Summary: Sometimes Jesus gives us answers we don’t want to hear...sometimes He answers the questions we should have asked.
I want you to consider John the Baptist. It is so easy for us to take a cursory look at this man, as we pass through the early chapters of the Gospels, and move on to study the ministry of Jesus with no more thought given to the Baptist, other than remembering him as the one who had the solemn duty and distinct privilege of baptizing our Lord in the Jordan.
I think perhaps John the Baptist is somewhat of a challenge to our imaginations. He is somewhat of a mystery, with his almost monk-like life-style, his unattractive diet of locusts and honey, his designer clothing with the “Camel Klein” label, and his sharply focused ministry of calling to repentance.
As we study the lives of the old testament saints, although their errors are recorded for us, their major accomplishments of faith are an inspiration that we would like to emulate.
But John gets pushed to the back of our minds, I think, because there is so little about his life, as recorded for us, that holds any attraction for us. Yes, we think, he was filled with the Holy Spirit in his mother’s womb, and he was entirely sold out to the Lord and devoted to the work given him to do; and he did get to baptize Jesus, and his is a story of unwavering faithfulness. But I don’t think that many of us would like to trade places with John. He lived a life in the wilderness. How many of us could stand the long periods of utter seclusion and retain our sanity? He was devoid of all the worldly comforts to which we grow so accustomed that we come to think of them as indispensable. (What would I do, without my morning coffee...)
His entire existence was for the sole purpose of pointing to Another. No promotions on the horizon for John.
The increase of his ministry in terms of the people who flocked to him to hear his narrow message and then either respond and be baptized or reject and object, was all by the design of the Holy Spirit, to culminate in a public introduction of the arrival of God’s promised Redeemer.
How many of us, whatever our earthly goals, would be capable when at the very peak of our careers, when the sun seems to be shining on us the brightest and we are seen by ourselves and others as being at the very pinnacle of our success, would then be humble enough to send all of our admirers to someone on the horizon, saying, “He must increase, but I must decrease”?
Then he spends the last year of his life in a dark, dank dungeon (sharp contrast to the blue sky and wide-open spaces he is used to), and then at the whim of an evil woman is beheaded simply so she can continue her career of debauchery unchallenged.
So I think we often avoid careful inspection of John and his life because everything we know about him tends to make us just a little uncomfortable with ourselves; and the very fact of the brevity of his life and its seemingly ignoble end puzzle us, who prefer stories of great miracles, divine deliverance, and grace poured out on those the Lord calls His own.
But I want you to consider John the Baptist today. I want you to take note of his devotion and his faithfulness. I want you to consider the uncompromising clarity and tenacity of his message, as he heralded the coming of Messiah, and called for repentance and faith to prepare the heart to receive Him.
I want you to bear in mind that many of those who were drawn to John were ones who were later drawn to Jesus Himself; at least two of them becoming part of His chosen twelve. And I want you to remember that Jesus later said of John, that “...among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater that John the Baptist”.
I want to ask you to be aware of these things, as we lower the glass over just these five verses of Matthew 11, and closely scrutinize John’s questions of doubt and Jesus’ gracious answers of encouragement.
(Read Matthew 11:2-6) Pray.
By this time, John had been in prison for nearly a year. Now this is not a city dweller; a home-body who spent his work days in a comfortable chair, or laboring over a craft with an open window on one side and an open door on the other to let a soft breeze cool him as he worked. He was not a man who spent his evenings holding the hand of a woman and discussing his dreams with her while watching the night skies for falling stars and admiring the glow of moonlight through slowly drifting wisps of cloud. This was not a man who ran for cover from the rains and shielded his neck from the hot sun with an umbrella; who strolled through market places, picking out the finest meats and the ripest fruits with which to tantalize his pallet.