Offended by Jesus?
When circumstances turn against us it is incredibly easy to pity ourselves. At the very least we long for someone (anyone really) to pity us and to acknowledge the depth and extent of what we are going through. It seems unjust that we should have to suffer so much in silence with only the Lord as a witness. If we can’t have deliverance, then we desire sympathy (if not empathy), not out of a deliberate desire to be seen as a martyr but rather because the pain just seems too much for one person to bear in solitude, especially when there is no visible end in sight. Have you ever been in that lonely place? Then you know the sensation of the walls closing in and that sickening, sinking feeling of hanging on in apparent hopelessness. You can almost feel the shield of faith slipping from your grasp, and the cold presence of unbelief envelopes, as evidenced by fear - perhaps even blind panic – as you start seeking somewhere to run to; a place to hide. Are we here describing the thoughts and actions of a spiritual coward? Not necessarily, for any of us can reach that point. Indeed, even the best of us, for how many of us would judge ourselves godlier than John the Baptist? After all that he had suffered in preparation for the Messiah’s arrival, and despite the undoubted success of his mission as “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight’”, yet we are presented with a sobering scene in Matthew chapter 11, (further explained in chapter 14). In brief, John had been unexpectedly and unjustly arrested and imprisoned, and would later be executed there. While in prison he sends a message to Jesus in the form of a question, as devastating as it was brief – “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” Pause and allow that to sink in for a moment. The forerunner of the Messiah sends him a message from prison asking, in effect, whether He is who He says He is or a fake! Whether this doubt was born of shock and disappointment at his own circumstances or (more likely) because he felt that Jesus was not doing what he expected him to do, or not how he expected it, or perhaps not at the speed he had hoped for. We cannot say with certainty, but what we do know is that the man who sacrificed all for Christ now seems totally disillusioned. As he waits to hear back from Jesus, imagine him sitting on the hard ground of his forlorn prison cell, a confused and dejected figure, awaiting an answer to a question he never thought he would ever ask. Yet this is the man of whom Christ said, "Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist." What does this teach us? It teaches us that doubt and discouragement can overtake the best of us. It also teaches us that there is hope for all of us, however far down the bottomless pit of discouragement we may have fallen. In truth the self-pity that we are tempted to wrap ourselves in like a warm, familiar blanket is nothing more than a manifestation of the fact that we have lost sight of the Lord, and have therefore become overwhelmed under the crushing stress of our circumstances. With Jesus no longer in view everything unravels, and we become engulfed in the paralyzing thought that we may have gotten it all horribly wrong in putting all our trust in him. But be of good cheer! Hear the reply of our Lord to John's candid and honest cry. Note that Jesus neither rebukes him, nor expresses disappointment in him. Instead, he sent back a message of encouragement and exhortation to His beloved and faithful servant - “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see… And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.” And Jesus did not stop there. After John’s disciples had left to take Jesus’ message back to the prison, the Lord went further in chiding those present who may have been inwardly standing in judgement over the beleaguered prophet because of his sceptical question. Jesus let them know in no uncertain terms how highly he thought of John and how precious he was to him. To his credit, there is no record of John ever doubting the Lord again and even though he was murdered soon thereafter, this the last of the Old Testament prophets finished his course with joy, having kept the faith. In the Scriptures we are told, "Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees..." While teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum the Lord Jesus said to his extended group of disciples, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.” Some of his disciples could not understand what he was teaching them and took umbrage at his remarks saying, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?” “When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, “Does this offend you?”” From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?” But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”" How easy it is to become offended at the Lord when we do not understand what he is saying to us or doing in our lives. The scriptural account is clear that many of his disciples deserted him that day, and many will this very day. The question Christ asks us now is, “Do you also want to go away?” If we do he will not prevent us anymore than he prevented those that day in Capernaum but before deciding we should stop and consider that · Only he has the words of eternal life. All else leads to death. · He only is the Light and outside of him there is nothing but darkness · He is the Way and apart from him we are lost (in every sense of the word) · He is the Rock from which comes living water. · He is the Good Shepherd. Apart from his care the thief and his wolves are all we have to look forward to. · He is the Truth. The rest are lies. · He is the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us. The Lord knows what you are facing; he knows because in his omniscient love he has designed a specific pathway of sanctification leading to glory, entirely unique to you. And his promise to you is this - “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” He sees you. He knows where you are. He is aware of your painful thoughts and the discouraging imaginations that arise in your mind. He understands how low you have sunk at times in doubt, and the questions you would ask him if they did not seem so irreverent. Yet he has not one word of condemnation or scolding for you; just a gentle reminder, “…blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.” Are you tempted to take offence at what the Lord has allowed into your life and feel like withdrawing and turning inward, wondering whether perhaps you should “look for someone else”? Reject unbelief and its self-pity! Go back to trusting your Lord…and take the next step with him. That is all that the Lord desires of you – to trust him enough to take the next step with him. He does not expect you to understand but he does expect you to agree, i.e. to have the mind of Christ and therefore to say in your heart, ‘I do not understand “nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will”’. The Lord’s reply to John seemed to have had the desired effect because, even though this prophet was murdered soon thereafter, he never again questioned his Messiah. He died at the hands of wicked men but with his faith in Christ intact. May that confidence in our Lord be the legacy of every one of us who belong to Jesus.
Mat.3:3; Mat.11:2,11; Heb.12:11-12; Joh.6:41-69; 1Cor.10:13