(Bible quotations are from the NIV unless otherwise stated)
The Baptist, The Messiah and the Dungeon
3th September 2009
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.
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:
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.
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?