John the Baptist is in prison. In prison, the dead pile up. People crowd against each other and fight for food. People crawl about, begging for something to eat. The dead pile up from hunger, from extreme beatings and from the executioner's sword. John is one of them now and like many of them, he'll soon be added to the pile of the dead.
It's no surprise, then, that John sent his disciples to ask Jesus a simple question: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” (Matt. 11:3). John's in trouble, the most horrible kind of trouble, the deadliest kind, so he asks Jesus, "Are you the one who is to come?" "Show me a sign. Give me some indication that you'll help me. Be a sign to my enemies that you've got power to save me."
Jesus says to John’s disciples, “Go back, and tell John what you hear and see" (vs. 4). "Go back and tell John that the blind see again. Tell him that that the lame walk, those with skin diseases are made clean, and deaf people hear again. Tell John that dead people are brought back to life and poor people hear the Good News."
John's in prison because Jesus sent him ahead to prepare people for the Savior's coming. He sent John ahead of Him to do an Elijah job. John was sent to, "repent the heart of fathers toward their children, and the heart of children toward their fathers, otherwise," He says, "I will come and destroy the land with a curse" (Mal. 4:5-6).
What Jesus says, what Jesus sends John to say, is simple and honest. It's a straightforward warning. But, for people who profit off God's Name and full-on destroy others for their own benefit, John shames them. John's message provokes earthly rulers to bitterness and jealousy. John's message doesn't inspire religious leaders to repent. Instead, John's message provokes them to resentment and rage.
John’s message doesn’t inspire religious leaders to repent. Instead, John’s message provokes them to resentment and rage.
Instead of being inspired to repent, earthly rulers and religious leaders fantasize about the day when an opportunity comes to shut up John for good. They don't hear the voice of "Elijah the Tishbite, the man of God, the man who speaks God's words." They don't repent at John's words because they don't hear the voice of Isaiah who prepares people to hear, "the voice of one crying in the wasteland." Rulers and religious leaders don't realize that they're not fantasizing about shutting up John, they fantasize about shutting up God's Word.
The One who sent John ahead to prepare the way for His coming calls John His mouthpiece. John is an instrument for God's Word. John is sent to preach repentance. How much repentance? As much as we've got sins that need to be repented. Again and again, God sends His Elijahs to preach repentance to us. But, if we insist on holding onto our favorite one or two sins, we'll treat God's Elijahs the same way the rulers and religious leaders, King Herod and the Pharisees, treated John.
There's no two ways about it. Our sins are either with Jesus or with us. If we insist on holding onto our sin, even if it's just one or two of our favorites, we'll keep them away from Jesus. We'll hold back our sins from Jesus and be damned by them.
Our sins are either with Jesus or with us. If we insist on holding onto our sin, even if it’s just one or two of our favorites, we’ll keep them away from Jesus.
But, why would we want to be damned by our sins? Instead, listen to John. Listen to God's Elijahs, the men He sends to prepare people for His coming, who declare to us: "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Come to His table to eat and drink His body and blood, which are sacrificed to death for you for the forgiveness of your sin."
God's Word comes to us bodied and bloodied. He comes bodied and bloodied, born of Mary. He comes bodied and bloodied, born to carry all our sin. He comes bodied and bloodied, the Lamb of God, who gives His body and His blood for us to eat and to drink for the forgiveness of all our sin.
"This is my body which is given for you... this is my blood which is shed for you..." (Luke 22:19-20) This is His coming. This is our sign. This is our indication that He helps us. His body and His blood are a sign to our enemies that Jesus has got the power to save us, and He does.
This is why Jesus sends John ahead of Him. This is why Jesus sends His Elijahs ahead of Him to prepare us for His coming. He comes, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, to bring forgiveness, new life, and eternal salvation to us. He comes to give us heaven in His bodied and bloodied presence. He comes so we may be repented, and return to the table of the Lord to receive forgiveness, life, and eternal salvation because the bodied and bloodied kingdom of heaven is with us, and it is for us today and always.
He comes so we may be repented, and return to the table of the Lord to receive forgiveness, life, and eternal salvation.