When things don’t make sense, we have our toughest times. While John the Baptist was held in the Machaerus dungeon, his resentment seemed to be greater with Jesus than with Herod. He felt betrayed because no prison doors opened; he was brokenhearted, but no Messiah came to bind it up. Most of all, where was judgment for sinners? In bitter disappointment he asked, “Are you the one that is to come or are we to wait for another?” Jesus profoundly replied to John’s discouragement: “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me" (Luke 7:23). Jesus told John to not let his disappointment undermine his trust when he didn’t understand God’s ways.
We all face disappointment just like John did, and we sometimes feel like God has let us down. We find ourselves in our own dungeons fighting a battle with doubt. We, too, wonder like John, “Are you the one, Jesus?” (Luke 7:20). John was having a problem fitting all the pieces of life together. He pondered the words of Jesus that came from his disciples—words that described marvelous works that were utterly incredible. Who ever heard of giving sight to the blind, or causing the lame to walk, and beyond all imagination, stories of Jesus raising the dead? There was only one problem with this report of Jesus. It didn’t fit John’s description of the Messiah. This wasn’t the same idea John had of the Messiah. This part was what he wanted, but he wanted more—a Messiah that would hang the Romans out to dry and set his people free. John wanted the Messiah that would bring judgment to the proud and sinful—but this Messiah was different. Where was his axe? Where was his fiery judgment?
We all form notions of God that are incomplete. These notions are based on what others have told us and what we think God should do. Then disappointment settles in the way it did for John as we realize that God isn’t acting like he is supposed to. If God really loves us, why then is this happening to me? If God is really fair, why doesn’t he punish sin? We want God to be the way we imagine him to be, and when he isn’t, we wonder, “Is this really the Messiah?”
When Jesus responded to John’s question, he offered no explanation as to why fiery judgment had been withheld. There was no explanation as to why Herod and his like were permitted to continue and why the Romans were left unchecked. The biggest mystery is why Jesus, who opened blinded eyes and made the lame walk, never offered to free John. However, the one encouraging thing Jesus gave John was this, "Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me" (Luke 7: 23).
The disappointment John felt in Jesus is seen today in people. They are the people who stop attending church and believing in God as they once did because God didn’t stop the death of their loved one. They are those who are disappointed because they didn’t get the promotion or gain the coveted success they wanted. Where was Jesus when their marriage was falling apart? We live in a self-focused culture, and the church has catered to the meism of our times by trying to scratch every itch. These words of Jesus are for us today as much as they were for John. The message that Jesus sent was simply this: "John, you will be blessed if you do not fall away because of your disappointment with the way I choose to work." And John took heart and remained steadfast to the end.