Written Word

Matthew 11:3 – “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”

The ministry of John the Baptist was extraordinary. No other prophet in Israel had been given such a special assignment. Everything about John was marked with wonder: his birth was announced to his aged father by an angel; from his mother’s womb he was filled with the Holy Spirit; and he identified Jesus as the promised saviour – “Behold the Lamb of God,” he said, ” who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) The success of his ministry in turning the hearts of the people back to God was evidence that the hand of the Lord was upon him. John was fearless in denouncing the immorality of Herod, who had taken his brother’s wife. This action led to his imprisonment and, eventually, his execution. (Matthew 14:1-12) Yet from prison John sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” Prison can have a way of introducing doubt where once strong faith existed. John’s faith had taken a hit and he required an assuring word of confirmation.

Look at the Evidence

Jesus could have given a straightforward “yes” in reply to John’s question, but he didn’t. Instead he replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” (Matthew 11:4-6) Miracles were the balm provided to heal John’s doubts.

Jesus often appealed to his miracles to help people move from unbelief to faith. For example, “Believe me,” he said, “when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.” (John 14:11) The miracles performed on the blind, the lame, the lepers, and the deaf caused Nicodemus to say, “No one can perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.” (John 3:2) The report of such miracles would have had the same effect on John.

How John responded to Jesus’ reply, we are not told. I’m inclined to think that he took time to ponder the Lord’s words. It was as if Jesus had sent him the pieces of a puzzle knowing that once John put them together he would see the picture clearly. This is how God dealt with Job when he wanted to question God regarding his suffering. God never answered Job’s question directly. Instead, God asked him a series of questions and, as Job considered the questions, he concluded that God was in control of the world and capable of taking care of him.

Protecting John’s Character

The Scripture tells us that as John’s disciples were leaving Jesus began speaking to the crowd, this time in defence of John. Three times Jesus asked, “What did you go out to see?” (Matthews 12:7,8,9) Jesus told them that John was no “reed swayed by the wind”. This was a man who was not lacking courage or conviction. Neither was he to be found “dressed in fine clothing” the attire of those in palaces. (Remember he was in prison for having spoken out against the king’s immorality.) Furthermore, not only was John a prophet, he was “more than a prophet”. Jesus said he was a prophet of whom the ancient prophets prophesied. And to crown his defence of John’s character, Jesus said, “Among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist.” (Matthew 11:11) Such glowing tributes were made, not on behalf of a flawless man, but on behalf of one whose faith had been temporarily shaken. In case any of John’s disciples were beginning to think poorly of John for his lack of conviction, Jesus rescued his character and spoke in his defence. His assessment of John was not based on John’s one moment of doubt, but on a life that displayed faithfulness, even to the point of death.

When one who doubted asked Jesus “Are you the one?” Jesus was pleased to give a reply that would replace doubt with faith. He is ready to do the same for us today, if we will be open and honest with him.