In today’s reading we are going to be looking at John the Baptist. He was the one sent before Jesus to prepare the way. John probably had certain expectations and hopes for what would happen when Jesus finally stepped into the limelight. He was ecstatic when he baptized Jesus and received a direct sign from Heaven. But now he sits here in prison and Jesus isn’t doing what he expected.
John probably had the same expectation that Jesus’ disciples did. They all expected Him to overthrow the Romans and set up His government here on Earth. But Jesus wasn’t moving in that direction. He was out there healing the sick, preaching, and yes, even raising the dead. But where was the political maneuvering? Where was the leadership for the religious community? What was taking so long?
John’s disciples were faithfully reporting Jesus’ actions and miracles to John while he was held in Herod’s prison. It appears from our story that they were bringing the stories from the crowds who Jesus had helped to John. Fantastic as those reports were, they were not matching up with John’s expectations. John began to doubt what he had heard and seen. Was he so sure of who Jesus was before he baptized Him that his mind played tricks on him? The people Jesus was associating with certainly didn’t represent a future leader. Yes, they all needed to repent of their sins and be baptized, but after that Jesus should have moved on from them. John had stayed fiery during his preaching but Jesus seems to be soft instead. What is going on?!?
After hearing the latest report, John sends for his two most trusted disciples. John had to know for sure if Jesus was really the One that was promised. “Go ask Jesus if He is really the one we are supposed to be waiting for.”
When John’s disciples get to Jesus, they immediately carry out the instructions of John. “Jesus, John wants to know if You are the One we are waiting for.” According to Luke, Jesus doesn’t immediately answer their question. What He does instead is perform miracles right before their eyes. After some time, Jesus tells John’s disciples to go back to John and report what they have seen with their own eyes. Jesus listed for them some of the day’s miracles, as well as the day’s message. “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have the good news preached to them” (verse 22). In other words, you can’t argue with results. Jesus was definitely getting results!
Jesus’ last statement to John’s disciples is the most important point for me. Jesus says, “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (verse 23). This is where Jesus speaks directly to John’s expectations. “John, I know I’m not doing things how you thought they would happen. I’m doing things My way and God’s way. Don’t be offended or doubt because I don’t do things like you expected me to.”
John’s disciples leave behind Jesus and His group. They hurry back to share with John what they have learned. I hope this calmed his misgivings about Jesus for the rest of his life. He wouldn’t be there to watch helplessly as Jesus dies. He wouldn’t get to shout for joy with Jesus’ disciples when He finally rose from the grave. John would witness these events on the other side of eternity. I bet he was shouting then!
I don’t know about you, but I go through times like John did. I hear God tell me to do something and I jump in all excited to be doing His work. Then, after a while, it doesn’t seem to be going how I thought it should and I begin to question whether I heard Him in the first place. Was it my vanity? Did I misunderstand? Was it the devil tricking me? I wish I could receive as strong an answer as John did. He always answers in some way when I take the time to listen. Sometimes it comes through someone telling me how much the work I have been doing has touched them. Sometimes it’s simply a feeling of peace that comes from Him. And sometimes it’s a, “I’m glad you finally realized that wasn’t Me talking” kind of answer. That kind of answer should be followed up with an immediate cessation of activity and prayer for forgiveness. Not everything someone claims to be doing in God’s name is actually God’s work. It’s not easy telling the difference if you are not listening. But sometimes God tells to do something and it is only for a season or a specific purpose. Those times it is important to listen for His “enough” direction too. Those are often the hardest for me. I keep plugging away at whatever I believe it was that He has called me to do, sometimes long after His anointing and purpose are gone. Those require an “please forgive me for not listening” prayer too.
Father God, please forgive me for doubting You. Please forgive me for not listening too. Help me clearly know Your voice. My head is so full of noise most days. Help me distinguish Your plans and purposes in my life. Thank You Jesus that You didn’t rebuke John for his question, but answered it instead. You gave him proof positive and gentle correction. I’m grateful that You use these with me when I’m questioning too. Help me be able to sit still and listen to the answer, however You choose to send it. Please be especially clear when You tell me that I’m doing something outside of Your will. Forgive me for those times. Clean the ears of my heart to clearly hear Your voice. Thank You for the promise that I can know Your voice. Make it even more familiar than my own.