Do you ever feel that being a child of God isn’t paying out like you thought it should? The childlike confidence that Jesus will make everything better doesn’t always seem to play out — when the wound doesn’t heal, the need isn’t met, the hurt doesn’t go away. For us grown-ups, reality tends to set in and tarnishes some of that unbridled optimism.
Our text today is Matthew 11:2-11, where we see John the Baptist dealing with some doubt. Now remember, this is John the Baptist, the one who leapt in his mother’s womb because he recognized his Savior’s presence — the one who so powerfully proclaimed, "Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." This was the same guy who guaranteed that Jesus would be "bringing the fire", "clearing the threshing floor, burning up the chaff." The Messiah was on the scene and he would make it all right.
If anyone spoke confidently about the Messiah, it was this guy. But now look. Here he is in prison because he had done what God told him to do — speak the truth boldly. Can you understand why John might have been having some second thoughts?
So he sends his friends to ask: "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" Realize what was happening. John said Jesus was the one who would "come with vengeance, with divine retribution he will come to save you" (Isaiah 35:4). But John was still waiting for things to be made right for him. King Herod needed to be punished. It didn’t seem like what John expected was happening.
Of course, Satan wants us to do the same thing – to jump to conclusions when those doubts crop up. When sickness comes, it must be because God is mad at you. When your business fails, it must be because you did something wrong. When the relationship falters, God probably has forgotten about you and your happiness. Jesus makes it clear that couldn’t be farther from the truth, but you know as well as I do that that’s what crosses your mind when it looks like God isn’t keeping his promises.
It’s like that email thread that has been going around:
Did Jesus fail to grant your wishes when you rubbed the lantern?
Then perhaps Jesus is not a genie.
Did Jesus fail to punish your enemies?
Then perhaps Jesus is not your personal executioner.
Did Jesus fail to make everything run smoothly?
Then perhaps Jesus is not a mechanic.
Do you see the point? Our doubts don’t get answered until we see who Jesus really is, not what we want to make him. So let’s look at how Jesus gives John and us an answer for doubt.
And actually, Jesus doesn’t even directly answer John’s question. He could have said, "Of course I’m the one, John". But he doesn’t. He says, "Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured..." Do you see what he’s doing? He’s showing John that the promises were kept. He’s going right through the list of what the prophet Isaiah had prophesied (Isaiah 35). But notice, he skipped the first part of that Isaiah prophecy – where Isaiah called him the one who "will come with vengeance, with divine retribution he will come to save you." That might have been the problem for John. He knew the prophecies, and to him, divine retribution should be quicker. Herod should have been dealt with already.
Have you ever done that? Have you ever questioned God’s allowing someone to seemingly get away with something? A good God wouldn’t let the rapist do his work, right? A good God wouldn’t let the crook escape punishment. A good God wouldn’t let the dishonest rise to a position of wealth and power. We want to see the wicked punished.
But here’s the problem: It’s self-condemning. It forgets about the fact that we need the same patience God is showing to someone else. Because, really, where is the line? Which sins should God punish right away, and which ones is it OK that he forgives? Usually the answer in our heads is that he should punish the other people but understand that our sins aren’t really that bad, right?
Praise God for what we see when Jesus’ answer shows us the promised one, the one who makes that whole list happen, "the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor." Do you notice how the importance of those miracles escalates — from physical healings, to raising the dead and then the climax — the good news preached to the poor. To those who realize that the one coming with vengeance should be a big problem for me — not for anyone else – for me — because of my failures, to me — good news is preached.
Realize, Jesus did not promise that we would be god and things would go how we think they should. He promised something much better. He promised that He would be God and would do exactly what we needed. You see, before he came to judge with vengeance, he came to save. And praise God for that, because otherwise we’d have fallen prey to that judgment. Jesus lived and died and lives again for us, so our joy is not that we get our way here on earth, but that we get eternity in heaven.
The Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Worship every Sunday is at 8 & 10:30 a.m. Full sermons and more information can be found at www.abidinggrace.com.