“Why do you keep us in suspense,” the crowd asked Jesus. “Tell us plainly if you are the Messiah.” Words are powerful. God used words to create everything that is seen and unseen. The letter of James says, “How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire . . . with it we bless the Lord and father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God.” Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew, “Let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no’.” Words matter because it allows thought to be reality. Words give voice and meaning to the world around us. Words build up and tear down. Words can create emotion. For example, have you heard the shortest horror story ever written? “Why do you keep us in suspense?” they ask. Well, try opening a conversation like this:
The last human being on earth sat in a room alone. There was a knock at the door . . . (Knock by Frederic Brown).
“Why do you keep us in suspense? Tell us plainly if you are the Messiah.” This would have been a grand opportunity for Jesus to say, “Yes, I am the Messiah.” The Gospel of John may have been much shorter. Maybe the cross could have been avoided. Maybe this story would have ended differently. In a way, Jesus does say, “Yes.” He answers, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me.” As powerful as words are, words need help. Words are not enough. For example, “Follow me and the world will be at peace,” sounds beautiful should Jesus say it. It sounds quite different coming from the mouth of Lex Luthor. Words are powerful, but the powers they assume depend on the integrity of the speaker. “Tell us plainly,” they ask. Jesus said, “I have told you, but you did not believe.” The works I do, the fruit I bear, the life I live, the death I will die, and the life I will live forever more is proof that I am the savior.
Have you ever tried to solve a mystery and the answer was staring you in the face? Maybe your looking for your sunglasses and they are on your head, or your daughter drops her pacifier and you are certain it was sucked into the bowels of the earth, only to find that you have it in your hand? When Isabelle first started talking, she would often use the word, “gradiums,” and it took us forever to figure out what it meant. I would come home from the store and she would ask me, “Did you get some gradiums?” Of course, when I don’t understand what my daughter is saying, I usually answer, “no” because I never want to unknowingly agree to something I shouldn’t. Christie or I would be cooking dinner and she would come up and ask, “Can I help with gradiums?” We would play in the living room and she would say, “Let me get gradiums,” and I thought, “Oh, good, I’ll be able to finally find out what gradiums are,” but she would come back with some blocks, play-dough, and a my little pony, you know, and indiscernible pattern of objects. I found myself saying, “Child, why do you hold me in suspense? Tell me plainly what a gradium is.” Then one day I saw her playing in her room and she was pretending to cook. She said to herself, “Let me get gradiums,” and then she would pretend to be adding ingredients to what she was cooking. Gradiums = ingredients. Mystery solved, and really, it was staring us in the face the whole time. You get ingredients at the store. You use ingredients when preparing a meal. You gather a variety of items to use as ingredients. I had to see her actions. I had to take notice of what she was doing to know what she was saying. Over time, by playing with her and reading with her and caring for her, the words became real. I now knew what she was saying. They ask Jesus “Tell us plainly if you are the Messiah,” but their understanding of the Messiah was not who Jesus was. They thought the Messiah was an earthly king who would establish an earthly kingdom like David. In a way Jesus can’t say “yes” or “no,” because they don’t understand the question. When Isabelle asked me, “Can I help with the gradiums,” I can’t answer because I don’t know what she means. “Are the you the Messiah, tell us plainly,” well, follow me, spend time with me, learn how to love as I love and serve and I serve, and you will discover the answer to your questions.
It’s almost funny that they are asking Jesus to tell them plainly if he is the Messiah when he is offering them a sign right under their noses. “At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.” The festival of Dedication is what we commonly call, “Hannukah.” It is a celebration remembering the cleansing of the Temple after the Jews defeated Antiochus Epiphanees about 150 or so years before Jesus was born. When the priests came to rededicate the altar, they found only a day’s worth of oil in the lamp, yet the light remained lit for eight days. Jesus is walking about the Temple during the festival in which Jews remember the miracle of light. Had this crowd at the Temple been with Jesus in John 8, they would have heard him say, “I am the light of the world.” There were eight miraculous days of light. If the crowd began to follow they would have seen the Risen Lord on the eighth day of creation. Jesus is walking about the Temple. You see, the Temple is the place where God dwells. To end the conversation, Jesus says, “The Father and I are one,” and this is exactly what Jesus is showing by dedicating the temple with his very person. In other words, Jesus is the Temple, for it was destroyed and rebuilt in three days.
Jesus, the Temple, the place where God dwells is walking about dedicating the Temple with his presence. They see Jesus doing this and it doesn’t register with them. “Tell us plainly.” So Jesus says,” My sheep hear my voice,” which is another way of saying, “You’re not listening! I can’t tell you plainly if you aren’t listening!” My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.
Now, listen, friends. Let us take time to hear the good news. My sheep hear my voice . . . the good news here is that Jesus is calling. Our faith begins not with our own effort or our ability to have it together. The gift of faith begins with God. It begins with God calling out to us through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. If you want to be Methodist about it, it is Prevenient Grace. More than that, Jesus says, “I know them.” I’ve heard someone say that the true mark of friendship is for someone to know you really well . . . and still love you. Jesus knows us and chose to die and be raised for us anyway. Again, if you want to be Methodist about it, this is Justifying Grace. Not only does God call out to us, not only did Christ die and was raised for us, God has offered the power of the Holy Spirit, so that we might follow. This is not an eternal game of Marco Polo. The Holy Spirit guides us in finding the shepherd, and once we’ve found the shepherd, we realize that Jesus had been with us all the time. “Why do you keep us in suspense?” is a funny thing to say once you realize that Jesus was with you the whole time. Jesus is calling because he knows you. Follow him into a new and wonderful and radical life. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.