Good evening. It’s good to be back with you tonight and it was a blessing to be with you this morning, and praise God for our time together this evening once again in worship and in God’s Word. Would you please bow your heads with me this evening as we go to the Lord in prayer and ask Him to bless our time?
Father God, we love You, we praise You, and we thank You for being the God that You are, that You are faithful and have been so good to us. We thank You for the redemption that is ours through the blood of Your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. We thank You, Lord, that You have brought us into this wonderful and deep and gloriously rich relationship with You. We thank You that we are a part of Your purposes in the world, Lord, as You advance Your kingdom in the midst of darkness, in the midst of a world that has gone wrong in sin and rebellion and chaos. And yet still, Lord, there is hope and light in the world because Jesus came. We thank You that we are a part of that and that we are to be, Lord, Your ambassadors, faithful to You, and sharing the Gospel and living the Gospel in this world. We pray that You would stir our affections even tonight as we look at Your Word, that You would help us, Lord, to remember what this means to be Yours and to be molded and formed and shaped by You and that we would indeed be faithful - faithful people, faithful churches, Lord, that we would be about Christ and proclaiming that life that can only be had in relationship with Him. And so this evening we pray that You would open our hearts and open our minds, that You would give us understanding of Your Word. I pray that You would use me, Lord, that I would be faithful and clear and bold in preaching the Gospel. I pray that Your Word would help us, Lord, and encourage us even as it challenges us, Lord, to a life that at times stretches us in ways that maybe we had not wanted. But Lord this is the kingdom, and in this broken and fallen world and at times it is very difficult, but we know the victory is Yours and we look forward to that great day, as Ed had prayed earlier, when we will be in the new heavens and the new earth and all will be made right. Lord, we praise You and we thank You. Be with us now, in Christ’s name. Amen.
Would you open your Bibles with me this evening to Matthew chapter 11, Matthew chapter 11, and we’re going to begin our reading at verse 2 and read down through verse 6. It’s just a short passage of Scripture. And as you turn over to this passage in your Bibles, let me just remind you again of what we are doing in these sermons as we are thinking about our call to be people on mission for God and all that that means to be faithful in serving our God, but in doing that by basically believing things that we believe and really applying these things deeply to our lives. And so over the course of these sermons we’ve talked about what does it mean to believe in election and how that leads us to be more missional in the world. This morning we talked about what does it mean to really believe the Gospel, and in believing the Gospel to see that transform us and our service and our understanding of people that we are called to minister to. And tonight what I want to do is spend a little bit of time of understanding what does it mean to be confronted by who Jesus and what His kingdom really is, the ways that Jesus challenges us to think about Him and to think about the work of His kingdom. And that leads us to this passage that I will read to you tonight beginning in verse 2. And this isn’t necessarily a passage that’s normally used in Mission Conferences but I think there are some things in it that are helpful to us as we think about missions. Verse 2:
“Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’ And Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lamb walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.’”
And this is God’s Word.
I don’t know if many of you here are fans of the author Philip Yancey. I am. I know he didn’t come out of our tradition but he’s written a lot of books and many of these books I find to be challenging, provocative, and helpful to me. And one of them is a book he wrote years and years ago called, “The Jesus I Never Knew.” And the first chapter of that book, “The Jesus I Never Knew,” is entitled, “The Jesus I Thought I Knew.” And that gives you a little bit of a hint as to what he’s getting at in that particular chapter. And what he’s doing is, he’s talking about our perceptions, or better yet he’s talking about our misperceptions of Jesus. In other words, the ways that we can take Jesus and attempt to form Him into our image. As opposed to us being formed and molded into His, we will take Him and make Him more like us. And he gives a couple of ridiculous examples of that which I’ll share with you tonight and they come from the world of athletics. And he uses a former professional football player and a former professional baseball player and these are people who said they were believers in Christ, professed faith in Christ, and here’s how they thought about Jesus. One was a football player lineman who used to play for the Miami Dolphins. His name is Norm Evans. And he said this. And remember, this is someone who would say they are a Christian. He said, “I guarantee you that Christ would be the toughest guy who ever played the game of football. If He were alive today, I would picture a 6’6’’, 260 lb. defensive tackle, who would always make the big plays and would be hard to keep out of the backfield for offensive linemen like myself.” Now what he’s doing is he’s basically taking his own life and his own experiences and all the things that really matter to him and he’s forming Jesus into that.
