Luke Chapter Seven records what is probably the lowest point in the life of John the Baptist. He has been faithful to his call to “proclaim the way of the Lord.” He has been the voice in the wilderness. He has stepped into and filled the shoes of the prophet Isaiah. And now, he is sitting in prison, awaiting execution. And he is struggling; he sends two of his disciples to ask Jesus if He is the Messiah, or if they should look for someone else.
Perhaps this is my feminine perspective, and perhaps I’m projecting some of my own struggles onto this champion of the faith of whom Jesus spoke so highly. But, I have to wonder if, as John is sitting in that prison cell, seeing Jesus (whom he knows to be the Messiah) not restoring Israel to it’s former glory; is he questioning his entire existence. After all, his purpose in life was to proclaim that Jesus was the Messiah.
John is not the Messiah. He’s not perfect. He makes mistakes, and as a prophet – a truth speaker – he has probably spoken truth without enough love to balance the message. People don’t really like truth-speakers; they are brusk, intense, rough around the edges, rude. John struggles (like the rest of us) with distractions, jealousy, insecurity, disappointment. It appears, from his question, that John is disappointed in Jesus. Perhaps I’m reading into his comments again, but it seems even a hint of desperation lace his words…everything he’s lived for, everything he’s worked for, everything he’s sacrificed; all he’s invested his life in…was it worth it… or was it a waste?
That is what I really think John is asking.
Whether I’m reading into his comments and projecting my own emotional issues onto this man or not, it is clear John is struggling, greatly. I believe he sends his disciples to query Jesus in a moment of desperation, even despair. Have you ever been there? I have been. If you read my post, “Lessons at the Foot of a Giant” you know I was there just recently. It was a truly miserable place to be.
Perhaps this is what encouraged me so much. First, John is human!! He struggles too. This man of whom Jesus spoke so highly, this greatest of all prophets, this fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy…he got discouraged. He wondered if he was completely wrong. He had proclaimed Jesus the Messiah, after all. Yet, for all his passion and understanding of who Jesus was, John didn’t understand God’s promised Messiah. He had bad theology and it left him hopeless, in despair. John was probably looking for Jesus to come restore Israel to its former glory; that was, after all, the common misconception of what Old Testament prophesies pointed to. When the man he believed to be the Messiah didn’t fill his expectations of what the Messiah would do, John lost sight of what was important. He looked at his circumstances, and he (appeared) to lose hope. Did he feel like a failure? I don’t know, but it is easy to surmise that he did. And in feeling like a failure, his focus was in the wrong place.
Second, Jesus reminds John what is really important…and it isn’t John!
When Jesus responded to the disciples of John, He pointed out that He was doing what the Messiah should be doing. He was raising people from the dead, cleansing leapers, restoring sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, making lame men walk, preaching the Gospel to the poor. Important and valuable, but not so commonly associated with the picture of the Messiah. Most Jews, chaffing under the thumb of Roman control, were looking for more. John was looking for more…he was looking for “significant” impact. John was looking for Jesus to meet his expectations. But Jesus didn’t come to meet John’s expectations, or anyone else’s for that matter.
Jesus came to meet God’s expectations, and when those things were done, Jesus came to die…on the cross…for the sins of mankind.
Not the fancy, triumphant behavior of a reigning king. Not the picture John had when he baptized Jesus, or when he challenged the Pharisees, or when he exposed the wicked behavior of the local ruler. Jesus didn’t meet John’s expectations. And John was disappointed.
Have you ever been disappointed in Jesus? Have you ever expected life to be different? Have you ever wondered if perhaps the reason you were on earth was futile and wasted? I have. And, I think John did too.
When Jesus responded to John’s cry, He understood, in ways we can not, exactly what John needed. He was, after all, God. And responding with all the wisdom of the Creator, He spoke words we would also need to hear. “Go,” He said to John’s disciples, “tell John what you have seen and heard—the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.” Luke 7:22 NLT
He didn’t say it in so many words, but Jesus assured John that He was indeed the Messiah and no, they didn’t need to look for another. John’s life was not wasted; he had done what God intended for him to do, and he could rest in peace.
Scripture doesn’t tell us how John responded to Jesus’ answer. Did he go to the grave confident in how he’d invested his life? I don’t know. But when I think about success and what I’m investing my life in, I am encouraged. Success isn’t defined by the world’s standards, it is defined by Jesus. And in the end, I want that to be enough.
Jesus was answering in a way He often does; not the way we expect.