Open Matthew 11:1-6.
Matthew 11:2-3 (my translation)
2 In prison, John heard what the Messiah was doing and sent his followers 3 to ask him, “Are you the one to come, or do we wait for another?”
Last year I was in a Masters-level class on the kingdom of God. Dr Tidball asked us, “So why did John the Baptist doubt if Jesus was the Messiah?” How could the greatest of all prophets — the one privileged to announce the arrival of the Messiah — doubt if Jesus was the Messiah?
Think back over the great prophets of the Old Testament. Remember Elijah standing up to the evil king and queen of Israel? Remember when the Syrian army had come to capture Elisha and he prayed, “O Lord, please make them blind”? (2 Kings 6:18) Why didn’t John do that when Herod came to arrest him? More importantly, why didn’t Jesus protect John?
Remember how Joshua took the land from the Canaanites? Jesus is the new Joshua. Remember how judges like Deborah repelled their foreign oppressors and brought justice to Israel? Why doesn’t Jesus do that? Remember how King David battled their enemies and made Israel secure among the nations? If Jesus is the heir of David, why doesn’t he do that? That’s what John expected.
Something’s terribly wrong. For 600 years, foreign powers like Rome had been ruling Israel. John announced the Messiah chosen by God to restore the kingdom of God. But instead of losing power, Herod arrested John, demonstrating to everyone who was really in control. Instead of seizing this opportunity, Jesus did nothing. Actually, it’s worse than that: “When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee” (Matthew 4:12).
Days grew into weeks, with John wondering how long before the Messiah would come to rescue him. John had announced that the Messiah would prune the bad branches like Herod from Israel’s tree (3:10). He expected Jesus to gather the true people of God from their fiery trials and incinerate the chaff who had no place in God’s kingdom (3:12). Months pass. I’m sure John was praying. What else could he do? But nothing’s happening. Is his prophetic ministry over? Is he to stay in his cell until he dies? Is he … forgotten?
John sends his followers to ask Jesus, “Have you given up on me? Should I give up on you?”
Have you ever been in that tragically difficult place where God didn’t come through, didn’t answer your prayer, didn’t do what you expected?
When that happens, you may feel like turning from God. You need to do what John did: turn to him with your question.
Jesus gives no explanation for what he’s not doing (i.e. springing John from Herod’s prison). Instead, he explains what he is doing:
4 In reply, Jesus said to them, “Head back and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind see again and the lame are walking, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor are getting good news, 6 and blessing is on anyone who doesn’t take offence at me.”
Did you get the message? John has been so focused on the one thing Jesus was not doing that he filtered what he’d heard about Jesus’ works (11:2).
Whenever I’ve felt disappointed with God, it’s always because I was so zoomed in on my issue. When my “punyverse” replaces God’s universe, I no longer see what he is doing.
God is not my servant, doing my bidding. I will be disillusioned if that’s my illusion..
When life knocks the stuffing out of you, leaving you raw and bleeding, you’re forced to decide. Am I serving God only for the benefits I gain? Or will I serve God just for who he is? It’s called the purifying of your faith.
The blessing is in sticking with him, instead of taking offence.
What others are saying
Paula Fuller, “Participating in God’s Mission” in The Kingdom Life: A Practical Theology of Discipleship and Spiritual Formation edited by Alan Andrews. (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 2010), 214:
Disillusionment is an essential corrective on the journey of spiritual formation. Isolation or disengagement often reinforces blind spots that are not exposed until we engage in mission. Yet engagement with reality disillusions us; this is a good thing, because part of the transformation is disillusionment. Dis means removal, and illusion is a picture of reality that is not true. We constantly construct illusions of reality that we believe are real. It is engagement with God’s mission in the real world that debunks the illusions in our belief systems that have debilitation, distorting power in our lives. This process is key to transformation …
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