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Somebody Else’s Miracle

October 28, 2013

“The disciples of John reported all these [miracles] to him. And John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?….In that hour, Jesus healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind, he bestowed sight. And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” Luke 7:16-23

In the bright light of day, John the Baptist had no problem believing.

After 460 years of prophetic silence, God had spoken to John in the wilderness and had anointed him to proclaim a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, preparing the way for “the one to come” –the Messiah, the Savior promised in the Old Testament –Jesus Christ. (Luke 3:2-3)

Moreover, John had been privileged to witness this: “And when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove, and a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved son; with you I am well-pleased.’” (Luke 3:21-22)

John the Baptist had more reason than most to believe.

Yet four chapters later, in John 7, we find John seeking Jesus by proxy, pleading, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

Machaerus

John sent his disciples to Jesus because John was in prison. The first-century historian Josephus wrote in Antiquities of the Jews that John was held in Herod’s fortress, Macherus, at the top of this mountain overlooking the Dead Sea.

Somehow, in the dozens of times I’d read the gospel of Luke I had missed that: John was in prison when he wondered if Jesus was the promised Messiah.

My pastor, Brett Louis, is preaching through the gospel of Luke and preached Luke 7:16-23 last spring. Pastor Brett put the passage in the context of John’s life: in prison and (no one but God knew) soon to be beheaded for speaking the truth.

It was a glancing point in the sermon, but my heart has been ruminating on the last line in the passage for six months: And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.  

Fore eighteen months I have felt oppressed, imprisoned by circumstances over which I have no control. And, Oh! How easy it is to be offended!

Did Jesus speak those words just for me?

John questioned Jesus. Even so, he was not experiencing a faith-endangering state of doubt. Did you notice how gently Jesus replied? No rebuke necessary.

Rather, John was experiencing the real physical and mental pain of what we today might call “suffering for righteousness’ sake.” But he was experiencing it before the Cross. The Holy Spirit could not bring to mind I Peter 3:14 or the book of Philippians or Hebrews 13:12. Those verses had not been written yet. The Holy Spirit had not been given yet.

In fact, John the Baptist probably died before anyone could report back that Jesus had prophesied his own suffering, “The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected…and be killed and on the third day be raised,” and had admonished his followers, “If anyone would come after me, let him take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:22-23)

Here John was, bewildered and suffering in prison, without the New Testament for comfort –except the early scenes of Jesus ministry John had seen for himself.

What John had witnessed must have been confusing.  Jesus was widely reported to be fulfilling the Old Testament Messianic prophecies like Isaiah 35:3-5: “Then the eye of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.”

YET…The missing miracle, the missing prophecy that must have driven John to question Jesus, is absent from the gospel accounts of this story.

I can hear Isaiah 61:1 ringing in John’s ears, an echo, mocking, off his prison walls. Isaiah foretold the Messiah would say, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor…”

Check, John must have thought. I saw the Spirit descend upon Jesus like a dove and I heard a voice from heaven saying, “This is my Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

But Isaiah 61:1 continues, in the voice of the Messiah: “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of prison to those who are bound…”

Is it any wonder that John sent his disciples to Jesus asking, “‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” John was intimate with the Old Testament.

How did Jesus answer?

Luke tells us, “In that hour, Jesus healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind, he bestowed sight.”

After answering with miracles, Jesus answered with words. “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.”

I AM the Messiah, Jesus affirmed. Prison doors will open at my word. Captives will go free.

But not yet.

Jesus saw John’s heart and concluded, “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

Blessed –happy –are you, Jesus said, if you see the fulfillment of prophecy, if you see Me working miracles, and you believe. Even if I don’t work the miracle you are seeking.

Oh, my soul, do not be offended.

In prison: The blessed assurance of God’s power and favor in Jesus Christ. The presence and fellowship of the Holy Spirit. The privilege of approaching Jesus, not by proxy, but directly in prayer.

Are not these miracles enough?

Isaiah 61: The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor,
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.

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