When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”
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 cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” (verses 2-6)
John was an amazing prophet of God, uniquely called as the forerunner of Messiah, preparing the way and announcing his coming. I can only imagine the powerful, ongoing revelatory relationship John had with the Lord God Almighty. He confidently heard his voice and declared his message. Indeed, Jesus will say later in this very passage that “there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist” (verse 11).
Yet John had real doubts.
I find this perversely encouraging when I, too, find uncertainties, hesitations and worries undermining my own trust in the Lord. John, the great prophet, experienced the same.
It seems that John’s doubts resulted from the strength of his expectations of what Messiah would be like. When John’s disciples relayed his question, they used a phrase in reference to Jesus (“the one who was to come”) that had been part of John’s initial preaching. “After me will come one who is more powerful that I,” he had declared. Further, this coming one “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire … burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire”(Matthew 3:11-12). Clearly, John expected Messiah would not only bring blessing (“the Holy Spirit”), but also decisive judgement (“unquenchable fire”).
But Jesus’ ministry thus far hadn’t lived up to those expectations. Indeed, John himself was languishing in Herod’s dungeon, unjustly imprisoned for preaching God’s word in judgement on Herod himself. Where, then, was the powerful ministry of Messiah that would set everything right? Where was the just judgement of God, falling like fire, on Herod’s wickedness?
John’s expectations were clouding his vision. He was missing what Jesus was, in fact, already doing – blind eyes were seeing, deaf ears hearing, sickness was healed, lame limbs restored, and good news was preached to the impoverished. At the beginning of his ministry, in the synagogue of Nazareth (Luke 4:14-21), Jesus had declared the messianic signs from Isaiah’s prophesy (Isaiah 61:1) would be fulfilled in his own ministry. Now it was happening. If only John could see. It was happening differently than he had expected. Judgement, and the setting right of all things, would come later. The timeline was more drawn out than John had ever anticipated.
But Messiah had indeed come. He was already at work. But in his own timing.
I know the whole story. I firmly believe that Jesus is “the one who was to come.”Truly, he is Messiah. But I confess, doubts still rise. Is he really at work? Does he hear my prayers? Is the kingdom advancing? Will he take impossibilities and do something new? Can mountains still be moved? Will justice come?
When my own expectations of timing and process and outcome are not yet fully realized, leading me to doubt my Lord in this present moment, I choose to lift my sights once more, focusing on what he is already doing, and trusting him for what is yet unseen.
Lord Jesus, fix my sights on you. Give me eyes to see where you are already at work. Strengthen me to trust you, my Saviour and Lord, for what I cannot yet see.
Reflect: Are there doubts currently at play in your own mind? Put them in the Lord’s hands. Then fill your mind with as many sightings of his present work as you can manage. Give thanks. Trust him for what is yet unseen.
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