Summary: As John the Baptist sat in prison, staring at the end of his life, he started to wonder if Jesus was everything that he expected Jesus to be. See how Jesus answers that question and continues to answer our questions when we might doubt if God is really all that we hoped him to be.
Was it everything that you had expected? You ripped open the rapping paper on Christmas morning to unveil the toy that you had seen advertised so many times on TV. You had been sure to put it at the top of your Christmas list in great detail taking away any of the possible guess work as to which one you wanted. And now you held it in your hands. Alright, you held it in one of your hands because it wasn’t quite as big as it looked on TV. Those amazing interactive features, weren’t quite as amazing as they had appeared in the advertisement. And all those accessories shown in the commercials? When they said, “Sold separately” they really meant ALL of them sold separately! It wasn’t quite what you were hoping for. With such an experience, it’s hard not to become a little cynical over the years. Really, that tape it going to hold my boat together in shark-infested waters? Really, that thing is going to make a golden-brown chicken, crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside in just 20 minutes? But every-once-in-awhile, there is something that turns out to be as good or maybe even better than advertised. There is that item that you thought might be nice to have around, that exceeds your expectations, something that you wonder how you lived without.
As John the Baptist sat in prison, he was trying to figure out which was Jesus was. Was Jesus all that John had expected Jesus to be or not? Now you might be wondering if this is the same John the Baptist that we met last week. That John the Baptist seemed so bold and confident. Remember that John? This was the man who was the voice in the wilderness of Judea calling out to people, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 3:2). This was the man carrying out the special mission that God has chosen him for, to prepare the way for the promised Messiah. And John had specifically identified who that Messiah was. One day, while John was with his disciples, he saw his relative, Jesus of Nazareth walking by. In front of his disciples and crowds of people, John points to Jesus and says, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). There didn’t seem to be any question in John’s mind on that day about who Jesus was. So, what had happened to cause John to question and doubt if Jesus was THE One?
Maybe it might help for us to remember why John was in prison. John had been put into prison by a regional ruler named Herod Antipas. Herod Antipas had decided to take his brother’s wife, a woman by the name of Herodias, as his own wife. When John said that what Herod had done was sinful, Herod was not happy with John’s assessment of the situation, and he had John put in prison. Now think about that. John had done the right thing, been faithful to God and to God’s Word, and what did it get him? He was now sitting in prison. Considering the circumstances, I think that we might be able to better understand how John may have begun to wonder about Jesus. John needed to be reassured that the One he had pointing to was in fact the right One.
While talking with some of his disciples who had come to visit him while in prison, John sent two of them to Jesus with a very specific question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:3). Jesus’ answer is kind of interesting. Jesus says, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor” (Matthew 11:4,5). Where does Jesus point them to for the answer? He points them to the Bible and specifically what the Old Testament prophet Isaiah said the Messiah would do. And then Jesus says to look at what he had been doing. The answer was obvious! Jesus was doing exactly what the Messiah was promised to do.
Now it might be easy for us to wonder how John could miss something that was so obvious. But God’s answers aren’t always to obvious when you’re the one sitting there and thinking and seeing that things didn’t go exactly as you had expected them to go. Those are times when the doubts and questions can come rather easily. You begin to wonder if God is really everything that you thought he was when his power and goodness don’t seem so evident in what you’re going through. You begin to question if you can really trust God to do what he has promised when your prayers are not answered within the time and in the way you thought they should. You begin to question if being a Christian is worth it when someone gets angry at you for lovingly correcting them, or when you lose a friend because you didn’t go along with something you knew was not you’re Savior’s will.