One of the most important questions we can ask is “What in the world is God doing?” Which
is quickly followed by other questions about what God is doing: how does it concern me?
The text before us is crucial for this issue for all of us. It opens with John the baptist, in prison, asking questions, feeling uncertain, needing answers.
The Not-OK Status Quo
We left off last week saying that John’s assessment of the world as it was in his day, was not OK. Things had gone wrong. People needed to change course, to change their minds, or, “repent” because the Kingdom of God (heaven) was coming at any moment.
We came to the conclusion that Advent season is a time for us to make our own assessment of the status quo.
What Is God Doing?
Now it’s time to take the question one step further. If things as they are are not right, what should God do about it, what will God do about it? What do we want God to do about it?
Doesn’t this get to the heart of the question: why did God make this whole thing? What does he want with us?
The (popular, but) Wrong Answer
I want to start with the wrong answer before we get to the right answer, because I believe that
the wrong answer is the one most commonly believed in.
It seems to me that a great majority of people who believe that there is a God think that he is angry and ready to (or already has started to) punish. He punishes individuals, he punishes nations, he punishes world-wide economic systems – all because we deserve it.
This is called the doctrine of retribution – and those of you who come to Thursday Bible study know what I’m talking about in depth.
(The bible studies are video taped and available on line – follow the links from our church web site www.gspres.com).
Clearly there is a basis for this. If there is any justice in the world then it must be that a judgment day is coming. The question is, is it a rolling judgment that is already happening?
If I get a flat tire on my way home from church, is that God judging me for something? What if I get a bad diagnosis? Is that judgment? What if I lose someone I love?
Is that what God wants to do in the world; go around finding people doing bad things and punish them with retributive justice?
No! No! No!
That is the mistake that is so often made today. This is the thinking behind that horribly
misguided church in Kansas that sends people out to the funerals of fallen soldiers to proclaim messages of God’s judgment on America. No! No! No!
This was actually the same mistake John the baptist made from his prison dungeon.
2 “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
Why the confusion? John had proclaimed that Messiah was coming to baptize with fire, not just water; to burn up the chaff – to slay the wicked – to bring judgment.
This was not happening, so what’s up?
The Right Answer: Jesus’
Now we are ready for the right answer, but let’s be really clear: what we are going to hear from Jesus in this crucial text is precisely why the Kansas church is wrong and why the idea that the bad things in our lives or our country or our world are God’s punishment is wrong.
Jesus answers the question by explaining what he is doing. As he does, we should hear his answer as the answer to the questions, “What in the world is God doing? What does he want to do? What should he do with this world?”
Here is Jesus’ answer:
4 Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6 And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
God’s Care Offensive
Is God doing something? Yes he is. Is God on the offensive? Yes he is; he is on a care offensive. Blessed are those who are not offended by his care.
Is God aware of what the status quo of the world is? Yes he is. Is he happy with it? No, he isn’t. Bad things happen; things go wrong. People suffer; it’s not good.
What is he doing about it? Healing, redeeming, restoring! This is what God is doing about it.
This is Matthew chapter 11. In chapters 8 and 9 Matthew has chronicled Jesus’ ministry:
– he has restored sight to blind people, healed lepers, raised to life a dead girl, given speech to a man who was mute, and to all of them, most of whom were literally poor, he had preached the good news of the Kingdom of God.
What does God want to do with a world that is not right? To judge it? No! His will is to redeem us, restore us, heal us, make us whole.
The Prophetic Vision
This is exactly the vision that the prophets of old had. Hear again from Isaiah:
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus 2 it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. … 4 Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come
Now, pause right there – God is coming, said the prophet: do do what? Listen carefully:
with vengeance, with terrible recompense.
Vengeance? Recompense? In what form will his vengeance and recompense take? Here it is:
He will come and save you.”
Thwarting Evil: By Good
God’s idea of victory over evil is to absolutely thwart its objective. Evil wants to hurt, destroy, divide, to cause pain. When instead there is healing, wholeness and joy, evil has been utterly thwarted.
Listen to the very next lines of Isaiah’s vision of the way God will get his vengeance on evil:
5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6 then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
In the ministry of Jesus, God was overwhelming evil with good.
In Jesus’ ministry, God came to find the pain, and the people who were suffering, and to bring them into contact with God’s loving, redemptive, healing touch through Jesus.
What is God Doing?
What in the world is God doing? God is at work finding lost souls, wounded people, people with a past, people in pain, and not looking for ways to increase their suffering, but rather to heal it, to redeem it, to restore them to life as he created it to be lived.
And so, yes, his attention turns to those who need it the most; the poor, the ones shunned and discriminated against, the ones without power, the forgotten or neglected ones.
Anger is easier: but wrong
People are funny. It seems that it is easier to get people to be angry at something than to be
emotionally charged by goodness. It’s easy to get people to come to a rally, hold up signs, chant three-word slogans and be “mad as whatever.”
But that is not the Jesus way, and it is not our way. We are people of the kingdom. We know that Jesus has commissioned us, he has sent us out on a mission – and it is his mission.
Our Calling: a Care-offensive
It is now our calling to be extensions of Jesus’ ministry. It is our mandate to seek out after people in need, people in pain, and to bring signs of comfort and caring to them.
It is our mission to embrace “lepers” with full welcome and acceptance. It is our joy to find lost souls and to show them into a community of inclusion. It is our honor to find the despised and to demonstrate respect for them as men and women made in the image of one God.
That kind of broad, openness may cause some to be offended. Well, we are sorry, but we are offering an alternative. Come and be blessed, as Jesus said:
6 blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
Blessed are those who are not offended by God’s lavish care for the world and for people in pain. Blessed are those who continue Jesus’ care-offensive, pushing back evil in all its destructive forms.