FROM BRANDON HANKS
“Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’ And Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.’” (Matthew 11:2-6 ESV)
John the Baptist is not someone we tend to look at with envy. He would in the end have his head cut off. And although John was commended by Jesus, none of us would want our lives to end in such a tragic way.
Before his death, John is imprisoned and hears reports of all that Jesus is doing. During that time he sends his disciples to ask Jesus if He is the Messiah that was promised to come. We may be quick to be critical of John in this moment. We may even be disappointed that this prophet of God would question Jesus’ identity, especially after all he had experienced with, seen of, and heard from Jesus. Yet, there’s a sobering ring to John’s question. John was struggling and needed reassurance. He was called to prepare the way for the Messiah. But now he finds himself in prison, suffering and questioning things.
Suffering has a way of exposing our expectations, and ultimately what we really believe. There is nothing wrong with asking God questions. Just look at the Psalms, for example. God knows our limitations and sympathizes with our weakness. The real problem with our questions is that they can reveal our flawed perspective, that we may not want to see and own.
Did John expect to be released from prison? It is very possible. The blind are seeing. The lame are walking. The lepers are cleansed. The deaf are hearing. The dead are being raised. The good news is being preached to the poor. After all, earlier in Jesus’ ministry, He stood up in the synagogue and told those in attendance that He had fulfilled what Isaiah had said of the Messiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” (Luke 4:18-19, cf. Isaiah 61:1-2a, emphasis in italics).
In response to John’s question, Jesus does not condemn, rebuke or criticize him. Jesus instead tells John’s disciples to report back what they had experienced, seen and heard, which served to confirm His identity as the long-awaited Messiah. But, wait, what about the captives being released? Isn’t that part of the signs of the Messiah’s coming? So carefully and wisely Jesus adds: “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Matt. 11:6b). Jesus was in fact Messiah, but John would not be released from prison.
Many of us find themselves like John-- imprisoned.
Jesus is my Healer,
but I am sick.
Jesus is my Shepherd,
but I still have unmet needs.
Jesus is my God,
but my prayer hasn’t been answered.
Like John, sitting in the tension of what we believe and expect of Jesus, we may not hear what we want to hear. Does that news change who we believe Jesus is, or does it change us?
May I suggest a few things about handling disappointment with God? First, be honest with God in prayer. Tell Him the truth of where you are at. God already knows what we are thinking and how we feel before we express it. Better to be honest than deceitful, even if it sounds less spiritual.
Second, be honest with another mature brother or sister in Christ about what you are going through. We as Christians are not designed to function well independently and alone. Chances are, if that brother or sister has a healthy relationship with God, they have walked a mile or two in those shoes of disappointment. Not only will they be understanding and present, they will respect you by listening and not trying to “fix” you.
Third, be honest with yourself. Sometimes the person who we are actually disappointed with is ourselves, not God. He is just easier to blame. Jesus is Who He is, but we may have misunderstood Him or one of His promises. Take heart, we have all been there and will find ourselves there again in the future.
We don’t know how John responded to the report from Jesus. Was he encouraged or discouraged? Was he filled with hope or hopelessness? We may never know. More importantly, how will you and I respond when our next disappointment comes? Jesus’ words still stand firm today: “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Matt. 11:6b).