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All was not well; prison life took its toll on John the Baptist. One of Jesus' strongest supporters was having his doubts.
Then the disciples of John reported to him concerning all these things. And John, calling two of his disciples, sent them to Jesus, saying, "Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?"
Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me."
When the messengers had departed, Jesus began to speak to the multitudes concerning John: "What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? A man clothed in soft garments? But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written: 'Behold, I send My messenger, who will prepare Your way.'"
Luke 7:18-27 NKJV, condensed
Jesus, Are You My Man?
When we last considered him, John the Baptist had been in his prime. Strong, courageous, fearless; fully convinced of his goal and mission in life. He was out in the desert preparing the way for the Lord. There were no doubts then. People viewed him as a prophet. Multitudes came from everywhere; they confessed their sins, repented, and were baptized in the Jordan River.
John created a revival atmosphere by calling people away from their daily concerns and turning their attention toward God. He switched the spiritual thermostat from cool to lukewarm to hot. Like a highway man, he worked on the foundation of the road upon which God would come. John spoke, people believed, and many hearts were made ready for their Messiah. A signpost in the wilderness, John pointed the way, saying, "I'm not the One, Jesus is."
When Jesus was baptized, some of John's disciples became Jesus' disciples and John gave them his blessing. John continued preaching and baptizing until, in one sudden blow, he was arrested and put into prison. His crime: speaking out against the sins of king Herod when he took his brother's wife as his own. Herod stopped John the Baptist in his tracks, and we have heard nothing more from him until now.
The effects of prison life must have been profound. John knew how to fulfill his life's purpose in the desert, but what was he to do in a prison cell! Formerly a powerful presence with people standing in awe of him; now he lived at the mercy of the prison guards and the whims of a volatile king. John had always known the freedom of the great outdoors. Take a wilderness man and put him in a hole in the ground where all he can feel is dark, damp filth; it's got to hurt. What sense did it make? John had been faithful and obedient to his calling, and look where it got him!
How long had he been jailed? Probably less than a year. But long enough to do a lot of thinking and realize his expectations were not being accomplished. His question, "Is Jesus the One . . .?" revealed doubt, disappointment and probably fears that he had been deluded. Jesus was not turning out to be the Messiah he had hoped for. Where was the redemption of Israel? And salvation from our enemies? Evil continued to reign. Rome was still in charge. Jesus had done nothing about it.
All those words about the coming of the kingdom of heaven remained unfulfilled. Under the stress of prison life, his faith faltered. He could not see the pieces fitting together. Everything remained the same; God's kingdom was nowhere in sight. And in this unfortunate condition, we discover how human John was.
Much to our benefit, the Bible does not gloss over the distress and doubts of its characters. We see John the Baptist, warts and all. And in the seeing, recognize ourselves. Jesus, are you the One I believed you to be? That's not just John's story, it's our story, too.
Jesus' response? Go back and tell John what you have heard and seen. Report on the good things that are happening. We read the list. The miracles of healing, even raising the dead. But Jesus saved the best for last. The love of God for the poor and humble is the greatest miracle of all. Who but God would have compassion and good news for the helpless, suffering ones who have no means to escape their bondage.
Happy are those who never lose their faith. Blessed is he who is not put off and offended by my words and deeds. How fortunate you are when you believe in God's kingdom even though you don't see it or understand it.
When questions hammer their way through my mind, faith seems such a narrow thread. The weakening cords stretch and jerk me up and down and all about. Perilously I slip, not knowing whether I want to hold on for the ride, or give up and fall away. O Love, that will not let me go, I thank You that when I do not believe in You, You still believe in me
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: Think of yourself as a road builder. What kind of road are you building? Through what terrain? To what destination?
Unfulfilled dreams. Unrealized expectations. Disappointments. Explain how these things strain your faith in God? Do you have to understand in order to believe?
Was Jesus the Messiah John believed him to be? Why couldn't John, from his prison cell, see it? What other questions might John have had on his mind?How do we know that Jesus is who he claimed to be--the Son of God, Messiah, and Savior of the world?
Do a timeline of your life, charting the high and low points when your faith was strong and when your confidence in God faltered. Is your chart balanced or lop-sided? What does that say to you? Did you ever feel forsaken by God? How did you recover from periods of doubt? Were miracles involved in any way? In what periods of your life were you most certain or uncertain of your beliefs?
What have you learned during your lifetime about faith and doubt? Would you say faith is a time of blessing and doubt is a time of grief? If you don't agree with that, make your own statement about faith and doubt.
When you are in a situation beyond your control or an environment not of your own choosing, are there ways you can still take charge of your own life? Is it possible to know blessedness and joy in such circumstances? If so, how?
Do you ever wonder why God allows evil to run rampant? What answers have you discovered?John spoke out against Herod's brazen, immoral behavior. Jesus didn't. Why?John thought evil would end with the coming of the Messiah. When do you think evil will be banished? In what ways was Jesus destroying evil and human suffering?
What do you think is (or would be) the greatest miracle?