18The disciples of John reported all these things to him. So John summoned two of his disciples 19and sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 20When the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’” 21Jesus had just then cured many people of diseases, plagues, and evil spirits, and had given sight to many who were blind. 22And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. 23And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” 24When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? 25What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who put on fine clothing and live in luxury are in royal palaces. 26What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 27This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ 28I tell you, among those born of women no one is greater than John; yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
John, from his prison cell, sends disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Although Luke links the births of John and Jesus in his opening chapters, in Luke, John has not previously declared that Jesus is the Messiah. In Luke, Jesus begins his ministry after John has been put into prison by Herod. But even in prison, John is hearing about all the things that Jesus is doing, and so he sends to ask – are you the Messiah, or shall we keep searching?
John is seen by all the gospels as the fulfillment of the prophecies, the one crying out in the wilderness (Isaiah), the prophet Elijah who comes before the Lord (Malachi 4:5). John recognizes this as his role – to prepare the way for the Lord. Now, as he nears death, he needs to know if his life-work is complete. And so, he sends to ask.
And Jesus replies, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. 23And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” Luke has told us all these things – the passages just preceding have demonstrated Jesus’ authority to heal and to raise the dead. Here, Jesus refers back to Isaiah’s description of the Messiah, the description with which he opened his ministry in Nazareth, saying “today, these scriptures are fulfilled.” This is the program of his ministry – the path he takes.
The question is not whether or not Jesus is doing these things – clearly, there are many eye-witnesses to what he is doing. The question is, are these things what God’s Messiah does? Does he spend time with the poor, rather than making inroads with the rich and powerful? Does he teach people to love their enemies rather than standing up and facing aggressors? Does he care more for God than for the human institutions? Does he truly wander around the country healing the sick, one at a time, when he could be building an army? What kind of kingdom is this that he intends to form? Who is this Messiah? Who is he to us?
If John claims Jesus as the Messiah, he accepts him on faith, and through faith enters a new kingdom. John represents the old – the people of Israel as God’s chosen ones, the first covenant, the temple centered faith; but Jesus represents a new Kingdom; in him God is doing a new thing. This is the One for whom John has waited, the One whose way he prepared; but he is different from the Messiah anyone expected. It is a new Kingdom, and in this kingdom, even though John was the greatest of prophets, he is least.