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God’s Word for You

Luke 7:18-20 The question

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, February 16, 2018

John the Baptist and Christ

18 John’s disciples told him about all these things. 19 Calling two of his disciples to him, he sent them to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one who was to come or should we look for someone else?” 20 When the men had arrived, they said to Jesus, “John the Baptist sent us to ask you, ‘Are you the one who was to come or should we look for someone else?’”

We don’t know exactly when this incident took place. Luke mentions it here because one of Jesus’ most spectacular miracles had just happened, one that was certainly part of the “things” told to John.

At this time, the Baptist was under arrest (Luke 3:20), locked away (according to Josephus) in the fortress of Machaerus across the Dead Sea. We have no description of his cell, but in verses 18-19 we hear a conversation that certainly happened there. John sent two of his followers to ask Jesus the question of verse 19. Why did John send them with that question?

Let’s try a few possible answers:

a ) He had them ask Jesus for their own sakes, either to have the question answered or with the hope that they might fall in line and join Jesus’ disciples.

This was Luther’s thought. It gave Jesus the opportunity to teach John’s disciples directly so that the gospel could work in their hearts.

b ) Was John’s own faith wavering?

This is doubtful. John had seen the Dove and heard the voice of the Father. He had been specially chosen by God for that moment, and he understood his role clearly: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

c ) Was John’s patience wavering? Was he expecting that Jesus might “clear his threshing floor” (Luke 3:17) of trash like Antipas and Herodias?

A false Christ wouldn’t have confessed he was false, so why send this message at all? Also, what could have been more convincing than the Father’s voice and the descent of the Holy Spirit? The miracles that were being widely reported were ample evidence for everyone except those whose hearts were hard. Even some of the Sanhedrin had become believers.

d ) Had John only just begun to suspect that Jesus was the Messiah?

This fourth view appeared in the nineteenth century to discredit and do away with the story of Jesus’ miraculous birth, but it’s easily dismissed by the facts of the text and John’s preaching. He recognized Jesus as the Messiah when he said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

Of these four, the first one—that it was for the sakes of the disciples of John—makes the most sense (one commentator, a Doctor of the Church, explored all four of these questions and then answered and dismissed each one without offering any other explanation!). John saw that all of his preaching and reasoning could not penetrate his followers’ devotion to him, and so the only solution was to send them away, directly to the Font of Christ. He did it because he loved them, and for the sake of their faith and understanding.

This is what a pastor does. He preaches the gospel of Christ crucified for our sins to best of his ability, but if there is a teaching in the Bible, a doctrine or an historical detail that he’s unable to communicate effectively, he asks a brother in the ministry to help. Today we do this with a phone call, a meeting, or an email: “How do you answer someone who asks such and such?” But John couldn’t do that where he was. He simply had to send them to Jesus to ask in person.

There will be a moment (a Moment called eternity) when we are in heaven, when it will be just the right time to ask all of our questions. But no longer having our sinful nature, no longer clouded by doubt or misunderstanding, no longer plagued by the cobwebs of false teaching that have snuck into the corners in some of our hearts and which tangled the whole understanding of others, we will understand many things without even asking. We will take joy in the knowledge, in the clarity, in the great truth of God’s plan for us all. When we are there with our Lord, sitting at the very Font of Christ, it will be like a spring day after a long, dark and bitterly cold winter. We will breathe at last. We will sing for joy. And we will worship our Lord Jesus Christ forevermore.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

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