Today’s reading: Matthew 11:1-6
“Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
This was the question John the Baptizer sent his disciples to ask Jesus. John was sitting in prison. As I began to put myself in John’s position to try and better understand the basis for his question, I thought of a number of teachings and readings I had encountered that noted there were those at this time who failed to recognize that more than one coming of the Messiah had been prophesied. They overlooked the fact that the first coming of the Messiah was as a sacrificial lamb, as John announced, and instead focused on the second prophecy of His coming as a Lion. For a people that so longed to be out from under Roman oppression, a strong Messiah who would oust the Romans and set up a physical kingdom could easily have been a more pleasing, popular view.
Many who held this view were called Zealots. I first began to get curious about Zealots when I noticed that Simon, one of Jesus’ 12 disciples (not Simon Peter), was referred to as “Simon the Zealot”, so I wanted to know more. I learned to be a Zealot was to be part of a political movement that took place between 6 A.D. and roughly 73 A.D., and that their purpose was to rebel against the Roman Empire and expel it from the Holy Land by force of arms.
Was this popular view what caused John to doubt, because he was not seeing this physical kingdom being established? Although he himself announced that Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”, perhaps there was a part of him that also expected the coming of the Messiah to be one of force, to establish a physical kingdom which would have either prevented him from being imprisoned or freed him from his imprisonment? But there he sat.
“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” (verse 5).
Although I imagine it may not have been what John wanted to hear, I see Jesus’ reply back to him was a poke, or prompt, for John to check his own understanding of scripture and get back on track. John had obviously got it right the first time! What had changed?
If John was among the many who were expecting Jesus to establish a physical kingdom, he may rather have wished for Jesus to reply something like “Be patient, John, only a little while longer and the new kingdom will be established, and you will be freed from this prison”. Instead, John was reminded of old testament prophecies and how they were now being fulfilled in Jesus. He might have then thought something like “Yes, but…!!”
If you think about it, John was not just second guessing Jesus as it appears on the surface, he was second guessing himself, his own faith. A more honest question he might have been asking himself was “Where did I get it wrong?” Why? Because he was focused on his own circumstance? Because he was allowing his theology to be filtered by the popular ideas of the day?
Do you find yourself in the midst of hard circumstances and questioning God as a result? The mindset of John is familiar to us all at one time or another. Circumstances can make us doubt our faith and ask “Why is this happening to me?” The question is, do we believe in a God who IS, or do we believe only in a God who performs according to our own expectation?
A good way to avoid doubt is to be in the mindset of Christ instead (2 Corinthians 2:16). Whenever your circumstances make you doubt God or your faith, there is no need to question His understanding of your circumstance. He knows your circumstance. Question instead your perspective. Ask the Lord to provide you insight with understanding (Daniel 9:22), ears to hear and eyes to see what He wants to teach you through this, and know His love for you is great.