Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, he departed into Galilee
Do you feel abandoned and forgotten by Jesus? Are you struggling with your faith? Are you looking at your surroundings and asking, “If God really loved me, why would this happen?” Do the many promises of God to be with you and love you ring hollow because of the suffering you are experiencing?
If so, consider John the Baptist, you know the guy who ate bugs and honey for God.
John was the prophet of the Messiah. He was chosen by God to act as His Herald, the one who would go before Jesus and announce His imminent arrival like the guys with funny hats and trumpets used to announce the arrival of a King. Even in his mother’s womb, John was special. Elizabeth, his mother, felt him proclaiming the arrival of the Messiah when she received Mary for a visit before he was born. Thousands upon thousands of Israelites flocked to John for the baptism of repentance. His ministry was incredibly successful for God.
John is a pretty special dude in the family of God. He is even Jesus’ cousin.
Yet despite being a special man of God, we read about how John’s ministry runs into trouble and he finds himself in great distress at the hands of a petty cruel tyrant who did not like that John was following the Word of God. He is in prison for following God.
Can you imagine what John was thinking should happen as he sat there in that ancient prison?
You put ME in jail, Herod, I am the prophet of the Messiah!
You cannot do that to me – Jesus is going to straighten you guys out. C’mon Jesus get me out of here!
But Jesus does not get John out of prison and this fact appears to greatly effect John’s view of Him. Jesus never changes from the same guy who John was proclaiming shortly before this time, but John’s attitude certainly does. He appears to lose faith in Jesus.
At this point in Jesus’ ministry, John and the disciples are still expecting the Messiah that they envisioned when reading some but not all of the Old Testament messianic prophecies. They were expecting the Conquering King who would liberate Israel from the Romans and make all things right at this point. They were not looking for the Suffering Servant sacrificed on our behalf so John’s goals for Jesus and for Jesus’ ministry are totally off. Now is the time to fix all that is wrong in my life Lord!
What does Jesus actually do? He departs into Galilee. Jesus not only leaves John in prison but He travels into a completely different area of Israel. That was unexpected!
Why does Jesus do this rather than what John thought He should do?
Because it was better – better for Gods’ plan, better for the world, and yes, even better for John. The Baptism of John was temporary, a way to prepare for the Messiah, Jesus’ Blood is eternal – there is simply no comparison between the two and Jesus was following the path that lead to the Cross. It was God’s plan for Jesus from the time He was a little baby in the manger to die for the sins of the world and rise again. Necessarily, following the will of God resulted in great pain for Jesus and John for a short time to accomplish an eternal goal that was so much greater.
This may be easy to comprehend when discussing God and His ways in Bible study, but it really hard to see when you are in the midst of a trial. Pain and suffering tends to narrow down our worldview to just our immediately surroundings. It is easy to lose sight of God during these times.
John was in jail and Jesus left without getting him out. Jails were not the three hots and cot plus cable TV experience of today. They were miserable, dank, stinky and painful, our worst nightmare of injustice…and Jesus left him there.
Can you imagine how hard that was for John to swallow?
In response, I think we see the pillar of faith, John the Baptizer seemingly go astray.
Look at what happens in Luke 7:
18 Then the disciples of John reported to him concerning all these things. 19 And John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to Jesus,[b] saying, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?”
20 When the men had come to Him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to You, saying, ‘Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?’”
Do we realize that this took place? John the Baptist, he who had the privilege of baptizing Jesus and who proclaimed Him as the Lamb of God now is doubting Jesus. He had given everything for God and has been faithful up to this point through extreme circumstances, but this…this has been too much for John.
Ever been here? Ever ask Jesus similar questions?
Are you really the Messiah because I am really in a lot of pain and I don’t see you doing anything?
Are you really the Messiah because I don’t see you carrying out my plan for what the Messiah should do?
I just don’t feel you Jesus, are you really the Messiah?
John may be even going so far as challenging Jesus, the tone of the question of “do we look for another?” is hard to determine. It could be that John was saying in essence, act like you should or we will back another candidate for Messiah.
How about this place in your walk, have circumstances lead you to challenge Jesus?
Please do what I want you to do or I will no longer follow you Jesus?
John also spends some of his remaining valuable time on this earth directly telling his followers to go and question Jesus. It is somewhat shocking to read.
But think about it, John is in a horrible prison surrounded by horrible people at the mercy of a horrible tyrant. He is hearing about the healings and miracles Jesus is doing, but not about the destruction of the Roman legions, the deposing of the corrupt religious leaders or the establishment of the Armies of Israel…or just getting him out of jail.
John’s expectations are directly clashing with the work of God. Since he is refusing to yield to what he clearly already knows, Jesus is the Messiah, it results in bad thinking on John’s part.
Before we throw stones at John, have our plans and expectations for God clashing with God’s plans lead us to this place?
God is not answering my prayer for healing, so He is not a loving God.
I cannot feel God working so I know that He has abandoned me.
God allowed a really bad thing to happen so He has clearly does not care about me.
Are our expectations for how God carries out His plan conflicting with Jesus carrying out His plan and leading to false conclusions?
In response to John sending his disciples to express his doubting, Jesus response is simple – open your eyes John! Jesus points out all that He was doing:
And that very hour He cured many of infirmities, afflictions, and evil spirits; and to many blind He gave sight.
22 Jesus answered and said to 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. 23 And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.”
Jesus points to the things that should have been obvious to John if his eyes were on Jesus and not on his own circumstances. He points John to His working in the world, even if did not line up with John’s expectation and reminds John that Jesus is the one with the better plan. Go back and tell John that my ways are higher than his ways.
This could have been enough. Jesus as God could have left it here, I am God, get in line. That should be enough for any of us.
But Jesus by His nature as the great teacher doesn’t leave it there, He continues and explains to the crowd around Him:
This is he of whom it is written:
‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face,
Who will prepare Your way before You.’
For I say to you, among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
Jesus takes the time to make it clear He doesn’t condemn John for questioning. He does not mock John for going against God. Jesus does not strike John down with a lightning bolt – this would be my preference if I was all powerful and someone questioned me.
Jesus attests to the crowd that despite what just happened, John is still His prophet, John is still His people, He is still a great man. John is the greatest among all men but he is just a man and not yet a partaker of the fullness of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus knows where John is and knows that he has expressed doubt, but he still belongs to Jesus – John is still just a simple sheep in need of his Shepherd.
Jesus never forgets John. Jesus just has a better plan on the eternal stage.
Though we may be in the midst of trial, in a prison of our own making or at the mercy of a cruel tyrant in our lives and it may seem like Jesus has forgotten us, take heart we are still His people. He has not forgotten or abandoned us. He is just working out his plan which always is just better than ours. Though it may involve pain in the near term, we will be grateful for every moment of it in the end.
Jesus never left John, no matter where he was and never stopped working for John’s good. He promises the same for us no matter what out circumstances tell us.