When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”Matthew 11:2-3
I think that this is one of the most poignant and moving questions in all of Scripture. A question that is asked by one of God’s greatest prophets, at his darkest hour. John the Baptist is now in prison, awaiting execution. His work is finished. He has prepared the way of the Lord, and done so faithfully. Jesus is on the scene. But there is a problem: Jesus is not doing everything expected of the Messiah. Rome is still in power. Jesus has not yet restored the Kingdom of Israel. And it seems unlikely that he will. Not in the way people expected. And people like John the Baptist still find themselves being oppressed and imprisoned. John himself is in prison, because of “King” Herod, and he can’t help but wonder if Jesus really is the one. And if he is, why he has not done all that the Messiah was expected to do.
So John sends word to Jesus to ask him this question, almost painful in its honesty: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Before John the Baptist dies, he must know: was his life lived in vain, or did it have a purpose? Is Jesus the one, or not?
So what is the answer that Jesus gives? The answer is almost as amazing as the question. Jesus doesn’t answer John’s question directly. Instead, he tells John’s disciples to:
“Go and tell John what you hear and see: 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 blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me” (Matthew 11:4-6).
I wonder what John thought when he heard that answer. It didn’t get him out of prison. It didn’t change the circumstances of his life. Did it encourage John? Or not?
Jesus didn’t answer John directly. Why? I think it is because Jesus wants to encourage faith. And faith is the conviction of things not seen. So Jesus doesn’t answer John’s question, but instead invites John to look at the clues that Jesus’ action offers. It is there. All he has to do is look. Look at all the clues that Jesus really is the one, and make the leap of faith.
And isn’t that all true for us, too? In the midst of our questions, and even our doubts, Jesus invites us to look around. And when we do we can’t help but see clues; we can’t help but see clear and powerful evidence of God’s presence in our lives, and of God’s love for us in Jesus. God graciously gives us this evidence when we look through the eyes of faith. Does God answer all of our questions? No. Not now. One day, God will answer all our questions, simply and directly. But now we are invited to take the leap of faith and believe and trust that Jesus is the Messiah; that he is the resurrection and the life; that he is the one that John the Baptist was waiting for, and the one that the world is waiting for, and the one that we are waiting for, too. Yes, Jesus is the one. Our promised Messiah. The world’s Savior. And all who believe in him, even though they die, will live. Thanks be to God.
This is another in my series exploring scripture’s most compelling questions. I share more about this series here: What Are Scripture’s Most Compelling Questions?