“Art thou He that should come, or do we look for another?”
– Matthew 11:3
When things everywhere seem to be falling apart, doubt is as natural as breathing. I’ve come to think that we don’t know how deeply we believe until what we believe gets tested, then we get a rough education on the faith we thought was so strong.
Not that I blame him. The man had been about God’s business, part of which was a public rebuke of King Herod for his illicit union to his brother’s wife. Confrontation wasn’t new to John and the results so far had been positive (Matthew 3:7-12) so I can imagine him expecting a reasonable outcome when he called Herod out.
But no, another outcome was allowed to happen. This time, the seemingly undefeatable Baptist was imprisoned and alone facing the ax. (Luke 3:19)
Everything about the situation was wrong. John was right – Herod’s marriage was in violation of Hebrew law since his brother, to whom his wife was rightfully wed, was still alive. Herod admired John; his wife despised him for his indictment of her.
Added to the mix was Herod’s lust for his stepdaughter, an obsession which led him to rashly promise her virtually anything she wanted. Her mother saw an opportunity, told her daughter what to ask, and John’s execution was decreed. (Mark 6:14-27)
He walked obediently and was given imprisonment, so a bit of doubt is allowed. Matthew Henry said as much in his commentary when noting John’s words, ‘Are you He that should come or do we look for another?’:
It is hard, even for good men, to bear up against vulgar errors. John’s doubt might arise from his own present circumstances. He was a prisoner, and might be tempted to think, if Jesus be indeed the Messiah, whence is it that I, his friend and forerunner, am brought into this trouble, and am left to be so long in it, and he never looks after me, never visits me, nor sends to me, enquires not after me, does nothing either to sweeten my imprisonment or hasten my enlargement? Where there is true faith, yet there may be a mixture of unbelief. The best are not always alike strong. – from Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible
I’m so grateful scripture records great men’s shortcomings, however small, as a reminder to me that God’s asking obedience, not perfection, from His servants. I’m also a little mystified at the truth this part of the gospel underscores: Calamity can and does happen to the obedient disciple, through no fault of his own.
I can fully understand calamity when it comes from my own stupidity or rebellion, but when I do what’s right I can also find myself facing the ax, asking, as John did, “Did I get it right? Are You really who You say You are – my provider, healer, redeemer – or have I been kidding myself all this time? Because frankly, Sir, what You’re allowing to happen to me doesn’t match my concept of You as loving and just.”
I’ve asked that more than once; no doubt I’ll ask it again.
So Jesus’ response to John when he asked it rings truer today than ever: “The blind see and the lame walk — the poor have the gospel preached to them — and blessed is he who is not offended in me.” (Matthew 11:5-6) “God’s work and kingdom go on”, He seems to say, “even during your trials. So if you can accept unexplainable hardship as part of this temporal life, still trusting I’m in charge, then you’re indeed blessed for not being offended in me.” There’s a gentle rebuke we can all, at times, use.
Because today, tomorrow or sometime, someone will backstab me. Someone else will cut me down with words or worse; someone else will make unjust decisions that will cause me suffering.
Things will happen to my family that will be unfair, uncalled for, unacceptable, none of which will stop them from happening. And none of which will keep the Kingdom of God from advancing.
Hard times or great ones, the gospel will still be preached, souls will respond, lives will be healed and Christ will return. I’ll need His Spirit to both remind me of this, and to help me rejoice, with integrity, when momentary light affliction seems all too much for this earthen vessel. Blessed am I – blessed are we – who are not offended in Him.