3rd Sunday in Advent – 12/12/2021
If there is one thing everyone would like to be made clear, it is the truth. Well, let's wait. Sometimes, including with you and me, when the truth exposes how wrong we are, we would just as soon that the truth remains obscured. Even President Biden is recorded as saying in response to a reporter's question: "I'm for the truth. Don't confuse me with the facts!"
We might all laugh at the utter nonsense of such a statement, but in reality, we often desire to judge what constitutes the truth, with or without facts or evidence. After all, the actual truth and what we prefer to be the truth might be opposites.
In 2006, former Vice President Al Gore was awarded an Academy Award for his documentary "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 manufactured, existential crisis. The premise of his film is that people ignore or dismiss the truth about man-caused global warming because it is inconvenient to their political careers or pocketbooks since they are heavily dependent upon the fossil fuel industry.
Of course, many of the claims Mr Gore made in his film have been challenged as false. Now, I'm no expert in the environmental sciences, so I couldn't even begin to defend or condemn who is right and wrong. But, ironically, 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 focuses on the greatest inconvenient truth. 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 can save humanity from extermination under the wrath of God.
This inconvenient truth is highlighted by Jesus' response to John the Baptizer's inquiry. 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 disciples to Jesus to ask 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 John was having second thoughts by asking this question. One should not 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 more significant than any you and I face. John, after all, was sitting in prison for preaching the truth. Most specifically, he publicly proclaimed that Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Judea, was guilty of adultery. For, you see, Herod had taken his brother's wife as his own. As you can expect, this public admonition did not sit well with Herod. Whether he was a prophet of God or not, Herod tried to silence John by having him arrested and thrown into prison.
Every day that 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 had foretold.
Yet, at the same time, it does seem entirely 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 place among the political and religious elite of Jerusalem. He did not dress in the soft, splendid clothing of the rich or live in the luxury of a king's court or even a priest's residence. He had not been confirmed by the false messianic theology that had the people looking for a worldly Messiah. John was accountable 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 absolute 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. As we know from the Apostle John's Gospel account, John the Baptizer boldly pointed Jesus out to his disciples as being the One. As they stood along the Jordan River, he said, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the world's sin."
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 most significant impact. Some of the hardest individuals to convince that Jesus is the One could well have been some of his followers since they would naturally have felt that they owed John their most incredible loyalty.
On top of this, it must be noted that nowhere 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?
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. 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 or who he should be. In other words, Jesus could have been more convenient for their ideology or expectations.
The Jewish religious leadership was among those to whom the truth of Jesus was the most inconvenient. The lure of money and power corrupted their concept of the Messiah. In their minds, Jesus could not possibly be the one to save Israel. He had no earthly means. He was from a poor carpenter's family. Besides, much of His ministry was spent among society's poor and refugee populations. He was not challenging their Roman occupiers. They felt sure 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 inconvenient to most people. The thought of a God who requires an atonement of blood to propitiate sin is utterly 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 person are not any more convenient to the contemporary mindset that seeks to live life in one's way and according to their 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 accompany the celebration of His birth; after all, it's good for business! Yet, many of those same ones are 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 because Jesus makes exclusive claims to being the world's only true God and Savior. They would much prefer that Jesus be claimed as just another version of God and provide another way of salvation. But suppose they are perceived in any way as promoting that Jesus is the only true God and the only way to salvation. In that case, they might lose friends and customers or even be persecuted for being "anti-truthers," religious bigots, or "haters of others.
As a result, to counter the inconvenience of the truth of Jesus, political correctness is erasing the greeting "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, and there is no insinuation whatsoever that Christ is the only truth and way to salvation, as the Bible teaches.
The truth of Jesus may not have been convenient to many in His society or too 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 tells 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. Enjoy being 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. 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' advanced 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 so important that John the Baptizer had to be sent. Hearts and minds needed to be prepared, lest they be offended by the real Jesus and die in their offense and not be saved.
Jesus testified that John was the greatest of all the prophets. It was not that John was the greatest preacher or the wisest or 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 the people that their sacrificial lamb was in their midst. John was blessed to reveal what may have been an inconvenient truth to many but was also the truth that saves sinners unto eternal life.
Through the brave, bold, and truly loving preaching of John and that of Peter, Paul, and many other truth lovers, you and I are blessed to know the faithful Jesus, and through faith in Him, we have eternal life. May you and I also enjoy the added blessing John realized by being one 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's Holy Spirit encourage us with the same conviction as John so that we might boldly proclaim in our politically correct and self-indulgent society that the greatest of inconvenient truths is that Jesus Christ was crucified and resurrected for sinners and 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 a Happy Eternity! Amen.