Jesus says John the Baptist was the greatest prophet. A prophet amongst the Hebrews was a seer; one who was given the gift of discernment and revelation of what was to come. All the prophets looked forward to the coming of a messiah; an anointed one who would lead the Israelites as did King David, but even greater than him.
John was the greatest of the prophets because the one he prophesied about had arrived. John not only received the spoken word of prophecy from God, he saw with his very own eyes the one whom all prophets spoke, the Word made Flesh, baptised by his very hand, to fulfil all righteousness of God.
John was the greatest prophet, the greatest seer! Yet in prison he sent word to Jesus through his disciples and asked, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3 ESV) Not even the greatest of the seers saw or understood how Jesus was to be the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29) And so although John was the greatest, he was the least in the kingdom of heaven.
Why is this so? Who then is greater in the kingdom? The one who sees and looks for no other than the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! The one who is least, who knows their weakness, and allows the Lamb of God to take away their sin, is greater in the kingdom of heaven!
The question for us this Advent is the question Jesus asks the people after John’s disciples leave. The question is this: What do you hear and see? What do you look for?
What do you look for in the church? What do you seek in this congregation of people? What do you hear now that Christ has come into the world, and put righteousness right through his death and resurrection, and sends the Holy Spirit to continually draw all to him through the light of his Word? What do you look for in those sent to point you back to Christ and his Word?
It’s obvious that what most look for in the church these days is not what Christ would have us look for.
Some seek a social club. Where everyone seems nice; well, superficially anyway! A place for a weekly chat, as long as no one talks about “Jesus”! Oh, except the pastor of course! We’ll put up with him speaking about “Jesus”, as long as it’s not too long or too confronting!
Some seek a place of entertainment; and if their fancies aren’t tickled, they lose interest in coming.
Some seek to do the right thing; out of duty and responsibility they hear and learn not out of joy and love for the Lord but because they think they have to, to be a good Christian.
Some come looking for cheap grace; a get out of jail free card, as it were. They want the salvation but they don’t want the Saviour doing anything in them or through them, which might make life a bit uncomfortable.
Some come with expectations in everyone else, rather than in Jesus Christ and what he can do. They come expecting Jesus fix others, but not them.
Some even look to the pastor to fix everything. “The pastor, he’ll magically turn up with his family and all the other families will return. He’ll fix all the faults with everyone else. He’ll be able to do it because he’s meant to.”
But on his family’s arrival, hopes are dashed because he has just as many faults and foibles as everyone else. And he keeps banging on about the love of God, letting God be God within, faith, endurance, sin and the forgiveness of it, fellowship and the family of God. “Being” as opposed to “doing”, and so on! Some are disappointed and even offended hearing the same old, same old!
When we seek something other than what God wants to give us, coming to church suddenly seems to lose importance and relevance in our lives. Not hearing and seeing what we want, other things soon seem to find their way to the top of the list.
Family, fun, the farm, future success, and one’s financial situation become so important that time for God plummets in value. God without worth gives way to neglect for his Word, and the preaching of it, as people lose sight of what it is they could be receiving if they only would gladly hear and learn his Word.
For sure there are great pressures on our lives today. No one will argue with that. But the sickness of our western society, which floods the hearts of those in God’s church, is leading more and more away from God and his kingdom in search of short-lived appeasement. And in the process the problem which existed and caused the falling away from God in the first place is only exacerbated.
The sign of this is a fractured community sad and sorry for itself. Each person for themselves spiralling down in despair! Sadder is seeing such things happen in the church. The community of God finds it harder and harder to exist, as hearts turn away from faith in God towards this “every man for himself” attitude.
Right here today no one wants to serve each other out of love for Christ. Some do only because no else will, but it’s done out of duty and drudgery, and not out of overwhelming joy at the eternal inheritance and victory we have in Jesus Christ. No, Jesus and eternal joy don’t have relevance for those seeking satisfaction in themselves today!
But then the excuses come! Times are tough! It’s too wet, it’s too dry, and it’s too much of a commitment! Time! There’s never enough time — time for others, or time for God. One wonders when things really begin to get rough, what the excuse will be. They’ve all been used up today! People are excommunicating themselves from God’s Word over such trivial things, what will happen when we’re truly persecuted for righteousness’ sake? Will you only then allow Christ to shine his light from you?
What do you hear, what do you look for? God looks for a change of heart within you! To repent and lay your sin at the foot of the cross! There will be tougher times yet. Without a continual, daily change of heart, that comes from allowing Christ to work his salvation in you, there’s not a chance any one will be there enduring till the end.
When we look to Christ, and hear the mystery of our salvation, we allow the light of God to ember within us. The Holy Spirit flourishes faith from these embers of God’s Word, and it helps us just as Jesus helped many as he walking to the cross.
We are weak. The strongest amongst us in our church and local communities might be seen the most parading their ability, but they are the weakest of all. But those of us who are ready to admit to our weaknesses, can stand in the strength and joy of the Lord. In weakness you can be strong in Jesus Christ. You who are the least in the kingdom of God are the greatest in Jesus Christ.
What is your weakness? Are you blind? Are you lame? Are you a leper? Are you deaf? Are you poor? Or are you just straight out dead? If you can hear and see that you are, there is hope for you? If you can’t, pray to God that he shows you who you are!
Jesus wills you to hear and see that in him… the blind receive their sight and the lame 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. (Matthew 11:5–6 ESV)
What do you see and hear? I pray you are blessed by Jesus’ word and not offended.
Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. (James 5:7–10 ESV)
Like the last prophet, John the Baptist, be a seer, be greater than John. See the Christ child in you; hear his promises in the Word, and hear of his faithfulness towards you! Take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
Be patient and endure in you weakness, continually turning to and trusting Jesus, and allow all glory be his.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10–12 ESV)
Go and tell what you hear and see! Amen.