And John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
I don’t blame John for his question. Actually I identify with it. Sitting in a discouraging prison, looking upon a world that seems the opposite of Jesus’ rule, shaking his head wondering if maybe this isn’t the Mighty One that would baptize with the Spirit.
I wonder what John thought the world would look like once the Mighty One began His reign? Did he picture rejoicing throughout the land? Did he believe that Jesus would quickly overthrow his enemies and put justice in its place? Certainly he did not envision himself shackled by a wicked Roman ruler.
I understand why he asked that question. John’s world didn’t look like one painted by the Loving Messiah. It looked the opposite. And that discouraged him and caused him to question everything he knew to be true. I understand John’s question because I have asked it myself.
Is Jesus really overturning darkness? Is he really the One that He says that He is? John’s prison stay caused him to question Jesus’ identity and the validity of His reign.
A different prison
Fast forward a couple decades. A follower of Jesus, named Paul, is housed in a prison much like John the Baptist. Here is his response:
I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel…Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.
Rather than seeing his prison time as a hindrance to the kingdom of God, Paul saw it as a beautiful plan. You see, Paul wasn’t chained to a Roman guard in prison. A Roman guard was chained to the gospel. And once his shift changed a new unsuspecting victim would be handcuffed to Paul, who would then lovingly proclaim the gospel of Jesus.
Paul was able to see the reign of the Mighty One through prison bars. John saw it as defeat. My natural tendency is to be more like John the Baptist. (I am a Baptist, after all). I tell my daughter to watch out for the thorns while she smells a rose. I’m prone to darkness and discouragement. But the gospel transforms our natural tendencies.
The difference Maker
The difference between John the Baptist and the apostle Paul is the resurrection and the outpouring of the Spirit. I live in the age of Paul’s prison—not in the excuse of John’s.
Jesus’ answer to John is the same to use today. “Look…darkness is being overturned”. He’s also saying, “…blessed is the one who is not offended by me”. Which means, “blessed is the one that trusts me in prison instead of questioning my identity and the validity of my reign, just because I’m accomplishing my kingdom purposes in a way that flies in the face of everything you expected me to do”.
God is overturning your darkness and the darkness of our world. At times it doesn’t look like it, but that prison cell might be the very means that God uses to shovel dirt onto a defeated devil.