Even John the Baptist, who was in prison, heard about all the things the Messiah was doing. So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” Jesus told them, “Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen—the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.” And he added, “God blesses those who do not fall away because of me.” As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began talking about him to the crowds. “What kind of man did you go into the wilderness to see? Was he a weak reed, swayed by every breath of wind? Or were you expecting to see a man dressed in expensive clothes? No, people with expensive clothes live in palaces. Were you looking for a prophet? Yes, and he is more than a prophet. John is the man to whom the Scriptures refer when they say, ‘Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, and he will prepare your way before you.’ “I tell you the truth, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist. Yet even the least person in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he is! Matthew 11:2-11(NLT)
Have you ever wondered at some point in your life: Am I doing the right thing, making the right choice? How do you know if you’re doing right or choosing well when it comes to that job or a major decision that affects your family? How do people make the right choices when the doctor says there’s no hope? We wonder, don’t we?
John wondered too. He had just gotten done preaching how Messiah would come in power and judgment. It’s the picture of harvest-sickle flashing and slashing. Jesus showed up and instead of cleaning house Jesus preached love your enemies and turn the other cheek. It is little wonder John had doubts! Where was this Messiah who was going to set everything right and punish sinners?
Marc Axelrod wrote:
But instead of preaching brimstone, Jesus preached grace. Instead of punishing sinners, He reached out to sinners. Instead of ushering in a political kingdom, Jesus preached about a heavenly kingdom.
And John was confused. “Why is Jesus letting the Herods of this world get away with murder? Why is he letting an innocent man like me sit here in this prison? Why is He letting my life come to an end like this? Are you the One who was to come? Or should we expect someone else?”[ii]
We do have those kinds of questions, don’t we? I love questions – they blow away the cobwebs and force us to the issues at the center of life!
I love good questions! Questions – honest searching ones – do not reveal a lack of faith; they reveal a longing for faith to be strong. Questions reveal a desire to strengthen our faith.
I believe God had Matthew write this account of John the Baptist’s struggling faith because the main focus of the Gospel is faith in Jesus. We begin life in the Spirit by faith, and the Bible tells us in at least three of Paul’s writings[iii] that we continue that life by faith.
Everything connected with our following Jesus is about faith! So, let’s focus on the faith that drove John’s question and also framed Jesus’ answer; all of which can strengthen our faith.
When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him:
Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else? Matthew 11:2-3(NLT)
One commentary posed an interesting question about John’s question: Isn't it fascinating to realize that if John was going to believe Jesus was the Messiah, he would have to do so the exact same way we do: by believing what OTHER people report about Jesus and his ministry! John himself was not able to hear Jesus' words directly nor could he witness a single miracle in person. John would just have to believe the testimony of the disciples, which is all we have to go on, too. We have to believe that what the disciples claim they saw and heard is the truth.[iv]
So our questions are exactly like John’s. The real issue is – what drives such questions?
A man was driving the winding mountainous road home late one night. He swerved on one hazardous turn and the car crashed through the guard rail and went sailing off into the night over the cliff. The man was thrown from the car and he managed to grab onto a small branch growing out of the mountainside. When he caught his breath and realized he wasn’t dead he began to check out the surroundings.
Holding tight to the branch he looked down at a straight drop of 300 feet; he looked up at a 20-foot climb with nothing to hold onto. There he dangled between heaven and the hard earth.
The man figured he was done-for, so he began crying out to God:
“Hello, God. Are you up there somewhere? If you can hear me, I’m sorry I ever doubted you. If you’ll get me out of this mess I’ll be good. I’ll go to church and serve on committees; man, I’ll even tithe!”
Suddenly a voice from above said,
“I hear you, my son – and I will help you…let go of the branch”.
“Uh, Lord, it’s a 300-foot drop.”
“I know – trust me and I’ll help you…let go of the branch.”
--- a 10 second pause followed, and the man then said:
“Is there anyone else up there?”
