Have you ever been in a situation where people did not live up to the hopes and expectations you had for them? If so, you can probably understand why John the Baptist was confused in the reading we heard from Matthew’s Gospel.
Why was he confused? There are two possible reasons. One is that his imprisonment could have affected his thinking. Prisons in John’s day were not like they are today. John was locked up in a dungeon in Herod’s palace. The dungeon was like a cave-dark and depressing.
A second, more likely reason is because Jesus was not the type of Messiah John preached about, not was he the type of Messiah the people were looking for. Both John and the people were looking for a military-type of ruler who would drive out the Romans and restore Israel to the glory days of King David.
Uncertain, scary times can shake us up and cause us to have doubts about our faith. John the Baptist is a good example. When we, like John, are moved by the Holy Spirit, we vow to follow God. When we receive blessings, we are sure that Jesus is our Saviour. When we face tragedies and disasters, we question our faith. We question why these things happen. We are so wrapped up in our suffering that sometimes we can’t see, hear or feel God’s presence.
John clearly shows us what happens to his and our narrow expectations. Christ came for him but He came in a way that John did not expect. We will find reconciliation and peace if we can see beyond our expectations and look for new places where Jesus is working. Jesus came to reverse things.
Jesus did not live up to the expectations of the people. He blessed the poor in spirit, the meek and peacemakers. He called on his people not to judge others. These teachings were contrary to the actions the people expected because of John’s fire and brimstone preaching.
Jesus did not answer John’s question directly. At that time, it was shameful and dishonourable to publicly claim for oneself a higher status than one was born with. In the eyes of the people, he was a carpenter’s son and not the Son of God. He did not openly declare that He was the Messiah. Instead, He proclaimed the kingdom of God.
The expectation that was met was the expectation that society would be changed. The prophecies of healing in the last days came true when Jesus came, and they are coming true as the date of His Second Coming approaches. That healing shows its face in Jesus’ compassion-the same compassion we are to show to a hurting world.
Jesus came to help those in need, those who don’t have anyone else to help them. He didn’t come to destroy the wicked. He came to restore them and give them a second change. In other words, he came for us. We are the ones who need help. We are the ones who need someone to help us. We are the wicked who need a second chance.
Jesus did preach repentance, but he offered mercy and healing. Jesus judges us through mercy. Judgment has come, and Jesus the judge has decided that those of us who have accepted him as our Saviour by faith will receive mercy. In return, we are to continue his ministry of healing and teaching.
Faith requires doubt in order to be faith. All of us have doubts about Jesus and our faith from time to time, especially if we are suffering or praying for something. Sometimes we wonder why God allows suffering or why God doesn’t answer our prayers. At times like these we must be like John. He had doubts, but he was open to hearing Jesus say that He is the Messiah. God doesn’t get mad at us when we have doubts. In fact, he is loving and gracious. He cares about our doubts and problems, but He cares more about us. All of our doubts will be gone and all of our questions will be answered when we get to heaven.
When we have doubts, we can do the following things:
- Admit our doubts and ask for help like John did.
- Act on our faith and not on our doubts.
- Keep going back to what we know to be true.
Sometimes we have blinders on. These blinders hinder our vision of where God is. If we take these blinders off we can see where God is in our lives and trust him.
Jesus answered John’s doubts with a report of His dramatic work. Matthew mentions the giving of sight to the blind first in order to highlight Jesus’ unique ministry. The Old Testament does not record the blind being healed, nor does the New Testament record any of Jesus’ disciples performing such a miracle. It is the most frequent healing miracle that Jesus performed. Jesus also healed the lame, the lepers and the deaf, and he raised the dead. Each of these compassionate acts was proof that Jesus was the Messiah.
Jesus asks us to stretch our understanding of who the Messiah is-a different model than the magical problem-solver and giver of good things that we want to have. When we remain faithful in the face of prayers that are not answered or hopes that go unfulfilled. God does not promise a life without pain, but He does promise that He will walk with us and that we will come out whole in the end.
Jesus used a series of rhetorical questions to get the crowd to appraise John the Baptist. They were so interested in him because he was a humble prophet who spoke a piercing message. That message landed John the Baptist in jail. King Herod married his brother’s ex-wife, and John told him that was wrong. Herod did not like that message, so he had John the Baptist arrested.
Jesus insisted that John was more than a humble prophet because he served as His forerunner. John the Baptist was therefore greater than Isaiah, Daniel, Elijah or any of the other Old Testament prophets because only John had the privilege of personally introducing the Messiah, Jesus Christ, to the nation of Israel. He was also lesser than the least in the kingdom because he did not see the full work of Christ-his death, resurrection and ascension. We have experienced all of these because of our faith in what Christ did for us on the cross. We have experienced the actual atoning work of Christ. We are also greater than John because the Holy Spirit lives in us.
When Jesus said that the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John the Baptist, he was not belittling John but highlighting the extraordinary privilege of being in the kingdom. John prepared the way for the coming of the Messiah, but those in the kingdom experience its reality.
Advent is a time of expectation, a time of waiting for the coming of our Saviour. He comes among us in His Word and through the Holy Spirit. He stirs us up and gets us involved in His ministry among those who are neglected by our society. That is his expectation for us, and it is also the world’s expectation for us as Christians, so it should be our expectation as well. It is up to us to meet those expectations.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, pp. 1299-1300)
- Exegesis for Matthew 11:2-11. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
- ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 11 Bible software package.
- Augsberger, M. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 24: Matthew (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982, p. 18)
- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2006)
- Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles, 2005)
- Dr. Ray Pritchard, “If I Believe, why do I Doubt?” retrieved from www.keepbelieving.org
- Kelly McFadden, “Tunnel Vision.” Retrieved form www.homeword.com
- Jude Siciliano, O.P., “First Impressions, 3rd Sunday of Advent (A).” Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
- The Very Rev. Samuel Candler, “Are You the One Who Is to Come?” Retrieved from www.day1.org
- David Lose, “Disappointed with God at Christmastime.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
- Arland J. Hultgren, “Commentary on Matthew 11:2-11.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org.
- The Rev. Ada Wong Nagata, “Can You See and Hear God’s presence in Your Life?” Retrieved from www.episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw