Today, our twins would have been three.
It’s been three years and seven months since we lost them.
Even with a rambunctious 15-month old at the house now, there’s not a day that goes by I don’t think about them. I still wonder why God didn’t see fit to intercede and let their little hearts continue to beat and their little bodies to grow to full term.
Whoever said time heals all wounds lied. Time isn’t that powerful.
But Jesus – in time – can.
Unfortunately, it’s the “in time” process that seems to drag on longer than most of my sermons. For too long, every encouraging word from well-intentioned friends seemed to offer as much hope as your grandmother’s inspirational Facebook meme of the cat dangling from the tree saying, ‘Hang in there.’ Yeah, thanks but no thanks.
Over the last three years, though, the Lord has continued to apply the conversation of Jesus and John the Baptist in Matthew 11 as a soothing balm to the wounds of my nagging disappointment and doubt.
Are You the One?
As John the Baptist sits in a prison cell for speaking the truth, he sends a group of his followers to ask Jesus a simple question: “Are you the One or should we wait for someone else?” Now John’s question is not unusual in content. Everyone was curious if Jesus was the promised Messiah. After 400 years of prophetic silence, John’s ministry brought about an even greater anxiety for the coming Messiah.
People were asking. Lots of people. But the question IS unique in his personal context. Think about it.
This is the same John whose miraculous birth set him apart for a historical mission to pave the way for the Messiah (Lk 1:5-25). This is the same John who pointed to Jesus and professed, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” (Jn 1:29-31). This is the same John who humbly resisted, then acquiesced to the request of Jesus for baptism (Mat 3:13-15).
This is the same John who leapt for joy IN THE WOMB at the sound of Mary’s voice with Jesus tagging along in-utero (Lk 1:39-45). Did you catch that? Jesus and John had a pre-natal party long before this prison question session.
John knew exactly who he was and what he was born to do.
John knew exactly who Jesus was and what He had come to do.
So what would cause this man – one who knew these things so clearly – to doubt the identity of Jesus?For John, just like us, his questions and doubts came from a life full of unfair experiences and unfulfilled expectations.
Consider why John was in prison. Matthew 14 tells us the details of the situation. Herod had been messing around with his sister-in-law and John consistently spoke against his sinful behavior. John was doing exactly what the Lord had called him to do – preaching repentance, pointing out ungodly behavior and pointing people to Jesus. And what did obedience get him? Persecution, not praise. Where did obedience land him? Prison, not a palace.
I spent months asking similar questions. After years of trying to conceive, why would God allow us the excitement and hope of having a baby for those two months only to be ripped away from us? Why when thousands of children are left unwanted, or worse, robbed of their life through abortion would God not grant us our great desire to have a child? Sure, our situation didn’t land us in a physical prison. But when you finally see a positive pregnancy test after years of negatives, the devastation of miscarriage can feel as claustrophobic as a 6 x 6 cell.
But John also knew what the Scripture said about the Messiah. John knew that the same Messiah who would ‘open the eyes of the blind’ would also ‘come with vengeance’ and ‘save you’ (Isa 35:4-6). He knew that the same Messiah who would bring ‘good news to the afflicted’ would also bring ‘freedom to prisoners’ (Isa 61:1). Of all the people who should be covered in the protective Messiah bubble-wrap it should be someone like John the Baptist, right? He’s the forerunner. He’s the voice crying out in the wilderness. Surely if Jesus is really the Messiah, then He will come and overthrow these oppressive forces and rescue John.
Even more, if Jesus isn’t the Messiah, what does this say about John’s life and ministry? Had he wasted his adult life preaching repentance and pointing people to Jesus? Did he flat out get it wrong? Had he failed? Surely Jesus understands how important John is to the overarching redemption narrative. Surely Jesus sees clearly how John doesn’t deserve to be locked up for standing up for righteousness and would rescue him from his dire situation.
When Jesus doesn’t do what we think He should do in our lives or when He doesn’t show up when we think He should, we may ask the same thing John did: “Are you really the One?” or more pointedly “Did I waste my life on this?”
Maybe if I would have prayed more then my babies would still be alive.
Maybe God is punishing me for some sin in my life I haven’t confessed.
What does this say about my faith?
What does this say about my ministry if God chooses to answer my prayers with a NO?
We have all been there.
But here’s the beauty and brilliance of Jesus. Jesus rarely settles for the yes-no answers. Why? If Jesus says “Yes, I am the Messiah,” then John may be left wondering if Jesus will rescue him from prison. If Jesus says “No, I am not the Messiah,” then John will be left hopeless and reflecting on a failed ministry.
But listen to what Jesus said:
“Go and tell John what you hear and see: the 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 the good news preached to them.” (vs 4-5).
Jesus quotes from three Messianic passages in Isaiah.
He points John directly His works as fulfillment of the Word.
John, you haven’t failed. You didn’t miss it. You’ve done well, good and faithful servant.
What great hope this offers to all of us. We can follow John’s example and bring our doubts straight to Jesus. When we do, we are met with the assurance of the written Word that points us to the Incarnate Word and what He has secured for us through his life, death, burial, and resurrection.
Great. Case closed. No more worries. No more doubts. Problem solved, right?
But then Jesus drops one more line on John that has always bothered me. It’s only been over the last three years of reflection that I believe I’m finally embracing what I believe Jesus was saying.
“Blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (vs 6).
Wait what? What do you mean Jesus? Blessed? Offended? You just confirmed that looking at what the Word says compared to your actions reveals that you are the Messiah! How could that cause John ‘offense’? What could you possibly do that could cause John to ‘fall away’ or (literally) be scandalized?
The answer to these questions are harder to swallow.
I believe what Jesus is saying to John, his final words to His faithful forerunner, was simply this:
Yes, I am the Messiah. Yes, you’ve accomplished your mission.
But I’m not coming to get you. Will you still believe?
And friends, this is where the sovereignty of the Almighty rubs against our sensibilities. We want the perfect ending for John. The faithful servant is saved from destruction. We want to see Jesus bust into the prison, turn over some tables, and set John free. We want to see the Father send an earthquake at just the right time that shakes the gates of the prison open and Jesus and John sneak out the back.
Why? Because it echoes the deepest cries of our heart as we wrestle with our present pain. We want Jesus to sweep in and save us from our dreadful circumstances. We want Jesus to kick butt and take names of those who have hurt us. We want Jesus to do whatever necessary to change our current circumstance because it’s just not fair.
We want our lost babies back.
We want our lost jobs back.
We want our loved ones back
We want the sicknesses to end.
We want the pain to end.
We just want Him to FIX it. And to fix it NOW.
But friends, what if, as you cry out to Him, Jesus softly whispers to you as He did to me:I’m not changing this situation.
Will you take offense? Will you fall away?
My prayer is that all of us who are walking through difficult times will allow our doubts to drive us into a deeper dependence on Him rather than deeper despair. The only way this is possible is to trust in His faithful Word and His finished work. We know that the same Jesus who may not show up right now, will show up one day. And when He does, He will make all things new. No more tears. No more sorrow. No more questions. No more doubts. No more worries.
Through this season of sorrow, the grace of the Lord continues to meet me at every turn by consistently reminding me that I can do more than simply ‘Hang in there.’
I can hope.
And hope in Jesus, in time, most certainly heals.