“Are you really the one?” John asked. “Or is there anyone else up there? If I stake my life and eternity on you, can I count on you, or am I hollering down a dry well?”
What drove John’s question was the same thing that drives ours – fear. Trusting someone else is hard enough when it’s something little like repairing your car or fixing the garbage disposal. But having confidence in the decision of all decisions: what do I do with my soul? Well, THAT makes us fearful…or it should.
So…it comes down to this about your soul – you can ask the question John asked: is there anyone else up there? But the choice I’d recommend is you can decide to trust what Jesus has done for you and trust your eternity to Him.
It’s a leap of faith…when it comes down to it you will either believe and be saved…or you will back-pedal away from faith and be lost forever. Salvation through faith is available to anyone who asks, but it is most certainly everyone’s individual decision to make.
If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. James 1:5-6(NLT)
John’s question was asked so he could stop being tossed like he was on an ocean roller coaster; Jesus gave him an answer that spoke to John’s faith, and will to us too if we’ll listen to Him, because…
Jesus answered the ones John had sent to ask his question. The answer was, go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.
John is in prison and has one simple question for Jesus: Just answer this one thing and I can die happy; Are YOU the Messiah?
And what does Jesus say…He tells the condemned man to figure it out for himself! Really great, eh?
I used to wonder why Jesus just couldn’t give his poor imprisoned cousin John a straight answer; just tell him yes or no Jesus! But we serve a God who never wastes an opportunity to increase our faith. Had Jesus just given a simple “yes” John would have been in the same spot wondering.
But, by pointing to the evidence, Jesus kept the issue of faith and personal decision in the forefront. John had to exercise his faith in Jesus or be content with unbelief.
Many years ago Brother Lawrence wrote the classic Practice of the Presence of God in which he states:
When we are in doubt, God will never fail to give light when we have no other plan than to please him and to act in love for him.[v]
Jesus’ indirect answer to John helps us understand the very same answer today because Jesus asks us the same question he asked the disciples….Who do YOU say that I am?
In other words, Jesus tells us mortals, prisoners of our own sinful nature and this lost world that our task here on earth is to consider the evidence…Jesus has done it all:
healed the deaf,
opened the eyes of the blind,
abled the disabled
and even raised the dead…
…and by Easter morning it would be clear that his sacrifice would be the final proof that a dead man really would live again. The sacrifice would make it possible for us to know God, and to be saved from our sins.
Our task is to come close to God and experience his love just as certainly as the blind, deaf and dead felt the compassionate touch of Jesus two thousand years ago.
The Psalmist gave us the same advice:
Taste and see that the Lord is good.
Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him! Psalm 34:8
Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him! Psalm 34:8
And so…IS He the ONE? I mean, is He the ONE for YOU?
· Did you come here this morning because there is an emptiness in you that drove you here?
· Was there a tiredness with the things of this world that just leaves you ragged and hopeless?
· Are you wondering if it’s all true – the cross and empty tomb?
· Have you been looking to see if there’s possibly room for you at God’s table?
If you’re struggling, go ahead and ask the question:
Are you the one…or is there someone, something, some experience that’s better?
Let me assure you, you’ll get the same answer John got – He’s big enough to handle your questions, so go ahead, judge for yourself…
Is it enough that He did what He said He would…and still does what He said He’d do?
You judge; whatever you CAME here to see, our prayer is that you will not LEAVE here before having chosen to believe in Jesus Christ.
With the confidence of one who has been in your shoes I promise you that your name can be added to the countless millions who have decided to take Jesus at His word and take the leap of faith into trusting Him.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen
[ii] Mark Axelrod, Second Thoughts About Jesus, on SermonCentral.com
[iii] Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, Hebrews 10:38
[iv] This Week in Preaching at The Center for Excellence in Preaching
[v] Brother Lawrence in The Practice of the Presence of God. Christianity Today, Vol. 36, no. 7.