The Inconvenient Truth (Luke 7:18-28)

3rd Sunday in Advent (December 12, 2021)

If there is one thing everyone would like to be made perfectly clear it is the truth, right?  Well, let’s don’t be too sure. Sometimes, including with you and me, when the truth exposes how wrong we are, we would just as soon that the truth would remain obscured.  Even President Biden is recorded as saying in response to a reporter’s questions:  “I’m for the truth.  Don’t confuse me with the facts!” 

Now, we might all laugh at the utter nonsense of such a statement but in reality we all often have a tendency to desire to be the arbiter of what constitutes the truth with or without facts or evidence.  After all, what is the actual truth and what we would prefer to be the truth might be polar opposites.

Back in 2006 former Vice-president Al Gore was awarded an Academy Award for his documentary entitled: “An Inconvenient Truth.”  Mr. Gore has been one of the leading promoters of the contention that global warming, or more politically correct now, “climate change,” is a man-made, existential, crisis.  The premise of his film is that people are ignoring or dismissing the truth of man-caused global warming because it is inconvenient to their political careers or their pocketbooks since they are heavily dependent upon the fossil fuels industry. 

Of course, many claims Mr. Gore made in his film have been challenged as being totally false.  Now, I’m no expert in the environmental sciences, so I couldn’t even begin to defend or condemn who is right and who is wrong. But it is ironic that the one person who stands to gain the most, financially, from the world buying into the idea that we humans are threatening the very existence of our planet through our use of fossil fuels is, as you may have guessed, Mr. Al Gore himself.  He has heavily invested in alternative sources of energy like solar and wind.  So it seems that what Gore calls “an inconvenient truth” is “very convenient” for him!

This morning our Gospel text serves to focus our attention on the greatest inconvenient truth of all.  In fact, unlike Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth, which he says can save the planet, the inconvenient truth laid out before us in our text is the only truth that save mankind itself from extermination under the wrath of God.

This inconvenient truth is highlighted by Jesus’ response to John the Baptizer’s inquiry.  It seems on one occasion when John sat in prison, some of John’s followers came and reported to him about many of the things Jesus of Nazareth was saying and doing.  In response, John sent two of his disciples to Jesus to ask him this question, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

Obviously, at the heart of this question is whether or not Jesus is the long promised Messiah.  Some have speculated that by asking this question John was having second thoughts.  I don’t think one should automatically assume this, however.  Of course, I am not saying that John could not have had second thoughts.  After all, he was a sinful human being just like you and me.  And like you and me, he was subject to the same temptations to doubt Jesus and His Word as we are.   

In John’s case those temptations might have been even greater than any that you and I face.  John, after all, was sitting in prison for preaching the truth.   Most specifically, he had proclaimed publicly the truth that Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Judea, was guilty of adultery.  For, you see, Herod had taken the wife of his brother as his own.  As you can well expect, this public admonition did not set well with Herod. So, prophet of God or not, Herod tried to silence John by having him arrested and thrown into prison. 

Every day John sat in jail, the threat of being executed became more and more likely.  Under such stressful conditions, who wouldn’t be tempted to second guess if he had been right in his preaching.  After all, Jesus was not exactly taking up the throne of David and defeating Israel’s enemies as most felt the prophets has foretold.

Yet, at the same time, it does seem completely out of character for John to succumb to such second thoughts.  As Jesus Himself publicly testified about John, he was no wishy-washy believer. John had no part among the political and religious elite of Jerusalem.  He did not dress in soft, splendid, clothing of the rich nor live in the luxury of a king’s court or even a priest’s residence.  He had not been conformed by the false Messianic theology that had the people looking for a worldly Messiah.  John was beholding to no one.  He was his own man.  He lived out in the wilderness.  His clothing was made of rough, old, camel’s hair.  He lived off locusts and wild honey.  He was not a “reed shaken by the wind.”  He spoke with real conviction.  He was not afraid to speak the inconvenient truth no matter who was listening, even when that truth publicly called the king on the carpet.  In fact, as we know from the apostle John’s Gospel account, John the Baptizer, very boldly pointed Jesus out to his disciples to be the One.  He said as they stood along the Jordan River, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”   

I think it much more likely, then, that as John had done before, even with Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, he was sending his disciples to Jesus so that they would not just be dependent upon their jailed teacher’s word but could see and hear for themselves that Jesus had to be the One.  John had always maintained that he must decrease and that Jesus should increase.  He knew he had to be taken out of the way so that Jesus’ ministry could have its greatest impact.  Some of the hardest individuals to convince that Jesus really is the One, could well have been some of his own followers, since they would naturally have felt that they owed John their greatest loyalty. 

On top of this, it must be noted that no where does Jesus deride John for having doubts.  But He does extend to him the greatest of compliments by saying, “(He is) more than a prophet…I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John.”  Would Jesus offer a doubter such praise?

I believe what was going on was that John was attempting to deal with the same problem from his prison cell that he had dealt with throughout his whole ministry.  That is, when people were directed to the real Jesus, they seemed to take offense at Him.  He did not fit their idea of what they expected the Messiah to do nor who He should be.  In other words, Jesus was not convenient to their ideology or expectations.

