Summary: How Jesus dealt with John the Baptist’s doubts can help us in dealing with doubt today

Field Dalling 16-12-01

When things don’t seem to add up. Mt. 11:1-12

Story: A few years ago, a major Multinational company was looking for a new Marketing Director.

After much advertising and many application, three candidates entered the final selection process.

A mathematician, a statistician and a solicitor.

The first to be invited in for the final interview was the mathematician and the Managing Director asked him a simple question: What is 2+2. The mathematician was surprised, thought about it for a bit, wondered if it might be a trick question and then simply answered 4.

The Managing Director looked at the Board, shook his head and thanked him for coming, but he wasn’t the candidate they were looking for.

The statistician was the next in and and the Managing Director asked him too the simple question: What is 2+2. He paused, thought about it for a bit and then replied that statistically it was a number between 3 and 5. The Managing Director smiled and Board were quite impressed. The candidate was thanked and ushered out.

The last candidate, the solicitor was then invited in to the interview and the Managing Director asked him too the simple question: What is 2+2. Without batting an eyelid he replied: “What do you want it to be”. And was promptly hired on the spot.

You might call it creative accounting – sometimes things don’t always add up.

In the same way, things didn’t add up for John the Baptist in this morning’s New Testament lesson. So far as Jesus being the Messiah is concerned 2 and 2 seemed to make anything else but 4.

How come? Last week’s reading showed John the Baptist being very sure that Jesus was the Messiah.

He had heard the words of God the Father announcing that Jesus was his Son (Mt. 3:13-17).

You may recall that Mt. recorded the story like this

“When he had been baptised, Jesus came up immediately from the water and behold the heavens were open to Him and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and descending on Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven saying “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mt. 3 16-17).

But since then, John had been languishing in Herod’s prison – which was a pretty grim state of affairs.

There were no “Board of Visitors” to check that the prisoners were treated fairly and given TV and other facilities – like we have today in our prisons.

In Herod’s prison, the rats probably ran through, the floor was hard and you were reliant on friends bringing you food in – for a square meal.

1. John’s Doubt

I think prison probably wore John the Baptist down. Doubt crept in.

Perhaps on top of that the reports he had heard of Jesus’ ministry did not tally with what John expected the Messiah to do.

I wonder how John reacted when he heard that Jesus called Matthew a tax collector to be one of his inner circle. (Mt. 9:9) It was bad enough that Jesus mixed with tax collectors but calling one to join his inner circle!!

Tax collectors were people with whom no pious Jew would associate because they oppressed the people with unfair taxes and were stooges of the hated Romans.

Or perhaps things didn’t add up for John when he heard that Jesus’ disciples did not fast like his disciples did. Matthew records an incident of John’s followers being puzzled by Jesus way of doing things:

Then the disciples of John came to Jesus saying, “ Why do we and the Pharisees fast often but Your disciples don’t fast” (Mt. 9:14)

Did John think, “Surely the Messiah’s disciples will fast and pray too – just like a good Jew should.” Is he really the Messiah then?

So we see doubt in John’s mind in this morning’s Gospel reading when he sent a message to Jesus asking him

“Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?”(Mt. 11 v.3).

2. Jesus Response.

It is interesting how Jesus responded. He didn’t say: “Yes I am the Messiah”.

Instead He said to the disciples of John

“Go and tell John the things you hear and see. The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended in me (Mt. 11:5)

Jesus didn’t say to John “O ye of little faith”. Rather his reply was tender.

And just to emphasise the point that He wasn’t knocking John and his ministry, Jesus speaks very highly of John.

“Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist…”

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