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The Baptist, The Messiah and the Dungeon

3th September 2009

Luke 7v16-19
They were all filled with awe and praised God. "A great prophet has appeared among us," they said. "God has come to help his people." This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.
Johnís disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, he sent them to the Lord to ask, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?"

Jesus had brought the son of the widow of Nain back to life. Unsurprisingly, the people were impressed. The realisation that Jesus was a great prophet with tremendous power spread throughout the land. It even got as far as John the Baptist, who was imprisoned in a dungeon beneath one of Herod's palaces, east of the Jordan.

John was the one who had been sent by God to proclaim the coming of Jesus. He was the one who baptised thousands in preparation for Jesus. When he saw Jesus, he said "behold the Lamb of God". Before almost anyone else, John KNEW that Jesus was the Messiah, "the one who was to come" He'd had the amazing honour of baptising Jesus Himself.

But then John had been imprisoned for standing up for Godly values, telling Herod he shouldn't have married his half-brother's wife. And while Jesus was doing all these marvellous things, John was still locked up.

John was only human. Having preached so much, having done so much, having seen so much, John was in a very unpleasant prison. And he was having doubts. If Jesus was so wonderful, how come he hadn't brought about John's freedom? Why would his own cousin resurrect total strangers and leave him without aid? If Jesus was the Messiah, couldn't he break the bars of John's prison?

But at least John was allowed visitors. When his followers came and told him what Jesus was doing, he sent to ask Jesus who He really was.

Luke 7v20-23
When the men came to Jesus, they said, "John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ĎAre you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?í"
At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, "Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: 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."

Jesus replied that they should report to John the evidence of their own eyes and ears. Of course Jesus is the Messiah, see what He's doing and hear what He's saying!

Jesus had proclaimed His own manifesto during his first recorded speech in a synagogue:

Luke 4v16-21
He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lordís favour."
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."

And now he makes it clear that this manifesto is being fulfilled. He is preaching Good News to the poor. He is giving sight to the blind.

But he doesn't mention the parts about freedom for the prisoners and release for the oppressed. It would have been too cruel to remind his imprisoned cousin about those sections, which were not yet fulfilled in John's case.

Jesus's message to John, through John's followers, was one of reassurance. John had not been wrong. He had not given his freedom for nothing. He had not baptised the wrong man. He had not preached falsehood. Jesus truly is the Messiah.

But that can be hard to believe when we hear so much preaching about the amazing power of God to heal and deliver us, but we don't experience it for ourselves.

Some Christians are still in their personal dungeons. That dungeon can be political and religious persecution: many Christian's today are imprisoned and executed for the crime of believing that Jesus is Lord. Or the dungeon can be depression, or loneliness, or poverty, or sickness, or the fallout from a broken relationship, or the memory of past trauma. Not all Christians just hear an uplifting sermon and find all their problems instantly fixed. Some wait for years. Some only find freedom in death. And, in those dungeons, some doubt that Jesus is all He is said to be.

But He is.

Luke 7v24-27
After Johnís messengers left, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: "What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: "ĎI will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.í

Jesus took the time to give honour to John, to acknowledge that he was "more than a prophet".

John suffered greatly. He never escaped from prison. He was beheaded and his head was served up to Herod's step-daughter on a plate. He never got to see the wonderful things Jesus was doing, he never heard the Sermon on the Mount. He died before the Resurrection. And he must have wondered why.

But he's receiving his reward in Heaven.

And many Christians who suffer on Earth, whom God doesn't set free on Earth (or hasn't yet) will receive great treasure in Heaven.

Those of us with comparatively easy lives, who walk God's way and testify to His goodness and stand up for what is right, will receive treasure in Heaven. But how much more will those who suffer for His name and whose prayers are not fully answered on Earth receive from His hand when they stand before His throne?