📷: João Silas
John the Baptist had a divinely-inspired, God-breathed understanding of Jesus. He proclaimed Him as having two distinct yet intimately connected functions. First, the Lamb of God who takes awake the sin of the world. Second, the One who baptises in the Holy Spirit. Yet, in spite of all this knowing, John had a crisis of faith. In Matthew 11:2-5 we read:
“And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to Him, ‘Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?’ Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see 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.’”
I do not think that John lacked courage. He does not strike me as the type. Yet, if He was going to be in chains, if He was going to die for something or someone, He wanted to know that He died for the truth. He wanted to know that He died proclaiming the rightful Son of God, the Way, the Truth and the Life. What answer was given by Jesus? He instructed those disciples to tell John two things: first, the things they heard Christ teach; second, the things they saw Christ do. And, to ensure they zoned in on the pivotal, He specified: the blind see; the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed; the deaf hear; the dead are raised; the poor have the Gospel preached to them.
“Go and tell John the things which you hear and see,” we read. Hear and see. Note how hearing is mentioned first and seeing, second. The preaching of the Gospel is paramount. The Good News that Jesus is the Saviour of this world and that anyone who believes in Him will receive everlasting life, is essential information. This has to be preached, this has to be heard, this has to be believed. When Jesus announced His ministry to the world, He read in the synagogue in Nazareth from Isaiah 61. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,” He proclaimed, “because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19). Jesus again emphasised His preaching the Gospel first and foremost. The healings He mentioned second. However, when Jesus listed His activities to the disciples of John the Baptist in Matthew 11, He placed His preaching of the Gospel at the very end of the list. His healing miracles He placed first, His Gospel-preaching second. Why the pivot?
In Matthew 9, when a paralytic was brought before Jesus, our Lord immediately stated, “Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you.” His critics questioned His ability to forgive sins and rightly so: God alone is the ultimate judge and hence God alone can wipe a sinful slate clean. And so, what did Jesus do? He was the Son of God and had the power to forgive. Yet, forgiveness cannot be seen with the eyes, although it utterly transforms the spirit and soul of its recipient. How then could Jesus prove that He was able to forgive? He approached the dilemma with the following argument: if His words radically impacted the physical realm, logic dictated that they would impact the spiritual realm as well. “‘But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins’ – then He said to the paralytic, ‘Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.’ And he arose and departed to His house.” Jesus offered them a miracle they could see (healing the body of the paralytic) as proof He could perform a miracle they could not see (forgiving sins).
Let us return to Matthew 11. John the Baptist was likewise desiring proof. He wanted proof that Jesus was who He had preached Him to be: The Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world. Jesus reverted to the same argument. He used a few chapters earlier. It was if He was saying to John: “I can make the blind see. I can make the lame walk. I can cleanse the lepers. I can make the deaf hear. I can make the dead alive again. Clearly, I have power, great power. And so, believe even this: I have the power to forgive sins. And, if I have the power to forgive sins, then I have the kind of power that only God has. So, I must be the Son of God. I must be the Lamb of God. I must be who you preached me to be: The Saviour of this world!” A convincing argument indeed. John was left with no doubt, I am sure and his faith wobble dissolved into waves of assurance. He had preached Jesus as the Lamb – and Jesus was the Lamb indeed!