By J.R. Miller
John was a brave man and a firm believer in Jesus as the Messiah--but in his prison, questions arose. "When John heard in the prison the works of the Christ, he sent two of his disciples." There were some things which he could not make out himself, and he sent promptly to Jesus to ask Him about them. That is just what we should learn to do in all our perplexities. There often are times when all seems dark about us. We cannot understand the things that are happening to us. We are apt to get very much worried and disheartened. The true Christian way in all such experiences, is to take the matters at once to Christ.
John's faith in the Messiahship of Jesus wavered in his hard circumstances. "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" Some people think that John could not really have been in doubt. It is impossible, they say, that such a brave, grand man should ever have wavered in his confidence. They forget that John lived in the mere dawn of Christianity, before the full day burst upon the world. He had not the thousandth part of the light that we have--yet do we never have our questions?
The truth is, there are very few of us who are not sometimes disheartened without a hundredth part of the cause John had! We are amazed at every person's blindness or dullness--but our own! Other people's failures look very large to us--but we do not see our own at all. We wonder how Moses, once, under sorest provocation, lost his temper and spoke a few hasty and impatient words; while we can scarcely get through a single sunny day ourselves without a far worse outbreak, at a far smaller provocation! We wonder how the beloved disciples, with all his sweet humility, could once show an ambition for a place of honor, while we ourselves are forever miserably scrambling for preferment! We say, "Isn't it strange that the people of Christ's time would not believe on Him when they saw all His power and love?" Yet we do not believe on Him any more readily or any more fully than they did--though we have far greater evidence! We think it strange that the Baptist grew despondent when his trials were so great, though many of us are plunged into gloom by the merest trifles!
Somehow Jesus was not realizing John's expectation as the Messiah, and he thought that possibly there was yet another to come after Him. "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" It is the same yet with many people. When everything is bright and sunny--they think they surely have found Christ, and their hearts are full of joy. But when troubles come and things begin to go against them--they wonder whether after all they really have found the Savior. They begin to question their own experience. Christ does not do just the things they thought He would do for them. Their religion does not support them as they supposed it would do. If they are indeed Christians, why does Christ let them suffer so much and not come to relieve them? So they sink away into the slough of despond, sometimes losing all hope.
But we see from John's case, how unnecessary all this worry is. Of course, we must have some earthly trials. Christ does not carry us to heaven on flowery beds of ease. We must expect to bear the cross many a long mile. The true way is never to doubt Him. Suppose there are clouds, the sun still shines behind them, undimmed, and the very clouds have their silver lining. Suppose we have disappointments, Jesus is the same loving Friend as when all our hopes come to ripeness. There is no need to look for another; all we need we find in Him. If we turn away from Him, where shall we go?
When John's messengers came with their questions, Jesus did not give a direct answer. He went on with His ministry of love and mercy--that they might see what His work was. Then "Jesus answered." Jesus always answers. Many of our prayers to Him are mixed with doubts. Many of them are full of complaints, fear and murmuring. Still He never grows impatient with us. He never shuts His door upon us. We must cause Him much pain by our distrusts and our unhappy fears. We wonder whether He loves us or not, whether He really has forgiven us or not, whether or not he will take care of us all through our life. Half the time we are worried or perplexed about something, and are full of frets and cares. Does Jesus ever get tired of listening to such prayers? No, no! He listens always, and though His heart must often be pained by the discordant notes of our murmurings and fears--He never grows impatient, and never chides but always answers. He remembers how frail we are, that we are but dust, and gives loving answers.
Jesus let the messengers get their own conclusions from what they saw. "Go and tell John the things which you hear and see." Here we see how Jesus proved His own Messiahship. The best evidence of Christianity is not a long array of arguments--but the things Christianity has done. The tree's fruits are the best index to the tree's character. Jesus pointed to the miracles He had wrought. Yet it was not to the miracles as miracles, merely as wonderful works, that He pointed; it was the character of these works that proved His Messiahship. The blind received their sight, the lame were enabled to walk, lepers were cleansed, and the deaf were made to hear. All these were works of Divine mercy and love. Pulling down mountains, floating in the air, performing remarkable feats of magic, would not have proved our Lord's Messiahship; the miracles He wrought were never ostentatious, never for show--but were acts of love, done to relieve suffering, lift up fallen men, give joy and help--and thus manifest the Divine character. Once He walked on the water--yet it was not for show--but in carrying relief to His imperiled and terrified disciples.
Jesus said nothing about John, while the messengers from John were there--but when they were gone, He spoke of him. "As they departed, Jesus began to say." What a beautiful thing this was for Jesus to do for His friend! The people and the disciples would misunderstand John's perplexity about the Christ, and would be sure to misjudge Him, thinking Him weak and vacillating. Jesus would not rest a moment until he had removed any unfavorable impression about John that might have been left in anyone's mind. He was most careful of the reputation of His friend.
The lesson is very important. We should always seek to guard the good name of our friends. We should not allow any wrong impression of them or of their acts to become current. We should hold their name and honor sacred as our own. If we find that anything they have done is likely to leave an unfair or injurious impression on others who do not know all the circumstances, we must try to set the matter right. It is very sad to see people sometimes even apparently glad to find others unfavorably regarded. Instead of hastening to remove or correct wrong impressions, they seem quite willing to let them remain and even to confirm them by significant silence or by ambiguous words. Surely that is not the Christlike way.
John was not a weak man, blown with every breeze. He was not a "reed shaken with the wind." That is what many people are. A reed grows in soft soil by the water's edge. Then it is so frail and delicate in its fiber, that every breeze bends and shakes it. There are people of whom this is a true picture. Instead of being rooted in Christ, their roots go down into the soft mire of this world and are easily torn up. Thus they have no fixed principles to keep them upright and make them true and strong, and they are bent by every wind and moved by every influence. They lack nothing so much as backbone. The boy that cannot say 'no', when other boys tease him to smoke or drink or to go places he ought not to go, is only a reed shaken with the wind. The girl who is influenced by frivolities and worldly pleasures, and drawn away from Christ, and from a noble, pure, beautiful life--is another "reed shaken with the wind." They are growing everywhere, these reeds, and the wind shakes them every time it blows. Who wants to be a reed? Who would not rather be more like the oak, growing with roots firm as a rock, which no storm can bend?
It was a splendid commendation that Jesus gave His friend. "There has not arisen a greater than John the Baptist." So a man may sometimes have doubts and perplexities of faith, and yet be a very great man. Christ does not cast us off, because we sometimes lose faith. Of course, we ought never to have any doubts about Christ, or about His way being the best way--but if ever we do yield to such discouragements, we must not think we have lost our place in Christ's love. He makes a great deal of allowance for our weakness and for the greatness of our trials, and keeps on loving us without interruption. Thousands of good people have their times of despondency, and Jesus is always gentle and tender to all in such experiences. He does not chide. He does not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax. He restores the sick or wounded soul to health.