18 The disciples of John reported all these things to him. And John, 19 calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 20 And when the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” 21 In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. 22 And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers[e] are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. 23 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
24 When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus[f] began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 25 What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. 26 What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 27 This is he of whom it is written,
“‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way before you.’
28 I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” 29 (When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just,[g] having been baptized with the baptism of John, 30 but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.)
31 “To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the market-place and calling to one another,
“‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’
33 For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ 34 The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ 35 Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.”
John the Baptist wants to believe and yet he has his doubts. He has been isolated in a cell and has had plenty of time to think through the outworking of his declaration that Jesus is the Messiah. John the Baptist faithfully proclaimed the message that God had given him, but he probably had some specific ideas of how things would play out. Israel’s expected Messiah would have been a conquering king who would drive out the Romans and establish a new era of prosperity for the Jewish people. This did not seem to be happening with Jesus. I think John was struggling. He doubted whether he had jumped the gun and declared Jesus to be the Messiah when he had actually foreseen the arrival of someone more dynamic and overpowering.
Jesus was dynamic and overpowering in just the way Isaiah and others had foretold. Jesus makes reference to Isaiah’s prophecies in his own response. His dynamism and power were shown in lifting up the underclass of society, he was showing how life should be lived in the Kingdom of God and he was bringing it as a grass roots movement which was changing the world from the bottom to the top.
Many today have expectations and understandings concerning Jesus. Some think that if they live a moral life, good things should happen to them. Others think that Jesus should give them victory over sin in quick and easy ways. Some think that belief in God should require little effort and God’s existence should be plain for all people to see. However, Jesus brings a Kingdom where he works in ways that we do not expect. He often pushes his servants to points where they break so that they will learn surrender. He defies our limited attempts to define him and then shows obvious signs of his presence when we give up the search. He seems to give us clear guidance into a situation only to turn the situation upside down. Like John, we are left wondering whether Jesus knows what he is doing.
Unlike John, the Pharisees have contempt for Jesus. They doubt him from the beginning. They demand Jesus and John show God in ways they invent. Because Jesus does not play to their tune, they dismiss him. They have no understanding of their need of grace. They are spoiled brats who whine and pout because they have no faith. Jesus despairs over the cynics and critics, but he reaches out and encourages John in his struggles.
When we don’t understand and we see no way forward, hear our prayer. When we are afraid and the night seems dark, be our light. Help us to encourage those whose faith is weak and strengthen us in time of trial.
- Why does John doubt?
- What does he ask Jesus?
- How does Jesus respond differently to the struggle of John and the struggle of the Pharisees?
- Are you ever beset with doubts?
- How does Jesus lead people through their doubts?