All was not well; prison life took its toll on John the Baptist.
One of Jesus' strongest supporters was having his doubts.


 

Then the disciples of John reported to him concerning all these
things. And John, calling two of his disciples, sent them to Jesus,
saying, "Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?"

Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John the things you have
seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are
cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the
gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended
because of Me."

When the messengers had departed, Jesus began to speak to
the multitudes concerning John: "What did you go out into the
wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? A man clothed
in soft garments? But what did you go out to see? A prophet?
Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom
it is written: 
            'Behold, I send My messenger,
            who will prepare Your way.'"

                                                    Luke 7:18-27 NKJV, condensed


                                      Jesus, Are You My Man?

When we last considered him, John the Baptist had been in his prime.
Strong, courageous, fearless; fully convinced of his goal and mission
in life. He was out in the desert preparing the way for the Lord. There
were no doubts then. People viewed him as a prophet. Multitudes
came from everywhere; they confessed their sins, repented, and were
baptized in the Jordan River.

John created a revival atmosphere by calling people away from their
daily concerns and turning their attention toward God. He switched
the spiritual thermostat from cool to lukewarm to hot. Like a highway
man, he worked on the foundation of the road upon which God would
come. John spoke, people believed, and many hearts were made
ready for their Messiah. A signpost in the wilderness, John pointed the
way, saying, "I'm not the One, Jesus is."

When Jesus was baptized, some of John's disciples became Jesus'
disciples and John gave them his blessing. John continued preaching
and baptizing until, in one sudden blow, he was arrested and put into
prison. His crime: speaking out against the sins of king Herod when
he took his brother's wife as his own. Herod stopped John the Baptist
in his tracks, and we have heard nothing more from him until now.

The effects of prison life must have been profound. John knew how to
fulfill his life's purpose in the desert, but what was he to do in a prison
cell! Formerly a powerful presence with people standing in awe of him;
now he lived at the mercy of the prison guards and the whims of a
volatile king. John had always known the freedom of the great outdoors.
Take a wilderness man and put him in a hole in the ground where all
he can feel is dark, damp filth; it's got to hurt. What sense did it make?
John had been faithful and obedient to his calling, and look where it
got him!

How long had he been jailed? Probably less than a year. But long
enough to do a lot of thinking and realize his expectations were not
being accomplished. His question, "Is Jesus the One . . .?" revealed
doubt, disappointment and probably fears that he had been deluded.
Jesus was not turning out to be the Messiah he had hoped for. Where
was the redemption of Israel? And salvation from our enemies?
Evil continued to reign. Rome was still in charge. Jesus had done
nothing about it.

All those words about the coming of the kingdom of heaven remained
unfulfilled. Under the stress of prison life, his faith faltered. He could
not see the pieces fitting together. Everything remained the same;
God's kingdom was nowhere in sight. And in this unfortunate condition,
we discover how human John was.

Much to our benefit, the Bible does not gloss over the distress and
doubts of its characters. We see John the Baptist, warts and all. And
in the seeing, recognize ourselves. Jesus, are you the One I believed
you to be? That's not just John's story, it's our story, too.

Jesus' response? Go back and tell John what you have heard and
seen. Report on the good things that are happening. We read the list.
The miracles of healing, even raising the dead. But Jesus saved the
best for last. The love of God for the poor and humble is the greatest
miracle of all. Who but God would have compassion and good news
for the helpless, suffering ones who have no means to escape their
bondage.

Happy are those who never lose their faith. Blessed is he who is not
put off and offended by my words and deeds. How fortunate you are
when you believe in God's kingdom even though you don't see it or
understand it.

When questions hammer their way through my mind, faith seems
such a narrow thread. The weakening cords stretch and jerk me up
and down and all about. Perilously I slip, not knowing whether I want to
hold on for the ride, or give up and fall away. O Love, that will not let me
go, I thank You that when I do not believe in You, You still believe in me

 

Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further
study or reflection.

 

Icebreaker: Think of yourself as a road builder. What kind of road are 
                   you building? Through what terrain? To what destination?

 

Unfulfilled dreams. Unrealized expectations. Disappointments.
            Explain how these things strain your faith in God?
            Do you have to understand in order to believe?

 

Was Jesus the Messiah John believed him to be?
            Why couldn't John, from his prison cell, see it?
            What other questions might John have had on his mind?
How do we know that Jesus is who he claimed to be--the Son of God,
Messiah, and Savior of the world?

 

Do a timeline of your life, charting the high and low points when your
faith was strong and when your confidence in God faltered.
            Is your chart balanced or lop-sided?
                        What does that say to you?
            Did you ever feel forsaken by God?
            How did you recover from periods of doubt?
                        Were miracles involved in any way?
            In what periods of your life were you most certain or uncertain
                        of your beliefs?

 

What have you learned during your lifetime about faith and doubt?
            Would you say faith is a time of blessing and doubt is a time of grief?
                        If you don't agree with that, make your own statement about
                        faith and doubt.

 

When you are in a situation beyond your control or an environment
not of your own choosing, are there ways you can still take charge of
your own life?
            Is it possible to know blessedness and joy in such circumstances?
                        If so, how?

 

Do you ever wonder why God allows evil to run rampant?
            What answers have you discovered?
John spoke out against Herod's brazen, immoral behavior.
            Jesus didn't. Why?
John thought evil would end with the coming of the Messiah.
            When do you think evil will be banished?
            In what ways was Jesus destroying evil and human suffering?

 

What do you think is (or would be) the greatest miracle?

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