Summary: A sermon which asks the question, "Where do we find ourselves this Christmas season?"

Matthew 11:2-11

“Looking at Jesus from Behind

Prison Bars”

By: Ken Sauer, Pastor of East Ridge United Methodist Church, Chattanooga, TN

An amateur actor friend of mine told me about an experience she had while performing in a local play.

Now, even though she was an amateur--as were the rest of the cast-- there lived in the town—a professional—who had done some Broadway and a few parts in made-for t-v movies, and he was in the play—as the lead!

My friend told me that they rehearsed the show for weeks, and reckoned that they had pretty well sorted it out.

Everyone was enthusiastic!

They were really happy with their singing, acting and dancing.

The show was going to be good, funny and exciting!!!

People would love it—and they did!!!

But in the last performance, the star of the show had a new idea.

He didn’t tell anyone.

He simply, at a crucial moment, did the opposite of what they had rehearsed.

My friend relays, “He had realized we were in danger of getting stale, and knew that if he shocked us on stage our reactions would be all the better.

He was right!!!

We all jumped like startled rabbits, just as if we’d been practicing the move for ages.

The audience loved it!!!

We all responded and the performance became electric.”

My friend concludes, “It wasn’t what we’d expected, but it was better than we’d dared to hope!!!”

That’s kind of the way it works with Jesus isn’t it; as we see in our Gospel Lesson for this morning!!!

Jesus is dealing with the fact that what He’s doing isn’t what people were expecting Him to do.

The trouble is, as in the illustration from my friend’s play, the other actors, so to speak aren’t necessarily getting the message.

And this must have been hard for Jesus to bear.

His own cousin and colleague, John the Baptist was having doubts.

“Had Jesus forgotten the script? Hadn’t He remembered what He was supposed to be doing?”

John was in prison.

King Herod had not taken kindly to John’s fiery preaching.

John had even denounced Herod for marrying his brother’s wife, and this, along with John’s announcement that God’s True King—was on the way—that Herod wasn’t the real king…

…well, it’s no wonder Herod put him in prison!

And now in prison, John was wondering about things.

He heard about what Jesus was doing, and it didn’t sound at all like the show he thought they’d rehearsed.

He was expecting Jesus to be a man of fire who would sweep through Israel like Elijah had dealt with the prophets of Baal.

And quite possibly, John looked eagerly forward to the day, not long now, when Jesus would confront Herod himself, topple him from his throne, become King in his place—and get His cousin out of prison!!!

But it seemed as though Jesus was working according to a different script altogether.

Jesus was going around befriending tax collectors and “sinners”.

And Jesus was getting quite a reputation—but not necessarily for doing what John had expected Him to do.

What was going on?

Had John been mistaken?

How difficult it must have been for John—looking at Jesus from behind prison bars!

If ever the word “free spirit” applied to anyone, it applied to John the Baptist.

Now the prison walls confined him.

John had been sure that when Jesus arrived, things would change.

He expected that evil and corrupt people would be confronted.

And he may have thought that all evil itself would be destroyed, burned up like chaff in a fire.

But from where John sat behind those prison walls, the chaff was still very much around.

Things hadn’t worked out the way John expected.

Was John frustrated?

Was he angry?

Was he bitter?

With our lack of information, it might be safest to guess that John was maybe a bit disappointed and confused.

While John languished in prison, can we blame John if, under these circumstances, he began to wonder if he had invested himself in the wrong cause?

Could we blame him if he worried that his life had been based on a mistake?

We know that John had been willing to accept Jesus as the One Who was coming…

…but John did have some questions.

Remember, he hadn’t been able to understand why the One Who would judge the whole world needed to be baptized.

And after John was put in prison, John’s disciples had asked Jesus why His disciples didn’t fast.

Was Jesus really the One?

The answer to this question really mattered to John.

Everything hung on this.

So, where do we find ourselves in this Advent season?

As we approach Christmas, how is our mood?

Do any questions or doubts plague us in the midst of holiday cheer?

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