If you’re struggling, pray to receive strength from God
John the Baptist was called by God to prepare the way for Jesus – to be his emissary or equerry – a prophet and messenger sent ahead to prepare people for the arrival of the King. Yet, he found himself unjustly imprisoned, and so he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one we’re expecting or should we wait for someone else?”
When I first read this passage I was taken aback and shocked. Hang on, did John the Baptist really ask Jesus if he was the expected Messiah (God’s anointed one)? Surely John knew? Was he not Jesus’ cousin? Did Jesus not come to him to be baptised? Had not heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descended as a dove? Had not the very voice of God the Father been heard? Had John not read the first Chapter of Luke’s gospel?! So, what was going on here?
John was experiencing the most devastating personal circumstances. Think about it. John’s whole life had led to the historic moment where he would declare that the Messiah was coming. He knew it and was absolutely certain of it, and had sacrificed his life to the cause, giving up all his childhood hopes and dreams, and probably conceding that he would never have a wife or children.
He knew, deep down, that his job was to go into the wilderness and prepare people for the coming Messiah, calling them to repentance, and washing them in the Jordan river. He had spent years building up a dedicated following of disciples, all of whom were committed to John and to John’s mission. This was his life, and now, here he was, in prison, awaiting potential execution. It would be a gross understatement to say that things had not turned out as he expected.
A first century Herodian prison was nothing like the modern prisons of today. John would have been alone, cold, and isolated, and he would probably have been ridiculed, beaten, and mistreated. He had put himself out there, stood up for his heartfelt beliefs, and his present circumstances were not what he had hoped for, or what he expected. Life was not making any sense and surely, if Jesus was the Messiah, then rescue would come?
If Jesus was God’s anointed one, John would have expected Jesus to say, “My armies are massing, the Roman government is about to fall, sinners are being obliterated, judgment has begun, and the wrath of God is on the march!” However, as this did not seem to be happening, and because of his dire personal circumstances, John sent a message, via his disciples, asking Jesus, “Are you the one?”
Jesus replied, “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” John would have recognised Jesus’ answer as words lifted right from the pages of the Old Testament prophets. Jesus was saying, “Yes, I am the One.”
Like John, for many of us, life does not turn out how we expect, and we find ourselves experiencing trauma and pain. All of us go through physical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual difficulty. We can find ourselves cold, alone, doubting, and having a justified ‘wobble’. It is in these times that we need to hold on to the hope that we have in Christ. Like John the Baptist, we need to hear the voice of Jesus reminding us that, “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them,” and especially, we need to hear the final words of Jesus’s message to John, “And blessed are those that do not give up on account of me.”
I love how the story ends. As John’s disciples were leaving to head back to John, Jesus announced, to everyone present, that John was the greatest human to have lived and the greatest prophet from God. He confirmed that John was the one whom the prophecies of old had predicted would be the one to prepare the way for the Messiah.
The message would have got back to John, alone in prison, that his life’s work was not in vain; that he had completed his task; that he had achieved what God had asked of him; and that he had prepared the way for the King, who had indeed come, in the person of Jesus Christ.
Today, if you are struggling – as many of us are – my prayer is that you will receive strength from God, that God will fill you with his joy and peace, that you will know his comforting presence, and that you will hear his voice, reminding you of his promise that, “blessed are those that do not give up on account of me.” And take heart because Jesus went on to say that, “whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John the Baptist,” and that includes you, and it includes me.