One of the most perplexing stories in Scripture for me was a part of my morning devotions. It is the story where John the Baptist asks two of the disciples to go ask Jesus if He is the Messiah or should they look for someone else. John’s mother was Mary’s aunt. When Jesus and John were still in their mothers’ wombs, John leaped when Mary came near Elizabeth. John knew before he was born that fetus Jesus was the Messiah. Because they were related they probably saw one another from time to time growing up, and I bet when they were pre-teens (about the time when Jesus stayed behind in the Temple and told a worried Mary and Joseph that He had to be about His Father’s business), they talked about their callings and how their futures were intertwined.
As young men, John became a preacher calling people to repent and make way for the coming of the Lord. Jesus, apprenticing as a carpenter, was probably following John’s ministry and one day went to him for His baptism. John spoke with great faith that day, “No, Lord, it is I who should be baptized by you.” Jesus encouraged him to baptize Him, the Father spoke, and Jesus’ three years of ministry was launched — through the sacrament of baptism by the hands of John.
So both men are in the midst of their ministries. John’s ministry, knowingly and by the will of God, is decreasing and Jesus is increasing. John is arrested and placed in chains in the dungeon of Herod. From the dungeon John does something that I think is quite peculiar, he asks the disciples to ask Jesus if He is the Messiah or should he look for another. My husband said, as we read the ten commandments from Deuteronomy 19 this morning, that Herschel Shanks says that the commandment to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength is first because it is so hard. Herschel Shanks is editor of Biblical Archeology Review. He says people need facts and faith is not about facts. His magazine is dedicated to finding facts that back up Scripture!
I think Herschel is correct. Faith is not about facts. I don’t know if the disciples reporting back the miracles Jesus was performing helped John because John preached powerfully before a single event happened. He believed before there was anything. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). John did not have to see things. He simply believed. So what was causing him to doubt? He was in prison. He was suffering. Jesus was not sending a miraculous escape. John knew he had to step aside, but rotting in a dungeon was not how he imagined “decreasing”. In his gut he was beginning to wonder, “Was this really the plan?”
When God throws us what we perceive to be a “curve ball” what will we do with it? We may be set aside when we thought we had favor. We may lose something of great value and have to trust that God knows how much that meant to us and how badly we hurt. We may have misunderstood God’s plan and have to make an “about face” on the authority of the Creator of the Universe. John is sitting in a dark, stinking prison in chains and he wants to know if this is the plan. I think I understand.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe,