And summoning two of his disciples, John sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?” (Luke 7:19)
John the Baptist, cousin to Jesus, had been imprisoned by Herod, because Herod had taken his brother’s wife and married her, and John had declared to him that he was transgressing God’s law by committing adultery with his brother’s wife.
We don’t know how long John spent in prison, but just as John’s ministry peaked, and was on its way down, Jesus’ ministry was on the rise. The ministries of the two intersected during that beautiful day when John baptized Jesus. Not long after, John was imprisoned, and the fame of Jesus began to spread.
John never got to see Jesus performing miracles. We know this, because when he was in prison, he began to wonder if Jesus was, indeed, the Messiah. More than that, he began to wonder why, if Jesus was God, did He leave him there to rot? Why didn’t Jesus use His power and bust him out?
So John sent two of his disciples to Jesus to ask Him if He was, indeed, the Messiah. And Jesus said:
“Go and report to John what you have seen and heard; the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who keeps from stumbling over Me.” (Luke 7:22-23)
John surely would have loved to have received a visit from Jesus. However, Jesus apparently did not go–not then anyway–but told John’s disciples to remind him that He was performing miracles such as the prophets predicted. His works were His credentials. And then, He added that odd final sentence, “And blessed is he who keeps from stumbling over Me.” It was as if to say, “I know what you expect and want, but I’m not here to deliver you from the trials of this life. But I love you, and if you continue to have faith in Me, you will be blessed.”
Jesus’ words must have been small consolation. John was still in prison, with no rescue from his Savior. His hope must have been waning. But one thing he knew: he had baptized the Son of God. And he had prepared the way for the Messiah. He had performed his mission.
Sometimes we end up in places where we never expected to be, places that feel hopeless, where it feels like Jesus’ sandals have not trod. We want Him to break us out, and we wonder why He hasn’t done so. The thing is, wherever we’ve been placed is our mission field. And often, it’s not pretty. Still, it’s where God knows we can be most effective. John most assuredly preached to the people in the prison, the guards, and anyone else who was in shouting distance. Herod himself used to enjoy listening to him (Mark 6:20), so John’s influence had spread even to royalty.
But even John, who was filled with the Holy Spirit, felt alone, and doubt began to creep in. He was desperately in need of the presence of Jesus. What he didn’t know at the time was that he was soon to be killed, and would be welcomed into the kingdom of God, and into the presence of Love Divine. He would look back, once he set foot in heaven, and realize that truly, his sufferings were temporary–but worth it.
Jesus never expects us to endure anything more than He endured. Though John was beheaded–a swift death to be sure–Jesus was crucified–a long, painful and agonizing death. John felt abandoned, and so did Jesus, during those agonizing hours in Gethsemane and during the long road to Calvary. John wondered why Jesus did not come to rescue him, in the same way that Jesus cried out to His Father, asking Him why He had forsaken Him.
“Discipleship” should carry the warning label, “Dangerous.” That’s because the cost of winning souls is high. If our souls weren’t worth much, the devil wouldn’t fight us with everything he’s got to win them. When we enter heaven, we will know that Jesus, and many others, have fought hard to get us there. Likewise, we should enter the battle knowing that we’re fighting for the most precious and priceless thing of all to God: His children. And it might get ugly. But ultimately, it will be glorious beyond imagining.