1When Jesus had finished giving these instructions to his twelve disciples, he went off teaching and preaching in towns throughout the country.
2John the Baptist, who was now in prison, heard about all the things the Messiah was doing. So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, 3“Are you really the Messiah we’ve been waiting for, or should we keep looking for someone else?”
4Jesus told them, “Go back to John and tell him about what you have heard and seen—5the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor. 6And tell him: ‘God blesses those who are not offended by me. ’”
7When John’s disciples had gone, Jesus began talking about him to the crowds. “Who is this man in the wilderness that you went out to see? Did you find him weak as a reed, moved by every breath of wind? 8Or were you expecting to see a man dressed in expensive clothes? Those who dress like that live in palaces, not out in the wilderness. 9Were you looking for a prophet? Yes, and he is more than a prophet. 10John is the man to whom the Scriptures refer when they say,
‘Look, I am sending my messenger before you, and he will prepare your way before you.’
11“I assure you, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist. Yet even the most insignificant person in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he is! 12And from the time John the Baptist began preaching and baptizing until now, the Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing, and violent people attack it. 13For before John came, all the teachings of the Scriptures looked forward to this present time. 14And if you are willing to accept what I say, he is Elijah, the one the prophets said would come. 15Anyone who is willing to hear should listen and understand! (Matthew 11:1-15, NLT)
The Daily DAVEotional
Matthew 11 contains a very strange passage about John the Baptist. While Jesus is preaching and teaching in towns throughout the country, John the Baptist hears about all the things Jesus is doing and then he sends his disciples to go and ask Jesus if he’s really the Messiah.
What’s going on here? If anyone should know the true identity of Jesus, you would think it would be John the Baptist. Remember back in Matthew 3 John was out in the desert baptizing people and he told the crowds that while he baptized with water, one would come after him who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. John said this person would be so much greater than him that he would be unworthy to even be this person’s slave.
Immediately after that, Jesus shows up and is baptized by John, after which the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus in the form of a dove while the voice of the Father affirms Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. I previously wrote about this baptism event here.
John had been born for the purpose of preparing the way for the Messiah. He had prepared his whole life for that moment of introducing the Messiah to a lost and dying world. He had known Jesus since birth and Jesus’ identity and mission had been confirmed to him and all those present at Jesus’ baptism.
So why is John the Baptist suddenly asking Jesus whether He really is the Messiah? If you think about it, you have to wonder why this passage was even included in the text at all. It doesn’t appear to add any new information of value to what we already know about Jesus. What then is the purpose of this odd interaction?
I think this passage demonstrates a universal phenomenon that we all deal with.
Imagine that. John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus, the way-maker appointed for preparing a path for the coming Messiah, the one who first identified Jesus as the Messiah and the Lamb of God to the crowds, the one who baptized Jesus and was a witness to the affirmation of Jesus by the Father and the Holy Spirit, is suddenly doubting whether Jesus really is the Messiah.
Why would he doubt?
I think a couple of things are happening that might help us understand.
First of all, John the Baptist had been arrested fairly soon after Jesus was baptized. In Matthew 4, Jesus goes out into the desert after His baptism and undergoes 40 days of temptation. The text says that after Jesus heard John was arrested, he began to preach (Matthew 4:12-17). So Jesus really doesn’t even begin his public ministry until after John is arrested.
Being in prison means that John cannot be a personal witness to the things Jesus is doing.
The bottom line for John is that things are not going the way he expected. He was not expecting to be imprisoned and he likely was also not counting on being sidelined while others had a front row seat as eyewitnesses to the many miracles and the public teaching of the Messiah.
When life doesn’t turn out the way we expect or hope, doubt can set in. Doubt can be so powerful that even the most stable, fundamental truths to which we’ve always held can suddenly be questioned.
Jesus’ response to John’s doubt is quite revealing.
Notice that Jesus doesn’t get angry or impatient. If it were me, I’d probably respond with a derisive, “Really bro? You know me. We grew up together. You were there when I was baptized. Remember that? And don’t you remember the dove descending and the voice from heaven? Why you gotta be a hater? C’mon man!”
Jesus is not upset and he’s not rattled. He simply responds to John’s disciples by quoting from Isaiah 29, Isaiah 35, and Isaiah 61, passages which describe what the ministry of the Messiah would look like. It just so happens, these are the exact things that Jesus is doing in His ministry.
Notice too that after John’s disciples leave, Jesus speaks glowingly to the crowds of John the Baptist and his ministry, calling him the greatest of all the prophets who had ever lived.
Jesus is not phased by John’s doubt. Jesus is not threatened or concerned by John’s doubt. Jesus does not use John’s doubt against him.
If Jesus can handle the doubt of a guy he called the greatest prophet who ever lived and who knew Jesus personally, He can certainly handle my doubt and your doubt.
It’s ok to doubt. Doubt is an expected response to unforeseen and unexpected circumstances.
But like John the Baptist, we shouldn’t wallow in our doubt. Instead, we should seek Jesus out, share our doubt with Him and allow Him to lovingly remind us of all the ways in which He has demonstrated who He is by the things He’s done in our lives and in the lives of others!
What are some common reasons or circumstances that you think cause people to doubt?
What is a time in your spiritual journey where you doubted? What were the circumstances? How did you deal with that doubt?
What has been your response to others you know who have doubted God or Jesus or Christianity?
What are some helpful resources or steps you could provide to someone who is experiencing doubts in their faith?