1 “After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee.
2 When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples
3 to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
4 Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see:” Matthew 11:1-4
Expectations and failed expectations can be difficult aspects of life. John the Baptist had preached that the Messiah was about to return, but his expectations regarding the Messiah were not necessarily how the Messiah understood His mission. This is made clear in John’s question in verse 3, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” The Greek actually gives the idea of “someone else of a different kind.” In other words, the expectations John had regarding the Messiah were so unmet in Jesus that he wondered if he had gotten it wrong concerning him.
The problem was, how could Jesus be the Messiah and yet allow John to languish in prison? If Jesus was the Messiah come to deliver Israel, then why allow your right hand man to be imprisoned? The problem of the identity of the Messiah weighed so heavily upon him that he sent his disciples to find out if Jesus was the Messiah or not.
Jesus’ answer is one of the most hopeful and informative explanations of His ministry in Scripture.
5 “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.
6 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” Matthew 11:5-6
Jesus tells John’s disciples to look around them and see what is happening. These are fulfillments of Messianic prophecies (Isaiah 35:5; 61:1) and this is the work of the Messiah.
Jesus had not come to fulfill the expectations of the Jews about driving the Romans out of their country and setting up a literal kingdom on earth. He had come to bring good news to the poor, sight to the blind, healing, and restoration to individuals. His was a message for all ages, that trust in God would restore fallen humanity to God. His message was of the spiritual kingdom and in order to reassure John he pointed him back to the scriptures.
When Jesus said to John’s disciples look around and see what is happening he was actually telling them, is this not the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy concerning the work of the Messiah? What Jesus was doing was exactly what many of the Old Testament prophets had prophesied the Messiah would do.
The other evening in our study on the life of Jesus we looked closely at these first verses of Matthew 11 and drew a few lessons from the text.
Our expectations are not always God’s. John thought he understood the role of the Messiah but he didn’t.
- To know God’s will we need to dig into the word of God. Yes, Jesus told John’s disciples to look at the miracles, but they were only a fulfillment of Old Testament statements concerning the ministry of the Messiah.
- Even in our despair God is with us. In verse 11 Jesus reminds the crowds that John was special amongst those born of women. God may not act or do what we wish but He always loves us and is looking out for us.
- It is difficult for us to adjust to God’s leading in our lives but that is what faith and trust are about. To be a follower of Jesus is to trust Him and there is no trust if we don’t love.
- Jesus ministry is love. The whole Bible is predicated upon the truth that we are loved unconditionally by God. Moralistic religion and performance based faith has nothing to do with the gospel (we are loved unconditionally). Jesus’ ministry was healing, raising the dead, giving sight and restoring hearing. He did it all. John’s disciples were to see and comprehend what Jesus was doing and why He was doing it. Jesus was fulfilling the expectations not of First Century Judaism but of the Prophets who prophesied under inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
- John’s ministry was not for nothing, even with confused expectations and presuppositions God used him mightily. We do not need to be perfect in our understanding of God’s purposes or how He accomplished His goals, we simply need to trust in Him.
What was probably, for me, the most interesting aspect of John’s inquiries was Jesus’ proclamation that John’s preaching was not about John but about Him. The true focus of John’s ministry was Jesus. People flocked to see John and hear him preach, but they got it all wrong if they thought it was about following a celebrity minister. The message, not the messenger, is what counts if the Kingdom of God is to be proclaimed in the world.
We live in an age where people flock to mega-churches to hear celebrity pastors expound the word. Millions of North American’s are glued to their televisions watching prosperity gospel preachers every Sunday. We have become so wrapped up in the glitz, fame, and production of church that we often forget the message. What do these pastors preach?
John would soon be killed to satisfy the whims of a spoiled brat and a manipulative wife yet no one would dare to believe that John’s ministry was a failure. The outcome of our life is not the measure of our life. Faithfulness to Jesus is our measuring rod. Do we stand firm and assured when the storms of life batter our little boat called life? The answers to our questions and doubts (we all doubt at times) are found in Scripture under the inspiration and direction of the Spirit.
We are loved unconditionally and eternally by the God of the Universe. Jesus loves us beyond measure and the Holy Spirit never ever gives up on us or turns His back upon us. What greater tools do we need to face life?