Do you remember when you were young what your mom always said as you went outside to join the neighborhood kids in some kind of organized game, “Now you remember to play fair.” Yet when you approach this same parent in your teen years to complain about something being unfair what did they say, “Well you better learn right now young man that life is not always fair.”
Are they being inconsistent? No not really. One of the rites of passage into adulthood is the realization that life is not always fair. Yet we are still offended by life’s unfairness. For reasons that we do not understand “Bad things do happen to good people” and perhaps even more inexplicable is sometimes “Good things happen to bad people.”
We run into real problems when we try to impose our definitions of fairness on God. When God’s actions or lack of actions do not meet our expectations. Our national constitution states “all men are created equal.” And while it is true that all humans are created equal in God’s sight and have equal rights and protection under the law, all men are not created equal. I think that we all realize that we are not born with the same opportunities. Nor are we are not all equal in abilities and giftedness. For instance brother shares with me one day saying, Bro. George and I grew up with a young man who was one of those extraordinarily blessed individuals. This young was smart, good looking, he could sing, play the piano, was black belt in Karate and now has Phd. in Marine Biology. And the worse part was that he was so stinking humble you could not even hate him. Is that fair that some people have one talent and others have several? Yes it is fair, but not necessarily by our standards.
1. God Does Not Have To Work By Our Expectations
In verse eighteen we read that John’s disciples brought him news about the miraculous things that Jesus was doing.
“Then the disciples of John reported to him concerning all these things.”
It should be remembered that John’s disciples are bringing him the news because he is locked away in prison. John was in prison for having the audacity to confront the king over his marriage to Herodias. Herod, the king, is married to woman who was at one point was his sister-in-law. For courage in speaking out he was confined to the dungeon of a palace overlooking the Dead Sea, a more desolate formidable place is difficult to imagine. In all fairness this must have been an extraordinarily difficult experience for a man accustomed to the outdoors as John the Baptist was.
It is possible that John’s disciples brought him news of Jesus’ latest miracle, the raising of the dead young man in Nain back to life (7:13-17). Languishing in prison, John became increasingly perplexed by the reports he heard of Jesus’ ministry because it was not all what he had imagined that the Messiah would do. John was only doing what we all do. We have a scenario in our mind for those in our lives. We have fixed ideas of how others are going to behave.
We sometimes expect God to do something in a certain way, and if he does not, we think that God has failed us. Such expectations cover a variety of situations – from God helping us to get a certain job, to God healing us of a debilitating medical condition, to our expectations that the Christian life will be free of hardship.
Sometimes we look around and we at least think to ourselves, “God, this is not fair.” You are not treating me right. Even a man as great as John the Baptist wrestled with confusion about whether or not God was treating him right. The value of his struggle should not be missed.
2. Honest Doubt Is Not A Sin (v.19)
No only was he perplexed by what Jesus was doing, he was even more perplexed at what he was not doing. Why was Jesus helping others and leaving John to rot in a dark and miserable stakes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29). He had been faithful in carrying out the ministry given to him, how could God allow him to remain in prison? I don’t think that John no longer believed in Jesus, but he did have questions about the style of his ministry and the content of his message.
John was a great man, but not a perfect man. We have before us the darkest days in the life of John the Baptist. According to verse nineteen, disappointed and puzzled John sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” John did not hide his doubts and fears. We only begin to conquer our doubts when we acknowledge them.
We need to make a distinction before we go any further which is that “ there is a difference between doubt and unbelief. Doubt is a matter of the mind: we cannot understand what God is doing or why He is doing it. Unbelief is a matter of the will: we refuse to believe God’s word and obey what He tells us to do.”
Almost all of the heroes of Scripture at one time or another found themselves enduring periods of doubt and uncertainty. Moses was ready to quit on one occasion (Numbers 11:10-15), and so was Elijah (1 Kings 19) and Jeremiah (20:7-9, 14-18) and even Paul knew the meaning of despair (2 Cor. 1:8-9).
Max Lucado describes John’s feelings in this way, “John had never known doubt. Hunger, yes. Loneliness, often. But doubt. Never. Only raw conviction, ruthless pronouncements, and rugged truth. Such was John the Baptist. Conviction as fierce as the desert sun.
Until now. Now the sun was blocked. Now his courage wanes. Now the clouds come. And now, as he faces death, he doesn’t raise a fist of victory; he raises only a question. His final act is not a proclamation of courage but a confession of confusion. ‘Find out if Jesus is the Son of God or not.
The forerunner of the messiah is afraid of failure. Find out if I’ve told the truth. Find out if I’ve sent people to the right Messiah. Find out if I’ve been right or if I’ve been duped.”
In John’s case his doubt was not born of willful unbelief but of doubt that was fed by physical strain and emotional turmoil. John sincerely wanted to know the answer.
3. The Only Valid Test of Jesus’ Message Is the Test of Truth
“Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them.”
