What do you see when you look at the world around you? The chaos and uncertainty around a contested Presidential result? The devastation caused by a global pandemic. The ongoing climate change crisis? The division and hurt of racism?
What do you see when you look at your own life? Weakness, failure, shame? The drudgery of work in a job where you get no satisfaction?
What do you seen when you look at the church? Perhaps again you see weakness, scandal, failure, fragility. Here in our own local congregation, we’ve been rocked even in these last few weeks by the financial fragility of the church meaning that we will have to make redundancies. Perhaps you are even thinking today, “Can Bearwood Chapel go on?”
Of course, it won’t be all bleak in all of those categories. We see signs of hope in the arrival of a vaccine and mass testing, there’s joy in family life and that boring job gives you an income with which to treat the kids and/or grandkids to the good things in life. Even in the midst of the shock of redundancies for the church, we were able to look back at our members’ meeting with thankfulness for all the good things God has been doing.
Yet, learning to see clearly is about more than picking out the positives. It’s about seeing everything from God’s perspective.
See what God is doing in Christ and in people’s live (1-6)
John the Baptist has been imprisoned by Herod because he has challenged him over his immorality. From prison, John sends out messengers to Jesus. He hears reports about Jesus’ ministry, reports about the man who he had pointed out and endorsed as the Messiah but he still isn’t sure. Maybe his own situation is causing despondency, maybe he expected the repentance of his ministry to lead to revolution. He had warned that judgement day was coming and whilst miracles and parables are all well and good, they would seem a long way from the dramatic events he expected.
So, Jesus invites John’s disciples to look around and see what is happening. The description here of healings, exorcisms and Kingdom proclamations are not just lots of good examples of nice things happening. Rather, they come together to form a narrative. Jesus is saying, “look the promise of Isaiah 42 is being fulfilled. The Jubilee is here. The King is here.”
I want to encourage you to look at what is happening, even in the midst of Coronavirus. We’ve had the opportunity to share the good news about Jesus online. Personally, I was so excited to get a message from someone the other day that we have had contact with during lockdown, all the way over in the States. The sent a message with some photos to say “look, I’ve just got baptised.”
Look for the signs of what God is doing and trace back what God is doing and will do to what he has done. The most important thing we need to see is what God did in Christ at Calvary. That on the Cross, he dealt with the root cause of the mess, pain and suffering we see. Jesus on the Cross, dealt with the problem of sin.
By the way, this also reminds us that when the church seems fragile that Christ is still Lord of his church, that he gave his life for her and that her grace is made perfect in weakness. It means that the pattern for our experience is that death like experiences precede resurrection ones. It means that God chooses the weak things of this world for his glory – that includes you and me!
See who it is that God chooses (v7-15)
Now Jesus turns to the crowd and says “look at John. What was it that drew you to him?” If it was that he was powerful and respectable then his imprisonment would surely have troubled them and undermined the mission. However, it wasn’t that. They didn’t go to see “a reed shaken by the wind.” This is partly a defence of John to those who might judge him if they think he is wavering. That wasn’t what John was like. It also reminded them that John was where he was because he did not bend to the prevailing agenda of his day. He would never be an establishment success.
No, John was a prophet from God. In fact, he was the greatest of the prophets. This was not because of his oratory or miracle working power but because of he proximity to Jesus. He was the one who was able to say “Here is the Messiah -this is him.” The Old Testament had promised right at the end that there would be one in the style and line of Elijah who would come to prepare the way for the Messiah and here was John fulfilling that prophecy.
Paul’s letter, 1 Corinthians, picks up that theme. God is at work in surprising places. He calls to himself those who the world would reject. Do you feel worthless, useless, rubbish? Well, Christ chooses you not despite but because that is true and chooses to love you, regard you as precious and include you in his mission. On the other hand, if you are tempted to think of yourself as deserving recognition, praise and responsibility, then these verses should cause you to think again.
I have learnt so much from those the world will overlook. It is from people suffering from terminal illness or battling the immigration system that I’ve learnt to say
“All my life you have been faithful – All my life you have been so, so good”
See the way that the World responds to Christ (v12-19)
Elsewhere, Jesus tells a parable about a farmer who plants seed. Some falls in good soil but a lot falls in barren and thorny places. If at times the work of sharing the Gospel feels hard and like you are beating your head against a wall. If you have thrown everything into loving and seeking to disciple others and it has been rejected, taken for granted or thrown back in your face, don’t lose heart. There was opposition in Jesus’ day and he prepares us to face the same.
The opposition in Jesus’ day includes violent opposition and persecution. In the same way, Christians around the world today face violent opposition, imprisonment and even death. S0, we need to be ready for suffering ahead and pray for believers who are experiencing it.
However, it also includes the indifferent and cynical mindset which leads to people ignoring and sneering at the good news. They reject goodness and instead choose to praise what is bad as good.
So, the world, including religious people will misunderstand, distort and mock the Gospel. They’ll get the wrong end of the stick, they’ll mock God’s people and they will be so hypocritically twisted that they will attack you whatever you do and say. After all, they rejected and attacked Jesus and John.
Conclusion – confidence
Have the things you have seen and heard in recent times caused you to wobble and lose confidence? Look again, look at Christ and see what he wants to show you. See how God’s salvation plan has been worked together for good. See what you have been called to do for Christ. See the big picture, even if we are rejected, this isn’t a surprise to Christ. He is Lord of this world and lord of this church. He will fulfil his purposes in each of us.