When I was young…
You were my friend and heartbeat
Born in the dark
You are the hand that held me
You opened your arms
And called me into salvation
Your infinite love echoes in all creation
For who you are is the great I am
For who you are, you’re the son of man
For who you are, I am who I am
- Caedmon’s Call, Who You Are, from the 2001 album “In the Company of Angels”
Jesus no sooner sends out the Twelve, when disciples of John the Baptist arrive with a message from the imprisoned prophet. John, cousin of the Christ, publicly rebuked the Roman puppet in power for marrying his brother’s wife so Herod threw the man of God in jail. His disciples have one question for the Christ: “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting or should we keep looking for someone else?” (v. 3).
It’s a doubtful but honest question, and one I have asked from time to time over my life. How do we know that Jesus is the Christ and not just some impersonator? After all, 2,000 years later there are countless Jews who dispute the New Testament accounts. Matthew’s gospel was written especially for a Jewish audience so it’s no wonder he includes this narrative and question within its pages.
Before his arrest and imprisonment by Herod, John had already declared Jesus to be the Messiah (John 1:29-34). But as John sits in prison, it’s natural to have doubts. He is supposed to be the forerunner to the Christ. His primary job was to prepare people for the coming Messiah and if that’s Jesus, then why is he languishing in prison? He should be out preaching and baptizing. His role had been prophesized hundreds of years before by the prophet Malachi (3:1). His job was monumentally important! In a way, I’m comforted knowing that even the great John the Baptist had doubts about the cousin he grew up with.
Maybe Pastor Max Lucado put it best when he wrote that the “trueness of one’s belief is revealed in pain. Genuineness and character are unveiled in misfortune. Faith is at its best, not in three-piece suits on Sunday mornings or at V.B.S. on summer days, but at hospital bedsides, cancer wards, and cemeteries” (No Wonder They Call Him the Savior, p. 77). I would also add: in prison cells.
How does Jesus respond? Does He chide John’s disciples for bringing such a question to Him? Does He tell John he ought to know better since he is the one who baptized Jesus? That’s almost what I would expect but it’s not what the Christ does. Instead, He provides comfort in the form of an answer: Tell John “what you have heard and seen – the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life…” (v. 4b-5). All of these were signs of the Messiah. Jesus is not just saying YES to John’s question, He’s providing empirical evidence. It’s tangible. And Matthew is passing it on so his Jewish readers can know, too. Remember that even though this gospel was not written right away, many of the people contained in its stories would have still be alive for anyone interested in hearing a first hand account. In other words, the stories would have been backed up. Interesting to note, that since the new religion of worshipping a “risen” Savior was still banned by the Roman Empire, I’m sure if there had been any false information provided in the narratives – the powerful government would have written its own documentation disproving it. To my knowledge, no such documents exist.
It’s not a slam dunk to proving that Jesus is who He says He is – but it is part of the evidence which demands a verdict. With so much evidence available to John the Baptist, Jesus is making his identity obvious once again to his cousin.
Doubts are a natural part of life. They creep in the moment certainty takes a break. And they come in many different forms. Is there a God? Does He really love me? Are my sins really forgiven? Am I truly saved? How can God work in my life? The good news is that Jesus doesn’t expect us to just blindly believe the answers. He provides evidence, often mountains of evidence, and says to trust that. Give Him your questions – and watch Him provide the proof to His answers.