Tuesday, February 16, 2010

expect the unexpected

I know that I have at least two posts that refer to John the Baptist, but there is yet another lesson the Holy Spirit is teaching me through his story.
Yesterday, we started with the book of Mark in the New Testament. It opens with an awesome statement about the foundation of the Christian faith. (As a writer, I can think of no more powerful way to begin a story...)
Mark 1:1 "The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the son of God." BOOM.
Then the second character to grace the stage is John the Baptizer.
Mark 1:4 "And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins."

In early January, I blogged about the significance of the relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus. (linkback)  John and Jesus were cousins, contemporaries, and both in "ministry". The respected one another deeply, each understanding his own role in the kingdom story. John recognized Jesus as the One, the Messiah, when he was still in his mother's womb.  Luke 1:41  He was privy to the voice from heaven that spoke to Jesus in Mark 1:11, saying "You are my Son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased."

All four gospels speak in varying detail about the calling of John as a prophet to prepare the way of the Lord.  John the Baptist knew his role, and he knew the Christ. But I absolutely cannot shake this particular passage out of my mind. It is so profound an example.

John had been arrested and put into prison. Mark 6:17-20 says "Herod himself had given orders to have John arrested, and he had him bound an put in prison. He did the because of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, whom he had married.  For John had been saying to Herod, 'It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife.'"

Jumping over to Matthew 11, we see this interesting exchange.
Matthew 11:2 says, "When John heard in prison what Christ was doing [in all of His miracles], he sent his disciples to ask him, 'Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?'"
(insert mine)

These words are highlighted in magenta for me. Why was John the Baptist sending his disciples to ask Jesus if He was the One? He knew! Of course he knew... it's all over the gospels.

Jesus did not meet John's expectations.  He wanted the Savior to come into the world and kick some Roman tail! He wanted to see God's perfect Kingdom come to earth and end the suffering of the people. He wanted to see Jesus the Christ elevated to King of Israel. In the least his cousin, the Son of God, could get him out of his death sentence.
I can imagine John sitting in a prison dungeon, knowing he is going to die, thinking, "Really, Jesus? You are the Savior of the world. Come save me. I don't deserve to die in here."
I would be thinking the same thing. What an incredibly discouraging time it must have been for our great John.

But Jesus doesn't leap in and spring him for his prison. He doesn't drop everything He's doing in his ministry to try to somehow bail out His friend and cousin.  Jesus must stay true to the calling of His Father. He had to continue to "go about doing good".  See, there was a much larger picture at play. Who knows how things might have played out if Jesus had cancelled His speaking engagements to detour over to Herod's palace?
So Jesus says these words, "Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.  Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me." (Matthew 11:4-6)
In short, Jesus is saying, "I'm doing what I am supposed to be doing. Hold on tight to your faith. It's not invested in vain. Trust God."  I can almost hear the pain that must have shrouded Jesus' voice. He loved John the Baptist.

Sometimes Jesus Christ doesn't come through for me in the way that I'd expect Him to. Sometimes, I'm in so much pain that I ask "Jesus, are you for real?"
Life is crazy. There are amazing victories and crushing defeats. So it goes on planet Earth. But I hear Jesus saying, "Hold on tight to your faith. Trust God." Even when things do not play out the way I expected them to.

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