James banks

Bold, Bruised and Understood

John the Baptist was an amazing man. Jesus said about him, “among those born of women there is no one greater than John” (you don’t get higher praise than Jesus). What’s even more amazing is the timing of Jesus’ statement. It shows us something about Him, something that helps when discouragement comes and can show us the way to new faith and strength. But before we get there, we need to take a quick look at John’s life and get to know him a little better.

First, note what his father Zechariah said about him: “‘And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death,to guide our feet into the path of peace.’ And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel” (Luke 1:76-80). You might want to underline Luke’s words, “strong in Spirit.”

Now watch John in action: “John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, We have Abraham as our father. For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Luke 3:7-9).

And one more moment not be missed: “When all the people were being baptized (by John), Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased’” (Luke 3:21-22, NIV).

All of this sets the stage for something else. After all of this had happened, John sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus (Luke 7:19), “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Think about that. John really had believed Jesus was the Messiah. He was the one who said about Him, “Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John baptized Jesus. He was there when heaven opened and the Spirit descended on Him in bodily form. He heard God’s voice that day, saying: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” John was sold out to God, filled with the Spirit. And after all he had seen, John sent two of his men to Jesus to ask him, “Are you the one who was to come or should we expect someone else?”

Why? The answer comes in Luke 3:19-20: “But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done, Herod added this to them all: he locked up John in prison.”

John was discouraged. All of his life he had been waiting for God’s promised One to set his people free and now that He’s appeared, John finds himself on death row.

Life doesn’t always turn out the way we think it should. Sometimes things happen we don’t understand, things that shake us to the core and make us wonder, “where is God?” And when that moment comes for John you have to love Jesus’ response to the ones sent to inquire about him. Jesus doesn’t just say, “I’m the One”–he answers in a poetic but practical and down to earth way: “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the death here, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me” (Luke 7:22-23).

Jesus’ message is clear: “The Kingdom is coming, John. Hold on.”

John’s messengers leave, and it is then (after John’s weakness has been revealed) that Jesus tells the crowd around him John is “more” than a prophet, and says “among those born of women, there is no one greater than John…” (Luke 7:28). Then He asks them, “What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind?”

I think Jesus asked that question out of a compassion that points to the fact that he was indeed the Messiah John was looking for. Isaiah wrote about the Messiah (and Matthew 12:20 quoted it later), “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory.”

Jesus knows there are moments in our lives when even the strongest become bruised reeds, and candles of faith that once burned brightly may flicker and falter. He understands what it’s like to be human, and because He understands will show himself faithful. He knows our weakness. That is why He came. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are, yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

You may feel like you’re in the dark and your little candle is nearly snuffed out. But Jesus said, “Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Our light is not our own. It comes from Him. Come sit with Him a while, and cast your cares on Him, “because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). There is no one like Him. He alone can meet that need that cries out from our hearts. He Himself is our deepest need. And “a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory.”

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