The other example that he gives comes from a baseball player that used to play for the New York Yankees and his name was Fritz Peterson. And listen to what Fritz does because Fritz does the exact same thing; he just uses baseball instead of football. And Fritz said, again, a man who professed faith in Christ, that “I firmly believe that if Jesus Christ were sliding into second base He would knock the second baseman into left field to break up the double play. Christ might not throw a spit ball because, after all, He has to be playing by the rules, but He would play hard within those rules.” Again, now think about what these guys are doing. They’re taking Jesus and they’re forming Him into their image. Now these are ridiculous examples. They’re a little bit humorous but they’re really sad to be honest with you. But they also, I think in some ways, can speak to something that we can do as well. We can kind of have a sense as to who Jesus is but then we wrap a whole bunch of things around that. And we usually wrap a whole bunch of things around Jesus that end up sort of making Jesus fit what we want Him to be. And we make Jesus fit our own world. And Jesus will not do that. In fact, Jesus challenges us and at times He steps on our toes and at times He pushes us out and He takes us to places of great risk and hardship at times. And we, at times, don’t want to go there and we end up sort of twisting Jesus.
And so tonight as we look at this passage, I want us to get a sense of who He is but also get a sense as to who He is by looking at somebody we wouldn’t even think would consider this differently, how he even kind of didn’t get Jesus in a way. And that’s the main figure in this particular passage and that’s John the Baptist. And that’s the John that’s revealed here. Now if you notice in verse 2 where it says, “Now when John heard” - that’s John the Baptist. Now as soon as I tell you who this is, that it’s John the Baptist, then you recognize that John the Baptist was someone who would have had some sense of Jesus, right? He was the forerunner of Jesus; he was the one who declared the coming of Jesus; all those different kinds of things. In fact, I’ll give you a couple of different passages of Scripture that really show that John got a lot of stuff about Jesus. One of them is Matthew chapter 3 verse 14 and this is when Jesus came to John the Baptist to be baptized. And you may remember how John responded to that. He responded in this way in Matthew 3:14 - John would have prevented him saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” In other words, what you’re seeing there is John had got something of the significance of Jesus and he did baptize Him in fulfillment of Scripture; he did do that. But he saw the significance of Jesus and like, “Jesus, You need to be baptizing me, not me baptizing you.”
There’s another passage that speaks of John getting Jesus, really getting Jesus. And this is John chapter 1 verse 29 where it says, “The next day John the Baptist saw Jesus coming towards him and he said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’” He got the purposes of Jesus’ coming, that He was the Savior of the world, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He got the significance of Jesus. He got the purpose of Jesus. This is John. He got all of these things, yet even John, who got the significance of Jesus and the purpose of Jesus, if you notice the text carefully, John is now questioning something about whether this is the one or not. And so if you look at verse 3, if you notice that question that’s asked, this is a question that comes from John’s disciples to Jesus but it’s John’s question. John can’t ask it directly because John’s in prison. And so it says, “John,” at the end of verse 2, that’s the “he,” “John sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you’ - this is to Jesus - ‘Are you the one who is to come or shall we look for another?’” Now put this together for a moment because here is someone who got Jesus. He got His significance, he got His purpose, and now he’s questioning; now he’s uncertain. “Is this really the Messiah? Is this really the one we are expecting and waiting on?” Why the question? Why would John ask that question?
Well I think the answer has to do with, well, John had a paradigm, a way of thinking about who this Jesus was to be and what was going on, it didn’t quite fit his preconceptions of Jesus. Just like at times they don’t fit ours. You know most likely for us we would not go to the absurdities of someone like a Norm Evans and form Jesus into a football player, or the absurdities of Fritz Peterson that He’s this baseball player. And knowing the ways that we have been taught God’s Word we would not do those things that more liberal believers would say, that Jesus was the great moral teacher or that He’s just a great example. We wouldn’t mess Jesus up like that, would we? I mean we know things. We know Jesus is the Son of God. That’s significance. John got His significance. We would know that Jesus is the Savior of the world. That’s purpose. John got His purpose. But are there things that we would wrap around that to make Jesus fit our nice little world? Would we do that at all?
