Unfulfilled Prophecies & Unanswered Prayers
In Matthew 25 we read what we have come to know as the heart of the Gospel message: feed the famished, quench the thirst of the parched, welcome the alien, clothe the destitute, comfort the incarcerated and infirmed. It might be worthwhile to note that Christ Himself led by example: He fed the 5,000, showed kindness towards unwanted minority groups, cured and clothed the demoniac, visited and healed the sick. But I find no event recorded in the Gospels where Christ visited a prison.
I find this interesting. Even when His own relative was locked behind bars, Scripture makes no indication that John the Baptist ever received a visit from the Savior-Emancipator.
And John doubted.
Doubted deeply enough that we read in Luke 7 where John sent two of his disciples to Jesus, just to put his fears to rest. Yeah, he had to send his own followers to Christ. Jesus didn’t come to him. John had to send a go-between, a mediator.
That’s startling. John was Christ’s cousin. They’d lived an unbelievable, prophecy-fulfilling story together. Both of their conceptions were miraculous. Both of their ministries were Spirit-sanctioned. John knew this. But maybe he was forgetting. Maybe his faith wasn’t strong enough to believe when Christ seemed to behave in ways that contradicted His very character.
After all, it was Jesus Himself Who had stood up just three chapters earlier in Luke 4 and read in the middle of His hometown synagogue these words that rang with ancient authority:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised. To preach the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19, quoting from Isaiah 61:1-2).
Then Jesus left the scroll, turned to the scribes and rabbis who’d watched Him grow up — who now stared at Him with wide eyes — and declared, “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears” (Luke 4:21).
John had to have known that Christ declared this of Himself. At one point, John had been sure of his role as the Way Preparer. But now, his task is done and not only does he doubt the success of his mission, he doubts Christ’s identity.
It was easy to believe that God had ordained their ministry when John was baptizing and preaching and Jesus was healing and delivering. But John is sitting behind bars while his Cousin roams the countryside preaching the good news and helping everyone but him. For all John knows he’s the captive foretold in Isaiah 61. And he expects Christ to fulfill prophecy.
But Christ doesn’t do it. He leaves John in prison and doesn’t even visit him to assure John of His plan.
And John doubts.
So do I. I doubt so deeply.
John finally sent two of his disciples while he wasted away, facing certain death — sent them to lay out in plain terms his doubts about Christ’s very character and divinity.
The words fall out of the two men with furrowed eyebrows and wary glances, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” I think I hear a certain overtone in their inquiry, “Are You actually Who You said You were, because You’re not doing what You said You came to do?”
And Christ responded so uniquely. Actually, He didn’t respond at all. He turned, and started working while the two mediators watched with painful expectancy. After all, it was their teacher who was soon to be executed.
They watch for an hour as the Scriptures are fulfilled in front of them: diseases and plagues cured, blind people see, and evil spirits are cast out. Then He turns to the two students who’ve been watching Him and tells them to go back to their teacher. Go right back to John the Prisoner and tell him what they’ve seen, “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them” (Luke 7:22). You might have noticed that Jesus is quoting from Isaiah 35:5-6 and Isaiah 61:1, but here He does not reference the end of the passage that He’d first read when He stated His fulfillment of prophecy: the part about going into prisons and setting captives free (Isaiah 61:1).
Nope. Instead He adds these words to the end of the long list of Messianic Proofs to put John’s doubts to rest: “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Luke 7:23).
In other words, “No, I’m not fulfilling the prophecies you expected I’d fulfill on your behalf. But don’t take offense, John. Trust me to be who you’ve always known me to be. Don’t doubt here when your expectations meet with a Greater Purpose and the two collide cataclysmically.”
I can identify with John. I, too, have searched the pages of Scripture and read words which I felt described the character and actions of God.
Words in Isaiah.
I prayed and pled and held the Words and believed God to display His power.
And He didn’t.
I must remember that He is Who I’ve always known Him to be. Maybe I was just laying hold of the wrong promises. Maybe I was just grasping for words that weren’t meant for my prayers.
Just like Isaiah 61:1 wasn’t meant for John in the way he thought it was.
Christ isn’t contradicting Himself. John had to believe that. I have to believe that.
Instead, John had to choose to not take offense that Christ didn’t display His power in the way He could have. John was blessed because of his blind belief.
So I choose to seek that blessing that comes when one doesn’t stumble over Christ’s seeming indifference to our deepest questions and most painful prayers. I trust the Greater Purpose to have a better plan in mind.
Image credit: https://www.myjewishlearning.com/wp-content/uploads/2003/02/torah-scroll.jpg
Scripture taken from the King James Version and the English Standard Version.