You really are the One, why is John rotting away in prison, awaiting the whim of an adulterous king and his cunning mistress? It seems like a rather poor reward for such faithful service. Shouldn’t the Messiah take better care of His messenger? So tell us, Jesus: Are You the real deal?
These disciples might as well be reading our minds, for we have our own doubts and fears about this Jesus character. “Jesus, I’m a baptized child of God. Why do you allow me to go through these difficulties? Why do You allow cancer to afflict the people I love? Why do You allow people to make my job so frustrating? Why do You allow the weather to create such havoc? Why do You allow terrorists to blow up buildings and kill innocent people? Aren’t You the Messiah? Aren’t You supposed to be taking care of us?” And don’t you know it? Jesus doesn’t jump up and spring John from prison. He doesn’t overthrow the Roman governor. He doesn’t make all the cancer in the world disappear. Murderous disciples of a murderous false prophet of a make-believe god still strap bombs to their chests to kill people. Children still get sick. Employment woes cause all sorts of trouble. Divorce is rampant. And just as John was imprisoned and eventually beheaded for speaking the truth of Herod’s sinfulness, God’s children are persecuted and even killed for confessing the name of Jesus.
No, He doesn’t wave His hand and make evil and suffering disappear. And yet, He does not leave John’s disciples or us without comfort. He speaks of healing the blind, the lame, the leper, the deaf—and then of raising the dead and comforting the poor. And that is what we are: blind to our Lord’s relentless mercy, deaf to His consoling Word, lame in our walk of faith, and diseased with the leprosy of sin. We were dead in our sins.
But in His great mercy, our Lord has ministered to us. He has washed away the leprosy of our sin in the waters of Holy Baptism, where He raised us from our death of sin to new life in righteousness. He has given us the medicine of His holy body and blood. He has opened our ears to hear His Word of forgiveness. He has calmed the storms of our fears with faithful preaching. Our Lord covers sin and eases doubt and delivers from fear.
Our Lord’s answer to John’s question stills the hearts of all the faithful. John’s disciples rejoiced to bring that word to him, and the Baptist clings to that good news even as the executioner swings his axe. And we rejoice to hear that Word as well, for that Word is our shelter in the storm, our light in the darkness, our life as death draws near. In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.