Summary: By comparing the lives of John the Baptist and Dietrich Bonhoeffer I show that God does not despise our questions and doubts; He uses them to and make us whole.



MATTHEW 11:2-11

Big idea: God does not despise our questions and doubts; He uses them to and make us whole.

2 When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples 3 to ask him, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" 4 Jesus replied, "Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. 6 Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me." 7 As John's disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: "What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 8 If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings' palaces. 9 Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written: " 'I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.' 11 I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

John the Baptist was a man’s man. He was filled with passion and determination. He was obsessed, maybe even possessed, by a spirit of justice. His presence captivated your attention and his words demanded your consideration. It has been said of John that he was “incapable of seeing evil without rebuking it. He spoke too fearlessly and too definitely for his own safety” (Wm. Barclay, the Gospel of Matthew).

John’s prophetic voice and in-your-face demeanor landed him in prison and eventually cost him his head. He was executed at the command of Herod.


Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born on February 4, 1906, in Breslau, Germany. He was raised in a comfortable home, was well educated and wrote his dissertation at the end of three years at the University of Berlin (1924-1927) where he was awarded his doctorate with honors. We became a professor at Berlin University and a parish priest in various assignments.

His upbringing and his demeanor could not be more contrasting to John the Baptist’s and yet they had more in common than we might discover at first glance. You see, Bonhoeffer, like The Baptist, proved incapable of “not rebuking evil.” He, too, had a deep conviction regarding justice and the will of God; he, too, was unable to compromise. Neither was “a reed shaken by the wind.” Bonhoeffer's opposition to the National Socialism of Nazi Germany was founded upon his faith and made him a leader, along with Karl Barth, in the anti-Nazi Confessing Church of Germany. He was an advocate on behalf of the Jews. It was his efforts to help a group of Jews escape to Switzerland that led to his arrest and imprisonment in the spring 1943. He was hanged in the concentration camp at Flossenburg on April 9, 1945 specifically because of his faith and support of the Protestant resistance movement.

John the Baptist wore camel’s hair, kept to a strict and unusual diet, spoke brashly and lived on the outskirts of society. Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived a life of prestige and enlightenment. He wore the clothing of clergy, dined with the elite, and spoke the language of the educated. But both men had an unswerving commitment to God and desired to see His “kingdom come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Both men were “incapable of seeing evil without rebuking it.” Both men “spoke too fearlessly and too definitely for their own safety.” Both men were executed for their faith.

Now if we are not careful we will idealize men such as this. We will think there are no chinks in their armor. Last week in our Advent text from Matthew 3:1-12, we listened to the bold declarations and demands of The Baptist and there was not a hint of fear or doubt in what he said. In a similar manner, Bonhoeffer never compromised on his rejection of the evils of Nazi Socialism and one would think from reading his writings that he was always the man of conviction and strength.

But is either picture accurate? Were there no weaknesses in their convictions?

There is a small piece written by Bonhoeffer titled, “Who Am I?” It does not get as much attention as his book, “The Cost of Discipleship” but it may be just as significant. I want you to hear him morning.

Who Am I?

by Deitrich Bonhoeffer

Who am I? They often tell me

I stepped from my cell’s confinement

Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,

Like a Squire from his country house.

Who am I? They often tell me

I used to speak to my warders

Freely and friendly and clearly,

As though it were mine to command.

Who am I? They also tell me

I bore the days of misfortune

Equably, smilingly, proudly,

like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really that which other men tell of?

Or am I only what I myself know of myself?

Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,

Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat,

Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,

Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,

Tossing in expectations of great events,

Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,

Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,

Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all.

Who am I? This or the other?

Am I one person today and tomorrow another?

Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,

And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling?

Or is something within me still like a beaten army

Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.

Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!

As we read last week, John the Baptist saw the Messiah coming in Spirit and fire to exercise judgment. John saw him coming in the fashion of a swashbuckler; His advent was to be dramatic to say the least. I can see John sitting in a jail cell reviewing how things have developed. I can imagine him thinking that it was not he who was supposed to be in the cell but, rather, the Roman powers of evil. I can imagine him thinking that his expectations of the “messiah” have never materialized. And he asks, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?"

