The other day, we heard a sermon from Matthew chapter 11. In this section of Scripture, the imprisoned John the Baptist (and cousin of Jesus) sends some of his followers to ask Jesus if He is the coming one or if there was another.
Teachers are questioned all the time. Some questions are simple and others are difficult. Sometimes, the questions reflect personal emotional states that require insight into the human condition. Jesus is approached with just such a question here.
He could have heard the question and responded with a simple, “Yes, I am”. However, this would have only answered the information level of the question. John would have found the answer unsatisfying.
Jesus could have responded with a theologically detailed answer, giving His lineage and talking about the Messianic prophecies in detail. The information provided to John would have caused him to remain in his emotional state.
Jesus could have responded angrily, lashing out at John for his lack of faith. This would have succeded in alienating John.
Instead of these three alternatives, Jesus responds to John’s question with evidence from His activities (which others witnessed). Why did Jesus do this?
First, take into account John’s circumstance. He is not just in prison, he’s on death row. And, he’s the first one in line. You may have heard the phrase, “death has a way of clarifying your thinking”. Certainly, John was wondering if the life he lived in the desert was for some purpose. He was questioning the meaning of his existence. And, he was questioning Jesus’ existence as well. John was worried that he had bet the family farm on the wrong horse.
How incredibly human! During times of transition, we are forced to be self-reflective. We wonder if we’d made the right decision, or if we should have made another. We become riddled with doubt.
Maybe you lost your job. Maybe your marriage is in trouble. May be you lost a child. Maybe you struggle to meet your bills or other obligations. Maybe you cannot overcome a particular sin or weakness. And maybe you doubt if God is real at all, and if He hears your prayers.
As Christians, we can feel even worse about our feelings because we aren’t supposed to be doubtful. It’s seen as a sign of weakness or failure in some churches. So, on top of the legitimate feeling and thoughts of doubt, guilt is added on. Rather than seek help from a church friend, we turn from help and isolate these feelings, pretending things are going well. We do this because we are afraid of rebuke. We avoid sharing these thoughts, even with long-time church friends, because we are afraid to be judged, and their faith seems so strong.
Luther once said, “doubt is the presence of faith”. That is, you cannot doubt a faith you do not have. Try telling a doubting friend this very quote the next time you see them, and you will see their face light up.
The reason for this reaction is that you have just set your friend free. You have given them grace. You have reversed the course of their doubting thoughts. You have identified their feeling and addressed them mercifully.
And this is just what Jesus does for John. “A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out” (Matthew 12:20). With great power and authority, Christ answers John’s doubts and the disciples’ doubts. In fact, Jesus reaches across the centuries to preach faith into Christians of all ages, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” He says this to you too. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.