For the first few years of my ministry as a pastor, a person I truly consider a good friend would come up to me after every sermon and tell me, “Tyler, I think that was your best sermon yet!” A broad smile on their face, I took it in the vein it was intended, as encouragement.
But it was also a mild rebuke too wasn’t it? “Tyler, your previous sermons could have been better.” I take no offense. It was all true, no matter which way you look at it.
The beginning of Matthew chapter eleven records an encounter Jesus has with John The Baptist’s disciples. John is holed up in prison and so sends his disciples to do some reconnaissance. Jesus is not quite the Messiah he had imagined (me too, John); so they asked Jesus about this directly.
‘Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”‘
They go their way and then Jesus unpacks the incident for His own disciples because it is a significant waypoint on their journey to understanding who Jesus is.
And like my friend, he does it with both rebuke and honorific. He is a little surprised that John has not figured this out yet:
“Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
John has not yet entered the kingdom of heaven because Jesus is the key. You cannot enter unless you understand who Jesus is. Even for John, John who is first ‘among those born of women’. His role in redemptive history places him at the penultimate point; he is the K2 to Jesus Mt. Everest. But that all pales in comparison to a place in God’s kingdom.
“However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
So if you are celebrating the birth of Christ at this time of year, good for you. You are on the way to figuring this out. But let me include a rebuke like Jesus did. Don’t get distracted. You might get focused on trying to turn this holiday into something that suits your expectations. Why not instead allow it to be its own kind of celebration, one where discovering the wonder of Jesus’ identity is foremost?
Lord, push me or pull me in whatever direction you deem best.