John the Baptist was not your ordinary Jewish boy. He lived in the wilderness eating locusts and wild honey, wearing clothing made of camel’s hair and preaching repentance as his way of life. He’d been born into a respectable home; his father was a Levite and priest in the Temple, and his mother Elizabeth was from the lineage of the high priests, the elite line of Aaron. His birth had been a miracle, announced by the angel Gabriel to his father by the altar of incense in the Temple. But instead of growing up to be a respectable priest – or high priest, as some would have expected – he became a wild looking, bug eating, desert preacher. The Bible says that the Holy Spirit was upon him, even while in the womb of his mother. So that conviction of God to proclaim the coming of the Messiah was something he just couldn’t shake. It was his calling.
When John saw Jesus as he was baptizing people in the Jordan River, John knew right away that this was the Messiah, and he humbly confessed that he wasn’t worthy even to untie Jesus’ sandals, much less baptize Him. He saw the Holy Spirit descending as a dove and heard the voice of the Father speak from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased,” as he lifted Jesus up out of the water. What more could anyone want as confirmation that what they hoped for was true? God was validating all he had preached and done up until that time. Now, all that was left was for Jesus the Messiah to take His throne and reign, just as the prophecies of long ago had said. That glorious hope was right in front of him!
But time passed, and the Messiah didn’t overthrow Rome or create a Jewish revolution, and the evil in Judea was just as evil as ever. And after boldly criticizing the false King of the Jews, Herod had John arrested, and thrown into prison. No rescue party was sent to set him free. No miraculous wonders occurred, and as he sat in jail, John the Baptist’s fire and zeal began to waver. He’d given so much, sacrificed a life of comfort to preach this message that had burned inside of him. And when he thought he’d found the Messiah, nothing seemed to be happening. If Jesus was the Messiah, why wasn’t He striking their enemies in wrath? Why wasn’t He breaking down the walls of Herod’s palace?
As he waited in prison, John sent some of his disciples to ask Jesus if He really was the one they’d been waiting for, or if they should look for another. That’s pretty shocking for a man who had seen and heard the Father, Son and Holy Spirit all in one place at the Jordan River. But it shows how changing circumstances and unmet expectations can shake our faith. Even the faith of a radical prophet, who had seen God in the flesh.
Jesus’ response to John, is the same one that He has for all of us: Look at the evidence. Remember what I’ve already shown you. Don’t be distressed about how things aren’t falling into place the way you’d like right now. I am faithful to My promises. Keep believing. Victory is yours.
When we use our faith, ramp up our determination that our miracle is a sure thing and the vision God gave us is coming true, we can easily step over the line of faith into an emotional zone, and God knows it. The devil knows it too, and tries his best to take advantage of our weakness. Right after a long hard fight, our expectations are easily shaken to the point that we’re even tempted to give up. It’s funny that Jesus referred to John as Elijah, because even Elijah had those moments of powerful highs in faith, and depressing lows of doubt. Those of us who are just trying our best to live by faith can get caught up in those peaks and valleys too. But the voice that tempts us to give up is never the voice of God. Hold on to what God has already shown you. Don’t allow unmet expectations to cause you to throw away your faith and settle for a mediocre life. John was a part of the biggest revolution the world had ever known, and he didn’t even realize it.
Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. Blessed is he who does not fall away because of Me.” …Truly I say to you, among those who are born of women, there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist. But he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has forcefully advanced, and the strong take it by force. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah, who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear. – Matthew 11:4-6 + 11-15, MEV