Seward United Methodist Church
Saturday, November 17, 2018
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Patient Faith

James 5:7-10 and Matthew 11:2-12

 In the Epistle of James, God calls us to be patient.  We all know that patience is a virtue.  But it seems we no longer live in a society that values patience.  We are a fast-food, hi-speed internet, next-day delivery society.  We get frustrated when the web page takes three seconds to load!  

 James also reminds us not to grumble.  Well, we certainly are tempted to grumble when we get impatient.  Just listen to people waiting in line some time.  Or maybe I should say, listen to me waiting in line.  I always seem to be the guy who gets in the slowest line at the store.  If you’re ever going to check out, don’t get in line behind me.  I’m in the line with the lady with 45 coupons or the guy who wants to argue about the price of every other item in the cart.  

 And then James really goes over the edge and tells us to be patient in suffering!  Now, he’s gone too far.  When we’re suffering, we want instant relief.  We want the pain medicine that starts working in five minutes.  And if we could find one that works in four minutes, we’d buy that one instead!  

 But take courage, James says, the coming of the Lord is near.  And look at the examples of the prophets who endured suffering patiently.  Prophets like John the Baptist, whom we heard about in Matthew 11.  

 Matthew 11 begins with John the Baptist in prison now.  He got in hot water for speaking the truth to someone in a powerful position.  It was Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee and Perea, who had committed adultery with his brother’s wife, then divorced his own wife to marry her.  Herod Antipas, and his new wife Herodias, didn’t think much of criticism from a prophet.  So John, the prophet who loved the wide open spaces of the wilderness, found himself imprisoned in a fortress, cut off from the open sky.  

 Doubt was beginning to creep in.  Earlier he had pointed out Jesus and proclaimed him to be the long-awaited Messiah.  But now, well, now he was starting to wonder.  He sent word through his disciples to inquire of Jesus:  Are you really the one we’ve been waiting for, or should we look for someone else?  

 Perhaps it was just the demoralization of being in prison.  It’s always easy to lose courage in the face of opposition or persecution.  Maybe it was because Jesus didn’t seem to have the same standards John did.  John was most likely a member of a small

sect called the Essenes who believed in strict adherence to the laws of purity.  And Jesus did not have the same ideas about ritual as the Essenes.  Or perhaps it was because John preached a message of coming judgment, and so he thought Jesus would bring judgment.  And Jesus wasn’t doing that.  

 Jesus’ answer was, “Look at what I am doing.”  The proof was in what Jesus was doing, not just what he was saying.  Talk is cheap.  Anyone can say they’re going to change the world, but actually to do it is much more difficult.  

 Look at what I’m doing:  The blind see, lame walk, lepers are cured, the deaf hear, dead are raised, and good news is preached to the poor.  All of these signs were things that the prophet Isaiah had said would accompany the Messianic age.  

 An interesting fact is that in those passages from Isaiah, judgment was also mentioned, but Jesus doesn’t bring that up.  He only mentions the blessings.  It seems that for the time being, the blessings of the Messianic age are plain, but the judgments are hidden.  For now.  

 “Blessed are those who do not turn away because of me.”  The world is very often offended by the truth of God.  I think this is Jesus’ not-so-subtle warning to John, and to us as well:  Don’t fall away.  Evaluate your expectations of God in the light of Jesus, not Jesus in the light of your expectations.  

 That was the mistake so many made.  So many expected Messiah to be a military figure, a conqueror, one who would bring in a kingdom on earth.  And that was not Jesus’ mission.  If Jesus didn’t fit the Messiah mold, they should have remade the mold instead of rejecting Jesus. 

 Jesus goes on to defend John:  “What did you go out there to see?  A reed shaken by the wind?”  A reed shaken by the wind was a picture of a weak person who was always swayed this way or that way by the opinions of the world.  A prophet had to be a person of great courage who would not change the message to fit with the current opinions of the world.  The word of God almost always meets resistance. 

“A man dressed in fine clothes?  No, those in fine clothes live in palaces.”  Genuine prophets were seldom welcomed into the halls of power and influence because their messages contradicted the worldly ways of thinking that prevail in those places. 

Most of the Old Testament prophets, like John, were forced outside of polite society into places like the wilderness. 

John was a prophet, and that meant something.  Most Jews believed prophecy had ceased after Malachi, some 400 years earlier.  But they were open to the idea that it could happen again in the Messianic era.  

And John was more than just a prophet.  He was given the unique opportunity to be the herald who announced the coming of the Lord.  “Of those born of women,” that is, of human beings, “none is greater than he.”  

But even the least in the Kingdom of God, that is those born of God, is greater than he.  That’s not to demean John in any way, but rather to elevate the Kingdom of God and those who know it.  We know Jesus in a way that John did not.  We know the full measure of God’s love revealed through Jesus’ death on the cross.  We know Jesus as a risen and eternal Savior.  

Considering John’s place in the history of salvation, it shouldn’t be a surprise that he was mistaken about Jesus.  And given what happened to him, it’s no surprise that he needed to be encouraged.  

We all need patience if our faith is going to endure.  It’s easy to be faithful in the short term, but not the long term.  How will our faith stand up to times of suffering or difficulty?  Do we trust God’s ways to work in the long term?  What if we encounter resistance or persecution from the world?

Jesus said that violent men attack the Kingdom.  I recently read an article about the persecution of Christians.  Those who have looked into it have found that there has been more persecution of Christians in the last century than in any other century of Church history.  We think of persecution as something that happened in the first few centuries of the Church, but there’s more today than there was then.  They found that 80% of all religious discrimination worldwide today is aimed at Christians.  A believer in Jesus Christ is martyred for their faith every five minutes somewhere in the world today, 100,000 a year.  

We’re often unaware of this because when we think about Christians being persecuted, we often go to the ways that Christianity has been increasingly marginalized in our society.  I’ve heard people say that it’s persecution of Christians to say “happy

holidays” instead of “merry Christmas.”  That hardly seems like something to quibble about when churches are being burned or bombed in places like Iraq, India, Burma, Nigeria, and North Korea, which are among the hotspots of persecution today.  

Patience is most certainly needed in the face of persecution, but we all need patience to stay faithful to Christ.  

Let’s talk about one last thing before we finish.

James lifts up the farmer as an example of patience.  He waits patiently for the rains in the spring and fall.  He can’t make the rain come; he can only wait for them.  But patience is not the same thing as idleness.  The farmer has work to do while he waits for the rain.

And we have work to do while we wait for Christ to return!  There is a world that needs to hear a message of hope!  There are blind who need to see; lame who need to walk, deaf who need to hear, dead who need to receive new life, and poor who need to hear a message of good news!  

Some have wondered if maybe John was struggling so much because he was isolated from the outside world.  He was stuck in a prison cell, with nothing to do except think about his own miserable situation.  It’s easy to become disheartened when we focus on ourselves and our own problems.  

If we spend too much time thinking about ourselves, we miss the good things God is doing all around us.  He is always at work, and he wants us to join him in his work.  But we can only join him if we take our attention off of ourselves.  

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