He was born to a priest father (Zechariah) and a faithful, godly mother (Elizabeth), and consecrated in his mother’s womb.
If you had met John, you may not have liked him. He wasn’t the kind of man to have a beer or smoke cigars with. He lived in the wilderness and his ministry was to prepare the way for the Messiah. When he came out of the wilderness, he was scary...a lightning rod in the hands of God.
John dressed in camel’s hair. He ate honey. And he probably smelled the way he talked...earthy. He probably wouldn’t have been acceptable at most cocktail parties or invited to preach at most churches.
John offended everybody. That was okay. But he offended King Herod. Herod had John arrested, probably planning to teach him a lesson. But then, plastered, Herod promised his stepdaughter the head of John the Baptist on a platter. And as publicly promised, Herod delivered John’s severed head.
That’s the context. Now back up. John the Baptist had an extraordinary ministry. Crowds of people came to hear him preach and responded to his ministry. But now, in Matthew 11, John is in prison. The crowds are all gone. And it’s dark.
“Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’ And Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.’” Matthew 11:2-6
I’m as old as dirt and at this stage in my life, I have a distant association with John the Baptist. I get the questions. I get the darkness. I get the pain. And frankly, when you’re old, you look back and sometimes wonder.
Maybe you’re in John’s place. Maybe these are dark times of questions and doubts. Maybe you’re old enough to face your mortality. Maybe things haven’t gone the way you thought they would. Maybe you’re haunted by broken dreams. Maybe you wonder if life is meaningless.
What I’ve learned here may speak to you too.
Jesus’ reaction to John was kind. Jesus could have reprimanded John. He could have said to John, “I can’t believe you’d have these questions. You’re a leader of God’s people and you’ve walked with God all these years. How could you?” But instead, Jesus accepted the questions and the doubts, and said to John’s disciples, “Go tell John...” In other words, “Go tell John that I am kind and I know the darkness.”
If you want to read something that will keep you up at night, you ought to read how the church—that would be “us”—treated heretics for the last couple thousand years. They were persecuted, burned and tortured. In our efforts to keep the church pure, we ended up lying about God: “Get out of line and God will break your legs.”
“I will give you rest,” Jesus promises. You are covered. You are loved, forgiven and cherished. It really is finished.
When our granddaughter Christy was a little girl and misbehaving, I once told her, laughing, “If you don’t stop, I’ll break your face.” She just laughed and said, “Pops, you wouldn’t break my face!” Neither will God.
When it’s dark and I have my doubts, Jesus says, “Go tell Steve that I understand and I love him.”
Jesus encouraged John. The interesting thing here is that Jesus didn’t say, “Go and tell John that he was right” or “Go and tell John that I’m proud of him and his message.” Jesus said instead, “Go and tell John that the blind see, the dead are alive, the cripples dance, and those who have heard the good news laugh.” In other words, Jesus told John that it wasn’t it about him...It was about Jesus.
You smell like Jesus. This whole thing is about Jesus. When we show, Jesus shows.
Jesus said, “Go and tell John that he could have been a whole lot better, but he always pointed to me. That’s why he was born.” Jesus says the same thing to me and to you. I don’t know about you, but it makes me feel a lot better.
Jesus affirmed John. I love Matthew 11:18-19. Jesus said in effect, “You turkeys! John was a wild man who didn’t drink good wine and you said he had a demon. I, on the other hand, appreciated good food and wine, and you called me a drunk. Not only that, because I went to their parties, you accused me of being a friend of tax collectors and sinners. Make up your mind.”
But Jesus is saying more than that. He is also saying that God uses all kinds of weird people and loves them all. Jesus isn’t a big fan of cookie cutter Christians.
John stood out and he belonged to Jesus: “Come on, John. You smell bad and your food leaves something to be desired. But you’re mine.”
I never fit. I’ve always felt like I was on the outside looking in and people wouldn’t let me in. Whenever I feel that way, Jesus says, “Go tell Steve that he’s okay.”
Jesus anticipated. Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11). Jesus is talking about you and me. We’re the lowest peons in the kingdom...and greater than John.
Do you know why? John didn’t know about the cross. He knew about repentance. He knew and understood about corrupt leaders. He knew about failure and unfaithfulness. But John didn’t know about the cross.
We know about the forgiveness of every sin and the redemption of every failure.
On the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:30).
The blood of Christ is sufficient for every person and situation I’ve screwed up, for every mistake I’ve made, and for every sin I’ve committed.
Jesus says, “Go tell Steve that he’s covered.”
That makes me feel better.
It should you too.
Time to Draw Away
Read Matthew 11:28-30 & John 3:16
Do you have questions and doubts? Are you in the middle of the darkness...and just exhausted? “I will give you rest,” Jesus promises. You are covered. You are loved, forgiven and cherished. It really is finished.
Read more from Steve Brown here