John sent a delegation to ask Jesus, once and for all, if He truly was the Messiah. Jesus could have responded with a simple “yes” or “no.” He did not. Instead, he pointed John’s disciples to the evidence before them:
After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee. 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?” Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 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” (Matthew 11:1-6).
“Blessed are those who don’t fall away from Jesus on account of Jesus.”
It’s in the cell when we are confronted with the fact that most of us have expectations of Jesus that are not rooted in Scripture. They’re rooted in the American dream, or incorrect Sunday school lessons, or bad theology – expectations that tell us that because God loves us, our lives will be happy. Free of trouble. Smooth sailing.
That’s not the Jesus of the Bible. That’s not the Jesus who told us to expect trouble. Hardship. Persecution. Danger. Trials of every kind. And if we’re not careful, in the cell, we might just fall away from Jesus because of Jesus.
The disciples left not with a clear answer, but with evidence of the mission of Jesus the Messiah. But then something amazing happened.
As John’s disciples were leaving, the crowd started whispering. They turned to each other, perhaps shaking their heads at John’s lack of faith. Maybe they even smirked a little at the crazy man who had once been so positive, but was now wavering in doubt. And Jesus turned on His heel to the crowd:
As John’s disciples were leaving, 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 fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then 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: ” ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. He who has ears, let him hear (Matthew 11:7-15).
Even in John’s dark night of the soul, during his doubting times, we see that Jesus is not condemning. Far from it. Jesus is his advocate. That, too, is an experience we can relate to. For even in our doubts, even in our sin, even in our apathy, even in our haze, Jesus is our eternal advocate. But in our case it’s even better. For Jesus is not our defender in front of a crowd of questioning onlookers. Jesus is our advocate before the God of the universe and the enemy of mankind. In the eternal court, as the devil might hurl his firey darts of condemnation, Jesus stands in our defense. In fact, as the writer of Hebrews says, “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (Hebrews 7:25). Jesus is not our condemner; He is our defender. Our advocate. Even now in the cell.
Here again, Jesus defies our expectations. When we might expect abandonment or frustration, for the well of grace to run dry, he’s still there. Always. Forever. Once again, refusing to meet those expectations.