Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, "Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?" Jesus answered and said to them, "Go and report to John what you hear and see: the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM. "And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me." (Matthew 11:2-6)Life in jail must have been pretty discouraging for John the Baptist. After all it was not that long ago that John was baptising many and experiencing so much success in his ministry. John was even the one that introduced Jesus to the world as the Lamb of God. John certainly thought that Jesus would free him from Herod's jail but he never did. You can almost feel John's disappointment when he asks Jesus "are you the One?" What do you make of it when Jesus answers John talking about not taking offense. It is like Jesus is saying "Don't be upset that I am not answering your prayer". I wonder how John took it when his disciples returned to him with Jesus' answer. How would you have reacted? Would you have been offended?
The issue of unanswered prayer is a difficult one. It is like the question of why God allows evil in the world. When our hearts are broken ... when we see pain all around us ... when it seems that God just doesn't care - these are times when it is easy to become offended by Jesus' lack of action. This offense can be strong when, like John, we haven't done anything wrong. We see this offense spoken by Job when he dialogs with his friends. He says:
"For the arrows of the Almighty are within me, Their poison my spirit drinks; The terrors of God are arrayed against me." (Job 6:4)Job is surfacing a deep offense as he speaks of poisoned arrows, burden, laughingstock and family devastation. God appears in the midst of Job's grief and confronts Job saying:
"If I have sinned, what have I done to you, O watcher of men? Why have you made me your target? Have I become a burden to you?" (Job 7:20)
"I have become a laughingstock to my friends, though I called upon God and he answered— a mere laughingstock, though righteous and blameless!" (Job 12:4)
"Surely, O God, you have worn me out; you have devastated my entire household." (Job 12:4)
The LORD said to Job: "Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!" Then Job answered the LORD: "I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer — twice, but I will say no more." Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm: "Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. "Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself? (Job 40:1-8)God's response to Job sounds a lot like Jesus' response to John. I think that the last verse speaks to how life really is when things get rough. Out of our deep offense at God we cast dispersion over his justice. Out of the pain of our hurt we seek to blame God for the pain. Oh that we would have Job's final response:
Then Job answered the LORD and said, "I know that You can do all things, And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. 'Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?' "Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know." 'Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask You, and You instruct me.' "I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; But now my eye sees You; Therefore I retract, And I repent in dust and ashes." (Job 42:1-6)In the end Job ... and I think John ... understood the error of being offended by God. I asked the inmates this week to consider Job's response and to retract their offense and repent. I ask you all to consider doing likewise.