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Is he really the one?
"Is he really the one?" You can almost hear John the Baptist wondering. "Is he the one who is to come -- the promised Messiah? I had thought he was; but he is not quite what I expected; and I must be sure." Can you sympathise with John in his wondering? After all they were very different men, John and Baptist and Jesus, though they shared much in common, and indeed they were cousins. Members of the same family can be very different and wonder about each another even when they have affection and admiration for one another.
John was an austere character in the way of the old prophets of Israel like Elijah who came out of the desert where he had hidden away from people, dressed in rough clothes and lived on wild food.
He uttered strong words of condemnation against a corrupt society, and especially against the rulers, just as Elijah had done many centuries before.
Indeed it for his prophetic word against moral corruption that he is known to history. John was executed by the king for questioning the morality of the royal household when the king took his brother's wife. John the Baptist was well remembered in the following century. Jesus and John were both public figures in Jewish and Roman history, but John was politically the more prominent. By contrast, Jesus was more a man of the people. They said of him that he liked company, and enjoyed eating and drinking with his friends. His critics took special note that Jesus made friends with disreputable people, whereas John the Baptist kept his distance and had about him an air of discipline and holiness; it was not difficult to think that he might have come with a message from God, especially if you think of God as an austere and distant figure, perhaps best worshipped on high and rugged mountains. What would John, who had seen Jesus close up at the start of his ministry, later think when he heard reports of him mixing with all sorts, breaking the Sabbath and giving his own interpretations of the law of God? Certainly there were many good and great things people were saying too about Jesus, but, well, he was different. Was he the one?
So Matthew tells us
We usually think of John simply as the one who came to prepare the way for Jesus the Messiah, and we remember how he baptised Jesus and encouraged people to follow him and believe in him.
It is then a little surprising to realise that he could have had his doubts. After all, had not Matthew also reported John the Baptist saying:
John the evangelist wrote of these events having John the Baptist give us the words we still use of Jesus today in our central act of worship, in the Eucharist, when as the bread is being broken for distribution in communion we rehearse "The Lamb of God", the Agnus Die:
The scriptural basis of the liturgy is John 1:29:
Or as others have put it in English "Behold, the lamb of God", or "Look, the lamb of God". Words truly spoken in faith after the consecrated bread is held up for the people to see: "Look, the Lamb of God." These words came to us from John the Baptist. It is even possible that this saying was already recognisable to the followers of Jesus from its use at the Lord's Supper before they read it in John's gospel.
Then follows in John's gospel the same affirmation we had from Matthew and the other writers:
So he had said "This is the one", but now we read that later he sent to ask "Are you the one?"
There is a good deal for us to learn from this. From the point of view of the evangelist telling the story of Jesus and his forerunner John the Baptist, a life of faith need not be lived without questions. Faith is not blind belief, but open to evidence. John was able to ask, and Jesus gave him an answer in terms of looking and seeing. Faith is about seeing the whole of it, knowing what the evidence means. We too are invited to look and see and learn from the evidence. Indeed that is why the gospels were written. So Jesus answered John by pointing to the evidence that John's disciples could see for themselves:
Go and tell John what you hear and see. Look at the evidence, see for yourself. But what he pointed to, and the words Jesus used to describe it were not mere novelties, or even straight forward observations, which people might each interpret in their own way. He pointed to signs that John would have known from scripture. Those who knew the Hebrew Scriptures knew that he was pointing out that what they could now see was what had been foretold by the prophets, especially by Isaiah who had written about the coming great day of the Lord:
So now, Jesus said, look it is happening: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. Compare this also with the poetic vision of Isaiah in another passage:
Or, perhaps most significantly
Those are the words that Jesus chose to read when he was handed to scroll to read in the synagogue of his home town when he returned to Nazareth after teaching and healing in Galilee.
The people there thought it preposterous that he should apply these words to himself: The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives.
It is a matter of faith whether people accept the signs of liberation or salvation or resurrection to a new life, so that those who mourn are really blessed. And it is the same question for people today. Was Jesus the one? Does he, setting people free to become what God has called them to be, does he truly reveal the nature of God and represent God, indeed did he become God in human life? Is his coming the beginning of a new age, of the Kingdom of God? Is he the chosen one, the anointed one, the Messiah, bringing all this about? The answer Jesus himself gave to John was "Look and see!" Here are the signs of new life breaking into a world of death and corruption, the victory promised in the coming of the Kingdom with the Messiah is now beginning to be enjoyed.
So, is he the one? We too say in faith: Look, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. All glory be to him for ever. Amen.
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