It is a question that emerges from deep inside. It comes from mounting fears, nagging doubts, and unsettling uncertainties. It is the question asked by one who can no longer pretend that things will work out nicely and neatly. All thinking Christians face this question at some point, but few have the courage to give it voice. It is John the Baptist’s question to Jesus in verse 20: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
The cause of this question is clear. Life is unfair, uneven, unreasonable. The godly suffer and the wicked prosper and there is no good explanation as to why. John knew this well. He was the prophet, the forerunner, the voice sent to prepare the way. His entire life was devoted to the coming of the Lord. Jesus himself said that no one born of woman was greater! Yet there he was, sitting in prison, waiting for Jesus as they sharpened the sword. It is hard to say which would have been worse—that Jesus didn’t seem to notice, or that Jesus noticed and didn’t act.
“Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
The need to ask this question reveals something significant about God, and about ourselves. God will not be domesticated. He does not play by our rules or take our orders. The sooner we learn that lesson, the better. Isaiah comes to mind—but not the parts Jesus referenced in our text. It would have been fitting for him to include God’s Word through Isaiah in his answer to John:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)
A sermon on this text should give voice to John’s question on behalf of Christians today. A proverbial organizational structure might work well. It shouldn’t be hard to find contemporary reasons to ask this question. Local and national tragedies abound. Individual trials and tribulations flourish. Congregations (including yours, perhaps) decline, divide, and slide toward death. If you can’t think of any concrete examples in your context, go visit a few members and ask them about what God isn’t doing in their lives these days.
But the sermon must not only ask John’s question. It will also proclaim a faithful answer. This is where the Gospel takes charge. Jesus’ response to John’s messengers in verse 22 shows a way. Instead of sending John’s messengers with a simple yes or no, Jesus responded with reference to Isaiah’s promises and a description of his own recent activity. The point is clear: Jesus’ actions, which fulfilled the prophet’s Word, speak for themselves.
The preacher could follow suit by similarly pointing his questioning hearers to Jesus’ works. The healings and miracles are part of the picture, but there’s more. For those who wonder if Jesus really is the one, the only and ultimate answer is his resurrection from the dead. His rising, the preacher will proclaim, means our rising. It means your rising. That is the good news. That is the promise. And it is enough to see us through even the darkest valley.
Perhaps the sermon can get at this through verse 23. There Jesus said, “Blessed is the one who is not offended [scandalized] by me“ (σκανδαλισθῇ ἐν ἐμοί). There are many reasons to be offended by God’s way of doing things. There are many reasons to question why God does not seem to behave. It’s hard to live with broken families, failing health, and loneliness. It’s hard to accept abuse and neglect, addiction and abandonment.
Jesus gets it. That’s why he adds a postscript to his response to John and all who ask John’s question: “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.“ Blessed is the one who doesn’t stumble when God’s divine wisdom exceeds our meager understanding. Blessed is the one who doesn’t try to tell God what to do, but instead receives what he graciously provides. Blessed is the one who acknowledges that Jesus is Lord, even in difficult times, and that his reign is always good.
This blessedness is the fruit of faith, which comes from hearing the promise of Jesus’ resurrection and ours. Such a sermon will have an eschatological orientation, to be sure. John’s hope is ultimately found in Jesus’ return and the resurrection of all flesh. The same goes for ours.
Concordia Theology: Various resources to assist you in preaching Luke 7:18-28 (29-35).
Lectionary Podcast: Dr. Peter Scaer of Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne offers helpful insights to Luke 7:18-28.