Matthew 11:2-3 “When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’”
If John’s imprisonment prompted his question, it wasn’t necessarily because he was complaining about his condition. He was not a man looking for great things for himself. Unlike the prosperity preachers of our day, he didn’t live a lavish lifestyle on the gifts of his followers. His food was locusts and wild honey. He didn’t wear custom-tailored suits with a Rolex watch and expensive rings. He wore rough, simple, cheap clothing made of camel’s hair. He showed no attachment to the things of the world.
Nor was he a self-promoter. He told his own disciples, jealous of the larger crowds Jesus was drawing: “He must become greater; I must become less.” He was willing to sacrifice and suffer for the Messiah’s cause.
John didn’t expect great things for himself. But was Jesus going to let the bad guys win? Should the king who put John in prison for preaching against his sexual immorality get away with it? Where was the judgment John had been sent to preach? Where was the unquenchable fire that was going to burn up the chaff? It seemed like something was missing from Christ’s ministry.
None of us live a life as stark and simple as John the Baptist. But that doesn’t mean our lives are free from crosses and trials. Many of those who don’t share our faith work hard to portray our beliefs in a negative light. Those who mock Christian belief try to turn godly morals upside down. The defense of life from conception to old age, promotion of monogamous heterosexual marriage as the only place for godly sexual practice—these beliefs aren’t merely rejected. They are vilified. Yet those who do so don’t seem to be suffering. They are respected members of their communities. Often they have the ear of those in power. A growing number of churches are switching to their side. How can our Savior tolerate such contradiction of his word? Is he going to let the bad guys win? Where’s the judgment he promised?
John had more reason to wonder. He heard what Jesus was doing. He was healing and driving out demons and raising the dead. He was having mercy on all kinds of people. Like the crowd of 5000 he fed, their interest often stopped at the help they could get for their bodies. They only wanted Jesus to enrich their lives now. They weren’t tuned in to spiritual matters. They weren’t focused on repentance and faith. Still, they were healed. They were fed. They found help while John rotted in prison. Was that fair? What about me?
What about me? Jesus still hands out blessings in ways that strike us as inconsistent. How come I don’t have as much money as he does? I’m just as good as she is. How come I don’t enjoy the business success of other Christians I know? I work harder than they do. How come God hasn’t blessed me with a big happy family, never failing health, a circle of close friends when others have them? Is Jesus fair? Is he the One we expect?
Our complaints and concerns about the way the Lord treats his enemies, or the faithful, meddle in issues that are none of our business. Whether or not we perceive it, he governs the world flawlessly, and everything he does will benefit us in the end. Questioning his ways is evidence of weakening faith. It erodes our trust. It is a sin to be repented. It will only lead us away from him.
The problem isn’t that Jesus acts in ways we don’t expect. It’s that we fail to see that this is better. Paul said it this way to the Romans: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).
We want a gracious and merciful God, don’t we, not just one who is “fair”? He may not always be what we expect. But that is what makes him always the One we need.