A Reconstruction of a Message Delivered by PETER SIPPEL, Date Not Remembered, At Horsham Friends Meeting.
This is The Quaker Homiletics Online Anthology, Part Four: The 20th Century.
When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, "Are you the
one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" 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 cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor."
We will remember that earlier, when Jesus had submitted to John's baptism in the River Jordan,
John had recognized Jesus as the one who was to come after him, the one who would baptize
with fire instead of water. In Matthew 3:14 he told Jesus "I need to be baptized by you," and in
John 1:29b-30, he testified,
Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said,
"A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me."
We don't really know what caused this wavering. We do recall that John had been imprisoned by
Herod Antipas for, among other things, denouncing Herod's divorce and subsequent marriage to
his brother's wife Herodius. Possibly being in prison made him wonder about what he had been so
certain of before. I would expect that being put in jail was not one of the things he had
At any rate, John sends his disciples to Jesus to ask him the question, "Are you the one who was
to come, or should we expect someone else?" The question, I note, is very direct and
straightforward, almost a yes/no question, are you, or are you not, the one?
But take a look at how Jesus responds to the question:
"Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk,
those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is
preached to the poor."
The second half of the answer clearly refers to and quotes from the prophecy of Isaiah 35:
The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the
crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. The glory of Lebanon
will be given to it, the splendor of Carmel and Sharon; they will see the glory of the LORD, the
splendor of our God. Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those
with fearful hearts, "Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution he will come to save you." Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and
the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for
joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will
become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass
and reeds and papyrus will grow. And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of
Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked
fools will not go about on it. No lion will be there, nor will any ferocious beast get up on it; they
will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the LORD
will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness
and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.
But what I observe most is that Jesus did not give a direct answer. He did not say, "Yes I am,"
and he certainly did not say, "No I'm not;" instead, he told them, "Go back and report to John
what you hear and see." Implicit within this answer is that there were observable things that could
be seen and heard by those who were attentive to them. From Isaiah again, 40:28-31:
Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the
ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He
gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and
weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their
strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk
and not be faint.
It is very easy to look around us and see all of the bad things that are happening--various wars, pollution, corruption, forms of oppression, to name just a few. But we believe and need to remember as well that God is also still an active participant in his own universe, and the Lord is still present as "God with us," and still spiritually giving sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf. The question this text ultimately poses to us, I think, is what are we hearing, what are we seeing as the Spirit works within us?