And John, 19calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” 20And when the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” 21In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. 22And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, leperse are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. 23And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Luke 7: 19 – 23: ESV.)
John The Baptist had declared that in Jesus, Heaven was invading earth, God’s Kingdom was being established. There were indeed Kingdom-of-Heaven-happenings in the ministry of Jesus. John has heard reports of events that can only be explained by the fact that the power and love of the God of heaven is powerfully at work in the person, words and action of Jesus to free people from all that hurts and harms. Yet, despite these reports, he sends two of his disciples to Jesus with this question: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
John was in deep and distressing confusion. Though there were indeed signs and wonders in the ministry of Jesus that confirmed the message of the Kingdom, there were other realities too. John had proclaimed a complete and total change, an upheaval of everything, including the judgement and the removal of the powers that be . But Herod was still a king; corrupt high priests and religious courts still held sway; the Temple system was corrupt through and through; Caesar was still Lord. “The axe is laid to the root of the tree” John had declared, but the trees were still standing. Where was this Kingdom? Was Jesus the Messiah, the King sent from heaven? John is not certain. John’s Kingdom of Heaven proclamations had not fully come to be as he envisaged when he cried out in the desert. He feels confused and even let down by Jesus.
The painful confusion of which we read in this passage is actually tremendously helpful for us. Thank God the writers of Scripture were led to include when they selected what to write about. John is experiencing what any true believer has to come to terms with sooner or later – and better sooner rather than later! He is living in the mystery of the “Already Here but Yet to come” Kingdom. At times there are astounding signs of that Kingdom. Jesus sends John’s messengers back to him to tell him of Kingdom of God signs and wonders that confirm Jesus is indeed the King who invades the earth with the obvious rule of Heaven. These signs still happen today in the Name of Jesus among and through the people of God. When they do, they assure us that the Kingdom of Heaven is near and here, among us and within us. However, there are many situations and experiences that we may be called to endure and to live through as followers of Jesus when there is no obvious Kingdom sign or wonder. Such times remind us that the Kingdom of God is not only present experience but a future hope for which we wait and pray: “Thy Kingdom Come!”
At times this tension of “Already Here and Yet to Come” can indeed confuse and challenge us and requires a faith to believe and hope, endure and rejoice, that can only come as it is given to us by God. Faith when there is no sign of the Kingdom, no miracle, is a sign of the Kingdom and a God given miracle! It makes no human sense to believe the Kingdom of Heaven is active when you find yourself in prison unjustly or when the executioner comes to cut off your head. Yet history is full of accounts of believers affirming the reign of God in His unfailing goodness, love, righteousness and justice, even at such moments. The key thing at those points seems to be to keep our hearts free of bitterness or offence at how the King is expressing His reign in my life “now”, as He also continually draws all things towards the “then” of The Day when indeed there will be no more sorrow nor crying: The Day when death itself will be past; The Day when there will be more more pain and God will wipe away every tear; The Day when every proud and lofty God defying and people harming influence will be chopped down for sure. What John the Baptise thought he would see He will indeed rise to see along with all those who long for Christ’s appearing in glory.
John’s experience should lead us to pray two things when the mystery of “Already Here and Not Yet” is in our lives in painful and confusing form:
“Lord, be my Good Shepherd. Lead me though the dark valleys of the conflicts and confusions I am experiencing, into the grace and peace of not charging you with wrong in the way you are ordering my days and my steps. Help me to trust you and know your peace.”
“Your Kingdom come Lord, in all its glorious fullness! Bring The Day Your Word promises us, The Day your people and all creation are waiting for with inexpressible longing”
Perhaps you are in a “John the Baptist, Cell of Confusion” moment as you read this. May Jesus who taught him, speak to you too, to find a way through. There is nothing wrong with you if there is no outward miracle. Miracle and non-miracle are both signs of the Gospel of the Kingdom as taught by Jesus, properly understood and faithfully lived out day by day. It’s the way the Kingdom is for now for those who are in it by God’s grace, who are deeply loved and watched over by the King.