2) Rest for the doubters
Jesus also offers rest for the doubters.
If you want to talk about someone who is forcefully advancing God’s kingdom, John the Baptist is certainly on the list. John the Baptist was on the frontlines. He was all in. I mean, this guy dressed up in clothes made of camel hair and he ate locusts and honey for breakfast. And he surrendered everything to follow the call of God to preach repentance while living out in the desert.
7 As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind?
John was not a reed-like person who is easily swayed by the wind. He wasn’t flimsy. He wasn’t someone who wavers. He was strong, he was forceful. Instead of being shaken, he spoke and like a wind, he shook up his listeners. Many repented.
Verse 8 – he didn’t wear fine clothes. He didn’t live in a king’s palace. Verse 9 – he was much more than a prophet. After 400 years of silence from the book of Malachi to the start of John the Baptist’s ministry, God broke the silence by sending John the Baptist into world to be a messenger, v10, with the specific mission of preparing the world for the coming of Jesus.
If you see John the Baptist from the surface, you think, this guy is a stud. He’s fearless. He’s determined. Nothing can stop this guy. But the gospel writer gives us a backstage pass and we see this tree trunk of a man beginning to sway in the wind.
2 When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples 3 to ask him, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”
While John the Baptist was in the desert preaching and the great multitudes of people were repenting, he was a tree trunk. When he was successful in ministry and he felt God’s favor upon his life, he felt unstoppable, bold, courageous. But now he is in prison. And he is beginning to sway in the wind. Doubt creeps in. Did I hear the call of God correctly? If God is with me, how did I end up here?
Have you ever felt this way? You’re trying your best to live for God, but after all that work, you’re imprisoned, you hit a dead end, a wall. And naturally, you begin to doubt.
John’s doubt originated from looking at Jesus and seeing a gap between what he saw in the person of Christ and what he thought the Messiah would look like. So John sends his disciples to ask, Jesus, are you really the one, the Messiah, whom we have been waiting for and whom I preparing the way for? Things are not adding up. The God of the Old Testament seemed much more powerful, more impressive. He was a pillar of fire and he judged the nations. This Rabbi from Nazareth? I’m not seeing it Jesus. Are you the one, or should we expect someone else? John doubted.
And it’s understandable if you are staring at the inside of a prison cell. Jesus offers rest to John and his doubts in the form of reassurance.
4 Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. 6 Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”
Jesus is reassuring John, see all of the miracles I am performing. These miracles–the blind receiving sight, the lame walking, lepers being healed, the deaf hearing, the dead being raised–these miracles were prophesied in the book of Isaiah. And they are being fulfilled right now before your eyes. Jesus may not look like the Messiah you had in mind. He may not be like an X-Men with eyes blazing and lightning bolts coming out of his fingers, but don’t doubt. I am the one you’ve been waiting for.
John had a hard life of total devotion. And how is he rewarded for his labor? He’s in prison. This underscores the fact that each disciple follows Jesus down a unique path. For some, your life may be largely problem-free. Things go well and you love Jesus. For others, you might find yourself in prison. There is no formula for spiritual life. We follow Jesus and we leave the results to him.
6 Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.
Another translation of v6 is blessed is the man who is not “offended” in me. Offended by Jesus, offended because of Jesus which leads to you throwing in the towel. Jesus, this is not what I signed up for. I’m in prison. I thought my life would be smooth sailing and you would protect me. I’m offended, Jesus, that you tricked me or I’m offended because you didn’t fully disclose that following you would lead to this prison.
Salvation is more than a single event in your life. It’s a process. A journey. And there will be many twists and turns and wandering on that journey and you will be tempted to doubt many times. Jesus offers reassurance if you go to him. He offers rest. So that you and I will not fall away but with the help from Jesus, we will overcome. And we will make it to the end.
Verse 6 – this beatitude was a mild rebuke to John and his disciples. I might not come in the packaging that you expect. I might not meet your expectations of the Messiah, but don’t be offended by me. Don’t fall away. Don’t doubt. I am the person you have been waiting for all these years.