Matthew 11:2-14 – The Dark Night of the Soul

1. A

2. Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples,

3. And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?

4. Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and show John again those things which ye do hear and see:

5. The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.

6. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.

7. And as they departed, Jesus began to say unto the multitudes concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind?

8. But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? behold, they that wear soft clothing are in kings' houses.

9. But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet.

10. For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.

11. Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

12. And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.

13. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.

14. And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come.

I came across an interview with the evangelist Billy Graham where he was questioning if there might be salvation for people who had not believed on Jesus Christ. While it is clear that the scripture says, “there is no other name under heaven, whereby we must be saved,” because of the legacy of brother Graham, I was very bothered by this.

As I pondered, my mind went to the text of scripture before us today. Whether you are a John the Baptist, or Evangelist Billy Graham, or the prophet Elijah, you will find your faith in the crucible of uncertainty as you face the dark night of the soul.

Let us look at the background of John the Baptist who asks the question, “are you he that should come, or should we look for another.”

I. Prophesied Destiny

a. John was so chosen that his life & ministry were foretold by the prophet Isaiah:

b. Isaiah 40:1-5

i. Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, says your God.

ii. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD'S hand double for all her sins.

iii. The voice of him that cries in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

iv. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:

v. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.

c. Malachi 3:1, "Behold, I am going to send My messenger, and he will clear the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming," says the Lord of hosts."

II. Preconception Miracles

a. His priestly father, Zechariah, who was old and barren, received news of his coming miraculous birth from the mighty angel Gabriel

b. The news was so unbelievable that devout Zechariah was made speechless for 9 months because he did not believe

III. Early Spirituality

a. Nazirite commitment––Luke 1:15—For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb.

b. Recognized the Messiah––Luke 1:41 And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:

c. While we don’t know the details of his early years, we can surmise that he chose his calling over the priestly path of his birthright

IV. His Ministry Begins

a. With unorthodox clothing, food, and message, he proclaims, “you brood of vipers, who warned you to flee the coming wrath” and “the axe is already laid at the root of the tree”

b. Because of the prophetic anointing upon him, his timing, and his calling, all of Israel comes out to hear him.

c. He knows that his role is not to be the building, but scaffolding for the ministry that will come.

d. Mark 1:4-8, “John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins. And John was clothed with camel's hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey; And preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.”

e. He declares the coming Messiah until one day, while he stands in the chilly water of the Jordan River, the apex of his ministry comes when he does what he was born to do and points to Jesus.

f. John 1:29 The next day John sees Jesus coming unto him, and says, Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world.

g. Mark 1:9-11 And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him: And there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.

h. As a priest from the order of Levi, he through baptism, does the rite of ceremonial cleansing that transfers to the priesthood back from Aaron to the order of Melchizedek

V. His Ministry Sunsets

a. John’s disciples soon become Jesus disciples. The ministry that had captured the ear of Israel, is now becoming unnoticed.

b. When John is asked about this, his response captures the character of a man who knew his place in God’s plan and needn’t have human confirmation or validation.

c. John 3:30 “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

d. You see, it is perhaps as important to know how to exit as to enter.

e. Transition shows an element of spiritual maturity to know the scope of God’s plan that is greater than you or your lifetime.

f. John was scaffolding for the ministry of Jesus

g. Moses was the shoulders that Joshua would stand on – while he would see Canaan from afar, his purpose ended before there

h. David would dream of and prepare for the temple, but Solomon would build it

i. If we don’t realize the limitation of our purpose, we will not dream God’s dream which is bigger than we can fulfill in our lifetime

j. Perhaps this element of John’s character is why Jesus said there was none greater born of women. . . he had the giftedness to prepare for the Messiah, and the humility to exit on cue.

VI. His Character is Un-flenching

a. After he points to the Messiah and exits national attention, he continues to stand for truth and righteousness

b. He declares to King Herod that it is wrong for him to take his brother’s wife.

c. Without apology, tactfulness, or soft-spoken politics, he finds himself in prison spending the last of his days suffering from the hand of the tyrant

VII. The Dark Night of the Soul

a. While in prison, this man with lifelong spiritual strength, having experienced miracles form the womb to the baptism of the Messiah asks an astounding, unthinkable question

b. Yet this question lets us peer into the wrinkled, frail, human condition that is woven into all of our fallen natures

c. Whether a John the Baptist, Elijah, or Billy Graham, we all scale from the mountain tops of miracles to the depths of doubt where we question the very fabric of our faith and the purpose of our lives

d. John, who was foretold by Isaiah & Malchi, asks “should we look for another”

e. John, who leaped in his mother’s womb, asks “are you the one”

f. John, who went his childhood without raisins or grapes, asks “should we look for another”

g. John, who preached repentance to soldier and Pharisee, asks “are you the one”

h. John, who prophesied, “there is one coming after me that is mightier, whose sandals I am not worthy to unstrap, He will baptize you with the Holy Ghost, doubts “are you the one”

i. John, who stood in the chilly waters of the Jordan and cries “behold the Lamb of God,” questions “should we look for another”

j. John, who held his conviction, “he must increase” asks “are you the one”

k. This gives comfort to me that God does not conceal the faith crisis of the giants from the pages of scripture.

l. Whether you have been in that moment, you have come through it, or yet to know what it is like, it is a real point in your journey where the shadows of the prison, the pain of the chains, the solitude of loneliness, depression of your soul, or God only knows what reasons push you to question your faith, your experiences, and your purpose

VIII. Question the Answer

a. John, knows where to ask the question

b. After you reach a certain point of your journey, there are some questions that cannot be asked of the echoes of men’s clich├ęs

c. I reserve some questions for God – I can’t hear it from my friend, my brother, I need to hear from YOU LORD

d. Jesus response is not a rebuke or an upbraiding, because he knows the seasons of our soul

IX. The Answer Answers

a. If you are not a studious Bible reader, you might think that Jesus did not answer his question. John asks “are you the one” and Jesus begins to tell him “The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.”

b. But Jesus is answering John who knows his bible and the prophecies of the Messiah.

c. Luke 4:18 The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord.

d. But Jesus adds the challenge of the gospel to John “blessed is he who will not be offended”

e. He gives the challenge of discipleship – many can receive the miracles, but it is the one that can hang past the offenses that will be blessed