While in prison, John the Baptist sends a few followers to Jesus with a most urgent question: ”Are you the One who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Luke 7) Not too long before this, this same John was out baptizing in the Jordan, announcing to whoever would listen that Jesus was in fact their long awaited Messiah, the one who would execute justice and restore the kingdom. He was there when the dove descended and heaven rang with affirmation that this man was indeed God’s royal Son. But now as he sits in prison, awaiting sentence from God’s foes still drunk with power and rage, painfully offering all of life to his king, he has to know for sure: Are you really the one?
The greatest of questions. I can’t think of one more urgent even now. Is Jesus really the One through which God is at work, reconciling His world? Should I be searching for someone else to fulfill the longings of the ages? Is He the only one who can rescue and resurrect? Is this Jesus worthy of my whole life?
Jesus reassures John, affirms the value of his self-surrender with the following: “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”
It would be easy to oversimplify this response. Sure, what better demonstration of Jesus’ supernatural endowment than to cite blind people all of sudden receiving sight, wheel chairs tossed aside, tombs opened by those inside. But there’s a bit more to it. These aren’t just nifty tricks. This is His job-description as the would-be Messiah. Poke back just three chapters earlier in Luke and you find Jesus standing up in the synagoge, announcing the birth of His public ministry with this job description:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
…which itself is a job description of the future Messiah from way back in Isaiah. In other words, Jesus’ response to John is more nuanced than just, “Look what I can do.” Its more, look, I’m doing the things you were expecting. I’m pursuing those in the woes of death and sin’s curse, announcing good news to the marginal and afflicted, and God is at work with healing power.
So back to my question, back to the urgent question of today. In one sense, the Church exists to give answer (and offer convincing rationale) to the question, is Jesus the one? Is he worthy of my life? And I’m wondering if we can answer the way Jesus did, if we can point to similar demonstration. Can we say… look at what’s happening. Those who hurt, those who are oppressed, those on the outside, are being deeply pursued with love and good news. And God is at work in the midst.