Prison Isn’t Exactly a Confidence Booster
When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”
The one who baptized Jesus is now asking if Jesus is the one, or is there going to be someone else—pretty startling. I don’t really like to think that John was doubting Jesus. I mean, he is the one who baptized Jesus and heard the very voice of God say, “This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” If there was ever a time of certainty, that was it! However, there was a reason he asked this question in chapter 11; we just don’t know exactly what it is.
When I think about being in a first-century prison, however, I can get my mind around the possibility of doubt a whole lot easier. It makes sense to me that prison might shake my foundation, making me doubt anything I ever believed, especially myself. Examining my own doubts, I usually doubt my own judgment and my own perceptions. Did I hear that correctly? Did I jump to a conclusion? I thought that’s what was said, but maybe I was wrong and that caused me to make the wrong choice about what to do, say, or react.
I can torture myself for months on end about good intentions versus good results. Just because my motives are sincere, that doesn’t mean I’m incapable of causing serious damage. My genuine belief is that most people really, truly, do have good intentions no matter what kind of havoc they create. Quite frankly, as a minister, I’m terrified of accidentally making things worse with the best of intentions. As I speculate about John, I can imagine him thinking, I know that was the voice of God, but what if I jumped to conclusions about how this new thing is going to work exactly. This is God’s son, but is God going to send someone else too? Maybe John was wondering if he had been preaching, doing, or saying the right things. Again, being in prison isn’t exactly a confidence booster.
Let’s read on in Matt. 11:
As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’
“Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. Whoever has ears, let them hear.” (vv. 7-15)
Jesus’s response here really gets to me. He not only confirms that he is the one, but he also affirms that John the Baptist is all kinds of awesome. Jesus lifts him up among all those born of women; Jesus calls him the Elijah. This gives me chills for John, who was in prison, facing beheading, who was all in for that very job, being the Elijah. Just think what those words would mean to John, to hear the personal affirmation from the one. I just love that moment for him. Among all the prophets who said, “The Messiah is coming,” John was the only one who could say, “The Messiah is here.”
So my friends, you who are in the trenches of ministry with me, take heart. This is no cake walk. We did not sign up for ministry for all the red-carpet moments. If you are like me, you just can’t always say “no,” even when that would be the smart thing to do. Many times, when I look around I see no evidence that things are going well. We are not the greatest of those born of women, as John the Baptist was, and we are not the Elijahs. However, I believe that Jesus is speaking to us too at the end of Matt. 11 as we deal with our own self-doubts.
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon.” The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, “Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” But wisdom is proved right by her deeds. (vv. 18-19)
Both Jesus and John were criticized and rejected. We will make our share of mistakes and take our share of criticism, but never doubt that you are bearing good fruit. I’m praying for God to show you the fruit that will overcome any self-doubt. Your wisdom is being proved right by her deeds and actions. My prayer for all of us in ministry, is that we, just like John the Baptist, are only motivated by the desire to point to Jesus. That’s our job. We, like John, can have confidence that God is using us to bear fruit as we point to the one.