Doubting John

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

Most Bible students have heard of “Doubting Thomas,” the disciple who was not present on that first Easter evening when Jesus presented Himself to the other disciples. Thomas rejected the reports that Jesus had risen from the dead, saying flatly, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it” (John 20:25). When Jesus presented Himself a week later to Thomas, his doubts disappeared and he believed . . . and worshiped.

But there is another doubter described in the New Testament: John the Baptist. John, who preached the Gospel so powerfully and fearlessly, had rebuked King Herod for marrying his sister-in-law. The unrepentant Herod was furious and cast John into prison. As John languished in his cell, perhaps rightly suspecting that he would not leave that cell alive, doubt began to set in as to whether Jesus really was the promised Messiah.

Why would John doubt? Well, if Jesus truly was the Messiah, why was John in prison? John had been boldly preaching the good news of the Gospel and baptizing new believers in the name of Jesus. Surely the real Messiah would want John to continue his ministry and would have the power to keep John out of prison, carrying on the work of the Kingdom. It would have made no sense to John that he was behind bars if Jesus really was the promised King of kings and Lord of lords.

The truth is, much of life does not make sense to us. Isaiah recorded these words: “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts'” (55:8-9). The expectation of the Jewish people when the promised Messiah came was that He would vanquish all of the enemies of God’s people and return Israel to her former power and prominence. At the time of Christ, the nation of Israel was a conquered nation, chafing under the rule and reign of Rome. John couldn’t understand why he would be in a Roman prison if Jesus was the One who was promised to set the people of Israel free.

So John sent his disciples to ask Jesus the question recorded in Matthew 11:3, and our loving Lord gently responded —

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. (Matthew 11:4)

All the miracles Jesus cited were signs that pointed to the reality that Jesus was the Messiah. You see, what so many in that day simply could not understand was that Israel’s greatest adversary was not Rome; their most terrible enemies were sin, Satan, and death. Jesus had come to destroy the works of the devil, not the wrongdoing of Rome. He came first as a suffering Servant to pay the penalty for our sin. He will come again, however, this time as our conquering King, who will put all His enemies under His feet.

But what about John? Was Jesus disappointed that John was doubting? Was He angry that John had actually sent disciples to question Him? How would Jesus respond to John’s faltering faith?

“I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist.” (Matthew 11:11)

Jesus received John’s question with kindness and words of reassurance; He receives our doubts too. He answered John’s question graciously, and He will answer us in the very same way. Sometimes we face storms in this life that cause us to doubt. When that happens, we must do exactly what John did: take our doubts directly to Jesus. Jesus will not be disappointed by our doubts, and He will not disregard our doubts. Rather, Jesus will encourage us with His unconditional love to carry on, even in the face of doubt.

“Take heart!” He tells us. “I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). And thanks to His atoning death, burial, and supernatural resurrection, so will we.

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!


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