In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says: “Ask and you shall receive; seek and you shall find; knock and the door shall be opened unto you.” Sometimes this seems too easy, even too good to be true. Yet, if you asked someone about what Scriptures they find hard in the Bible, seldom will this one be mentioned. Why? Because we really want it to be true. It would be wonderful if it was true. But when our prayers are not answered that way, how do we explain it? Do we make excuses for God? But, didn’t He mean it?
We talked about John the Baptizer last time. We saw how sure he was of his mission, how fearless. How did he get to that point? Was that a result of him being a prophet? If so, what chance do we, ordinary people, have of likewise understanding and, so, realizing our calling?
I firmly believe that John’s deep-seated commitment to his mission grew within him over all those years, the years he spent communing with God in the wilderness. But did all that time with God reveal to him all the answers? No. Even if he was a prophet, he didn’t know everything that was going to happen. In fact, I think this is an important lesson for us to learn from him. He knew he was called to be the Herald of the Messiah. He knew he was called to prepare the way before Him. But he didn’t have a clue who He was going to be.
It was all the more confusing because he had learned from God that the One he was announcing was not only greater than him because of who He was but also because He existed before John; He pre-dated him. It seems that John did not understand that prophecy until all of a sudden it collided with another one. Because God had also revealed to him that he would recognize the Messiah once he started his ministry of baptism:
John 2:28-31 These things took place in Bethany, across the Jordan, where John was baptising. On the morrow he sees Jesus coming to him, and says, Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. He it is of whom I said, A man comes after me who takes a place before me, because he *was* before me; and I knew him not; but that he might be manifested to Israel, therefore have I come baptising with water.
John 2:32-34 And John bore witness, saying, I beheld the Spirit descending as a dove from heaven, and it abode upon him. And I knew him not; but he who sent me to baptise with water, *he* said to me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending and abiding on him, he it is who baptises with [the] Holy Spirit. And I have seen and borne witness that this is the Son of God.
I wonder what the expression was on John’s face as the pieces of the puzzle started falling in place: He starts his mission of baptism, and one day Jesus, his (younger) cousin, comes to be baptized too. Now, John knows Jesus well enough that he says: ‘Wait a minute, this is about repenting from sins… why are you coming to be baptized by me… it should be the other way around.’ And Jesus’ reply is cryptic: ‘Do it because this is what we need to do to fulfil all righteousness.’
Did John start to put two and two together as he helps Jesus into the water? Did he suddenly remember that prophecy from Micah about the birthplace of the Messiah?
Micah 5:2 2 And thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, little to be among the thousands of Judah, out of thee shall he come forth unto me [who is] to be Ruler in Israel: whose goings forth are from of old, from the days of eternity.
And here is Jesus, born into this world 6 months after John was born, but born by divine appointment in Bethlehem… the very place where Micah prophesied the Messiah would come from, a Messiah who had been around since days of eternity. By the time Jesus comes out of the water, there is no doubt: for as God had declared to John, he saw the Holy Spirit descend onto Jesus as it were in bodily form. And then John knew.
If we want God to reveal to us our role within His story, the first thing we need to do, all we really need to do, is obey.
Did John ever waver?
If you have read the story in the Gospel, you know that John was not only unafraid of the Pharisees and Sadducees, he was not even afraid of the king. He plainly told Herod that it was unlawful for him to take his brother’s wife. That landed him in prison.
How would we react to that today? For doing the right thing, for fulfilling his God-appointed mission, the world swats him down. If this would be hard on us, I think it was all the harder on John. Because, in our case, we can blame ourselves. We can say: ‘Well maybe I heard God wrong’. ‘Maybe this wasn’t meant to be.’ Perhaps we would even get to: ‘I must deserve what happened to me.’ All those thoughts will go through our minds until eventually we will get to the point when we say, ‘God, this isn’t fair.’
But in John’s case, he knew that he was doing exactly what God had called him to do. And, therefore, there was no doubt in his mind that this hardship did not come as a surprise to God. God knew all along this is what would happen… ‘And he still told me to do this? Why is this fair?’
Of course, if we spend a little more time thinking about our own troubles, eventually it will hit us that the hardships that happen in our lives are also no surprise to God. How do we react then? How did John react?
