There is a lot of talk these days within Christian circles about the prophecies concerning the return of Jesus Christ. I find some of the talk fascinating and others I dismiss. I don’t think anyone can predict with complete accuracy as to how and when the return of Christ will come. I was reading recently the New Testament book of Matthew and listening to how John the Baptist was foretold as the one crying in the wilderness. He knew that he was to precede the Messiah and for the most part he had some accurate predictions as a prophet of God. He was so sure that Jesus was the Messiah that he told Jesus to baptize him rather than he to baptize Jesus, remember (Matthew 3:14). Jesus was eventually baptized and most of us know the rest of that story. What I have noticed in my study of John the Baptist is how sure he was Jesus was the Messiah that is until John was put into prison. Let me show you what I mean.
After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee. When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” Matthew 11:1-2, (New International Version or NIV).
I have no doubt that John was told by his mother Elizabeth the story of her first seeing the pregnant Mary the mother of Jesus and the reaction of the unborn John. I am sure that Elizabeth had reminded John of this on several occasions.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Luke 1:41, (NIV).
The Holy Spirit revealed the truth to the unborn John as well, or so it sounds that way. In any case John knew about Jesus and the fact that Jesus was the Messiah all Israel had waited for so long. I don’t believe that Jesus and John met for the first time on the day of Jesus baptism but I have no proof of that, just a hunch. John had more confirmation of who Jesus was than most even including the disciples of Jesus. So why did John have doubts and send his followers to ask Jesus if there was another or was He the one?
I think that we should perhaps think about the situation John was in, he was in prison. He was probably expecting that the Messiah would work for his release from prison, don’t you think? After all John had been preaching boldly the truth and had enemies in the palace that wanted his head. I think it is understandable that after spending some time in prison John would begin to feel abandoned and wonder why he was there. We feel that way sometimes, don’t we? We are going along living life as righteously as we know how to and then boom! We hit the wall of despair and begin to wonder why some great tragedy has befallen us, or someone we love, and we begin to wonder where God is in all of it. I can certainly relate to the questioning that John was going through. I have wondered why God didn’t deliver me within my time-frame from times of great trial, stress, and strain. John knows that he will die unless Jesus intercedes yet Jesus seems to be moving forward without John. That must have felt like betrayal so no wonder doubt crept into John’s mind. Let’s read further and see what happens next.
Jesus replied, “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. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: “ ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. Whoever has ears, let them hear. “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: “ ‘We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.” Matthew 11:4-19, (NIV).
What a tribute to John what Jesus said to the crowd as the followers of John walked away. I am sure they must have paused and listened, wouldn’t you? This had to have been a great comfort and encouragement to John. To point out that there is no one born of a woman greater than John the Baptist must have been a great encouragement and warmed a doubting heart. I have no doubt that when John heard these things that Jesus said of him it brought relief to an anguished mind and heart. He knew then that his life had not been for nothing, that he had fulfilled all he was to do. Death could be faced with boldness because John had done what was right in God’s eyes. I think this is a great tribute to John the Baptist and served as a warning to those who were vocal critiques of Jesus and of John. Jesus didn’t rescue John the Baptist not because He couldn’t but because John had fulfilled the purpose God had for his life and his time on earth was finished. I think John knew that and accepted that his death would come in that prison. He remained as bold as ever, though, and didn’t go out of this world quietly. In fact John’s death showed that wisdom was with John and not his enemies. The contrast of their lives was evident for all of Israel to see. John was a prophet of God and his murder was ordered by a glutton of lust.
What can we glean from this example for our own lives? I think first of all we need to understand that we are not in control of our own destiny. Like John who was being used mightily by God and his life was under submission to God so we are to submit to Jesus. We have been bought with a price and are now under Jesus protection and authority if we are Christians. This means that how we live and how we die is our Lord’s decision and under our Lord’s control.
Secondly I believe that we will have times of struggle and times of doubting just like John. We have the Holy Spirit to remind us that there is purpose to our life and we can be encouraged by this. During those times when God seems to be silent and far from us we need to realize that we are not forgotten. John wasn’t forgotten even though he felt that way for a time. We need to realize that we don’t understand all that God may be doing and so we need to trust that there is a reason for our season of turmoil.
Finally I want us to remember that wisdom wins over folly. We may not see all the spiritual battle going on around us but God is in it and so is wisdom. From the beginning wisdom was with our Lord! Look at the following scriptures passage to see what I mean.
“The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old; I was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be. When there were no watery depths, I was given birth, when there were no springs overflowing with water; before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills, I was given birth, before he made the world or its fields or any of the dust of the earth. I was there when he set the heavens in place, when he marked out the horizon on the face of the deep, when he established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep, when he gave the sea its boundary so the waters would not overstep his command, and when he marked out the foundations of the earth. Then I was constantly at his side. I was filled with delight day after day, rejoicing always in his presence, rejoicing in his whole world and delighting in mankind. Proverbs 8:22-31, (NIV).
Notice how wisdom came before the world. Wisdom was used to form the mountains and the waters and will be with us continually. Taking this passage with the ending of the last passage we looked at in Matthew we can see that wisdom was certainly with John the Baptist throughout all his life. Wisdom is with us today too. Remember James says that if we lack wisdom to ask and God will give it generously (James 1:5). Wisdom will help us to perceive the things of God, the ways of God that we don’t understand and wisdom will reason with our doubt until we conquer doubt. Hey, if even one of the greatest had a time of doubt why won’t we? But we don’t need to stay in a state of doubt, no; just like John the Baptist took encouragement from the words of Jesus so can we. That to me is the best news of all.