The Christmas carol, “What Child Is This?”, was written by William Dix in 1865. It has been a favorite in the Church for a long time. This carol is unique from the other Christmas carols. Most proclaim the joyous news of the Christ Child. What sets this song apart is it was written from the viewpoint of an observer who is confused about Jesus’ identity.
“Who is this Jesus?” is a question many people still ask today. What Child is this? Many people are puzzled and confused about what to make of Him. Their questions are not simply intellectual curiosities, but often are very heartfelt and emotional. Questions such as these have been asked from the very day of His arrival.
We hear it being asked again today in our text by John the Baptist. John is absolutely confused, wondering what in the world is going on. Life wasn’t working out as John thought it would. He is in prison for taking on the immoral lifestyle of King Herod. John publicly humiliated Herod by condemning him for an affair he had. He is in jail, which is a miserable place for a person who is used to living in the wide-open spaces of the wilderness.
John was a prophet, a spokesman for God. He had a great following; many people listened to him as he preached and baptized people in the Jordan River. Entire communities came out to hear him preach, perhaps because he spoke of One who was coming – God’s Messiah, the Christ. He told them to get ready for His arrival. “Repent!” And they did. John baptized hundreds, thousands of people. The day came when he even baptized Jesus, his cousin. Something special happened at Jesus’ baptism that made John absolutely sure God’s long-awaited Messiah – the Christ – was Jesus, the One spoken of by the Prophets of Old Testament Israel. John was very fired up about Jesus and consequently began pointing other people to Him and telling them to follow Him.
In today’s text, much time has passed, and John is appearing to have some doubts. He was in turmoil.
Have you ever made a decision about something, and then later wondered if you were wrong? Well, John the Baptist had that experience. He was wrestling with the question of who is Jesus in our text. He was frustrated and perhaps a little irritated with Jesus and God and himself. I imagine he was having some doubts about the Christ, Jesus.
I went all out to support this guy. I pointed people in His direction, telling them He is the One! He’s the Christ! The Anointed One chosen by God to redeem and restore His people! But lately I’ve been hearing about the behavior of this Christ. Jesus isn’t following the script I laid out. When He came, I told the people there would be judgment, fire, and blessings as well. I’m hearing a lot about blessings happening. But where’s the judgment? I’m even hearing reports of Jesus eating with lunch with tax collectors and sinners and other despicable types of people! Why in the world would He do that? It isn’t what I had in mind. In the meantime, here I am sitting in this awful dungeon! And I am one of the good guys! One of the very few! Has Jesus forgotten about me? Why doesn’t He help me? He’s letting me down. I guess I just want to know, what gives here? Are you the real deal, Jesus, or not? And if so, is this any way to treat a supporter?
John sent a message with a couple of his disciples to ask Jesus about who He is. Are you the One who is to come? (Christ, the Messiah?) “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” John is asking the question of our sermon series: “What Child Is This?” Who are you, Jesus? Are you worthy of my worship, my trust, my obedience, or should I be waiting and looking for another?
We must not be too hard on old John. We’ve probably had a few of our own John-the-Baptist moments along the way. Maybe you are having one right now in your life. Things have happened you didn’t expect. You have questions and doubts, and Jesus doesn’t seem to be living up to your personal expectations. For some it might be a difficulty in life, such as a health issue. Jesus, I thought you loved me. I thought you would be with me. Why am I sick and not getting any better?
Someone else might be wondering, You said you’d take care of me, Jesus. But I’m experiencing some terrible hardships now. What gives here?
Jesus, of course, answers those questions in Scripture by saying, Did I promise you freedom from sickness or hardship? No! I said I loved you. I will be with you in all circumstances, and one day I will take you to myself that you may be where I am.
I’m reminded of an analogy I came across. A father is saying good night to his little daughter, and he makes a promise to her as she kisses him good night. “You are such a wonderful child, and I love you so much, I’m going to give you a nice gift on your birthday.”
A couple weeks before her birthday, the little girl asks, “Daddy have you bought my new bicycle yet?”
The father asks, “What bicycle?”
His daughter replies, “You know! The bicycle you promised me for my birthday!”
Father replied, “I never promised you a bicycle for your birthday.”
“Well,” she answers, “You said you would give me a nice gift for my birthday. That is the same thing as promising me a new bicycle”
We maybe have a tendency to do that with Jesus in our lives. Sometimes doubts arise within when it seems as if evil is getting the upper hand over good in this world. It feels like it’s 29 to nothing, evil winning. We think to ourselves, Come on, Lord. What’s going on here? This should not be happening. And so, like John, we get to a low point and start wondering, Who is this Jesus I am following Him? Is He really the One to be following?
