Where Is the Messiah in the Midst of This Pain?

John sits in prison knowing he has only a few days left to live, and for the first time in his life, he has second thoughts.

Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?

Even if Jesus isn’t the Messiah, John isn’t giving up. He’ll wait. Confident his whole life, never wavering and faithfully trusting—one more disappointment won’t derail his lifetime of ministry so easily. He believes the Messiah is coming, and until now, he’s believed it could be Jesus. 

The reason for his doubt is that nothing has changed. No governments have been overthrown, Jesus hasn't been crowned Victorious King, and wickedness seems to be winning.

The voice crying in the wilderness finally falters.

Quick waves of doubt begin crossing his mind—maybe it wasn't him, maybe it isn't Jesus. So John sends his friends to find out what he is desperate to know.

Are you the one?

As the world bends beneath increasing chaos ...

In these difficult times, our questions might begin to sound like John's. Violence is everywhere. Disease threatens thousands. Despite our best efforts, poverty rules neighborhoods and lives. What can be done? Is there any hope?

In our grief for the world we remain faithful, but grow discouraged. Faced with the responsibility to care for the sick, the persecuted, and the impoverished, maybe we become disillusioned—sick with helplessness; we feel persecuted by the lacking nature of our efforts and perhaps by those who are simply apathetic.

We become impoverished ourselves. 

We become poor in spirit. We are impoverished of hope—clutching the bars of our prison cells with white knuckles, our once confident voices now desperately crying. 

Jesus, are you the one, or are we to wait for another?

John's messengers came back with a news report of their own.

"The blind receive their sight. The lame walk. The lepers are cleansed. The deaf hear. The dead are raised."

True to form, Jesus doesn't answer directly. He lets the kingdom of God speak for itself; the very kingdom John had proclaimed was at hand (Matthew 11:3–6). “There are miracles everywhere, John,Jesus seems to say.

Where is the Messiah?

I recently traveled to Central America to interview families affected by the poverty and gang violence destroying communities and driving hundreds of children from their homes—fleeing to other countries to save their lives from corruption. There are almost no jobs, no way to get ahead, and even fewer ways to stay alive. 

I sat with bereaved parents whose tears moved me to an angry, overwhelming sadness. My heart cramped in pain as I spoke with mothers who sent their children away for safety, possibly never to see them again. I met eyes whose sparkle had faded in some combination of hopelessness and wearied resignation, and felt my own eyelids grow heavy, my shoulders slump, wondering how this world could ever be made right.

John's anxious question made more sense than ever.

Jesus, are you?

Are you the one who is to come, to put the world right, or are we to wait for another?

Jesus knew the impoverished weren't just following him throughout Galilee. He sends John—the poor in spirit, the man with failing hope—good news, and asks him not to give up for lack of understanding.

"And the poor have good news brought to them.

Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me."

Jesus sends us the same message.

As illogical as it seems, there is good news for the impoverished—including the poor in spirit, the hopeless—even when the world imprisons us in confusion.

Call me bitter, but Jesus' message can sometimes seem a little unrealistic in the wake of my experiences in Latin America. John was discouraged in prison, but how many more questions would he have if he were here now? He would be inundated, certainly, by the amount of suffering. Today, there are thousands of lame not walking, deaf not hearing, and dead not raised. Everything seems different. Where is this Messiah and his reigning kingdom? What if it wasn't Jesus?

We're Waiting

Yet despite the world's many differences, we're more or less in the same place as John the Baptist was when he asked the same questions. We're waiting for God to make good on a promise while the world seems to worsen by the minute. And what consolation does Jesus offer us; the poor in spirit, the impoverished of hope?

Two things.

He gives us a promise that those who aren't misled by offense—by continued suffering, by increased violence, by unending poverty—will be blessed. Trust me, no matter what the world looks like, he says. 

He also offers good news for the impoverished (Luke 3:17–22).

He answers John's questions, and our own.

Yes. 

Yes, he is the one.

Jesus' kingdom is near. Where wrong is made right, and the poor are made rich, the dead are brought to life, the sick are cured, and the lame walk. In his kingdom no child flees his home for fear of persecution and no one goes hungry or thirsty, homes are safe and love is victorious.

But also, yes, we are to wait, but not for another person—for another moment. There will be another time when he will come to bring this good news to its fullness to last forever. Yes, we are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and heal the sick, because yes, he is the one.  Yes, we are to keep holding on to this desperate hope—a hope that feels absurd when faced with impossible suffering, because yes, he is the one.

He invites us to trust that we don't see the full story, that there are better things coming, because, just like John the Baptist spent his life proclaiming, the kingdom of God is at hand—both now, and not yet.

Though John died in that prison, though families and children I met in Central America might suffer until they die, and though I might lie awake at night—wondering in doubt at whether there really is hope—the reality is yes.

Yes, He is the One, and there is good news for the impoverished.

 

Note: We don’t actually know if John’s inquiries showed doubt on his part, or if his understanding of the Messiah aligned with messianic expectations of his day (such as the Messiah reigning as immediate king in Jerusalem). Meredith's interpretation reads into John’s questions a probable emotion and probable cultural explanation.

 

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Meredith Hastings
Meredith Hastings

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