Jesus Never Abandons Us
Jesus never takes His eyes off of His sheep. It may feel that way at times, but it is never true. He is always working for our good, even when we don’t understand it. We just don’t see the whole picture. Do you feel abandoned and forgotten by Jesus? 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, the greatest of the prophets whose faith was shaken by the pains of life.
Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, he departed into Galilee
John the Baptist Proclaims the Messiah
John was the prophet of the Messiah. He was chosen by God to act as His herald. He would go before Jesus and announce His imminent arrival. The King is coming, get ready! This is an extremely important position. It is an unbelievable blessing. Even in his mother’s womb, John was special. Elizabeth felt him proclaiming the arrival of the Messiah before he was even born. Thousands upon thousands of Israelites flocked to John for the baptism of repentance. His ministry was incredibly successful for God. He even has the blessing of baptizing Jesus. What a ministry, right? John is a pretty amazing guy in the family of God.
Yet despite being a chosen man of God, John’s ministry runs into trouble. After identifying the Messiah, Jesus, John faces extreme persecution. He falls into the clutches of a petty cruel tyrant. Herod did not like that John criticized him so he throws him into a nasty, dank prison. John the Baptist, the prophet of the Eternal King winds up rotting away in a dungeon for the crim of following God as he was directed. John does everything God asks of him and yet he ends up in prison. It is clearly unjust and unfair. John is treated terribly while being faithful. An apparent contrast like this tends to challenge our fleshly sense of fairness. We tend to believe that when we are good, good things happen to us. Only bad people end up in prison.
Can you imagine what John was thinking he sat there in that ancient pit? If he was anything like I am, it would be something like this:
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. He has the power to free him. Jesus could have knocked down the walls of the strongest prison with a word but He doesn’t. Jesus leaves and heads into another part of the country. He has not forgotten John, God’s will takes Him in a different direction. This appears to greatly disturb John’s view of Jesus. Jesus never changes, but John’s attitude certainly is changed by his circumstances. John’s expectations for worldly outcomes clash with his trust in Jesus. The worldly concerns appear to win out. The great prophet of God appears to lose faith in Jesus.
Are You Really God?…Cause I am Unhappy.
John’s life experience leads him to undermine God’s revelation to him. John knows Jesus is the Messiah. He knows Jesus is real, but his emotions are rebelling. At this point in Jesus’ ministry, John wants the Conquering King they were expecting rather than the Suffering Servant sacrificed on our behalf. John’s goals for Jesus and for Jesus’ ministry are totally off and they lead him to unnecessary doubt and despair. “Now is the time to fix all that is wrong in my life Lord!” is our common cry, “Why won’t you fix everything now?” we ask. It is understandable. Jesus is our Lord. He has fixed so much in our lives already, why not fix this?
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! 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. That had to be hard to swallow.
A War between Flesh and Spirit
In response, we see the pillar of faith, John the Baptizer seemingly go astray. The battle between his goals and God’s will results in a weakness on John’s part. This is not what he signed up for. This is too much!
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, 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?’” Luke 7
John the Baptist doubts Jesus. He who had the privilege of baptizing Jesus and who proclaimed Him as the Lamb of God is now questioning God. John had given everything for God and has been faithful up to this point but this…this has been too much for John. “This can’t be the plan”, John appears to be saying, ” because this was not what I was expecting!”
Ever been here? Ever ask Jesus similar questions?
Are you really the Messiah because I am 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…because my marriage is failing or my loved one is hurting or the hurt is just too much? I just don’t feel you Jesus, are you really the Messiah? When our standards and plans are disregarded by God, how do we react?
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.” and “Is this what you expect us to follow?” It is an ugly pictures, but frankly all to common to man. Circumstances lead us to challenge Jesus on a regular basis.
John then expresses his doubt and tells 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 terrible people at the mercy of a miserable 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. He is not seeing Jesus getting him out of jail. When our great expectations for God, it can feel tremendously disappointing and result in bad thinking. If we don’t stop those thoughts in their tracks, the result can be to pull others along with us into them. The enemy is always lurking and wants to pull us and everyone around us down. He will use any tactic necessary.
Why does Jesus not Follow John’s Will?
God’s will clashes with John’s in this circumstance for the simple reason that God’s is better. It alway is so much greater. God can see things John can’t. He knows things John doesn’t. He is God and John is not. God’s plan is always going to be better. In this instance, Jesus leaving was better for Gods’ plan, for the world, and yes, even for John. The ministry of John was temporary, a way to prepare for the Messiah. Jesus’ Blood is eternal. There is simply no comparison between the two. 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. Following John’s will would have been easier for John in the short term, but disastrous for Eternity.
This may be easy to comprehend in a Bible study, but it really hard to see when we are in the midst of a trial. Pain and suffering tends to narrow down our worldview to just our immediately surroundings. It is so easy to lose sight of God during these times. The world and people like Herod throw terrible things at us regularly and they hurt immensely.
Open Your Eyes John and Have Faith
Jesus’ response to John’s questions is as simple as it is loving – Open your eyes John!
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 were obvious to John when his eyes were on Jesus. He points to His working in the world, even if did not line up with John’s expectation. He reminds John that Jesus is the one with the better plan.
You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ 29 The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease. John 3
Remind John of this! Go back and tell John that my ways are higher than his ways. The circumstances of life caused John to forget the very truths he had proclaimed. Keeping our eyes on Jesus allows the trials of the world to reinforce the Truth of Jesus rather than undermine it. They still hurt, but they don’t compare with the power of Jesus.
God Loves Us Even in Our Doubt
This could have been enough. Jesus as God could have left it here, I am God, get in line John. That should be enough for any of us. Jesus is entitled to our complete worship by right as God. He has earned our faith. But Jesus by His nature is even better than anything we could ever expect. He just doesn’t prove He is Lord and remind John of his power. Jesus continues and expresses His love for John:
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 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. Jesus testifies 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. He is 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. As God and man, Jesus is in a unique position to understand all the forces that come against our faith and our weakness. He never fell prey to the temptations, but He felt them. He understands why we do fall and uses that knowledge to intercede for us. Like a loving parent with a small child, He is filled with mercy, love and grace even when seeing our failures because He was once there. He knows how hard and painful life is and how weak we can be and He loves us through it. He is the glorious mediator between God and man.
Jesus never forgets John. He never scolds John or forsakes him when he doubts. Jesus’ love is so much greater than that. Jesus just reminds John to watch Him and trust Him as his better plan plays out on the eternal stage. What John sees as a mistake and disappointment is actually working towards a wondrous revealing.
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. 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 is better than ours. Though it may involve pain in the near term, we will be grateful for every moment of it when we see it fully.
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 our circumstances tell us.
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