God’s People, part 209: Messengers

Read Matthew 11:1-19

“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’” (John 1:29, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Oberzell_Alte_Kirche_Decke_Johannes_im_KerkerPart 209: Messengers. Once again, we are talking about John the Baptists’ followers. While the Gospel of John has the Baptist completely recognizing who Jesus was, calling him the “Lamb of God” (John 1:26), and confessing that Christ “must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less” (John 3:30, NLT). While these words are poetic reflections of what did end up happening, it is not likely that John the Baptist necessarily understood that to be the truth.

The Synoptic Gospels indicate otherwise, actually. John must have held out hope that Jesus was the Messiah, there’s enough evidence for that; however, the passage in Matthew that you read for this devotion is evidence that John had doubts as to whether or not Jesus was the Messiah. Those doubts get clearly expressed through the Baptist’s messengers.

These messengers were disciples of John the Baptist and where caring for him while he was locked away in prison. They would bring messages to John and they would also deliver messages from him. In today’s passage, we see them doing just that; they’re delivering a message from their teacher to Jesus: “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” (Matthew 11:3, NLT)

John the Baptist, the faithful prophet who preached the coming of the Messiah and repentance of sins in the Judaean wilderness, was doubting as to whether Jesus was the real deal. As a result, he sent messengers to carry those doubts to Jesus in order to see how he responded to them.

It is easy to read this negatively; however, I do not think that Matthew saw this as a negative thing. Doubt is a normal part of life and, if one considers John’s imprisonment, the Baptist was experiencing extreme persecution and hardship! He no doubt felt isolated, alone and confused. He sat in isolation in the depths of Herod’s dungeon, wondering if everything had been in vain.

So, how did Jesus respond? “Jesus told them, ‘Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen— the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.’ And he added, ‘God blesses those who do not fall away because of me.’” (Matthew 11:4-6, NLT)

Jesus did not stop there, because his intent was not to scold John. Instead, he continued on by praising him. “I tell you the truth, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist. Yet even the least person in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he is” (Matthew 11:11, NLT)! The last sentence was not a slight toward John the Baptist, but a reminder of the economy of heaven. The least shall be greatest and the greatest shall be the least. In fact, in John’s current situation he was certainly the least of these and Jesus is reminding him and us that God prioritizes those who are “the least of these” and the distressed.

Friends, this is a message to us as well. It is easy for us to get caught up in our circumstances and to begin to question whether or not Jesus is who he says he is. It is natural, in such times, for us to begin to doubt God. The doubt, in and of itself, is not a bad thing, it’s how we respond to it that gives our doubt any value. The question for us is this, are we better off in our circumstances without Christ, or are we better in them with Christ.

Today, we are being challenged to place our faith back in Christ. There is no need to shame ourselves over our own doubt. If someone as strong in his faith as John the Baptist could find himself in doubt, then we will certainly have those moments too. The challenge is to recognize that and to remember that Jesus is who he says he is and he has the power to bring hope, healing and wholeness to us once more. In that hope, stand assured that you might grow in your faith and in your service of the One who has saved you!

“You know, my faith is one that admits some doubt.” – Barack Obama

Lord, I believe! Help me with my unbelief. Amen.

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