Faith and Truth: Instruments of Faith
This is the third week of our Advent series, Grace and Truth. Advent is our time of preparation for Christmas. The word Advent means “arrival.” The arrival of Jesus is the arrival of grace and truth in our world and our everyday lives.
The Gospel of John calls Jesus the Word. It reads: The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. Christmas is about God coming to us full of grace and truth.
Grace, is God’s unmerited favor and God’s help. It is a free gift of love, not something we can earn or buy. But grace is not like magic. We have to cooperate with God to receive his grace into our hearts. In other words, just as we don’t earn grace, God does not force us to love him and accept his grace. And there is a tendency in each of us that resists or crowds out grace. We call that sin.
So before we receive grace, we have to first acknowledge the place of truth because God is both Grace and Truth. In some way, truth is about the cold hard facts. But we shouldn’t fear truth. The deepest truth is that we are loved by God and created in his image. The other reality is that we are touched by sin. If you focus too heavily on the grace, you have a hard time acknowledging your own sin and the sin around you. You just want everyone to be nice and mind their own business. But if you only focus on the hard truth, you might miss that God’s plan is to take us beyond the cold hard facts of life. He wants to bring warmth and love.
Let’s take a look at today’s gospel. Last week we saw John the Baptist, a wildly popular figure, attracting huge crowds preaching repentance and many being baptized. His movement was off to a strong start. But now his situation has changed dramatically.
Today we find John in prison. He was arrested for speaking out against King Herod who had an illicit relationship with his brother’s wife. John believed he was following God, being true to the message God gave him, but instead of being rewarded, he finds himself locked up.
In a sense, John ran into some brutal facts. People quickly got behind John, but a lot of people realized that his message wasn’t just a pep-rally, but a real challenge to the way things were. When things got personal, some thought John had worn out his welcome.
Have you ever been totally convinced and sure of an opportunity? All the signs seem to point in the right direction, but the situation doesn’t seem to work out as planned.
Or you think you are doing the right thing or made the right decision, and instead it seems everyone is angry at you. Nothing quite works out as planned?
Or you find that the problem you set out to change is much more complicated, or ingrained, than you realized, and it isn’t going to be so easy.
This is where John finds himself. He is discouraged, so he asks Jesus to strengthen him and reassure him that all his life’s work mattered. He had spent his life preparing the way for Jesus and, now that it might be coming to an end, he wants to know if it was worth it. Was it worth it to prepare the way for Jesus, so that people could come to know Jesus?
This is an important question for each of us. Is it worth it to follow Jesus? Do our efforts on his behalf really make a difference in people’s lives? In the times of difficulties, when things aren’t going as we would like, it is easy to doubt. When we feel like we have followed God and are doing what he asks, and yet our circumstances are less than stellar, when our weight is up and our bank account is low, when we feel like friends or family are letting us down, and we are all alone and feel underappreciated, we can wonder if it is truly worth it to follow Jesus.
If you are there right now, know that you are not the first to wonder “Is it worth all this?” John the Baptist was there before you. John doubts his efforts, and so he sends his followers to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one, or should we look for another?”
It is an honest question. Here I am in jail and facing death. Is it worth it? I need some encouragement to know that my life had a meaning and purpose.
Rather than give a simple “Yes” or “No,” Jesus tells the disciples to reflect on their own experience and answers in a way that would have been encouraging to John the Baptist. Jesus says, “Go and tell John what you hear and see.”
These followers of John had been hanging around Jesus. They had seen amazing things. Jesus tells them to reassure John by what they have seen and heard.
Jesus reminds them of what they had seen, “The blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.”
The prophet Isaiah foretold all of these miracles, and works, that the Messiah would accomplish. That was in our first reading today. Jesus reassures John his mission really mattered. He is the one who the prophet Isaiah said would change lives in a meaningful way. John had prepared the way for the blind to see, the lame to walk, for the sick to be cleansed, the deaf to hear, and the poor to know the good news of God’s love.
Jesus points to the fruit of his work. Because John had led people to Jesus, lives had been changed. Was John now suffering and in difficult circumstances because he had pointed to Jesus? Yes. Was it challenging to follow Jesus? Yes. Was it worth it? Did it make an impact on people’s lives? Yes.
Jesus then turns to the crowds and asks a rhetorical question, “What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind?” A reed swayed by the wind means a people pleaser, someone who simply says and does what makes people feel good about themselves regardless of the truth of a situation. John the Baptist was the exact opposite of that, so the answer is obviously no.
Then Jesus says, “Did you go to see someone dressed in fine clothes? Those who wear fine clothing are in royal places. Then what did you go to see?” This is another rhetorical question. John dressed in camel’s hair, so clearly it wasn’t his clothes or any kind of finery that brought people to see John.
So then Jesus says, “Then why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.
Jesus tells the crowds John wasn’t just any prophet, he was THE prophet who prepared the way for the Messiah. The reason the crowds went out to John is because of their spiritual hunger for the Messiah to come. John drew them out to the desert for no other reason than he was THE prophet who pointed to Jesus which was the meaning of John’s mission and life.
Like John, we long for meaning. We long for our lives to matter.
Everything we do to prepare the way for people to meet Jesus matters. When we prepare the way for Jesus, he helps them to see new reasons for living. When we prepare the way for Jesus, he helps people who are crippled by despair and discouragement to move forward and walk on. When we prepare the way for Jesus, he cleanses people of their sins and past regrets. When we prepare the way for Jesus, people hear the GOOD NEWS of God’s love.
Like John the Baptist, we get to be instruments of God’s grace as we prepare the way for people to receive Jesus into their lives and hearts. We prepare the way for people to receive the grace and truth that is Jesus Christ.
This is what we want you to do.
Just like John the Baptist and Jesus’ disciples you can help prepare the way for others to meet Jesus by Investing in a relationship with them and Inviting them to church this Christmas. You can also help prepare the way for others to meet Jesus by being a hospitality minister for our church. Jesus’ disciples prepared the way for Him as they joyfully welcomed people and directed people where to sit in order to hear Him. You can do the same. The cards are in the pews. Just fill out the back side to come to an information meeting about hospitality ministry,
We can make a difference in people’s lives with the simple actions, done with the right heart and right spirit. By investing in people and inviting them. And by helping people at church, smiling and greeting them at the door, helping people find a seat, joyfully giving people Communion, we can prepare the way for them to receive Jesus. Jesus does the healing. He helps others see. He helps the deaf hear. Like John the Baptist, we prepare the way. Helping one person to meet Jesus is worth all the trouble.
Everything we do that leads people to Jesus, no matter how miraculous or how mundane, everything we do that leads people to Jesus –matters.