Matthew 11:1-6 (NIV) After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee.
When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who was 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 cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”
John had baptized Jesus, had seen the dove of the Holy Spirit descending on Him, and remaining, and had heard the voice from heaven declaring Him to be God’s Son (Matthew 3:13-17). He had even proclaimed Him the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). So why did he seem to be doubting now?
First of all, John had been several months in Herod’s prison, and that much time away from the sun, fresh air, and freedom can cause feelings of depression and discouragement. And John was feeling both of those.
Secondly, John believed strongly that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah (which He was), but was troubled that Jesus was not fulfilling the expectations that the people had for the Messiah. The teachers taught that the Messiah would be a great military leader, like David, and that when He appeared, He would gather an army, oust the Romans, and then establish Himself as the true king of Israel. They taught that He would restore to Israel the power and glory that they had had under the reigns of David and Solomon. No longer would they be the spoils of one empire after another.
But so far Jesus had not raised an army. He had not made a single move against Rome, and hadn’t even spoken a word against them in all of His preaching. So John was confused. Was Jesus actually the Messiah, or was He simply another forerunner.
Jesus knew what was being taught about the Messiah. He also knew that the teachers had misinterpreted the messianic prophecies by reading them through a lens of nationalism and humanism. The Messiah did indeed come to establish a kingdom, but it was the kingdom of God. He did come to be victorious over the enemies of mankind; not Rome, but sin and death.
As Jesus taught and ministered, the signs of God’s kingdom were apparent everywhere. When John’s emissaries came, Jesus refocused their attention away from what He was not doing, and onto what He was doing: giving sight to the blind, making the lame walk, cleansing lepers, opening the ears of the deaf, raising the dead, and preaching the good news of God’s kingdom to the poor. All of those were clear signs, not just that God was present in Jesus, but that God’s kingdom was becoming a reality.
John could rest easy; he had it right the first time. The teachers had several wrong ideas about the Messiah and what He would do, but Jesus had it right, and was doing all that had actually been foretold.
Father, I think we still have a tendency to do the same things today that the teachers were doing in Jesus’ day: reading the Scriptures through lenses of self-interest and what we want to see happen. And, in so doing, we often miss what You are actually doing all around us, waiting for what we hope that we know. And we grow discouraged and frustrated, while Your kingdom is evident on every side to those with eyes to see. Help us to listen to your voice well, to read Your word with clear eyes and minds that are open to all that You want to show us today. Amen.