Jesus has an answer for John and for us as well. He tells John’s disciples to “go and tell John what you hear and see.” First, tell him what you see happening around you: The blind see, the lame are healed, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news preached to them.
What is Jesus saying in this response? The script is being worked out, and Jesus is following it. Scripture is being fulfilled. The promises of the Prophets are happening now. The deaf will hear, the blind will see (Is. 29:18). “The eyes and ears of the blind and deaf shall be opened; the lame shall leap like a deer, and the mute shall speak” (Is. 35:5, 6). “One who is to come and preach good news to the poor” (Is. 61:1).
Jesus is telling John’s disciples that prophecy has been fulfilled through Christ’s mercy mission, through His healings, and through His teachings as He shares the kingdom of God.
This is the script Jesus was following. People’s lives are being changed. Broken lives are being restored! Listen to the stories of these people (Tell John about the stories you hear).
The blind man who says, I was blind, but now I see. Jesus helped me.
The outcast man who says, I was captive to my leprosy with no hope or future. I went to Jesus and asked for His help. He touched me, and now I’m clean. Free!
The master who says, I had a sick servant. Jesus just said a word, and my servant was healed.
The synagogue ruler who testifies, My daughter had died, but Jesus brought her back to life.
The man who steps forward and says, I couldn’t talk until I met Jesus. He helped me speak.
I wonder, when John’s disciples went back to him and told him these things, if his doubts were erased. John didn’t have the advantage of the greatest sign of all – the resurrection of Jesus! After Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins, God raised Him back to life on the third day. Totally unexpected. It was the ultimate affirmation that Jesus is the real deal, He is the One (the Christ) to trust and obey. We do not need to wait for another. He is the One!
By the way, those of us on this side of the resurrection must also listen to the stories of how this Christ is still restoring broken people, and changing lives.
There is Bob who says, I was a hopeless drunk. Life was totally out-of-control. I was wrecking my family. But then I met Christ, and I’ve been sober for 35 years with His help.
Another person says, I’ve gone through so many dark valleys, but Christ is carrying me through it.
Someone else says, Christ’s words of truth actually set me free – free from myself. I thought I was happy and fulfilled. Each day seemed like sheer joy to me. Life was a shower of blessings. But then Jesus showed me how much greater joy life could be when I rose above the selfish pursuit of my own happiness in the preoccupation with my own problems. Life is so much better when I lose my life for others and for Him and His work. As He told me I would, I found true life and true joy.
These are just a few of the stories I have heard along the way as a pastor.
Need I remind you once again, the resurrection is God’s stamp of approval upon Jesus as the Christ, the One we want to follow?
If you are asking questions like John and having some doubt storms within, your message from Jesus is this: Yes! I am the One you’ve been waiting for. I am the Christ, the Anointed One who restores broken lives. I’m the One foretold by the prophets, sent from God to rescue you and change your life.
The last line of Jesus’ message to John is an appeal to him and to us: Blessed are those who do not take offense at me. We know the Pharisees were offended by Jesus and other religious leaders. We know government leaders were offended by Jesus and His claims about being a King or some sort of Messiah. He rattled a lot of people’s cages and faced much rejection from them. But He says, “Blessed are those who do not take offense at me.” To offend means to make angry, to bring about resentment, to wound feelings causing someone to reject and turn away.
Many people today are still offended by Jesus the Christ. He provokes questions like these:
- Jesus, what do you mean, I’m lost and headed in the wrong direction? I’ve got my life together. I’m happy! Who do you think you are to tell me how to live my life? I like it the way it is!
- What do you mean, forgive the person who hurt me? NO WAY! That doesn’t make any sense. The world doesn’t work that way. You’re not for me, Jesus!
- What do you mean, you’re the only way to have a relationship with God? I find that rather arrogant, and I just can’t buy into it. No thanks!
Jesus promises us, Blessed are those who respond in the opposite way to me. God blesses those who believe in Me, who follow Me, who walk in My ways. Jesus is making an appeal to John and to us. Following Jesus leads to blessings, like an eternal relationship, a walk with Him in my life all the way into eternity. Nothing – not even death – can separate me from Him.
Following Jesus leads to forgiveness, a blessing. The old regrets of the past are erased; Jesus paid for them at the cross. You don’t have to carry them around or be fearful about them any longer. They are taken care of.
I sincerely hope John’s doubts were quelled that day. But more importantly, I hope your doubts have been driven away today.
What child is this? He’s the Christ. The One your heart has been waiting for and needing. So trust Him, and keep trusting Him, even when life doesn’t appear to be working out the way you expected. You see, He has a plan for you – to restore you and lead you all the way to the place He has prepared for you. Amen.
Rev. Steve Kramer