Sometimes You Wonder

Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else? (Matthew 11:1-3)

If gratitude and hope languish in the in-between, our doubts and questions often flourish there. Living in the in-between has a way of slowly eroding our faith.

There in the ‘land between’ we start to wonder. We wonder what went wrong. We wonder what’s next. We wonder why me, or just as often, why not me. We wonder if our prayers are heard and if matters whether we pray at all. We wonder about God – does God know, and if so, does God care?

Yes, it is possible to live in the in-between with thankfulness and hope, but you may struggle to do it. No less was true of John the Baptist.

Are You the One?
John the Baptist may the greatest figure in the Bible that I don’t want to be like.

I hold John in the highest esteem. I admire his in-your-face preaching, the way he called people to repentance and challenged the hypocrisy of the religious establishment. I’m envious of his ability to draw a crowd. I’m impressed with his humble refusal to let people confuse him with the coming Messiah. John came as a witness and only a witness. He knew it and he made sure others knew it as well.

I love the story of John the Baptist right up to the very end. His execution in Herod’s prison doesn’t sit well with me. I think the man deserved better.

John, ever the faithful preacher, had the guts to publicly denounce Herod’s marriage. Herodius (yes, that’s her name) had been married to Philip, Herod’s brother. John was bold to declare to Herod, “it is not lawful for you to have her” (Mark 6:18). That sermon landed John in prison. Most pastors today who undertake to address the topic of marriage work hard not to offend. John could not have cared less.

Herod’s wife bore a particular animosity toward John. When Herod got loose-lipped and made a careless promise at a dinner party, she seized the opportunity to demand John’s execution. Herod complied rather than be humiliated in front of his buddies. Thus a godly and courageous man met his end at an executioner’s sword, his head bandied about like a trophy.

Before the execution, as John sat in prison, a question began to fester in his mind. It grew to a point where John commissioned two of his followers and sent them to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one? Have I gotten this all wrong? Should we be expecting someone else?”

What We Need to Hear
This time in prison may have been the truest in-between season in John’s life. Sure, there was that time spent in the desert before he began his public ministry. But sitting in prison, perhaps chained and isolated, John found himself stripped of his calling. There in prison – time on his hands, no one to baptize, no crowd to preach to – there a seedling doubt took root. That’s not surprising really.

Sometimes we wonder. And we probably wonder most when we’re living in-between.

Jesus answered John’s question and addressed his nagging doubt by saying something that we need to hear. “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, lepers are cured and the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life and good news is preached to the poor” (Matt. 11:4-5). Those are words from Isaiah 35. Jesus is claiming a messianic identity, basically assuring John that God is at work. Don’t despair John. You had it right all along. Prison doesn’t change what’s true.

That’s the message to which we keep coming back. That’s the message we cling to as we make our way through the in-between stretches of our life. Somewhere, somehow God is working.

But sometimes we do wonder.

If you’re wondering today, you’re in good company. Even John had to ask, had to get his question out there and seek some reassurance. Jesus will not condemn your wondering. So go ahead and ask. But let someone else, maybe someone like me, remind you of what’s happening even when you can’t see it.

God is still working. Hang on to that in the in-between.

Grant us, O God, by the gift and presence of your Holy Spirit, a deep assurance that you are always working. Even in our worst and wondering moments, you are saving and making whole – somewhere, somehow. Today we will embrace this truth confidently in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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