Ps. 85; Zeph. 3:14-20; Phil. 4:4-7; Luke 7:18-35
Come, John, calling to him two of his disciples, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you he who is to come or shall we look for another?” (v. 19).
The tandem lives of JB and Jesus personified law-gospel; John emphasizing the law’s severity calling for repentance; and Jesus, the incarnate mercy of God toward repentant hearts.
Advent season is penitential, readying congregations for Jesus’ nativity. It was necessary that John deny himself “the Christ”, directing his witness to Jesus, “One mightier than himself whose Baptism would be with the HS and with fire” (Lk. 3:16).
The church is mindful that repentance is not sorrow for its own sake; rather from broken hearts Joy comes by the good news of God’s gracious solution to man’s sin problem. The proper end of repentance is receiving God in Christ, especially at his Christmastide coming.
Because of our sin induced weakness, God at his coming does not crush our spirit altogether (Isa. 42:3). The church, 3rd week in Advent, lightens our boatload of sorrow over sin to highlight contrite hearts coming into the presence of God with us, Emmanuel.
Zephaniah encouraged the church to rejoice at the King in our midst, who clears-away our enemies (sin, Satan, death, and their human surrogates) (Zeph. 3:14, 15); but most especially we rejoice because the King expresses God’s joy over us in love and festal peace (v. 17).
St. Paul urged the congregation at Philippi, “Rejoice always” for the Lord is Eucharistically in hand and prayerfully accessible to the Father (Phil. 4:4-6). Accordingly, 3rd Sunday in Advent provides liturgical respite to “blessed weeping” over sin (Lk. 6:21b); anticipating assurance: Jesus, the Coming One.
Today we consider JB’s imprisonment. Before Jesus’ ministry could begin in earnest, it was necessary John discharge his office as Jesus’ latter day “Elijah”, forerunner in persecution for heralding the gospel’s sacrificial nature.
Jezebel persecuted Elijah for standing against Israel’s idolatry, which is to say, Israel’s adultery toward God; so also, Herodias arrested the Baptist for declaring her adultery. At Jesus’ Baptism, the HS anointed him Christ of God, upon which John’s share in the HS would decrease (Jn. 3:30).
Arrested, JB no longer occupied his pulpit on the banks of the Jordan; he no longer preached or taught in the Spirit’s power; imprisoned, John was “blind” beyond four walls, “lame” unable to move about freely, “deaf and dumb” without access to God’s inSpirited Word, Jesus.
John was relegated to relying on his disciples word of Jesus. JB was in full Advent mode, distressed to the point of doubt, even of his previous witness to Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (1:29, 36). John like all of us was in need assurance, about to suffer sudden, unforeseen death, beheading.
For imprisoned John, the power of God’s word, previously so clear had vaporized; so, for all of us estranged from the HS. For security John returned to the law, an implied accusation against Jesus, requiring “two witnesses” (cf. Dt. 18:21-22) and recanting of his previous witness, “Are you the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Lk. 7:19b).
Through John’s emissaries Jesus responded by an extraordinary display of physical and spiritual signs to bespeak the in-breaking of the new creation. Blind in prison, John could not observe the cataclysmic demonstration; but through his disciples received Jesus’ word (cf. Jn. 20:29); most importantly for John’s repentant poverty, herald of Jesus’ crucifixion, “the poor have the good news preached to them.”
Jesus preached to the crowds of John’s end in the power of blessing, “[B]lessed is the one who is not offended by me” (v. 23), i.e., the manner of salvation in Jesus’ death. By this beatitude JB was transitioned from doubter of Jesus as the “Coming One”, to a NT hearer in faith.
After bestowing his blessing on the Baptist Jesus taught the church’s Pentecost greatness to come, “I tell you; no one is greater than John among those born of woman; but the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
By faith we do not despair nor are we scandalized by Jesus’ coming as the Crucified One. As humble Babe, he came to be further reduced to shame on the cross, “least in the kingdom of God”. By our Baptism into his death, we too are dependent babes of our Father.
At Christmas the Babe came to die for our lives; in him you too are born to die and live. “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven …” (Lk. 6:22, 23). Amen.