A Blessed Promise to Hang Onto

 Matthew 11:2-6

Second thoughts are something we all experience from time to time in life. For instance, I remember a woman saying to me in my office, I’m having second thoughts about marrying this individual. Someone else said to me along the way, You know, I’m headed toward retirement but I’m having second thoughts. I’m not sure what I will do with my time. Someone else might say, I’m having second thoughts about this relocation I’ve made in life or a purchase I’ve made.

Have you ever had second thoughts about Jesus? I wouldn’t be surprised if you are nodding your head to this question. Second thoughts can even happen in our faith life. Someone might have second thoughts about Jesus because He isn’t meeting their expectations. They say, My life isn’t going all that well. It is filled with problems. I have pain in my life. I thought Jesus would prevent that. Or perhaps you’re having second thoughts because someone you admire has rejected Jesus and their rationale is challenging your own belief in Him.

Second thoughts can happen as the result of unexplained suffering and evil, which can cause intellectual doubts. It’s not unusual. The important thing though is what you do with second thoughts when they come.

We have a story before us today I think is helpful. A preacher named John the Baptist is having second thoughts about Jesus. John is in prison for preaching a repentance message and pointed people to the coming kingdom of God. He also publicly denounced King Herod’s marriage as illegitimate, which angered Herod, so he had John arrested.

In our story, John is sitting in prison waiting and wondering if he will ever get out, and if not, was he wrong in his thinking about Jesus? Why isn’t He helping me? John wondered. Jesus had been baptized by John, and John told his disciples that Jesus is the One they had been waiting for. There goes the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. John was quite excited about Jesus arriving on the scene.

But now we find him in today’s passage feeling confused and puzzled, struggling a bit. Disappointed. What he has heard about Jesus’ ministry so far hasn’t been very exciting, and he is having second thoughts about Him. Jesus isn’t acting according to John’s expectations. John had predicted the wrath of God – the ax is being laid to the tree, fire and brimstone and judgment. But John is not hearing any wrath of God in Jesus’ message. There is no judgment or ax or fire and brimstone. Other than a few miracles here and there, not much success or momentum has occurred as John had expected. He must have wondered, If Jesus is the One, why am I still sitting here in prison? I’m one of the good guys!

Have you ever asked that question when life isn’t going well? Why doesn’t Jesus get me out of this?

Frederick Buechner, a wonderful Christian writer wrote about John the Baptist’s thoughts in his book, Peculiar Treasures, a Biblical Who’s Who. His words might help us understand John’s questioning. Listen to this:

John apparently had second thoughts about Jesus later on, however, and it’s no great wonder.

  • Where John preached grim justice and pictured God as a steely-eyed thrasher of grain, Jesus preached forgiving love and pictured God as the host to the marvelous party or a father who can’t bring himself to throw his children out even when they spit in his eye.
  • Where John said people had better save their skins before it was too late, Jesus said it was God who saved their skins, and even if you blow your bankroll on liquor and sex like the prodigal son, it still wasn’t too late.
  • Where John ate locusts and wild honey in the wilderness with the church crowd, Jesus ate what He felt like in Jerusalem with as sleazy a bunch as you could expect to find.
  • Where John crossed to the other side of the street if he saw sinners heading his way, Jesus seems to have preferred the company of the stewardship committee and the world Council of Churches rolled into one.
  • Where John baptized, Jesus healed.

John is troubled. He is struggling. Am I wrong about Jesus? He needs confirmation of some sort. So he decides to get to the bottom of it by sending a couple of his followers to ask Jesus this question: Are you the one who is to come – Messiah of Israel – or should we look for another?

When you think about it, this is a loaded question. John is being very blunt. He is communicating his second thoughts and personal doubts about Jesus to Jesus.

Jesus doesn’t miss a beat when He hears this question. He is not angry or resentful. He doesn’t write John off saying, I’ve had it with him. How dare he question me! Instead, He responds,

“Go back and tell John what you hear and see. The blind see; the lame walk; those who have leprosy are cleansed; the deaf hear; the dead are raised back to life, and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor.”

Jesus’ response is actually meant to be words of reassurance and encouragement for John. First Jesus says, Listen to the report from your men, John. The day you and the Old Testament prophets have been pointing to is actually happening. There are the signs! The kingdom has begun to arrive! Kingdom miracles are taking place. Good News is being preached. Kingdom news is delivered to the poor in spirit. Lives are getting blessed and changed for the better.