Chief among those to whom the truth of Jesus was the most inconvenient was the Jewish religious leadership.  Their concept of the Messiah, had been corrupted by the lure of money and power. In their minds Jesus could not possibly be the One to save Israel.  He had no earthly means.  He was of a poor carpenter’s family.  Besides, the bulk of His ministry was spent among the poor and refuge of society.  He was not challenging their Roman Occupiers. They felt certain that the true Messiah would have been consulting with them, the genuine leaders of Israel.  He would have been elevating the status of Israel among the nations.  As a result, they took offense at the real Jesus.

It is easy to relate today!  Our whole world takes offense at Jesus.  The truth about Jesus is totally inconvenient to most people.  The thought of a God who requires an atonement of blood to propitiate sin is completely offensive to our modern sensibilities.  We prefer to have a teacher of good works rather than a Redeemer. 

Likewise, the values Jesus espouses and represents in His own person are not any more convenient to the contemporary mindset that seeks to live life in one’s own way and according to his/her fleshly lusts, than they were to that perverted Tetrarch Herod of long ago. 

The inconvenience of the true Jesus can even be seen in our contemporary society’s observance of Christmas. People love the yuletide festivities and gift giving that accompanies the celebration of His birth, after all, its good for business!  Yet, many of those same ones are totally offended by the truth that this Son of Mary had to die such a cruel death to atone for their sins.  They are equally put off by the fact of Jesus’ exclusive claims to be the only true God and Savior of the world. They would much prefer that Jesus could be claimed as just another version of God and provide just another way of salvation.  But if they are perceived in any way promoting that Jesus is the only true God and the only way of salvation than they might lose friends, lose customers or even be persecuted as being “anti-truthers”, religious bigots, or even haters of others. 

As a result, to counter the inconvenience of the truth of Jesus, political correctness is expunging the greeting of “Merry Christmas” from all public discourse.  In its place, under the guise of not offending anyone, we are told to say, “Happy Holidays!”  Instead of singing of a blood soaked Redeemer who comes that God and sinners might be reconciled, we can sing songs of myth and folly, like that tale of a jolly, old, good work Rewarder who comes, checking his list twice to see who was naughty and nice.  Instead of a holy crèche gracing the lawn of the local courthouse or a Christmas tree brightly decorating the city square, there are displays depicting all religions so that no one feels slighted or there is no insinuation whatsoever that Christ is the only truth and way to salvation as the Bible clearly teaches.

The truth of Jesus may not have been convenient to many in His own society or to many in ours today, but apart from it there is no blessing or eternal salvation.  There is no Christmas without the cross.  There is no heaven without Jesus enduring Hell for us.  Jesus said to an offended Peter who tried to prevent Him from washing His feet at the Holy Supper, “If you don’t let me wash you, you have no part with me!” 

Accordingly, Jesus says here to John’s disciples, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” Blessed indeed!  As Holy Scripture assures us, the one who holds to Jesus in faith and joyfully embraces the truth concerning Him, has the forgiveness of all his sins… enjoys being set free from not only the eternal punishment of his sins but also from all the temporal consequences of sin as Jesus demonstrated by giving the blind back their sight, making the lame walk, cleansing the lepers and raising the dead… and he will also enjoy eternal life with Christ.

That the world might know the blessing of the truth of Jesus Christ and not be offended by it, John was called already from the womb of his mother Elisabeth to be Jesus’ advance man and was sent to prepare Jesus’ way by his bold preaching of the truth, no matter how inconvenient and by baptizing sinners.  That people might know of the real Jesus and be brought to faith in Him as the True God and only Savior was that important that a John the Baptizer had to be sent.  Hearts and minds needed to be prepared, lest they be offended in the real Jesus… lest they die in their offense and not be saved. 

This is why Jesus testifies that John was the greatest of all the prophets.  It was not that John was the greatest preacher… nor the wisest or the spiritually strongest of all the other prophets.  It was that John was blessed to have the sole distinction of introducing to the world the real Messiah in person, the One, who although He was greater than John being the Son of God, was also the least of all being the sin-bearer of all. 

Yes, John was privileged above all of us to direct people to the Messiah in the flesh.  John was blessed to proclaim to people that their sacrificial lamb was in their midst.  John was blessed to proclaim, what may have been   an inconvenient truth to many but was also the very truth that saves sinners unto eternal life.

Through the brave, bold, and truly loving preaching of John, as well as, that of Peter, Paul and many other truth lovers, you and I are blessed to know the true Jesus, and through faith in Him have eternal life. May you and I also enjoy the added blessing John realized by being of those privileged to be a bearer of the truth of Jesus Christ, inconvenient or not.  Heaven knows the people of our world today need the salvation Jesus brings just as much as those to whom John preached so long ago. 

May God the Holy Spirit embolden us with the same conviction of John that we might boldly proclaim in our politically correct and self-indulgent society that greatest of inconvenient truths; Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected for sinners, that our family, neighbors and friends might also receive in faith the true Savior born in Bethlehem.  Then they, too, will be insured to have a Merry Christmas and Happy Eternity!  Amen.

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