“When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” Matt. 11:2-3
The wait was too long even for John the Baptist. Earlier, upon seeing Jesus, he had declared, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). He had seen and testified that Jesus was the “Son of God” (John 1:34). But in the darkness of that prison doubt had made its way into John’s heart. He must have thought, “What if I was wrong? What if this is all just a dream?” And who could have blamed him? After all, “even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall” (Is. 40:30). The saving of the world is slow business.
I suspect he was bold at his arrest and only began to doubt as the days dragged on, as the months dragged on. Perhaps his faith had increased when he saw Jesus, when he baptized Jesus, but then the darkness and loneliness made him doubt. Perhaps the memory of Jesus’ baptism gave him strength, but somewhere along that dark road doubt found him. I imagine this scene because it is often my plight; I seem always to oscillate between confidence and doubt.
I find great encouragement in John’s moment of doubt and Jesus’ soft response.
John didn’t want an answer; he wanted encouragement. He wanted this miracle-worker upon whom the Holy Spirit had rested to tell him all would be well, that the wait was over. John may have doubted Jesus, but he also doubted himself. He doubted his ability to keep hope alive until God had saved the world. He was a bit scared, and with good reason.
To John’s good question, “Are you the one?” Jesus sent back a simple message, “Tell John what you heard and saw” (Matt. 11:5). Jesus was not offended by John’s question. He was patient—as love should be. Rather than rebuke John with messianic authority, Jesus offered the wisdom of his words and the working of his power. This was a simple way to say, “Yes John. I am the one you seek.” He did this without crushing an already fragile heart. He used John’s doubt as an opportunity to build faith.
John could then die in peace knowing that he had indeed served the purpose of “preparing the way for the Lord.”
I am grateful that Jesus sent John gentle assurance rather than rebuke. For those who do not believe doubt is a way of life. For we who believe doubt is a continual struggle. We too take assurance from the greatness of Christ’s works, including his greatest work—resurrection. My blind, lame, leprous, deaf, even dead heart receives the good news—it is He! Await no other.