Authentic Messiah

December 16, 2007


Matthew 11:2-11

(2) Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples (3) and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?" (4) And Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: (5) the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. (6) And blessed is the one who is not offended by me." (7) As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: "What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? (8) What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses. (9) What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. (10) This is he of whom it is written, "'Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.' (11) Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”



Coffee is an important commodity. It is our second most important import, second only to oil. Americans drink 2.3 billion pounds of the stuff a year. [Buoye, Hannah. “The contents of your cup: Coffee, CAN and a commodity’s crisis.” City on a Hill Press, May 31, 2007.] I am responsible for about half that. No, that is a joke. But there was a time when I worked the third shift and was trying to get through college that I drink tons of coffee and some of it was so strong that iron would float in it. Thankfully that was long ago.

The point is, at 2.3 billion pounds a year, coffee is serious stuff, and thus a federation of coffee growers in Colombia is thinking seriously about what to do with Juan Valdez. You have surely seen Juan Valdez on television. He has been around since 1959. He is the fictional coffee grower who promotes “100 percent Colombian coffee.”

Problem is, Juan is getting old. Fast Company magazine [Breen, Bill. “Who do you love?” Fast Company, May 2007, 82-89.] reports that he has become a bit of a joke, with recent ads showing him surfing with his faithful mule Conchita. Silly stuff. The National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia saw this, and was close to sending him off to the old folks’ home for advertising icons.

Then a consultant from Portland, Oregon, advised them to hold on to Juan. “Juan Valdez taps into a fundamental human truth. The things we savor the most are the hardest earned.” Maybe Juan still has value, as someone who is dedicated to the hard work of raising coffee by hand.

So the federation of coffee growers decided to introduce a new, younger Juan, instead of retiring him. They learned that people emotionally connect with Juan because he seems authentic. Now it strikes me as comical that people think a fictional coffee grower is authentic, but this is America, and coffee federations are not alone in seeing the appeal of authenticity. Companies everywhere realize that consumers gravitate toward brands that appear to be true and genuine.

Starbucks is popular because it imitates authentic Italian espresso bars. Organic foods are flying off the shelves because consumers sense that they are connected to farming practices that are healthy and good. So authenticity is hot. But how do you tell the difference between what is “really real” and what is “fake real”?

Well, we don’t do a very good job at this. Hence our tendency to ascribe authenticity to a fictional coffee grower, Juan Valdez. And many people consider the Daily Show With Jon Stewart to be authentic because it declares upfront that it is fake. So what is really real? What is really authentic?

This is the issue John the Baptist raised while locked up in prison for offending King Herod. John sent his disciples to Jesus, and they asked him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” (Matthew 11:3). John needed to know if Jesus was a really real messiah.

Palestine had lots of fake real messiahs. A man named Judas of Galilee led a bloody revolt against a Roman census in the year 6. Simon was a slave of Herod who became a messianic figure when he rebelled in the year 4. Theudus attempted a revolt against the Romans in the 40s, and was killed.

They were fake messiahs, which is why John asked, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” The answer Jesus gives is fascinating. He doesn’t say “yes” or “no.” Instead he suggests that John’s disciples look around and make up their own minds. “Go and tell John what you hear and see,” says Jesus: “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me” (vv. 4-6).

Look at what I am doing, Jesus says, then decide for yourself whether I am a really real. This is like a coffee federation saying, “Don’t listen to Juan Valdez. Just drink the coffee.” Or a car company saying, “Ignore our ads. Just drive the car.” There is a basic principle here. Authenticity is found in actions, not words. There is an old saying, “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck, you can be reasonably sure it is in fact a duck.”

Now you might ask why Jesus didn’t just say, “Yes, I am the Messiah.” Because he knew that the actions of the messiah should match the identity of the messiah, so he said “If I heal like messiah and raise the dead like messiah and help the poor like messiah, then you can be reasonably sure that I am the Messiah.”

Now in the world of modern advertising people are seldom confident in the performance of their product. That is why they hit us with the same ad over and over and over, hoping to convince us by repetition.

But Jesus did not have that problem. Jesus wasn’t struggling with an “actions-matching-words” problem. The blind were receiving their sight. The lame were walking. The lepers were being cleansed, such as the one who knelt before Jesus and begged, “Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean” (8:2). The deaf were regaining their hearing. The dead were being raised, such Lazarus, as we learned in our Wednesday Bible Study this week. The poor were having good news preached to them, in words such as, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20). Jesus is not just talking the talk; he’s walking the walk. His actions prove that he is really real. He is the Authentic Messiah.

