There’s somethin’ happenin’ here;
What it is ain’t exactly clear.
There’s a man with a gun over there,
Tellin’ me I got to beware.
(I think it’s time we)
Stop, children, what’s that sound?
Everybody look! What’s goin’ down?

This song was written by Stephen Sills of the folk group Buffalo Springfield on December 5, 1966, which happened to be my thirtieth birthday. I remember first hearing it as a young Pastor in Sharon, Massachusetts, and realizing that it caught the spirit of the growing Anti-Vietnam War Movement. I had a feeling at my core that vibrated with its call to recognize that something new and powerful was in the air.

I had somewhat the same feeling when I recently reread Matthew, Chapter 11: the response of Jesus when some followers of the imprisoned John the Baptist questioned him about who he was and what he was trying to do:

2When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”  

John knew something was happening here. He could feel it in his own ministry, and he wondered whether Jesus might be continuing and building on this same spiritual movement.

Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear [“Stop; what’s that sound?”] and see [“Everybody look what’s goin’ down.”]: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, those with a skin disease 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.”

As evidence that something new was indeed happening, Jesus recounted his own miracles and his Gospel preaching to the poor. Then he asked them about how they were responding to the new thing they could see was happening through John’s ministry:

7“What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What, then, did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces.” 

Did you come out to see the show: Whether John would be a failure as a spiritual leader (“a reed shaken by the wind”) or a great success (“someone dressed in soft robes”)?

What, then, did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.  

Jesus went on to connect John the Baptist’s ministry, as well as Jesus’ own ministry, with Old Testament visions going back to the Prophet Elijah and the promise of the Messiah to come:

 10 This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ 11 “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.

At this point, Jesus said something enigmatic — about violence and force. Just as Stephen Sills seemed to be aware of Vietnam War gunfire in the background of his singing (“There’s a man with a gun over there.”), Jesus was envisioning epic spiritual battles behind the everyday dramas of their lives:

12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and violent people take it by force. 

Not everyone will hear the sound; some people are tone deaf, preoccupied with their own ideas about the meaning of life:

15 Let anyone with ears listen! 16 “What will I compare to this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to one another, 17 ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.18 “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; 19 the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”

When Jesus is present, whether in the First Century or the Twenty-First, something new is in the air. Those of us who have been blessed with the ability to hear and see the new thing that’s happening will know we’ve come in contact with a powerful wave of the future, described by Jesus as the Kingdom of Heaven.

Stop, children, what’s that sound?
Everybody look! What’s goin’ down?

– – Pastor George Van Alstine