While John was in prison, Jesus’ fame kept growing. He even raised the dead. People everywhere were proclaiming that a great prophet had arisen.
Luke 7:18-20 And the disciples of John brought him word concerning all these things: and John, having called two of his disciples, sent to Jesus, saying, Art *thou* he that is coming, or are we to wait for another? But the men having come to him said, John the baptist has sent us to thee, saying, Art *thou* he that is coming, or are we to wait for another?
Even in the throes of doubt, John puts the question in terms of his mission: ‘Did I mess up? I know I came to announce the Messiah. You are it, right? Tell me…’ And Jesus’ immediate answer is to do the things that prophecy said only the Messiah would do. He gave to a prophet a prophet’s answer (see Isaiah 61:1 and Isaiah 35).
Luke 7:21-22 In that hour he healed many of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and to many blind he granted sight. And Jesus answering said to them, Go, bring back word to John of what ye have seen and heard: that blind see, lame walk, lepers are cleansed, deaf hear, dead are raised, poor are evangelized;
And then Jesus gives the messengers the answer John needed to hear, the answer we all need to hear when hardship and disappointment threaten to bring us down:
Luke 7:23 and blessed is whosoever shall not be offended in me.
No one has the power to bring me down except myself. The world may seem to have the upper hand. The world may think it has defeated me. The devil may boast that he has stolen that which I loved most dearly. But the reality is what Jesus said in John 10:
John 10:27-30 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give them life eternal; and they shall never perish, and no one shall seize them out of my hand. My Father who has given [them] to me is greater than all, and no one can seize out of the hand of my Father. I and the Father are one.
No one can ever derail God’s plan. He is undefeatable. And as long as I choose to cling to Him, He will never let me go. It doesn’t matter how hard the situation is, how weak I feel, how painful it is. All I need, to stay with him, is to trust Him. The only thing that can doom me is if I choose to be offended in Him.
As SK used to say, doubt is not the opposite of faith; the opposite of faith is to be offended. The moment we say, ‘God, you shouldn’t have done that; God, you don’t know what you’re doing; God, let me tell you how this should have turned out’, that is the moment we declare that we should be the ones on the Throne, and not Him. And that never ends well.
So, what about me?
As John’s disciples leave, Jesus turns around and faces the crowd that He has been blessing with His words and His miracles – the crowd that just witnessed John’s pain and doubt – and He says:
Luke 7:24-27 …What went ye out into the wilderness to behold? a reed shaken by the wind? But what went ye out to see? a man clothed in delicate garments? Behold, those who are in splendid clothing and live luxuriously are in the courts of kings. But what went ye out to see? a prophet? Yea, I say to you, and [what is] more excellent than a prophet. This is he concerning whom it is written, Behold, *I* send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way before thee;
Jesus is essentially telling them: ‘Don’t you dare look down on John because you heard him doubt. You know who he is. And that hasn’t changed. You know he was sent by God. Otherwise, why did you go out to him out there in the wilderness? Did you go to be entertained? Or did you hear the voice of God?’
Luke 7:28 for I say unto you, Among them that are born of women a greater [prophet] is no one than John [the baptist]; but he who is a little one in the kingdom of God is greater than he.
And I think this is the bottom line for us.
John is the greatest of all the prophets because he fulfilled the greatest mission assigned to the prophets. They were sent to bring us the Word of God. It was John’s assignment to usher in the Living Word of God. You can’t top that.
BUT that is not the only mission the Spirit of God has assigned to the children of God. Each one of us has a mission, each one of us has a part in God’s plan. And if we choose to do it, if we choose to listen and obey, then that mission will be revealed to us. And more than that, we will succeed in that mission because that is how God carries out his appointed purpose in this world. And no one can top that.
Sooner or later, all of us doubt our strength, all of us worry about our commitment, all of us fear that maybe God didn’t hear that prayer that I prayed. But, there is a prayer I know that I know that I know God the Father could never fail to hear: His Son’s plea:
John 17:13-21 And now I come to thee. And these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in them. I have given them thy word, and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, as I am not of the world. I do not demand that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them out of evil. They are not of the world, as I am not of the world.
Sanctify them by the truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world; and I sanctify myself for them, that they also may be sanctified by truth. And I do not demand for these only, but also for those who believe on me through their word; that they may be all one, as thou, Father, [art] in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.