John the Baptist is in prison where he begins to question his confidence in Jesus. The cities in which Christ ministers do not respond. The doubts of a saint, however, are massively different from the doubts of a skeptic.
2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples 3 and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 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. 6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
John the Baptist was languishing in prison. Conditions were harsh even for him, a man unaccustomed to comfort. Further, he was not a criminal, and he knew he didn’t belong there. Where was that Messiah that was going to set the world right? Jesus was certainly that very man, wasn’t he? There was the voice from heaven and the Spirit descending like a dove. He was a relative and John knew him well enough to believe Jesus of Nazareth was the one. But again, here he was, locked up and no happy ending anywhere in sight. Who can blame him for asking Jesus for some word of hope or instruction?
The doubts of a saint are vastly different from the doubts of the skeptic. When we find we don’t have the Jesus we wanted, we need assurance, even if we are determined to believe. It’s a question of trust. We can trust someone during difficult times, but still acknowledge that the times are difficult. Disappointment with God is a real thing. Our faith may waver, but it will not fail. Surely, as we wait, God will strengthen our heart.
The skeptic sees things differently. Difficulties just add to his denials. She builds a wall of doubt out of bricks inscribed with objections. Trials are never an acceptable outcome of obedience. Disobedience can always find its reasons.
The saint knows better. The narrow gate and the difficult way lead to life. The rugged cross is something to cherish and something to cling to, while awaiting to exchange it for a crown. Is this the Jesus we wanted? No matter, it is the real Jesus. And he would tell us the same thing he told John:
“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.”
Everyone probably struggles with fear in one form or another. I’m not really speaking of a serious phobia nor suggesting anything like paranoid behavior. I’m only pointing to the nervousness, doubt or hesitation that holds us back from that which we know deep down to be good. It can be revealed in our unwillingness to take the next step to advance our career, our reluctance to introduce ourselves to the new guy at work, or our inability to share an important struggle with a close friend who most likely would be happy to help us bear the burden.
We can learn a vital lesson from the life of Moses. Here was a man – a confessed murderer, no less – who fled from Egypt 40 years before. He then returned as a wilderness shepherd, staff in hand, and had the chutzpah to demand that Pharaoh release into his custody a large chunk of the Egyptian labor force. Courage exemplified.
So where did he get it? Was he just that kind of a guy – the kind of person I am not? Not hardly. If we journey to Exodus 3 to spy him at the moment God revealed this great calling upon his life, we find him just as fearful or hesitant as we might be – drowning, it seems, in a tank of inadequacy:
… Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” – Exodus 3:11 (NKJV)
But he was the guy to do it. So the Lord responded with:
… “I will certainly be with you…” – Exodus 3:12 (NKJV)
And that made all the difference. Moses, doubt intact, still did what he had to do. Later, Joshua received a similar command/promise:
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9 (NKJV)
And what was true for them is true for us as Christians:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. – Matthew 28:19-20 (NKJV)