Here’s one way that we would do it. You just sort of take Jesus and you just sort of put Him through - maybe it’s this therapeutic grid; maybe you put Him through that. And Jesus just becomes the person who, “I mean, He’s my Savior, He’s the Son of God, but He’s a person who basically makes me feel good about myself. He’s the person who makes me happy. He’s the person who is always there for me.” Maybe we do that. Maybe, you know, as much as we rightfully critic prosperity movements - there’s this prosperity preacher that has this book out called, “Your Best Life Now,” and we critic that and we critic it rightly. But I wonder sometimes, do we not do that as well with Jesus? That Jesus is here to give us - “I mean, He’s our Savior, He’s the Son of God, but He really is here to make my life work now. He gives me my best life now.” That that’s what Jesus is about. Now it could be a lot of good things. I’m not going to say these things are bad, to be honest with you. He gives us family and He gives us kids and our kids grow up and they go off to Ole Miss. And by the way, no shot at Ole Miss! We’re rebels in our household too. I can’t believe it but we’re rebels! I’ve got a daughter at Ole Miss, I’ve got a son going to Ole Miss, so I’m not critiquing Ole Miss! But hey, they go off to Ole Miss, they come back, and they come back to First and they have some grandkids and give some money to the church and do a little mission work. And it’s just all good and life is good. And then we grow old and one night we go to bed elderly and we just die and go to heaven from bed. And that’s our lives. And it’s all so nice and good and it just keeps cycling around in that way. And I honestly do believe, and this is true, that all good things come from God. I’m not questioning that. And I believe God gives us wondrously good things. But also, at the same time, I wonder sometimes whether we don’t fall into the trap of the Jesus of the American dream - that He fits our nice little world and He helps us to manage our nice little world.
You know the truth is, there would have been a Messiah of Israel’s dreams, a Jesus of Israel’s dreams. You would know what that would be. It would be of this powerful figure who would come and He would rescue Israel from their oppression under this pagan Roman Empire and He would look a lot like mighty David. And Jesus knew people thought of Him that way. In fact, in John chapter 6 verse 15 it says this, “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” He knew that they were going to take Him by force. This is what they wanted. They had this perception, this particular mindset of, “Here’s who the Messiah would be,” and John the Baptist was a part of that! Now John, he knew, he understood that when the Messiah came there had to be repentance and he preached that when he was in the wilderness. He did. He knew that there would be a spiritual restoration as well; he understood that. But he also thought that when the Messiah comes, what’s going to happen is that there’s going to be judgment and all things are going to be set right. In fact, in Matthew chapter 3 verse 10, this is John the Baptist; he’s saying this in the wilderness - “Even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree, therefore, that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” So John had all these expectations, all of these longings for Israel. All of them were wrapped up in his head and heart and here comes Jesus. He gets His significance and he gets His purpose and now I don’t think there’s any other way to look at this but say there’s something of a crisis of faith going on here.
Why? Well I think we see the answer. I think we see some clues to answer that if you just look at verse 2. It says, “Now when John heard,” and this leads up to him sending them and it’s important that you make these connections, “when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples.” Now if you were here this morning you may remember me saying that there was a paradoxical idea in that passage where it talked about being free and slave together. And I think in this passage, in some ways there would have been in the mindset of John the Baptist and of these first century Jews something here that’s just not working, that just doesn’t fit together. It seems a bit contradictory that the forerunner of Jesus the prophet of God would be in prison and Jesus is doing all of this stuff. And the prophet is in prison and of a pagan king and about to get his head chopped off. Something is not right. Something looks a little strange there. Is this what the kingdom of God is about?
Notice how Jesus responds to John. He answers the question. And what’s interesting in the way He answers - alright here’s the question, verse 3, “Are you the one who is to come or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answers it. Now that’s a pretty direct question and it would seem as if Jesus could have just said this, “I’m the guy.” Just said it; “I’m the guy.” But He doesn’t because I think He’s wanting John to think. He’s wanting him to consider Scripture. He’s wanting what’s happening to be forced up against the reality of all the Scripture teaches. So in verse 4 and 5, “Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John something. Go and tell John what you hear and what you see.’” And here’s something that’s important. These things are not contradictory. Here’s the kingdom and here’s the kingdom. Both of them are the kingdom. The kingdom of God is all of this - “It is the blind,” verse 5, “who receive their sight, and the lame walk and lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear and the dead are raised up and the poor have good news preached to them.” All of that is the wondrous working of the kingdom of God that has come and here is God’s prophet in prison!
