In today’s gospel, we heard John send disciples to Jesus to ask the question, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3) If you want to start a lively debate among a group of Biblical scholars, just ask them why John did this.
On the one hand, just look at John’s situation. He has dotted all the “I’s” and crossed all the “T’s.” Never the less, he is in prison. He has been preaching about Jesus gathering up the grain and burning the chaff. Things are not going according to plan. Who could blame him for having a few doubts.
On the other hand, this is the same John who did the happy dance inside his mother when Mary, pregnant with the savior, came for a visit. This is the same John who saw the Spirit descend like a dove and heard the voice of the Father say, “This is my beloved Son.” He couldn’t possibly have any doubts. He was probably sending his disciples to Jesus because of their doubts, not his.
Of course, the Bible only tells us that John sent his disciples to ask the question. It doesn’t tell us why John asked the question.
In either case, Jesus invited John’s disciples to witness His ministry. Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Matthew 11:4–6) Jesus was keeping the promises that we heard in today’s Old Testament reading, but many other prophecies as well. With His activities, Jesus showed John’s disciples that He is indeed the One Who Is to Come. He sent them back to John with the images of His ministry still fresh in their minds.
Now, you may believe that John struggled with his doubts … that Jesus was different than he expected. On the other hand, you may believe that John saw the doubt of his disciples and sent them to Jesus for their sake. Either way, we see that Jesus did not condemn the doubt. Instead, He offered clear evidence to assure those who doubted that He is the true savior, the Messiah that all the prophets including John prophesied.
The devil, the world, and our own sinful nature are always hard at work trying to drive us into unbelief and despair. Therefore, we should not be surprised that there are times when we have our doubts.
The way of the world teaches us to expect certain things from our heroes. Jesus does not fit those expectations. He works through paradox. We don’t expect Almighty God to take on the weakness of human flesh in order to rescue humanity, yet He does. A man hanging on a cross looks pathetic, not heroic, but that is Jesus conquering sin. A cross does not look like a throne, but there Jesus is the reign of heaven … Christ the King. We don’t expect the hero to conquer death by dying. Never the less, that is exactly what Jesus did. Because Jesus does not fit our expectations, it is natural for us to have doubt from time-to-time.
Doubt has plagued mankind for thousands of years. We can see this throughout Scripture. Abraham had doubts and fathered a child through Hagar. Moses had doubts right there in front of the burning bush. Read the Psalms of David and his doubts spill out all over the place. The disciples all doubted the resurrection until Jesus appeared to them behind closed doors. Those of us who are honest enough to admit our doubts join with some pretty famous people, people who are considered heroes of the faith.
Sadly, there are those within the Christian community who teach that doubt is actually a virtue. They reason that, because the Bible acknowledges the presence of doubt, that struggling with doubt is a good thing. Jesus dispelled that teaching by giving us words of comfort in today’s Gospel and in many other places.
Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. (Matthew 11:11) Jesus words of comfort may seem puzzling at first. After all, how can someone be greater than John if there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist?
If we remember to let the simpler verses of Scripture help us interpret the more difficult verses of Scripture, then we can have an answer. At another time, Jesus was teaching His disciples and He said to them, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! 24For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (Luke 10:23–24) With these words Jesus taught that all the Old Testament prophets including John the Baptist eagerly anticipated the coming of the Messiah. However, none of them lived long enough to see the salvation that they prophesied. Even John who saw the coming of the Messiah in Jesus did not live long enough to see the end of Messiah’s mission on this earth. Just as Moses stood on the mountain and saw the Promised Land, but never experienced it, so too John looked into the future and saw the kingdom of heaven, but never experienced it before his death. John joined the great heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11 about whom it was said, “All these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:39–40)
So it is that, while none of us will be the prophet that John was, we are all greater than John because we have history of our Savior in ink on paper. John declared that Jesus is God’s perfect Passover lamb, but we have the history that tells us how Jesus is that lamb. We know that Jesus lived a perfect life. We know that through Baptism he gives us that perfect life and takes all our sins, all our doubts onto himself. We know that through the instrument of Pontius Pilate, Jesus received the punishment we earned with our doubts and other sins. We know that through His death, Jesus conquered all our sins. We know that through his resurrection, Jesus leads us to eternal life with Him. We experience Christ’s baptism of Spirit and fire. We know the intimacy of Jesus’ presence within us as we eat His body and drink His blood in the Sacrament of the altar. John saw all these things as a prophet, but did not experience them in this life. We experience them now and so have the greater blessing from God.
Satan often sends doubt to attack us. How blessed we are that Christ’s answer to John also comforts us in our doubts. We are even more blessed to have the full revelation of Christ’s salvation in His word and the experience of Christ’s presence in His Sacrament. Through these precious gifts, God removes all our doubts and fears. He makes us greater than the greatest of the Old Testament prophets. Amen
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