I can see Dietrich Bonhoeffer sitting in cell #92 thinking about how things have developed. I can imagine him thinking that it was not he who was supposed to be in the cell but, rather, the Nazi powers of evil. I can imagine him thinking that his expectations of the “Confessing Church of Jesus Christ” have never materialized. Certainly Bonhoeffer anticipated that he would live to see justice prevail in the overthrow of the Nazi regime. And he asks, “Who am I? This or the other? Am I one person today and tomorrow another?”

I am so thankful for these men’s doubts … for their questions! It gives me a peek inside the interior lives of great men of faith and conviction. It helps me to see that faith and questions are not incompatible and do not disqualify us from God’s service … or His Kingdom.


Today’s theme is “A Hopeful Confirmation.” Now some might think that “hope” and “confirmation” are juxtaposed to each other. Some might think the two cannot co-exist. But I think Matthew 11 helps us to see that one can lead to the other. We might even get a glimpse at God’s penchant for “reversals” as we think on it.

You see, God is in the business of taking what is and refining it, redefining it, transforming it, or even reversing it until it conforms to His will.

• The blind see.

• The lame walk.

• Lepers are healed.

• The deaf hear.

• The dead live.

• The poor get good news (for a change!).

Speaking of reversals; Jesus really did not fit the mold of the Baptists’ expectations. He comes on the scene as one who proclaims the kingdom of God, calls upon people to forgive, heals the sick, and befriends tax collectors and persons labeled “sinners.” It is little wonder that John, now sitting in prison with time to think, questions whether Jesus is the one to come or not. Jesus fits neither John`s expectations nor those of Jewish messianism in general. John’s question, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” is entirely understandable.

The reply of Jesus is to give neither a yes nor a no to the question. But he does give an answer and it is an answer of “confirmation.” He does not proclaim himself; he proclaims the kingdom of God. He tells John to look at what is happening. The kingdom is breaking in upon the world. That which Isaiah envisioned in his prophecies (26:19; 29:18-19; 35:5-6; 61:1) is now taking place.

A similar response comes to Bonhoeffer doesn’t it? He may not fully understand himself, his motives, or what is happening around him but God comes with “confirmation” that he can trust he belongs to Jesus!


Jesus did not come to gain earthly power. He came among the people to serve them; bringing life out of death.


Who is the One we are to follow?

Powerful? Nope.

Strong? Nope.

Big words? Nope.

Exclusive? Nope.

Demanding center stage? Nope.

Actions that speak for themselves? Yes!

Compassionate? Yes!

Healing? Yes!

Peace-full? Yes!

Reconciling? Yes!

Liberating? Yes!


There is a movement afoot within Jesus’ church called “Blue Christmas.” It refers to those whose Christmas is not the stereo-typical joyful and chipper scenario. Perhaps because they are away from family or alone, maybe they are struggling with a loss, or filled with thoughts of a happier time that brings tears to their eye. Blue Christmas is an attempt to be a compassionate people; to sympathize and empathize with those who are grieving rather than making them feel like they should pretend or that they are somehow out of sync with God and His birth.

They, like The Baptist and Bonhoeffer, find themselves out of sorts and yet still clinging to the Father. They, like these two men, seek the great reversal whereby God will make all things right and wipe every tear from their eye.

Maybe you are also in need of a great reversal. Well Christmas has Good News for you … because God understands where you are and God has a penchant for such reversals. You may not have all the answers and you may not feel “joy to the world” but your testimony can still coincide with that of Dr. Bonhoeffer’s.

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.

Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!

It is there – in that moment of identity with Jesus Christ that “peace on earth and good will towards men” can begin to reign in your heart.

It is there in the confirmation that “I am thine” that you can encounter His presence in the midst of questions, pain and loneliness.

It is here, today, that you can begin to experience “A Hopeful Confirmation” by following in the steps of other great people of faith and being transparent and vulnerable with God. By allowing God to bring you His answer – that you are His. Just as he did for these two men who have gone before us.


This sermon is provided by Dr. Kenneth Pell

Potsdam Church of the Nazarene

Potsdam, New York