Nothing warms the heart better than a good prison sentence. Three not-entirely-square meals a day. Constant companionship. Time to reflect on a life well spent. In fact, in twenty-first century America, life in prison holds rewards the likes of which one would never have received outside the four barred walls. Free twenty-four hour Internet access, college degrees, a greater shot at celebrity status and long list of willing marital partners seem to reflect the many benefits that come from a few years in the clink.
This wasn’t always the case. Back in ancient times, a desert hermit named John the Baptist made a name for himself by eating locusts and honey, failing to adhere to any proper grooming standards and baptizing people in the Hotel Jordan outdoor pool. He also told all the people who came to see him that Jesus was the King that they all had been waiting for. As a way of paying homage to John for espousing such great hope and wisdom, Herod Antipas (a wannabe King in Judea) put him in prison. This prison, however, didn’t have free Internet. It had free beatings.
After being there for a good while, John started to get a little antsy. Perhaps he missed his regular locust and honey sandwiches, we may never know. But in Matthew 11:3, he decides to get word to Jesus. He asks, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?”
This was the guy who baptized Jesus in the Jordan. He was there when the Father said in a loud voice “This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Not only that, but in chapter 3, he preached to all the people that the coming Messiah, the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit and with fire was nigh. He looked Jesus in the face and said, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” John looked at Jesus and saw the coming Messiah. So, why does he send word to Jesus from prison asking if He is the One or not?
In short, I think John was losing heart. Relax, theologians: this is merely writer’s supposition.
If Jesus was the one they had been waiting for, why had nothing happened yet? Why would John, his greatest mouthpiece, be rotting in Herod’s jail cell? So, John is not questioning whether or not Jesus is the Messiah, he is sending a message of frustration, perhaps laced with a wee bit of sarcasm. “Are you going to save me, or do I need to go looking for someone else?” is a paraphrase of what John asks. To confirm that this is John’s state of mind, Jesus responds to him in verse 6, with the very patient “Blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.” This is said on the heels of an explanation that Jesus is the Messiah, an explanation that John would surely understand. “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.” In short, Jesus is doing the very things that prophecies foretell that the coming Messiah would do and, as such, John needs to chill.
Easier said than done. Many of us pull the John card every day. Some of us have lost a loved one and the pain of loss causes us to doubt the goodness of God. Others wallow in habitual sin, wanting desperately to find the strength to stop but can’t. Others still wrestle with hard concepts like the problem of evil or the fate of unbelievers. “Is God really good? Is God even God at all? Sure doesn’t look like it.” And so, we march down the road that so many have marched before us. It is the road of despair and doubt.
But Jesus sends word to us even while we march. He doesn’t promise us a life free from pain or sorrow on this Earth. He preaches the narrow road and deny yourself and take up your cross. What He delivers is hope:
1. We have hope that Jesus is who He says He is.
2. We have hope that even in the midst of our storms, there is no reason to fear.
3. We have hope that the life to come is a life with no sorrow or mourning.
So, if you feel as John did, wanting to throw your hands up and say, “Jesus, are you God or what?” know that Jesus is patiently reminding you that He is God, He does have your back and blessed are you who does not take offense at Him.