Matthew 11 contains one of the most difficult stories in the whole New Testament. Not difficult to understand … difficult to process is a better way to put it. These verses amount to a status update on one of Jesus’ first and most bold and faithful follower – John (the Baptizer, as most of us know him.) He shows up early in the Gospels preaching an uncompromising message of repentance that caught the attention of the masses and stirred the ire of the religious leaders of the day. (Matt. 3:1-12; Luke 3:1-18) However, his public clash with Herod over his adulterous and wicked lifestyle landed John in a Roman jail for probably the better part of two years (Lk 3: 19-20; Matt 11:2). As the months of imprisonment wore on and discouragement no doubt set in, John sent his followers to ask Jesus a somewhat confusing question. “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matt 11:3)
Isn’t this the guy who was God’s chosen prophet to prepare the way for Jesus? Isn’t he the one who clearly identified Jesus as “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world?” (John 1:29) That’s the Gospel message in one statement. If anyone knew that Jesus was “the One,” it was John, right? And yet here he is in these verses verbalizing some pretty strong doubts. Then, flip over three more chapters in Matthew, and the story gets worse when John’s death became little more than a horrific joke and a public mockery. (Matt 14:1-12)
This account doesn’t seem to meld well with others stories of the great people of faith like Joseph, Esther, or Daniel where God’s righteous and faithful followers are eventually vindicated and elevated. I mean, where’s the “save the day” moment for John? It doesn’t seem much like Jesus is paying attention to him, does it?
But then, maybe you know exactly what that’s like. You expected life to turn out one way, and it just hasn’t ended up right. Sickness stole something from you. Sin broke something. Selfishness of others took something away that can never be returned. As you try to make sense of it all, have you found yourself silently wondering something very close to what John asked? Is Jesus ‘the One’ or should you expect someone else?
I certainly don’t claim to have answers to the desperate questions that surface after tragedy and heartache shatter long-held dreams, but I think if you back up to Matthew 11, and look carefully at Jesus’s answer to John, it may help us hold on to faith when we feel ourselves sink into our own prison of despair.
“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. Matt. 11:4-5
In this one sentence, Jesus basically paraphrased the Messianic prophecy from Isaiah 61 and through it reminded John… and us… to widen out our vision. Jesus was telling John to look at the evidence… to trust what he knew to be true. That is, the prophecy of God is being fulfilled just as it was written. You know, sometimes… maybe often… we need to do some remembering as well. When expectations and reality don’t match up, backup and realize there’s often something much bigger going on that we cannot see or understand at the time… something that has much larger eternal ramifications that we could ever grasp.
Jesus went on to say, “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” (Matt 11:6) … which essentially challenges us to examine the basis of our belief. Are we followers of Christ because of what He does for us? Or are we followers because we know who He is?
You know, some suffer disappointment and are eventually exalted like Joseph (Gen, 41). Others, like John, suffer disappointment and it just doesn’t have a happy ending. ((Matt 14:1-12). That’s why we can never place our expectations and hope in this life. We have to look beyond our temporary circumstances and set our hopes on what we can count on as believers… the faithfulness and love of God. (Psalm 36:5-6) Only He can deliver on the promise of a disappointment-free future that extends far beyond our few years here on this earth. (Rev 21:1-5)
So what does that do for believers in the meantime? Are we at the mercy of fate? Do we just have to brace ourselves against the onslaught of the world, sin and Satan and hope for the best until we one day arrive in heaven?
The answer, emphatically, is “No!” God doesn’t leave us here to suffer and endure alone. We have a God who is greater than any unexplained circumstances that come our way. For His children, He always births good from the ashes of the bad (Rom. 8:28). Oh, it may take a while for us to see it (if ever on this earth.) But in the meantime, anchor yourself in the truth of Scripture and trust in God who was faithful to gives us “the One” (vs 3) we most desperately need – Jesus!