"After John's messengers left to make their report, Jesus said more about John to the crowd of people. ’What did you expect when you went out to see him in the wild? A weekend camper? Hardly. What then? A sheik in silk pyjamas? Not in the wilderness, not by a long shot. What then? A messenger from God? That's right, a messenger! Probably the greatest messenger you'll ever hear. He is the messenger Malachi announced when he wrote, "I'm sending my messenger on ahead to make the road smooth for you."' Luke 7:24-27 (The Message).
Why this vehement defence of John the Baptist?
John had just publicly revealed his vulnerability in his extreme circumstances. It was Jesus' turn to set the record straight, not only to defend John but also to save his ministry.
He was God's appointed forerunner of the Messiah, the one foretold by Malachi four hundred years before. He had come, as predicted, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to announce and prepare for the coming of the Messiah. People had flocked to hear him in the wilderness. They had received his message that the Messiah was on the brink of being revealed to them. Perhaps some had even been present when Jesus was baptised and had heard the Father's affirmation of His Son.
Now John was wavering and who can blame him? The all-powerful Messiah had not lifted a finger to rescue him in his predicament. Perhaps John did not realise that his work was done, short though it had been, and it was time for him to step aside and allow Jesus to stand in the limelight for a season until He, too, stepped aside when His work was complete.
Jesus did not want the crowd to think that John was undoing all he had said and done by wavering in his conviction that He was the Messiah. Turning to the Scriptures, He demonstrated to John's followers that He fulfilled everything the Scriptures had said about Him to that point. His own circumstances aside, John had to believe that Jesus was all that John had reported Him to be.
But Jesus was not only protecting John's ministry, He was also protecting John himself. This temporary lapse in John's conviction, this wobble in his faith, was not who John was. In his weakest moment, Jesus was there for him and quick to point out that he was no fly-by-night, self-appointed prophet. God had foretold his coming through His messenger centuries before just as surely as He had prophesied the coming of His Messiah.
In glowing terms Jesus began to correct any misgivings people the crowd might have had about John. John was no holiday maker or member of the idle rich, on public display for their entertainment. He was a messenger sent from God, whose arrival was foretold in the Scriptures as surely as that of the Messiah. The implication was that the people had better heed what John had preached. It was serious business and, even though John was shaky in his faith right then, his doubts did not cancel out who he was and what he had done before his incarceration.
Don't you love Jesus for this little interlude? It reveals His heart once again. A lesser person might have criticised John for vacillating in his circumstances, but not Jesus. No matter how weak he was right then, his work remained and Jesus acknowledged that. This should give us the courage to know that God is tender towards us in our struggles. He does not judge the process through which we have to go to reach our conclusions.
How many times we have been where John was, only to emerge stronger and more secure in our confidence in God because God sees the whole picture and accompanies us to a place of greater strength.
So don't give up. Jesus will never stab you in the back. He will walk with you through the valley until you reach the other side.
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