Have you ever given your all only to find that your sacrifice had left you shorthanded? Have you ever heard the call, followed with courage and determination, stood your ground with conviction, only to fear later that you had missed something after all? Have you ever felt so good about the direction you were headed only to look behind you and see that everyone who had been following you earlier was now headed in another direction?
You’re in good company.
John, a close relative of Jesus, had literally been born to “guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:79) His father Zacharias had been told that this would be a special child and his mother Elizabeth had felt the confirmation of the Holy Spirit when the child in her belly had encountered the Messiah for the first time. Don’t you just bet that John had been raised to know that he was indeed special and that he had a holy calling on his life?
From the very beginning, even before his beginning, John was all about Jesus.
Desert dwelling, locusts eating, camel hair wearing, and repentance preaching John was the kind of guy who drew a crowd and stepped on toes, but not the kind who developed a loyal following. While there were those who stuck close to him, I imagine most of the people from all around the Jordan who were going out to confess their sins and be baptized by this grizzly kind of guy didn’t stick around for much of his no-nonsense preaching. Most of us can handle only so much direct and pointed talk before we withdraw into a more comfortable place.
But John didn’t shirk away from the task of “making ready the way of the Lord.” He embraced it. He boldly called the Pharisees and Sadducees a brood of vipers. He told the people to share, the tax gatherers to halt their greediness, the soldiers to stop throwing their weight around, and Herod the tetrarch to …. Well I’m not sure exactly what he told Herod to do, but he made it clear the man was living in sin with his brother’s wife! Not a popular message.
John’s black and white message was the precursor of Jesus’ more colorful one. He preached hell fire and brimstone so Jesus could tell about the kingdom of God. He preached repentance so Jesus could preach grace. He showed no mercy so the Prince of Peace could offer forgiveness. He told it like it was so Jesus could tell it like it could be.
John’s message was the same one you heard in your spirit when you were first convicted of your sin. Just like the day you first realized your desperate need for a savior to rescue you from the penalty of your sin, the people of Judea needed to be awakened to their evil ways. John had the unenviable task of painting the bleak picture so Jesus could save more than the day; He could save the world.
Fortunately some people seem to thrive on the dirty work. John was one of them. We see no record of him backing down from speaking the truth. Even when it meant prison.
But here’s where things get interesting. I realize I’ve skipped the familiar anecdotes of John’s story – how he recognized Jesus as the Lamb of God who had come to take away the sins of the world, how he argued with the Messiah about whether or not he should baptize Him, how he finally succumbed to the honor and how he pointed to Jesus as the Christ, shooing his own disciples to go away and follow the Messiah. I’ve also skipped over some of John’s most famous and admirable words: He must increase, but I must decrease.
But I want us to look most carefully at John’s most pivotal moment of all. The moment when his thriving ministry was coming to a close and Jesus’ was just taking off.
John had landed in prison thanks to his bold assessment of Herod and Herodias’ union. And as he sits in the stench-filled, dark and gloomy prison he has time to contemplate things. Up to this point undoubtedly things had been moving at a fast and furious pace for John. His ministry had picked up speed over the years and had culminated in the appearance of the One he had prophesied about. So now that things had come to a screeching halt, surely he wandered “What’s next? Where does this leave me?”
John’s disciples visited him in prison, ecstatic about all that Jesus was doing and the way the crowds were responding to Him. The people were saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and they weren’t talking about John. “God has visited His people!” they shouted. But John wasn’t a part of the excitement. He was in prison for speaking the truth.
So John sent word to Jesus asking, “Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?”
Now why do you think John sent that message to Jesus? Think about it a minute.
I think it was John’s way of simply saying, “help.” I think he knew Jesus was the Messiah, no doubt about that and the people were even recognizing Him thanks to John’s excellent prep work. I don’t think John really doubted that Jesus was the Expected One. I think he was cold and scared and confused and … left out. Just my opinion. Check it out in Luke 7:16-23 for yourself.
I think Jesus thought the same thing I think because listen to His reply.