Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else” (Matthew 11:2-3).
Did John Really Say That?
The followers of John the Baptist looked at each other with questioning looks on their faces. John was the one who had continually pointed them towards Jesus and away from himself. They had heard John say, “I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the son of God” (John 1:34 NASB). Yet, now he is sending them to find out if this is the expected one. John was obviously having second thoughts in relation to his faith. This should tell us that in the best of believers there is sometimes doubt and unbelief. What may have precipitated this in John?
A Failure To Meet Expectations
John was a prophet and was probably looking for messianic fire. He anticipated Jesus setting things right. Jesus appeared full of grace and mercy. Longing for revival, John looked for the Messiah to address the spiritual, social, and political oppression of the day. Jesus appeared to be more concerned with internal attitudes of people rather than dealing with their external actions. Jesus’s strategy, or lack thereof as viewed by John, and his isolation in prison, could have taken its’ toll and generated seeds of doubt and discontent.
Disappointment can arise when our expectations or hope in God seem to go unfulfilled. John was looking for one thing and got another. Had his life worked all been for nothing? Disillusionment leads to frustration, anger, discontent, and doubt. Trying to develop a relationship with God with these things stirring in our hearts is a difficult task.
God sees the end from the beginning. We only see a small clip of the movie. The presently running episode of life is the only one visible to us. The finite can never totally understand the infinite and at the very best we only see in part. As the philosopher Kierkegaard once said; “You live life forward but you can only understand it backward.” We can end up disappointed when we base our expectation of God on faulty or insufficient information. We must have the humility to recognize that our understanding or knowledge of any situation is always limited at best.
Let me share with you an experience that will illustrate this point. A few years back I was on my way to work and I was running behind schedule. That is a kind way of saying I was late again. I pulled out onto the street and immediately found myself behind a large truck. A few feet down the road the truck slowed down to a snail’s pace. The truck could not have been going more than five to ten miles per hour. My irritation started to rise. Some very choice thoughts started to roll through my mind. This is ridiculous. There is nothing in front of this truck. What is wrong with this truck driver? I kept checking my watch and each time I got a little angrier. After about twenty to thirty seconds (it seemed like an eternity), I noticed that something started to emerge from the far right in front of the truck. A small vehicle, a little larger than a lawnmower but smaller than a regular tractor pulled off the road and the traffic resumed normal speed. It had been totally out of my line of sight. Sorry Mr. truck driver! I had made an assessment of the situation based on insufficient information. Not being omnipresent and omniscient I had come to a conclusion based on my human limitations of time and space. I saw all that I could see but I did not see it all. It was a logical deduction but I was logically wrong. My point, often in times of uncertainty and difficulty we make these types of judgments in relation God.
Where Is God Now?
It must be noted that Jesus did not go to John personally. John may have thought; I have given my whole life to Him and now He does not have time for me. At the time of our greatest need, it can appear that God is most distant. Also, Jesus’ reply to John did not seem to be overly compassionate. Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive 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 (Matthew 11:4-5 NASB). Jesus basically gave him more information. Only the Messiah could have done these things. We look for and need the love of a caring God, but there are times, to obtain long-term answers, we need more than just a shoulder to cry upon. The situation requires that we contemplate the foundational truths upon which our faith is based. John probably already knew these events were happening, but faith forgets. He just needed to be reminded again.
Do Not Be Offended Because Of Me
At the end of this section of scripture, Jesus inserts a little warning, “And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me” (Matthew 11:6 NASB). The Christian life is full of bumps in the road and sometimes downright sinkholes. Jesus warns of letting difficult events that He has allowed in our lives to color our view of Him. It is almost as if Jesus’ is saying, I have given you the information you need; here is how you should respond to it. A missionary friend of mine has a favorite saying, “never judge God by your circumstances, but judge your circumstances according to the character of God.” There is a point in time where we must add faith to our information. The Bible records in Psalms 145:17 (NASB), The Lord is righteous in all His ways And kind in all His deeds. Is God kind only when He gives us good things? Or is God good even when He takes away? Is our faith based on the blessings of God or the truth of the Word of God?
If you have walked with the Lord for any period of time, you have probably experienced, humanly speaking, circumstances that are hard to comprehend. If you trust in the character of God, He is just, kind, righteous, good, etc., He will provide you with sufficient information coupled with faith to navigate all of life’s perilous journeys. I have had several encounters with God that were hard for me to understand, one where I saw most of my spiritual hopes and dreams evaporate before my eyes. I was devastated to the point of despondency. Yet I can report to you today, after walking with the Lord for forty years, that in all my trials, difficult situations, and spiritual skirmishes, when the smoke has cleared, God has been proven to be better than my best expectations and wiser than my wisest thoughts. His character has been shown to be impeccable, just like His Word says He is.
Ken Barnes, the author of “The Chicken Farm and Other Sacred Places” YWAM Publishing