Luke 7 - Jesus Encourages John the Baptist
Today I went to see a doctor. In fact, this is the second doctor that I have seen in two weeks. I wish that I could tell you that I scheduled an appointment as soon as the symptoms showed up but I did not. I waited a month. By the time I went into urgent care I was ready for the medicine to work immediately.
Since that first appointment I have experienced much progress. I am beginning to feel more normal and the discomfort is becoming less. But, I like to think that I have learned something from all of this and so I kept the appointment this morning with the specialist. As I sat and talked to him he mentioned that this issue can take a long time to recover from. He gave me another prescription and told me to come back in six weeks to see how it is going.
In Luke 7 we find John the Baptist in prison and he is discouraged and doubting. No one would blame John for feeling the way that he does because of the circumstances that he is in. He is in prison, facing the death penalty, and unable to move about freely. He apparently had some disciples who might have been able to encourage him, and he is able to send them out to Jesus, but overall he found himself alone and discouraged.
His discouragement was not primarily the result of his circumstances. If John had been driven by such things he would have not been a good prophet. Instead he would have sought to please men rather than preach the very truth that had landed him in prison. We should not forget that John spent his life in the wilderness, not in the towns; he ate locusts and honey, he did not dine on fine foods; he wore camel hair and a leather belt, he did not own fine clothes. No, John may have found himself in prison but it was not this circumstance that made him despair.
His doubt and discouragement was the result of his misunderstanding about what Jesus had come to do. He expected a powerful ruler and a mighty king; but Jesus was not ministering like he thought he would. I find in my life that I am more aware of my felt needs than I am about my spiritual condition. John has come to sense his spiritual and doctrinal struggle and sends his disciples to Jesus.
We are not told how long John had struggled. But things got to a point where it was worth it for him to send two of his disciples to Jesus for answers. I find myself wanting to acknowledge the prudence of John to send them to Jesus. Like me, he could have waited too long and allowed these symptoms to go untreated. He could have slowly become more discouraged and allowed the offense to become more entrenched in his life. Discouragement and doubt, when left untreated would have eventually gotten his attention away from Jesus and he may have looked for another. (7:19,23) If this could have happened to someone like John the Baptist how much more can this happen to us?
John’s disciples come to Jesus with a question, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
Some commentators have said that John sent the disciples so that they could see Jesus and see that he was the Messiah. Perhaps they see how this happened to John and Andrew in the beginning of John’s gospel. When John the Baptist saw Jesus he said to his disciples, ‘Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!’ After saying this John’s disciples followed after Jesus.
As we will see in Luke 7, there are always multiple things going on at one time, but I think it would be a big mistake to try to see this text in that way. The truth is, Christians get discouraged. Mature Christians have moments of doubt. Why would we read this text in such a way that we take the obvious meaning out of it. Jesus did not seem to think this way at all. He said to John’s disciples, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard…” In other words, John really needed to hear about what Jesus was doing and teaching.
I have sat under teachings that tried to make the apostles super hero’s and more than human than the rest of us. All too often we take these passages that could be so encouraging to us and teach them in a way that strips them of their encouragement. Romans 7 is another passage that this is done with. There Paul describes his battle in the flesh with sin. Some commentators say that Paul is describing his life before his conversion. The implication is that if you can identify with Paul’s struggle you must not be saved or at the very least a believer is stripped of the comfort he should have received from that text.
In Luke 7:24 Jesus sends his disciples off and then he begins to speak about how John the Baptist was the greatest of the prophets. I often wonder, why didn’t Jesus try to encourage John the Baptist with these words? Why not let his disciples hear these words and then they could comfort John with them?
It seems clear that for all the benefit encouragement like this is for us, our greatest need is the gospel when we are doubting and discouraged. Luke 7:23, “...the poor have the good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
Modern psychology and secular psychology would probably focus more on the person. It would seek to encourage the discouraged; but the gospel is about Christ and the Good News. Jesus knows that John the Baptist will be encouraged by this and helped.
I mentioned the Providence of God earlier. This passage is full of the providence of God and we see how God’s providence is used to help all people in the best way. For example, in Luke 7:21 we read, “In that hour, he healed many people of diseases and plagues…”.
Two things come to mind as I read this passage. First, Jesus was always working, teaching and doing miracles. It is hard for me to fathom just how busy Jesus most have been doing all of these things. He worked every day and even on the Sabbath. Even when he was tired and when he tried to get away he often found himself surrounded by people and ministering to them. As a result, we might say that it would not be unusual to find Jesus doing this as these disciples show up. Therefore, we might not appreciate the role providence is playing here.
Secondly, John begins by emphasizing, “...in that very hour”. These words point me towards providence. Jesus blessed so many who came and received from his teaching and his miracles. But it is clear that Jesus did these things so that John’s faith would be encouraged through these things. Providence also uses this visit by John’s disciples to address the crowd. We see this in John 7:24-30. The sinners were encouraged and the justice of God. The pharisees and the religious leaders are confronted with truth and they reject it. We often see the things that God does for others easily enough but we forget that in each of these experiences God is reaching out to us too.