You know the kingdom doesn’t necessarily look like the American dream. You realize that? Just like it didn’t look like so much of Israel’s dreams. But it is a work. It’s moving. It’s happening and it’s risky. It’s challenging. It’s difficult and it puts us in places where at times we may not be safe. Do you realize that? But the kingdom is at work. You know I think this is one of the things that we have to come to terms with as believers in Christ as we watch, and it is happening, the loss of Christian influence in our nation. And we know that’s happening. And day by day it’s happening. But my brothers and sisters in Christ, we don’t need influence or power in order for the kingdom to advance. Do you realize that? That God’s kingdom advances by God’s power and it moves towards brokenness and towards the lame and towards the poor and it brings life and light and healing and nothing can stop God’s kingdom from advancing. In fact what the loss of power does is it begins to break apart the ways that we can intermingle the kingdom of God with man’s kingdom of power. And we do that, I think, way, way too often.
We had our Mission Conference last week and our Mission Conference speaker made this statement and I thought it was profound and powerful and right. He said he doesn’t used the terminology “closed countries.” And you know what he’s talking about when he talks about closed countries? He’s talking about those countries like in the Islamic world or where there is great persecution of Christians where the Gospel is not allowed to have any freedom of expression and he says that he doesn’t call those closed countries. Why? Because there’s no country ultimately closed to God and God’s power. You know your theme - “Pray that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the Gospel for which I am an ambassador in chains.” In chains. You know, the kingdom of God will advance and there is no if, ands, or buts about that. And you and I are wrapped up in that kingdom and regardless of what may come to us the kingdom of God will advance.
And what this should do for us as we think about our ministries is it can begin to take some of, and this gets in our circles all the times, some of that sort of triumphalism or transformationalism off of our understanding of that it means to be God’s people. When we go across the street into Midtown, and I hope and pray that you are with us in this, we go over there and here’s what may happen - you may see First Pres. in Midtown. I don’t mean a church like First Pres. but I mean a big church. Or you may see a Redeemer in Midtown. But you know what else you may see? You may see five people in a house listening to someone faithfully teach them the Word of God. And you want to know what that is? It’s beautiful. It’s kingdom. When our brother Leon stood up here, and I told him this afterwards when he came down, I told him how thankful I was that he shared it because what he shared was something that was hard. What he shared was something that was difficult, something that broke his heart. What he shared was something of the reality of what ministry is actually like - it doesn’t always go to plan. Oftentimes it looks different than we would expect. Many times it is much more painful than we could ever imagine but God Almighty is at work!
And so I’ll put these questions before you as you think about who Jesus really is. Do we know the Jesus who came and suffered and died to bring about redemption and restoration of His world? That’s the kingdom. Do we know the Jesus who moves towards brokenness and pain and poverty and calls us to follow along? That’s the kingdom. Do we know the Jesus who wants the world, including those outside of areas of acceptability - notice He’s always touching on these lepers - outside of the clean, outside of the acceptable, to hear the Gospel and be brought in? That’s the kingdom. Do we know the Jesus whose kingdom advances not through power but through humility and love? That’s the kingdom. Do we know the Jesus who calls you and me to live sacrificially and to suffer for the sake of the Gospel? You know Ed’s challenge this morning about the Faith Promise giving here, I think it was incredibly powerful because what he was doing is stretching folks, challenging us to think about our giving and to give more, and to serve more, and to serve more, to not take our Christianity and bring it back into the world of “This fits - this box fits me. If I could make my Christianity like that, if I could make Jesus like that, I’ll be okay with Jesus because He’s cool like that. He saved my soul and He’s the Son of God so as long as He fits in this frame.” But let Him smash that and push you a little beyond where you are and to step out and to go somewhere that you’re not necessarily comfortable. Come over to Midtown with us. Do some prayer walking with us. Go to Africa. Go to Ukraine, wherever. Step out of what you are comfortable with and give yourself over to the working of the kingdom of God because Jesus is confronting and moving you beyond where you are.
You know the way this passage ends down in verse 6 is a challenge and an important one for us to hear. Notice what He says to John’s disciples to take back to John these words, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” That word “offended” means “to stumble over.” You know what He’s saying. “Blessed are those of us who don’t stumble over who Jesus really is.” He is everything. He is our Savior and our Lord and what He’s calling us all to do is to follow Him and in following Him there may be loss but there’s always victory because Jesus wins. Let’s pray.
Father, we thank You for this time in Your Word. We thank You for Your faithfulness to us. We thank You for Your love in Christ. We pray, dear Lord, that You would bless us to think more deeply about who You are and how You are at work, Lord, to lead us into the kingdom of God, that we would be faithful, Lord, in serving You in hard places and that Lord, You would be with us in the midst of it regardless of outcome. In Jesus’ name, amen.
© First Presbyterian Church.
This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.
Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.