John the Baptist Doubts? | Matthew 11

Welcome to Real Life. John the Baptist is an odd character. He ministers in the desert wilderness. His garments are woven of coarse camel’s hair. His diet consists of locusts and wild honey.[1] Weird. I find little in John I can relate to … until he begins to doubt. 

John is a prophet. His calling is to prepare the way for the Messiah.[2] Jesus launches his public ministry by going to the desert to be baptized by John. As Jesus approaches, John says, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?[3] Jesus replies, “Let it be so to fulfill all righteousness.” As the Son of God rises from the water, heaven opens. The Holy Spirit descends on him like a dove and lights on him. A voice from heaven declares, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” John is an eyewitness to this.  

But then time passes.[4] The bold one who called men to repent did not shrink from condemning King Herod for stealing his brother’s wife. So Herod throws him into prison. In this dark and dismal place, John begins to doubt. Is Jesus really the Messiah? And if so, why hasn't he rescued me? John sends disciples to ask, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?

Jesus replies,
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.[5]
Jesus does not condemn John for doubting. Rather, he turns to the crowd and praises the prophet. “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist.

John is great man in God’s eyes, yet God does not rescue him. Shortly thereafter, Herod lops off the prophet’s head to please his mistress. Certainly, Jesus who raised the dead and calmed the storm could have saved John. But, he did not.

God does not always rescue us. 

Sometimes he even allows the worst to happen:  children massacred, stage 4 cancer, foreclosure, divorce and death. I didn't understand why God allowed my mom to suffer as she was dying. She loved God. She served him. I thought she deserved a beautiful, peaceful death. But, that didn't happen. When I angrily asked God why, he answered, “Look how I allowed my Son to suffer as he died.” 

There is a mystery in suffering that I have yet to comprehend. He who has suffered in his body is done with sin.[6] Suffering does not pay for sin. (Jesus did that on the cross.) But, it can be a purifying fire. Though my afflictions have been relatively light, this I know:

  • God completes me through suffering as nothing else can.[7] 
  • It makes me long for heaven.[8] It reminds me this life is only temporary. 
  • It grows my compassion for others in pain.[9] 
  • It opens my soul to receive more of God.[10]
  • And yes, it sometimes causes me to doubt. But when I hold fast to God when I don’t understand, in the end he becomes my rock solid foundation.[11]
I don’t mean to glorify suffering. I avoid pain at all costs. But, suffering is a reality in this life. Lord, may I be found faithful in its midst.

Taking it further ...

Suggested reading:

I deeply appreciate you who are regularly readers of my weekly blog. In 2013, I will be posting bi-weekly as I focus on some other writing projects. Stay tuned for the next post on January 18th, “Dreaming with God in the New Year.”

[1] Matthew 3:4
[2] Matthew 3:3 and Isaiah 40:3
[3] Matthew 3:14
[4] Somewhere between 6 months and 2 years pass.
[5] Matthew 11:4-6 
[6] 1 Peter 4:1 
[7] Hebrews 2:10 
[8] Philippians 1:21-23 
[9] 2 Corinthians 1:3-6

[10] Hebrews 12:11; Jeremiah 29:13
[11] Proverbs 3:5-6
Image of John:  Actor Scott Handy in the movie The Gospel of John.


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