Text: “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Luke 7:23)

“Blessed is the one who is not offended by me”—what does that even mean? John the Baptist had sent some of his disciples to Jesus with a single, simple question: “Are you the one to come, or should we look for another?” With that one question Jesus understood that John was offended by Him. But, again, what does that mean? We certainly know what it means to be embarrassed by Jesus—not willing to profess your faith or speak out about the truth. But that’s not John the Baptist. The religious leaders were offended. They were plenty offended that this teacher by the name of Jesus of Nazareth would make such blatant claims to be God Himself. But that’s not John the Baptist, either. He’s the one who was pointing to Jesus and saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world!” What could it mean that John was offended by Jesus? What was it that led him to send people to question Jesus and why would that give Jesus the impression that John was offended?

First recall where John is—why he doesn’t go to Jesus himself. John is in prison. He’s in prison because he dared to say that King Herod was wrong—yes, that he had sinned. He has been languishing there while Jesus’ ministry rolls along. A pastor by the name of Todd Pepperkorn puts it rather nicely: “At this stage in Jesus’ ministry, by all accounts, things are going well. Jesus has forgiven sins. He has cast out demons. He has healed the sick. He’s even raised the dead! All in all, things are looking up for our Lord.

“But there’s one thing Jesus hasn’t done. He hasn’t released John from prison. There’s John, the forerunner. [Immediately after this conversation between Jesus and the disciples from John is over, Jesus will say that John] is the greatest of those born among women. Surely he deserves to be at Jesus’ side, ruling alongside our Lord as He comes into His kingdom! But no. He’s stuck in prison, wondering if this whole Messiah thing is really that great of an idea.

I don’t think we can blame John a whole lot for this question, “Are You the coming one or should we look for another?””[1] He had pointed to the coming of the judge! “The winnowing fork is in His hand,” John had said, “to burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” “The ax is in His hand. Any tree that doesn’t bear fruit will be chopped down!” he said. And yet the wicked continue to prosper and the righteous continue to suffer. In what sense was John ‘offended’ by Jesus? The offense lay in the fact that judgment seemed slow in coming. That was why John had started to question.

Does that sound familiar at all? “He’s in prison because he dared to say that King Herod was wrong—that he had sinned.” Sound familiar? Jesus had performed amazing miracles. He had done amazing things. But what He hasn’t done is release John from prison. Surely John deserves to be at Jesus’ side, ruling alongside our Lord as He comes into His kingdom!

No, we’re not in prison for daring to call sin ‘sin’. Not yet. Right now, at worst, we’re only paying fines. But every indication is that it will get even worse. What we believe is already unpopular and it’s even being labeled by some as ‘hate speech’. Christ is coming back ando, meanwhile, we are increasingly pushed to the fringes of society.

Have you begun to doubt yet? In our day the doubt is showing itself in different ways from John the Baptist. Then, John’s actual question was whether or not Jesus were really the Messiah. We’re more pious than that. We don’t come out and ask that outright. But that doesn’t mean the doubt isn’t there.

The church as a whole seems to be doubting itself. There are more and more voices who are ready to say that we’ve brought this on ourselves by not being loving enough or tolerant enough.

Like all good lies, there is a kernel of truth there. Those with same-sex attraction are no longer stoned to death like people were in the Old Testament, but they’re still pelted with names and words, with actions—and, yes, even fists—that are just as painful—and, at times, just as deadly. And we stand by doing nothing, perhaps even holding the cloaks of those who throw the stones.

In the process, we force anyone else with such desires to carry the burden of their temptation and their sin and their guilt, in private, not allowing them to confess and be absolved. Then we wonder why, unable to carry their burden any longer, they demand acceptance in place of the absolution they were never offered. Yes, there is a kernel of truth. We have sinned by what we’ve done and by what we’ve left undone.

In the meantime we are pushed to the fringes of society and the church begins to doubt itself. We’re right there with John the Baptist, wondering why Jesus hasn’t done something yet—why He hasn’t started using the winnowing fork, why He hasn’t started using the ax, why He’s allowing us to languish in the world’s scorn and contempt, now doubting ourselves as a church. Has He come with the winnowing fork and the ax or not? Is He the one or not?

No, you haven’t bet on the wrong horse. Jesus is the right one, the only right one. Let him assure you today, like he assured John the Baptist: “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.”

He was exactly who John said He was. He was the Lamb of God who came to take away the sin of the world. Everything He was doing pointed to that fact. The Father’s plan of salvation was proceeding exactly as it was supposed to. “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 the good news is, all of this will come to pass, and Jesus has already guaranteed it.

And yes, Jesus did come with the winnowing fork and with the ax in His hand. He did come for judgment. He chose to bring that judgment first upon Himself so that you and I and they would not need to experience it.

He did this by himself suffering an unjust arrest, by himself being killed most unfairly. Jesus, the most righteous one–the only perfectly righteous one–he would be arrested and tried and put to death, when it was clear he was entirely not guilty. But he did this for you, for you and for John and for all the ungrateful sinners of this world, including for our willingness—even eagerness—to see ‘sinners’ judged. Justice is done. All the wrongs and the sins are paid for. By Jesus’ holy blood on the cross. Now your fears and your worries have a place to go to find an answer. To the cross of Christ. This assures you that there is ultimate hope and remedy in store for God’s oppressed. As Jesus burst forth from the tomb on Easter morning, so he will call us forth from our prisons and from our graves when he comes again. Maybe not next Thursday. Then again, maybe it will be next Thursday. Who knows? We don’t know when, but we do know will. Jesus will come again, and he will set everything right.

“Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

Yes, the world will continue to despise us and hate us. But it’s not really because we’re not nice enough or compassionate enough. Nor is it because we’re sinners. A pastor by the name of Hans Fiene has written: “When Christians [react to the world’s rejection by insisting] that all of Jesus’ disciples need to spend some time reflecting on their own sins, they tend to forget that the secular world is made up of sinners, too—sinners who enjoy fornication and cruelty and selfishness and who will gladly enact laws that allow them to feast on these transgressions the second the church doesn’t frighten them anymore.”[2]

“Historically speaking, whenever the church-state relationship has enabled sinners to legislatively ignore the church’s voice, sinners have done so. Christians, however, should be content with this. I presume more first-century Jews would have followed Christ if the government had forced them to. But Jesus didn’t want state-appointed disciples, and he still built his kingdom perfectly with no help from Herod.

“Rather, the solution to the problem of a culture that won’t heed the church’s words is simply to keep speaking them, trusting that the same Holy Spirit who created faith in the hearts of tax collectors, prostitutes, and [all kinds of sinners] will continue to do so today.”[3]

Yes, we will continue to be pushed as far to the fringe as possible. We will be mocked, we may be fined, we may be imprisoned. And Jesus Christ will continue to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. God is still carrying out His perfect plan of salvation, step by step, day by day. For every moment when we need reassurance of who Jesus is, He gives us a sign: the cross. And “Blessed is the one who is not offended by [Him].”

In His Name, Amen.

 

[1] Pepperkorn, Rev. Todd. “Always.” http://www.holycrossrocklin.org/salt/2012/12/always-advent-3c-gaudete-sunday-2012/

[2] Fiene, Rev. Hans. “Christians Need to Stop Playing the Self-Flagellation Game.” June 15, 2015. http://thefederalist.com/2015/06/15/christians-need-to-stop-playing-the-self-flagellation-game/

[3] Ibid.