Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Jesus had not yet made His claim to the title of Messiah perfectly clear. This is understandable from our advantage of hind sight. Jesus was Messiah, no doubt about it, but people had a skewed view of what Messiah would do. Their concept had become entangled with too many military and political undertones.
John, in jail, wondered if someone better than Jesus was yet to come. In religion, comparisons are a fair test. Look around. Does any other world view compare in quality to Christ’s? Examine the quality of life where other world religions reign. What about caste systems, animals treated better than people, multiple wives, fatalism, illiteracy, limited disaster relief, dictatorships. Weigh the evidence. This is what John did. He was wondering if Jesus was the best. The Baptist learned, as will any who seek with an open mind, yes, Jesus is the best.
John was struggling with his interpretation of Messiah’s role. John did not doubt Jesus was Messiah as much as he was grappling with what Messiah meant. Jesus, knowing this is the Baptist’s dilemma, will now clarify Messiah’s role.
Matt. 11:4b “. . .and said unto them,. . .”
Our Master handled John gently. Learn a priceless lesson here. When we deal with the doubting, perplexed, struggling, or seeking, be tender. “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition” (2 TM 2:24-25a NAS). No arguing; talk softly. Evidence for Christianity speaks for itself. Its authority rests in its self-contained evidence, not in our forceful anger.
Jesus was kind, refusing to imply John’s faith was weak because he asked a question. In the inquiry, Jesus saw a man in dead earnest about spiritual matters.
Jesus knew beneath John’s question beat a heart more loyal to Him than many whose lips give flippant assent to claims they rarely think about. John’s wondering was more valuable than shallow hallelujahs from unthinking followers.
This is not to say we put a premium on doubting. Some wrongly speak as if doubting is inherently better than believing. They broadcast their doubts in almost a bragging way. It can become an intellectual exhibit, a way of appearing inclusive, politically correct, not dogmatic, when actually it’s a mask for unbelief.
Matt. 11:4c “. . .Go and show John again those things which ye do hear. . .”
Jesus will send a report with enough data in it to satisfy John. Christ’s answer carries its own evidence. Jesus began with truth. The message came first.
They are to tell John what they hear. The Christian faith, first and foremost, is truth, defining reality in logical ways, in accordance with facts. Lest there be any doubt as to what Jesus perceived to be the truth, He pointed John to the Bible.
Our Master ministered to John from the very book in the Old Testament that had foretold John’s own ministry. Isaiah predicted the forerunner who would be the voice of one crying in the wilderness (40:3). Jesus will quote from Isaiah 26:19; 35:5-6; 61:1, verses that spoke of Messiah’s gentle role. All three passages also refer to God’s vengeance and punishment (26:21; 35:4; 61:2), but Jesus did not quote these words about retribution. This was not what He was primarily about in this, His first visit to Earth. By pointing to tender parts of the passages, Jesus was in essence saying, “John, remember, this too was predicted.” Christ was in fact fulfilling Old Testament predictions, doing exactly what Isaiah predicted Messiah would do. Jesus was gently yet firmly telling John to reassess Scripture.
We too need to return to the Bible often and read it afresh daily. Even after having read it from cover to cover each year since 1976, I every day experience new thoughts leaping off the page and ministering to me. Stay in the Scriptures, dear believers. Never forget, for Christ-followers the message of truth comes first.
Real Christianity is Bible Christianity. Currently a sister denomination is embroiled in controversy over its decision to ordain an openly gay priest. This has created a feeding frenzy among the press, but is actually an anticlimax. The real story happened a generation ago when the denomination decided to accept an authority other than the Bible. When people deviate from Holy Writ, they no longer operate within the realm of God-ordained truth. They go from faith being God-given to being man-made, and the latter always has the kiss of death on it.
George G. Hunter, great Methodist writer, first called this to my attention. He contends liberalism, rejection of Scripture, contains the seeds of its own death.
Hunter says those who try to make Christianity more liberal believe the result will be a religion more appealing to unbelievers. In reality, seekers who investigate Christianity either accept the real deal or move on to something else.
Even unbelievers are savvy enough to know Christianity rises or falls on two vital pillars, a Person and a Book. To reject either is to reject the faith. O that self-proclaimed believers could always be as astute in understanding Christianity.
Jesus told the two to tell John what they were hearing. The message comes first. Truth had priority. Power came next.
Matt. 11:4d “. . .and see: . . .”
Jesus first referred to His words, but knew these would not be enough to convince John then, or the rest of the world later. Thus, He referred to His works.
Not fearing scrutiny, Jesus performed miracles openly, in view of all. When John’s disciples arrived, Jesus had recently raised from death Jairus’ daughter (9:25) and the widow’s son at Nain (LK 7:15,18). The greatest miracle of all time was Christ’s incarnation, God having become flesh. This main miracle was attested by a large concentration of publicly seen miracles that accompanied it.
Jesus granted help and relief for every kind of sickness. He not only comforted and encouraged. He healed. Jesus dealt not only with surface issues and symptoms, but also with causes. Healings of physical illnesses were outward displays of His intent to attack more deep-seated issues.
Jesus rescued people from every ravaging vestige of the Fall. Adam’s sin in Eden left devastating effects. Not every sickness can be traced to a specific sin, but all illness is due to sin having entered our world through Adam’s Fall in Eden.
By restoring health, Jesus reminded us of a loving God’s original intent for what human life was to be like. Don’t blame this world’s mess on God. Satan is “the god of this world” (2 Cor. 4:4), a usurper who came in to pillage and destroy.
When we look at the healing miracles of Jesus, we see evil forces on the run, their strongholds being undermined. We see what God meant Earth to be.
By assaulting sickness at its core, Jesus made a statement, demonstrating with power the fact He came to undo wreckage of the Fall. He desires to grant His followers power to do the same.
As the wife of missiologist Ralph Winter was dying, he poignantly declared his wife would not have to die of the disease killing her had Christians taken the Great Commission more seriously. Winter said Jesus came to undo every vestige of the Fall, including causes of cancers, malaria, HIV, and all other illness. He believed Christians should follow Christ’s example, surrender their lives to full-time research, and with Christ’s power and anointing, seek to eradicate illness.
I don’t have a response to Winter’s challenge. I do know Christians should be at the forefront of helping humanity every way possible. I also know Jesus would receive honor if healers gave Him credit for their discoveries and abilities.
Be that as it may, let us not miss the “for sure” lesson in our text. When it comes to Christianity, words are not enough. They are essential, but must be accompanied by power. We have to outlive prechristians in the power of holiness.
We have to ask for displays of power due to our prayers. In Nigeria, where Christian growth is exploding, a church in Lagos hosts an all-night prayer meeting every Friday which averages in attendance 500,000 participants. Miracles flow from these prayers, convincing unbelievers of the reality of Christianity, of its power to change lives, of its right to claim to be representing an all-powerful God.