Perry Emerick – Mesa Campus Pastor
One of the things we as Christians can so often find ourselves saying is that God will “protect us” if we are faithful and obedient in doing ________. I leave it blank because there are so many things you can fill in there. It could be read your bible every day. It could be pray daily. It could be serve someone. It could be random (dare I say ridiculous) things like sharing a facebook post or email in the next 10 minutes and you will receive an unexpected blessing. To the core of me, I hope that those who do that don’t actually believe that, but I’m sure there are many who actually do. These are all Acts we can find ourselves doing for protection.
Now when I say “protect us” I realize that can be pretty broadly interpreted, but in this case I am referring to physical safety, protection, or shield from harm. Please hear me right in this, I do believe strongly when we are daily in God’s word and praying and being mindful of the leading of God’s Spirit, I believe we gain wisdom and will tend to do things that generally help us from making decisions that put us into harms way. However, I also believe that for many their obedience is more about leveraging their actions in return for God’s safety, not for growing in a relationship with God. But what happens if things don’t go the way you think? What if God doesn’t do what you ask?
In Matthew 11, John the Baptist sends one of his disciples to Jesus to ask him “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” I have always read this to mean John wants to know he is going to die for the right person. However, I recently heard another aspect of this I had not realized. When John uses this phrase, Jesus and really any devout Jew would have recognized or heard this question as a direct reference to Old Testament prophecies about the messiah, a specific one being Isaiah 61:1-2, which Jesus quotes in Luke 4:18-19. These are the words of Jesus:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me,because he has anointed meto proclaim good news to the poor.He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisonersand recovery of sight for the blind,to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. – Luke 4:18-19
This is a very interesting list, one that includes the phrase “freedom for the prisoners”. John is a prisoner. And by asking the question he originally asked about the identity of Jesus, he in essence was asking Jesus, “Are you the one who sets prisoners free? Will I be set free?” John has faithfully served the Lord, but finds himself unjustly in prison, and understandably he wants out. So how does Jesus respond to the question in Matthew 11?
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 cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” – Matt. 11:4-5
It is very similar to the first list from Luke, except it is missing one key part…the reference to prisoners. Jesus is basically communicating to John that he will not be set free. He is confirming his identity while answering John’s question about his fate. This is a very difficult thing to consider isn’t it? Faithful John the baptizer being punished for standing up for what is right and Jesus is not going to rescue him. I can only imagine what John must have thought. We don’t know, because his response is not recorded…only his fate, which was beheading by a spineless king. But Jesus did add one key phrase to his response which is found in vs. 6:
“Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” – Matt. 11:6
The hard teaching in this is Jesus isn’t always going to operate the way we want, according to our desires. Jesus has a mission and a plan, which is much bigger than our individual plan. It does not mean he doesn’t care about us, quite the opposite…he loves us deeply, knows every hair on our head and stumble we make. His love for us sent him to the cross to pay for our sin. The question is, is our love for him strong enough to not have things go our way? That is kingdom life…”your kingdom come, your will be done”. It is perhaps the greatest test of our faith. Yet Jesus’ promise is a blessing for those who can accept him in spite of what may happen…and I believe the greatest blessing will be to hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”