The Messengers from John the Baptist
2When John the Baptist heard in prison about the things that Christ was doing, he sent some of his disciples to him.3“Tell us,” they asked Jesus, “are you the one John said was going to come, or should we expect someone else?”
4Jesus answered, “Go back and tell John what you are hearing and seeing:5 the blind can see, the lame can walk, those who suffer from dreaded skin diseases are made clean, the deaf hear, the dead are brought back to life, and the Good News is preached to the poor.6How happy are those who have no doubts about me!”
7While John's disciples were leaving, Jesus spoke about him to the crowds: “When you went out to John in the desert, what did you expect to see? A blade of grass bending in the wind?8What did you go out to see? A man dressed up in fancy clothes? People who dress like that live in palaces!9Tell me, what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes indeed, but you saw much more than a prophet.10 For John is the one of whom the scripture says: ‘God said, I will send my messenger ahead of you to open the way for you.’11I assure you that John the Baptist is greater than anyone who has ever lived. But the one who is least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than John.
Isaiah 35:1-6a, 10, James 5:7-10
Jesus is in Galilee where he continues to heal, preach, and teach. Meanwhile, in Jerusalem John the Baptist has been imprisoned on the order of King Herod, and he hears reports about the “works of the Messiah.” John realizes his days are numbered and so sends a delegation of his disciples to find his cousin, Jesus.
They have been commissioned to ask Jesus a question: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Why would the Baptist send disciples to ask this question? Did John himself wonder if Jesus was the anointed one of God? What did he hope they would learn?
John the Baptist was just six months older than the Lord. Born into a priestly family, he chose not to serve in the temple but engaged pilgrims crossing the Jordan River on their journey to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices. John and Jesus shared a long association. They most likely saw each other each time the parents of Jesus traveled to Jerusalem for the three pilgrimage feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. As adults they meet at the baptism site. Jesus is baptized by John before he retreats to the desert of Judea for forty days and nights. Upon his return he is identified by John as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” and John directs the future apostle Andrew and another of his own disciples to leave his company and join themselves to Jesus (John 1:29-40). John knows that Jesus is the Messiah. The voice from heaven at his baptism confirms this.
It is likely then that these disciples too are sent to encounter Jesus. Jesus greets John’s disciples and sends them back to report that all is well in Galilee. He is doing the work of the Messiah. Jesus reminds them to tell John what they saw and heard. This suggests that they stayed with Jesus for an extended number of days, watching Jesus perform miracles and hearing him preach and teach the growing crowds. Jesus is revealing the kingdom of God; it is breaking forth in Galilee. Blessed (read “honored”) is the one who does not take offense in Jesus and the miracles they witness each day. The disciples of John must have been impressed.
As these disciples depart Jesus cannot help but recall the brilliance of the Baptist. He says there is no one greater “born of women.” John’s popularity is assumed by Jesus’s question to the Galilee crowds: “What did you go out to the desert to see?” What motivated them to travel a hundred miles to the fording point across from Jericho to experience the ministry of the Baptist? Jesus acknowledges his cousin as a prophet of God. As a true prophet he will receive a prophet’s reward, for “it is impossible that a prophet should die outside of Jerusalem” (Luke 13:33). Jesus seems to know John’s fate. John the Baptist is the messenger sent by God to prepare the way for Jesus. His work is complete and his days are numbered. John’s disciples now know who Jesus is and where they should go after the Baptist is martyred. Yet the least born into the kingdom of God—you and me—is greater than John. John announced what we have been blessed to enter.
John the Baptist has known Jesus for a long time. The two actually met while they were both in the womb. After the Annunciation Mary travels to visit her kinswoman Elizabeth, who is six months’ pregnant. Elizabeth listens attentively to Mary’s greeting, where each must have recounted the encounters with the angel Gabriel and the miraculous conceptions. In the womb of Elizabeth, the infant John leaps for joy. Elizabeth is filled with the Spirit of God and cries out, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Luke 1:38ff). Both expectant mothers are blessed. Elizabeth would bear the symbolic “Elijah” figure who will make way for the Messiah. Mary would bear Jesus into the world! Each child will be born and die in Judea, both within the shadow of the Temple. John and Jesus are faithful to their commission and call to the end.
Father God of the prophets, Father God of the call. Give me the courage of the Baptist. Fill me with your Spirit so that I, like John, can witness to the Word of God in what I do and say. Use my life to direct others to your Son, Jesus, in whose name we pray. Amen.
John the Baptist sends his disciples to go and find Jesus. He wants them to see Jesus in action. His hope is that they will be convinced themselves that Jesus is the promised Messiah of God.
Do you remember who told you where you could go to find Jesus? I do. I was a freshman at Arizona State University. God prearranged a random selection process so that my roommate was the son of a Baptist missionary who was determined to get me in front of people who knew and loved the Lord. Phil was persistent. He invited me to a gathering of believers who were part of an outreach called Campus Crusade for Christ. Phil’s plan worked to perfection. I met Christians who would become lifelong friends. The following week I met the young woman who became my wife! Phil was a John the Baptist for me. He told me where I could find Jesus and some people who were being transformed because of what Jesus was doing in their lives.
Look for an opportunity to be a “John the Baptist” for someone this week. Be open and ready to tell them where they can find Jesus alive and active in the church and in the lives of other believers.