Jesus has just finished sending His disciples out into the field. He didn’t simply delegate the tasks to His disciples and take a much deserved vacation, but continued on teaching and preaching in their absence. There was still much work to do. Jesus is continuing on without His twelve closest disciples but I’m certain He is not alone. He still has other followers with Him as well as continues to draw large crowds wherever He goes.
John the Baptist has been in prison for some time now. While in prison John has had some time to think. John and Jesus were cousins. We don’t know how much time they spent together during their early years but I’m assuming they were at least together during religious celebration from time to time. During the first two years of Jesus’ life I believe they lived about a day’s journey apart. But after Joseph fled to Egypt and later returned to Nazareth there was probably little interaction between the two. John knew who Jesus was when He came to be baptized though. I don’t know if this was because of personal interaction or divine revelation, but John knew of Jesus’ important role and recognized Him on sight. John had further confirmation of Jesus as the Messiah immediately following His baptism.
All this though was little comfort for the man John while sitting in prison. John had heard of the miracles Jesus had been doing in His travels. I don’t know if the reports John heard were through his disciples, other prisoners, the guards, or people who could be heard as they passed by in the streets. Regardless of the source, these accounts were nothing less than amazing! But John was supposed to be a vital part of bringing the people of Israel to repentance, so why was he stuck in a prison cell waiting whatever whim should take Herod that day? Why wasn’t Jesus doing one of His miracles to get John out of this predicament? Why wasn’t Jesus even visiting him!?! Could it be that John had got it wrong all along? Satan is very good at planting doubt during times of uncertainty and desperation.
John can’t take it any longer! He has to know for sure, so he sends his faithful disciples to Jesus to ask for His assurance. Was he hoping Jesus would respond by going with his disciples to see John personally? Was he praying Jesus would get him out of prison? I can just imagine John in his cell. Pacing back and forth to the length of his chains asking God, “What did I do wrong? I believed I was doing exactly what You told me to do. So why did I wind up here? Please get me out of here!” I can also feel John’s heart as he interprets his continued time in prison as God’s silence.
When John’s disciples approach Jesus, He doesn’t rush to John’s aid with them. Nor does He reprimand John for asking such a question. He simply tells John’s disciples to go back and report ALL that they see and hear. John’s disciples brought back a firsthand account of Jesus’ actions. When they shared their observations with John did it strengthen him? Did God send him supernatural peace for the rest of the time he was in prison? Were John’s last days filled with praise or fear? I’m praying for the first one. John wasn’t the first prophet of God who doubted his circumstances. God dealt with Elijah’s doubt, so providing John that same certainty should have been easy.
After John’s disciples leave, Jesus addresses the crowd that was with Him when John’s envoys came. They knew who John the Baptist was. Many of them had witnessed his ministry first hand. Many more were still skeptics of both Jesus and John’s ministries. Listening to Jesus’ tone with them leads me to believe their main complaint was the behavior of both men. Jesus called them to account for their preconceived notions and their judgmental attitude. John and Jesus were not living up to their expectations of how God would rescue Israel or what their long awaited Messiah would be like. They wanted a conquering hero and they got a sacrificial servant.
Jesus states that since John the Baptist arrived on the scene until that day, the spiritual war between Heaven and Hell has reached a fever pitch. Satan was doing everything imaginable to stop Jesus’ redemptive work, from trying to kill Him in the cradle to trying to trap Him through the religious leaders. NONE of Satan’s schemes were working! Satan knew his time was short so he was pulling out all the stops.
Jesus says that John the Baptist was more than a prophet. John was the forerunner for Jesus, the spirit of Elijah, and the final prophet to come under the covenant of the law. He was the greatest born of woman. But in the new covenant Jesus was bringing, those born of spirit would surpass John. This wasn’t because John had no part in God’s Kingdom, but because the path into that Kingdom would be radically altered. Faith and grace would create the new path. These would provide for a spiritual birth previously impossible under the law. Adherence to the law and the required sacrifices never resulted in new life. It simply covered up the death resulting from sin. Were those “grandfathered” into Heaven from under the covenant still carrying that layer upon layer of sacrificial offerings over their dead spirits? In Heaven would God address all that layering with new life for them too? Those who came after Jesus’ sacrifice would not have that layering, but would be given new life at the time of their new beginning with Jesus.
Father God, thank You for not doing the expected. I feel for John the Baptist as he sat there in prison wondering. I trust that You cared for him as You cared for all Your prophets. None of them had easy lives either. I wonder if this thought entered into John’s mind as he waited.
Thank You for the better way You made. I KNOW I would fail to live up to the standards of Your law. The layering of sacrificial blood over my sins would probably double my size. It makes me think of a house that has a flaw that is repainted every time the flaw starts showing through. The paint eventually gets so thick that all detail is completely lost. The only way to restore it after that is to remove ALL the paint along with the original damaged sections. By that time the entire outside may have to be replaced, as it too has suffered the effects of layer upon layer of paint. Hopefully in just covering the damage, the growth or imperfection hasn’t spread inward and weakened the original structure too.
Jesus’ blood doesn’t cover our sins but removes them permanently. You also go after the root of that sin through Your Holy Spirit. Thank You for Your healing work in that area of my life. Without Your work I would forever be committing those same sins. Forgive me God for when it takes more than one washing from the same sin. Thank You for Your grace and new life. Thank You that You don’t require me to earn a place with You. Thank You for the assurance, through Your word, that Jesus IS the one and only Messiah You promised. Thank You that He came for more than just Israel. I’m so sorry they didn’t listen, but I’m so glad that opened the door for our relationship. Remind me daily of how privileged I am to be Your child and how special our relationship is to You. Thank You for loving me. I DO NOT deserve it. But I whole heartedly accept it!