“Should we expect someone else?”
John the Baptist, the desert-dwelling New Testament prophet, sent his disciples to ask Jesus this question. From the confines of Herod’s prison cell, he was curious.
John wasn’t being unreasonable. From his miraculous birth, John had a special calling on his life. He grew up in the desert following the Nazarite vow — a strict lifestyle code that set him apart as holy, one an ANGEL had prescribed for him — and then emerged publicly as a messenger sent to prepare the way for Messiah. Heady stuff. John began baptizing in the Jordan River, preparing the people of Israel to be ready and worthy to receive their long-awaited king. His message was hope for an oppressed society. And then that hope appeared one day by the river: Jesus. In the flesh! John watched the dove descend and heard the voice from heaven: “This is my son!” Despite his camel hair garment and locust diet, John was seeing his vision for the future playing out as planned — as prophesied.
And then this: prison. No more ministry. No more riverside sermons. No more lined-up converts waiting to be plunged below the murky waters. Suddenly the flow was interrupted and replaced by a disconcerting darkness. So John sends his friends out into the world to track down the would-be Messiah.
I just wanted to make sure: are you really the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?
Was John impatient, wondering why the new kingdom hadn’t been ushered in? Was he questioning his sanity now that his ministry had grinded to a halt? The executioner was sharpening his sword — was John fearful of what Jesus might or might not do to save him? Whatever prompted John’s question, the question itself betrays a very human, very un-heroic doubt.
John had reason to worry, as we know. He never got back out into the action. In fact, he never saw the light of day, again; Herod served his head on a platter after an episode of dinner party bravado.
But Jesus sends him a message back in Luke 7:22-23:
“Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy[a] are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 23 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”
John’s faith was stumbling over what we all stumble over: Jesus is unexpected. He does things in funny ways. He asks us to do funny things in funny ways with funny consequences. And not ha-ha funny, either. Sometimes the way is painful, confusing, and punctuated by prison cells.
But Jesus reassures John — and us — take heart! The evidence is in. Hang on and trust me. The beauty is already flowing, even if you can’t see it right now from the confines of your 5’ x 5’ cell.
John never got out in time to see all those healed people, the ones with leprous sores drying into soft skin, those with crusty eyes blinking in brilliant wonder. He didn’t witness first-hand the loosened, joy-filled spirit of a widow who came to Messiah with nothing but the clothes on her back. He didn’t get to see the redemption being ushered in. He had to trust the promise. He had to take the God-man at his word.
John did the only thing he knew to do: he went to the right person and asked the right question. Hi, Jesus. It’s me. Are you who really you say you are?
And what did Jesus have to say about John? Did he hold him up as a cautionary tale? No, Jesus confirmed to everyone within earshot that John was indeed a prophet, yes, but even more than that: John was a spiritual street-sweeper. He had cleared the rocky, uneven roads so Jesus could have immediate access into the hearts and minds of a people so desperate for hope, so desperate for healing. “Among those born of women there is no one greater than John,” Jesus says. And that’s high praise.
If your obedience to Jesus has led to unexpected territory, sometimes all you can do is go back to the right person and ask the right question. No one is too big, too holy, or too good to start again at square one.
Hi Jesus. It’s me…
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Julie K. Rhodes the author of the newest book, Chronic Grace, lives in Fort Worth, TX, with her husband Gordon and two teenage kids Drew and Maddie, plus pug Eloise ("The Eyeballs."). She performs regularly on stages all over Dallas-Fort Worth area and has multiple film and commercial credits.