Jesus does not directly answer the question. He did not send John’s disciples back with theological arguments or high- sounding philosophy. He said my actions speak louder than my words ever could. His miracles answered all of John’s questions. Go back and tell him what you have seen.
The question is, does Jesus fulfill the prophecies of Scripture concerning the Messiah? Anyone who claims to be the Messiah must be measured against the test of Scriptures. Only Jesus meets those standards. He is asking John to do what every saint must do today, compare the prophecies of the Old Testament with the deeds and declarations of Jesus. Jesus points to his deeds and to the scriptures that speak of those deeds. The words that Jesus speaks allude to words of the prophet Isaiah (26:19, 29:18, 35:5, 61:1). He asks John to examine the evidence.
The application for us today is clear, examine the evidence, if he is truly the Son of God, if he alone fulfills the prophecies of scripture, if indeed died, was buried and rose again then the evidence demands a verdict. Then you must turn to him, repent of your sins and ask Him to take control of your life.
Jesus concludes his thoughts about John with the statement “blessed is he who is not offended because of me.” (v. 23). The Greek word (scandalizo) that is translated “offended” is the word that we get our English word scandalize from and in the original it referred to the part of a trap that the bait was attached. John was in danger of being trapped by his own misconceptions about what Jesus was not doing
We put ourselves in a vulnerable position when we allow ourselves to hold unrealistic expectations, of either God or our mate, or our children, or of our church or of our ministry. We also have guard that our expectations are in line with Scripture.
Charles Swindoll outlines the promised blessing of (v. 23) this way, “Blessed are the Jobs, who suffer, yet stay faithful. Blessed are the Josephs, who endure unjust treatment yet refuse to live in bitterness. Blessed are the Hoseas, who continue to walk in obedience even though their spouses leave them. Blessed are the Pauls, who pray for relief from the thorn in the flesh yet also respond, ‘His grace is sufficient for me. Blessed are all those who can live with unanswered questions, who can rest in what they see, and who can wait patiently for God to reveal what they can’t see.”
4. John’s Moment of Doubt Did Not Negate His Years of Ministry (vs 24-28)
After John’s messengers left, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John; verse twenty-four, “…”What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? (25) But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Indeed those who are gorgeously appareled and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. (26) But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet. (27) This is he of whom it is written: “Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You. (28) For I say to you, among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”
Jesus did not want the crowd to look down on John so he deliberately paid tribute to John. He asked the crowd what they saw when they went out hear John preach. Was John “a reed shaken in the wind” (v. 24). No it is his courage and godly convictions and his unwillingness to yield to pressure that has secured his place in the dungeon.
Jesus next asked if they found a man “clothed in soft garments.” This is deeper concern than just an examination of the kind of garments John wore. Although “soft garments” usually means “soft to the touch” it can also mean “effeminate.”
John was not consumed with having the finest of clothing to wear, and they knew that he certainly was not effeminate.
What they found was a prophet who was willing to give the stern message of repentance to a people who had lost their way. John the Baptist was the bridge from the Old Testament age to the New Testament age. John was the last of the Old Testament prophets and John had the privilege of being the messenger charged with introducing the Messiah to Israel. At the time of his birth John was the greatest man yet born. Yet John’s greatness is nothing compared to those who are able to enjoy the blessing of living in the age of grace. Jesus did not mean that the average believer today is greater than John the Baptist in power and character. He meant that those living in the new age of grace have greater advantages than John possessed.
5. It Is Not Wise to Play With Your Eternal Destiny (vv. 29-35)
“And when all the people heard Him, even the tax collectors justified God, having been baptized with the baptism of John. (30) But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him. (31) And the Lord said, “To what then shall I liken the men of this generation, and what are they like? (32) They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, saying: “We played the flute for you, And you did not dance; We mourned to you, And you did not weep.’ (33) For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, “He has a demon. (34) The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, “Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners! (35) But wisdom is justified by all her children.”
Jesus characterized the religious leaders as being Childish, not to be confused with Childlike. They were childish in that nothing pleased them. They are like cranky and spoiled children who were not pleased with either the style of John or of Jesus. Jesus portrays them as children playing games, complaining the John and Jesus do not play the way they want them to. Whether they play a light tune on flute or a funeral dirge these men are not satisfied. They did not like the severe style of John, saying that he was demon possessed. Yet when Jesus came on the scene in an open effort to reach sinners they said he was a glutton and they did not like the people he hung out with.
Jesus said that these religious leaders were playing games with their eternal souls. They refused to accept God’s message, no matter which messenger, John or Jesus, presented it.
Let me close by saying, “There is a real danger in unreal expectations.” The bottom line is that John had unrealistic and inaccurate expectations of how God was going to work. John wanted Jesus to change to meet his expectations rather than to change his expectations.
We too have ideas about how God will work. Some people are never willing to give up and allow God to be God. Hell is the place where God finally says to those individuals, “Ok! Have it your way. You win.” But in winning you lose. The far better course is to allow God to have His way.