Summary: John the Baptist wasn’t sure if Jesus was the one he was to be expecting. Sometimes, our expectations don’t come true either, especially at Christmas.
Matthew 11:1-11: GREAT EXPECTATIONS, AND RECOGNIZING THE MIRACULOUS
“Why do I feel depressed right now, when I’m supposed to feel happy?” “Why do I feel frustrated right now, when I’m supposed to feel joyful?” “This isn’t the way it was supposed to be. This isn’t what I was expecting.” What kind of person am I describing? It could be someone who is having a difficult time as they go through the Christmas season. But this morning, I’m describing to you someone that might surprise you. I’m describing John the Baptist.
What, you might ask. I thought he was one of that strong, faithful prophet that was sent before Jesus to get people ready for the arrival of the Christ. He was the forerunner, the baptizer. How could he say to himself that he’s depressed or confused or frustrated? How could that be?
This morning, we’re going to see how that could be. Even though John the Baptist was the greatest of all the prophets to come before Jesus, he had some moments of doubt and depression and frustration. And in a way, that’s good news for you. He was a human being, just like you. Don’t you have moments of depression, moments of doubt, and frustration? It happens, even to Christians. It happens, especially during the month of December. I read an article the other day that described how the months of December and January have the highest occurrences of heart attacks, depression, suicide attempts, domestic disputes – all those things happen, even among Christians. Why? I thought this was the month when we were supposed to be the most peaceful and joyful! Let’s look at what John the Baptist was struggling with, and as we do, we’ll learn a little bit about ourselves, and where we can find comfort and hope, especially during those times when we are having difficult moments.
We meet John the Baptist this morning in prison. Last week, we saw him freely preaching in the desert around the Jordan River and baptizing people. While he was out there, he didn’t hold anything back. He called sin, sin. And one of the sins he spoke against was the sin of adultery. King Herod, at that time, had committed that sin – he had stolen his brother’s wife. And John was outspoken about that. He told the people that Herod and his new wife were sinners. Herod’s new wife didn’t like that. And so, Herod had John the Baptist arrested and thrown into prison. His ministry at the Jordan River was over.
And as John sat in that cold, damp, musty, dirty prison cell, he probably had a lot of time to think. And he probably had some expectations too. We don’t know exactly what he was expecting, but he may have thought to himself, “I won’t be in this prison for long. After all, I’m the forerunner of the Messiah. God will get me out of here in no time.” Or maybe he thought to himself, “Now that Jesus is preaching, he’ll put everyone in their place – he’ll judge King Herod, he’ll judge those Pharisees and Sadducees. Finally, justice will be served, because the Messiah is here, and he’s going to lay down the law.” Perhaps those were some of John’s expectations.
But as he sat there in that prison cell, it became clear to him that those things weren’t happening. Some of his friends came to the prison and reported to him what Jesus was doing. Jesus wasn’t going town to town, carrying out justice, and putting everyone in their place. Instead, he was preaching about peace, and loving your neighbor, and not judging, and that the kingdom of heaven had come, and that the forgiveness of sins had come. “This isn’t what I was expecting,” John may have said to himself. And as John thought about these things, perhaps he started to feel a little depressed. “I put forth all that work in the desert, and now I’m sitting in this prison, and the Christ isn’t doing what I thought he would be doing.” Perhaps John felt a little frustrated, maybe even betrayed by God, because things weren’t turning out like he had expected. “God, I did everything I was supposed to do, and now I’m in prison and I feel depressed.” And so finally, John sent some of his friends to Jesus to ask the question, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”
I wonder if people sometimes feel this way during the weeks leading up to Christmas. “I have all these expectations of being filled with joy, and being merry. But instead, I feel a little depressed, and frustrated, maybe even a little betrayed. God, I’m doing everything I’m supposed to do for Christmas.” There’s a lot of pressure there, isn’t there. The pressure is on, for you to get the decorations up, for you to get all the gifts you’re supposed to get, for you to get everything ready for the family gathering. And on top of that, you’re supposed to have a job and take care of your family. You’re doing the best you can. You even have a manger scene out this year – the little baby Jesus is all over your house – but you’re not feeling it. Where is that joy that I’m supposed to feel right now? The Christmas carols are playing on the radio, but instead of feeling glad, I feel a little blue. Is this it? Is this Christmas? Or, am I supposed to expect something else?