Son of Fulfillment
Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 7:18–7:28
The Third Sunday in Advent
December 15-16, 2018
“Who is Jesus? Son of Fulfillment”
Again in worship today, we encounter that fiery figure of John the Baptist. But this time he’s not out on the shore of the River Jordan baptizing and calling all people to repentance. Now he is languishing in prison, put there by Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee and Perea, as the closing verse from last Sunday’s Gospel lesson told us (Luke 3:1-20). John had spoken truth to authority in calling Herod out for having taken his brother’s wife for himself, and the result is that John ended up in prison. Eventually, he would be executed by Herod (Luke 9:9). Truth can sometimes be a great inconvenience to those in authority, whether in Herod’s day or our own. Those in authority can and do go to great lengths to suppress the truth; even brutally silencing those who speak the truth. Even from prison, John remains at work in his God-given prophetic ministry. His devoted disciples carry word from him to Jesus with a very specific question: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Luke 7:20). John serves as the bridge between the promises of God about a coming Messiah in the Old Testament and the fulfillment of God’s promises in Jesus who is that promised Messiah. Our Advent preaching series, “Who is Jesus?”, continues today under the theme, “Son of Fulfillment.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
This Third Sunday in Advent is sometimes referred to by its old Latin name, Gaudete, meaning “to rejoice.” And that is what comes to us in the appointed Scripture lessons for today. The prophet Zephaniah spoke to the people of his day, and he speaks to ours as well: “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem. The Lord has taken away the judgments against you; he has cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil” (Zephaniah 3:14-15). And Paul the apostle reminds us in the Epistle lesson: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). In the midst of a world where there is every reason not to rejoice, where bad news is always before us, where scandal, injustice, and corruption rule the day, the Lord God call us to do something very counter-intuitive. He calls us to rejoice, even in the midst of so many circumstances and situations that would drag us down and put a strangle-hold on joy. We rejoice, not because of all the beautiful decorations and the twinkling lights. We rejoice, not because of the presents under the tree or the holiday gatherings. All of these things are certainly wonderful, but they are not at the foundation of our rejoicing. If they are, our rejoicing and our faith will be as fleeting and changeable as the weather. We will be like the wind, blowing this way and that; inconstant, irregular, and infirm.
Our rejoicing is not in the superficial things of this season or the passing pleasures in the world around us. Our rejoicing is in Jesus, who is the Son of Fulfillment. He is the One who has come to make good on all of God’s promises that God would send a mighty Deliverer, a Savior, the Anointed One, the Messiah, who would rescue and redeem us from the age-old condemnation of eternal death and night; of separation, fear, and isolation from God. The downward, deathward spiral of futility that is life apart from God has been broken by Jesus through his sacrificial death upon the cross and his glorious resurrection. In prison, John the Baptist sends word to Jesus to see if he really is that promised Messiah. While sitting in prison, John surely recalled when he baptized Jesus there at the River Jordan, and the Father’s voice which affirmed: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:21-22). From prison, he heard the reports of Jesus and all that he was doing. For John, it all comes down to this: are you a pretender, or are you the real deal? “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Luke 7:20). Jesus does not directly answer John’s question, but what he tells John’s messengers is this: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Luke 7:22-23). In so many words, Jesus is saying that he himself is that Son of Fulfillment spoken by the Lord through the prophet Isaiah: “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy” (Isaiah 35:5-6a). This is who Jesus is! This is what Jesus is showing forth through his miracles of healing. If we want something to rejoice about, look no further than this! Jesus’ closing words to John’s disciples are powerful and convicting: “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Luke 7:23). That word “offended” originally meant a trap (σκάνδαλον); something that would make others stumble and fall. But why would we be offended by Jesus? He came only to do good. That is true, but when the pressure is on to conform to the world and through our words and actions deny the truth and validity of Jesus, what will we do? At some point, each one of us will be facing that critical crossroads. By our actions or our inactions, we may well convey to others that we are, in fact, offended by Jesus. In this Advent season of repentance, may the Holy Spirit inspire in us true repentance that our words and our actions may always be a living witness to Jesus, the Son of Fulfillment.
John the Baptist was not some pampered yes-man who told people what they wanted to hear; saying one thing to this group and another thing to that group, bending back and forth like some reed or rush blowing in the wind. Quite the opposite! People flocked to John because he did speak the unvarnished truth, God’s own truth. And Jesus makes clear that John is the fulfillment of God’s promise in that final book of the Old Testament: “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you” (Malachi 3:1). John is that messenger, but he is the last of the old order. John did not live to see the fulfillment of God’s promises in Jesus. But we have seen this! We know and believe this! And because of our faith in Jesus, the Son of Fulfillment, “… the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than [John]” (Luke 7:28). Though we likely do not consider ourselves anywhere near to being on a par with John the Baptist, this is what Jesus tells us. Isn’t that amazing? You and I, imperfect and flawed, stumbling in faith as we do, are greater than John the Baptist. And now, we wait and watch for that final fulfillment when Jesus, our Advent Savior, will come again to judge the world in righteousness, to “save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:28). And so we do indeed rejoice.
Amen. Jesus, Son of Fulfillment, come quickly to save us. Amen.