What kind of messiah are you looking for?

I was recently prepping a sermon in Matthew 11. The passage concerns John the Baptist’s doubts concerning Jesus. Is he really the one God has sent? Should we be looking for someone to come after Jesus?

Jesus doesn’t even answer John directly. He just references Isaiah and effectively says to John, these things are happening. In a sense, Jesus is saying to John, if Isaiah’s prophecy of what the messiah would come to do didn’t factor into your thinking, then it should.

Given John’s earlier confession of Jesus, the question is always asked: how could John go from everything he said about Jesus at his baptism to wondering whether he is really the one Israel have been waiting for? But, to be fair to John, he had been preaching a message that included confession of sin and repentance from it because judgement was at hand. But it was that very message that got him locked up by Herod. It’s not totally unreasonable to think – if Jesus has come to judge the world and is going to restore the kingdom – what am I doing in a jail cell at the behest of a bloke like Herod! I think there’s enough in the passage – and earlier descriptions from John’s disciples – that John is a product of his times and Jesus just isn’t what he is expecting.

It is into that context that Jesus gives his answer. Effectively, he says, do you see the things the prophets said would happen coming to pass? Am I doing the kind of things the prophets said the messiah would do? If I am, then whatever current expectations might be, there are good reasons to believe that I am the one God has sent to save his people. That is Jesus’ basic answer. Look at what the prophets prophesied and compare it to what I am doing. There is your answer.

But, and this is thing that I find intriguing, is Jesus closing comment in Matthew 11:7. Having said all that to John, Jesus rounds off with ‘and blessed is the one who isn’t offended by me.’ That word offended seems to be acknowledged by most commentators as saying something closer to isn’t put off by me or doesn’t find me a stumbling block. In other words, Jesus seems to be saying that he is doing what the prophets prophesied the messiah would do, and the person who will be blessed is the one who is totally fine with Jesus being exactly who he is.

The offended people – usually the Pharisees and religious leaders – were offended by who Jesus was. They were most definitely put off by him. He didn’t come swinging a sword to get rid of the Romans and he certainly didn’t affirm all their traditions. In fact, he seemed to actively and purposefully blast through them on purpose in what seems to be the most offensive way possible to them. They found Jesus offensive because he wasn’t the messiah they wanted him to be. They wanted affirming in all their existing beliefs and traditions and the Romans being run out of town. That’s the messiah they wanted.

John may have expected a slightly different kind of messiah. But nevertheless, had an idea in his mind of who that messiah ought to be. Jesus simply says, I am the messiah and you will be blessed if you’re not put off by me as I am, whatever your expectations. It’s quite something. Later on, Jesus points out that the religious leaders couldn’t be pleased in their expectations at all. Whether it was John coming fasting or Jesus eating and drinking, if it didn’t accord with their traditions they simply weren’t bothered. In the end, they reject both John and Jesus because they don’t meet their expectations and are ultimately offensive to them.

Many have their expectations of Jesus today. There are the prosperity preaching crowd who are adamant Jesus came to give us everything material thing we could ever want. There are those who – in the face of everything we read in scripture – think Jesus came to give us position and prestige and when we get them they must be defended at all costs. There are those who think Jesus simply came to affirm everything we think and do already. I am what I am, God made me this way, and Jesus has come to affirm it in all its sinfulness. When confronted with the actual Jesus of the Bible, all of these become offended by him. He isn’t what they want.

Jesus is clear, the one who will be blessed is the one who isn’t put off by him as he really is. Whatever kind of messiah you might be looking for, Jesus blesses those who accept him as messiah and take him on his own terms.