Reading Time: 8 Minutes
Today, let’s first look at what John the Baptist wanted to know from Jesus. Then, we will ask how doubt may arise in our lives and what Jesus does for doubters.
Matthew 11.1-6 – When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities.
2 Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
4 And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
John the Baptist and Jesus
John the Baptist knew that he was a forerunner for the coming Messiah. When questioned about his role, the Gospel of John records the following conversation, where the Baptist explained to the authorities his relationship to the Messiah.
John was asked by religious authorities, “Who are you?”
He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.”
And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?”
He said, “I am not.”
“Are you the Prophet?”
And he answered, “No.”
So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” (John 1.19-23)
When John baptized Jesus, he experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit and a powerful declaration from the heavenly Father. According to Matthew, this is what took place: “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased'” (Matthew 3.16-17).
It may seem strange for John to both know his mission and to experience Jesus so profoundly, but appear to doubt or at least wonder if Jesus is the Messiah.
We are not able to know what John the Baptist was thinking, so we don’t know what actually brought about the statement that came from his followers. We do have access to powerful servants of God and their issues with doubt. Let’s consider an example from a great Christian man that may help our understanding.
Disciples and Doubt
Johannes Facius was a Danish minister and prayer leader, until his death a few years ago. I listened to cassette tapes of his messages in the 1990s, and was inspired by him to pursue God and his purposes with a deeper love and commitment.
Prior to the destruction of the Berlin Wall in 1991, Facius led a group of prayer leaders to walk through the tomb of Vladimir Lenin. Using a phrase from when Jesus cursed the fig tree, each person spoke out loud, “May no fruit ever come from you again” (Matthew 21.19), as they walked through the tomb.
Shortly after their prayer in Lenin’s tomb, the Berlin Wall fell. However, the victory came at a great expense to Facius. Immediately after exiting Lenin’s tomb, he thought he was having a heart attack. Medical tests revealed that nothing was wrong with his heart, but serious health issues remained.
Facius had a Pentecostal background and many people with healing and deliverance ministries came to pray for him. Some told him he needed more faith for healing to take place. Others sought to cast out demons that were believed to be oppressing him. Still other asked Facius if there was any unconfessed sin in his life. None of them were able to help him.
After three years of suffering, God released Facius from the oppression that came the day he prayed so boldly in Lenin’s tomb. He wrote about his experience in a book, “God Can Do It Without Me.“
When I read John the Baptist’s questions for Jesus, I thought of this great man of God, Johannes Facius, and other servants of God who have suffered persecution, demonic oppression, or severe illness. Below are some of my reflections:
(1) John the Baptist, Johannes Facius, and countless other devoted followers of Jesus have experienced intense suffering. God could have saved all of these people from their suffering, but apparently saving these people is not part of the wisdom of his ultimate plan for humanity.
John knows there will come a time when God will “wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 21.4). I wonder if that will be the time when God reveals his grand purpose and reasoning behind allowing suffering and pain.
(2) There are no easy answers for suffering. Godly people came to the aid of Facius. I expect John the Baptist didn’t lack for any care that his followers could give him. Some people traveled from different parts of the world to minister to Facius. Everyone sincerely did what they could to benefit him.
Despite outpourings of love and concern, suffering makes people feel alone. In Facius’ case, his fellow ministers applied everything that they knew “worked” with others. It didn’t work with him, and the result as an increased feeling of isolation and despair.
I don’t think Facius or the Baptist ever came close to losing their faith. However, they certainly had questions that arose from their condition.
(3) Jesus does have an answer for us, even though it may not come as quickly as we want it. For John the Baptist, Jesus aligned his ministry with the prophesy of Isaiah. He told the John’s disciples to relate to him that he was perfectly fulfilling what Isaiah said the Messiah would do.
It has been quite some time since I read Facius’ book and I no longer have it available. My memory is that God clearly healed him and gave him insight into life and ministry that would not be possible without his experience.
Psalms of Lament
The Psalms of Lament are an excellent resource for people who are suffering and who can’t make sense out of what is going on in their lives. About one-third of all of the Psalms involve these cries to God out of the pain of suffering and loss.
Psalm 73 is one of my favorites. To end today’s article, we will explore some of the verses with prompts as to how to pray along with the Psalm writer.
1 Truly God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart.
2 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
my steps had nearly slipped.
3 For I was envious of the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
Suggested Prayer: God, I have been serving you with my whole heart, but my life seems more difficult than my friends who seem to have no interest in you at all. I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you I’m tempted to join them.
11 And they say, “How can God know?
Is there knowledge in the Most High?”
12 Behold, these are the wicked;
always at ease, they increase in riches.
Suggested Prayer: My friends act like you don’t exist and if you do exist, you don’t seem to care for what they are doing. Their life looks like a party all the time, and they always seem to have plenty of cash.
13 All in vain have I kept my heart clean
and washed my hands in innocence.
14 For all the day long I have been stricken
and rebuked every morning.
15 If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
I would have betrayed the generation of your children.
Suggested Prayer: I’ve been serving you, but there doesn’t seem to be a pay-off. In fact, my life has gotten more difficult since I started following you. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not checking out. I am staying with you, if for no other reason than to show my children the right way to live.
16 But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
17 until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I discerned their end.
Suggested Prayer: God, it hurts my brain to try to figure out why my evil friends are doing so well and I am hurting so much. Wait a minute! You just showed me something. You just gave me a “touch” of your presence. Wow! I am amazed! I now see. I see what you are doing with me – and I see the end of my friends who seem to care nothing for you. Thank you. I will keep on following you.