Summary: What is greatness? Jesus redefines it here. Could you fit into the category of "greatness"?
Matthew 11:2-11 2001 Person of the Year
The year 2001 is almost over – a little over two weeks to go. Who was the most influential person in the world, this past year? Every year, Time Magazine picks out someone to be their Person of the Year. Here’s the criteria – in the last 12 months, who had the biggest impact on our world – negative or positive, either way – who affected our world the most this past year? Who would you pick? Last year, Time Magazine’s Person of the Year was our current president, George Bush. The year before, it was Jeff Bezos, because of his internet site - Amazon.com, the biggest book distributor in the world. Many years ago, Joseph Stalin was Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, because of the negative impact he had on the world.
Who do you think it will be this year? Strange to think about, but it might be Osama bin Ladin. Of all the people that affected our world this past year, he, many would say, affected our world the most – in a negative way, of course. But maybe it won’t be him. Who has left his mark on the year 2001 more than anyone else? Who will be on the cover of Time Magazine in a few weeks?
If Time magazine would have existed during Jesus’ day, we know who Jesus would have voted for. He tells us in our Scripture lesson for today. In verse 11 he says, “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women, there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist.” Jesus would have put John the Baptist on the cover of Time Magazine, as Person of the Year. Why?
Did John impact the world more than anyone else during his day? Compared to some of the other people living at his time, he wasn’t very influential. You have Caesar, conquering and controlling and changing the world. You have the Herod family, building massive and beautiful structures, including the Jerusalem temple. You have Roman philosophers and teachers. All these people, and many more, were influencing the world at that time.
But what about John the Baptist – why does Jesus think John should be Person of the Year? Today, Jesus redefines greatness. According to Jesus, greatness is not just a matter of impacting the world, leaving your mark. It’s something much more. What is greatness? What is Jesus’ criteria for Person of the Year?
Last week, we spent some time with John the Baptist out in the desert. Today, we find him in prison. A lot has happened – during his ministry, John the Baptist pointed to Jesus as the Lamb of God, the Messiah. He baptized Jesus, watched as the Holy Spirit descended onto Jesus like a dove. With all the passion he could muster, he pointed people to Jesus as the Messiah. In John’s eyes, Jesus was Person of the Year.
But now John was in prison. He had spoken out against King Herod’s promiscuous lifestyle. He had called Herod a sinner, and as a result, he was thrown into prison. And he would never see the light of day again. As he sat in the dungeon, he heard whispers about what Jesus was doing. Jesus preaching the forgiveness of sins to people. But what about the justice that the Messiah was supposed to bring? What about the greatness of God? The self-righteous religious leaders were still teaching their false doctrines. The sinful pagan Romans were still ruling the world. Everything and everyone was just as sinful as it was before Jesus came. Where is the justice, the greatness of God? Nothing has changed.
What emotion is John feeling as he sits in the dungeon, as he wonders if his life was a waste? The emotion of doubt. Even the most spiritual, even the “strongest” of Christians, have moments of doubt, moments when they wonder – has it all just been a big waste of time? So John sends his disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”
Have you ever had moments like John the Baptist – moments of doubt? As you sit here this morning, you don’t look like you have any doubts. But deep down inside, we all have our secret doubts, things in our lives that make us wonder. Has Christ fulfilled all your expectations? Or, do you sometimes feel let down, doubtful, like John the Baptist in prison, wondering, where is the greatness of God?
A week and a half ago, a family in our church body watched as their four year old daughter, Haley, lost her battle with cancer. Haley had been fighting for quite some time, a pretty horrific struggle, including 30 radiation treatments, and she was only four. What if little Haley was your daughter? And you pray to Christ, your Savior. And you have hopes and expectations. But your daughter dies. And you wonder, where is the justice, where is the greatness of God? “O Christ, are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”