Jesus is pointing to the fulfillment of verses in Isaiah 35 and Isaiah 61, which Isaiah used to describe what will happen when the new day of the kingdom and the Messiah comes. The blind will see, the lame will walk, the dead are raised, Good News will be preached to the poor. This is meant to be reassuring evidence for John. There is your evidence, John.

But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He follows this word of reassurance with a word of promise, maybe tinged with a gentle bit of chiding of John the Baptist for his doubts. Jesus says, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” It’s a promise of blessedness. God’s blessings are a promise of joy actually.

First, we look at the word, blessed. This language is found in the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew chapter 5. Jesus says,

“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

These statements are referred to in church circles as the Beatitudes.

Blessed can also be interpreted as happy. Happy are the poor in spirit. But Jesus is talking about more than a temporal or circumstantial feeling attached to happiness. Being blessed is the state of well-being, which belongs to those who respond in faith to Christ. It’s a joyous state of favor in God’s eyes.

Joy! Jesus says Blessed is he who takes no offense. The word “offense” is the Greek word scandalon, from which we get the word scandalized. It is also used as a stumbling block. Jesus says Blessed is the one who takes no offense on account of me. In other words, blessed is the one who doesn’t reject me or turn away from me, isn’t scandalized by me, who doesn’t trip over me. Instead, they do just the opposite. They trust me even though they may not always understand everything about me, or I don’t quite fit into their own personal expectations. Blessed is the one who sticks with me.

Faith. The person who doesn’t fall away from me will have blessings from God. Joy. Jesus is saying, Trust me, John. Hang in there with me. Perhaps your expectations of me need to be reconfigured or reconsidered. There’s no need to look for another. The truth is, there is no other. I am the one. So stick with me and you will have blessedness from God. I promise.

Jesus is basically asking us to stretch our understanding to fit a different model of the Messiah from what we may have believed – a magical problem-solver and giver of good things. We need to change our expectations and simply believe Him as He is.

We don’t know what John the Baptist did with his message from Jesus. We are not told. But I have to believe Jesus’ words gave John reassurance and the strength and comfort he needed as he lingered miserably in a dungeon until his dying day when he was beheaded. Trust me, John, Jesus says, and you will be blessed.

But enough about John the Baptist and what he did with this promise from Jesus. Let’s talk about you. How is your relationship with the Lord Jesus these days? Are you trusting Him with your life for your very salvation? I hope so. Or are you having second thoughts and getting to a place where you’ve followed Him for a while in your life but you are struggling right now? Your expectations have been disappointed. You feel a little beaten up, a little shaky. It can happen to anyone.

Satan, by the way, loves to play with your mind to destroy your faith. So if you are having second thoughts today, this story is especially for you. I can’t help but appreciate the story because it reminds me in my own moments of second thoughts, that even John the Baptist, who was described by Jesus as the greatest man born of woman, a Hall of Famer of the faith and loved and served God faithfully to the end, had his moments – just like me.

Second thoughts and doubts come. It’s not unusual. Here’s the big idea we learned.

Don’t walk away from Jesus. Instead, walk toward Him as John did. Ask your questions, check the evidence in His word, listen to the testimonies of other believers around you. Let them build you back up again. Go to worship and get the big picture of God’s plan again and again and again. Jesus wants us to believe in Him, no matter what circumstances we are experiencing. He wants us to know today that He is the One sent from God that first Christmas to be your Savior and Lord and friend, and there is no other one by whom you will find blessedness and the joy of salvation with God.

This story speaks to our troubled souls and says, Keep following, keep serving, keep trusting, for in Him is the blessedness and inner happiness your soul is thirsting for. In Christ alone is a right eternal relationship with God possible.

Blessed is the one, joy-filled is the one, who trusts in Him. And know this – in the end, you will not be disappointed.

One last word for you to consider today about the blessedness Jesus promised. A right relationship with God didn’t come about easily or cheaply. Jesus had to suffer the curse of my sin so I might be blessed. In fact, as the Apostle Paul says in Galatians 3, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” We were, by our sinfulness, cursed people. But Christ became a curse on the cross. He suffered our punishment so we might be blessed, restored to a right relationship with our loving and holy God through faith in Christ. God raised Him from the grave three days later as His endorsement that Jesus is the One. You don’t need to look for another. Christ became a curse so you and I might become blessed. What love!

He is the one who is calling out to you today to trust Him in all circumstances. Bring Him your doubts and your second thoughts. Don’t run away from Him but run toward him.

What blessedness, what joy awaits those who trust in Jesus Christ whose birth we will be celebrating just a couple weeks from now. He is the One our hearts are thirsting for. And dear friends, there is no other. Amen.

Pastor Steve Kramer