Jesus then gives credit to John the Baptist, who is also authentic. “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at?” he asks the crowd. “Someone dressed in soft robes?” Jesus is mocking those who hiked into the wilderness to hear the preaching of John the Baptist, only to be offended by his clothing of camel’s hair, his leather belt, and his locust-and-wild-honey diet. “Look,” says Jesus, “those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces” (Matthew 11:7-8).

But John is not a royal palace advisor; John is a prophet and more than a prophet. Jesus says, he is “the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you’” (v. 10). John is the messenger foretold by the Old Testament prophet Malachi, the one who will prepare the way for the Authentic Messiah

But notice the surprising comment that Jesus makes next. “Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11). John is great, but those who follow him will be even greater. Jesus predicts that he will have some Authentic Disciples who will surpass even John the Baptist in their faithfulness and effectiveness.

So what does it take to be an Authentic Disciple of an Authentic Messiah? According to Fast Company, authenticity comes from a sense of place, a larger purpose, a strong point of view and integrity. Let’s think about those things a little.

First, a sense of place. If you want to drink authentic champagne, then you have to open a bottle from the Champagne region of France. Anything else is just sparkling wine. If you want to be an Authentic Disciple of Jesus, you have to know the story of Bethlehem and Nazareth, Judea and Galilee. Jesus the Messiah did his work in a particular place, and unless we know the story of that place we cannot be his true followers.

Second, authenticity demands a larger purpose. Whole Foods Market is the world’s largest retailer of natural and organic foods, and part of its popularity comes from the sense that its profit-making is a by product of a larger purpose — to “change the way the world eats.” If you want to be an Authentic Disciple, you have to look beyond your own interests and focus on the interests of Jesus. “Those who want to save their life will lose it,” says Jesus to his disciples, “and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (16:25).

Thirdly, authenticity has a strong point of view. A couple of weeks ago, a group from the church went up to the Billy Graham Library in Charlotte. I have a minor qubble with the name of the place. It is not a library. It is a museum. But that is a minor point. The Billy Graham Library is a great visual presentation of a biography of Billy Graham. I loved it. I loved the old films of the first Crusades and the memorabilia they have on display.

And Billy Graham certainly have authenticity. The American public trusts and admires him. Always has. Part of that admiration is due to his simple, but strong point of view: Jesus saves. There’s never been any doubt as to the core content of Billy’s evangelistic curriculum.

Likewise, if we want to be Authentic Disciples, we will have a strong point of view about Jesus as our Lord and Savior and aboujt doing the works of Jesus. “Let your light shine before others,” says Jesus to his followers, “so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (5:16). If you want to be an Authentic Disciple, you are challenged to create a match between your talk and your walk.

And Fourthly, authenticity requires integrity. one thing you must say of Billy Graham, he has authenticity in a field where authenticity is hard to find.

After the Jim and Tammy Baker and Jimmy Swaggert scandals of the 1980’s, it seems that one Televangelist after another has been plagued with sexual and financial scandals, so much so that it is commonly said among Christians that the church does not mix well with TV. Yet there has never been even a hint of scandal associated with Billy Graham. That is authenticity.

John Baptist was an authentic messenger. Jesus was and is an authentic savior. What are we? Does our word match our deed. Don’t be like a preacher friend of mine. He said to me, “I don’t have any clergy stickers or other “Christian” symbols anywhere on my car, because I know how I drive. I don’t want people looking at the way I drive and saying to themselves “That guy’s a pastor? No way am I going to his church.”

Now he was partly joking. He is actually a very authentic Christian. He proves his authenticity by his concern about his actions reflecting his beliefs. What about your authenticity? What do your deeds say about you?

Now we don’t want to overdo this. Actions can never prove to other people that you are a Christian, because people looking at your actions do not see your motives. You may do good things for the wrong reasons. No one can look at your actions and determine your salvation. That is why no person can ever judge another person’s salvation--Only God knows that.

But having said that, we must add that Christians try to do the kind of works Christ would approve of. We are not Christ. We are still sinners. We are not God. We do not do miracles. But we do imitate our lord, and to some extent, what we believe, what we really believe, shows in what we do. What are you doing? Does your doing reflect what you are?


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