Today’s selected reading continues in the New Testament gospel account of the life and ministry of Jesus as written and recorded by the apostle Mathew. More specifically, today’s passage begins with the twentieth verse of the eleventh chapter and continues through to the thirtieth and final verse of the same chapter. When you come to this particular portion of scripture you find the apostle Matthew shifting from the words which Jesus spoke concerning John the Baptist to Jesus actually indicting and crying against Bose cities in which many of His mighty works took place and were performed in. Before we get into what is recorded in this particular passage of scriptures it is first necessary that we pay close attention to what is found and recorded in the preceding verses. If you begin reading the words which the apostle Matthew wrote in the first nineteen verses of this chapter you will find the apostle writing concerning John the Baptist, and how John the Baptist has been cast into prison. In all reality, by the time we come to the eleventh chapter of this New Testament gospel John has already been in prison for quite some time. Scripture is unclear how long john had been in prison at this time, but we know that he had been in there for quite some time. In fact the eleventh chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew begins and opens up with a very unique struggle—a struggle we would not expect based on scripture. In fact, if you begin reading the eleventh chapter of this gospel you will find struggle in the most unlikely of places, for the struggle was found within the very heart and soul of John the Baptist. It’s incredibly important that we recognize and understand this, for after reading what we read concerning John in the opening chapter as of this gospel we wouldn’t expect this great man of God to struggle the way that he did and was. After reading of John and his crying out in the wilderness, baptizing men and women and crying out against the Pharisees we wouldn’t expect him to struggle the way we find him struggling in this passage.
As you come to the eleventh chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew you will find Jesus going into the cities of His twelve disciples and teaching and preaching the gospel concerning the kingdom of heaven within them. Immediately after we read of Jesus traveling to the cities in which the disciples lived we transition to a different location within Judaea where John the Baptist was being held in prison. What marks the imprisonment of this man as so incredibly unique be challenging is that when Jesus heard that Hohn has been cast into prison He departed from where He was and went into a completely different part of Judaea. Pay close attention to this, for Matthew makes it very clear that Jesus heard and was made aware of the fact that John the Baptist has been cast into prison, and yet instead of going to visit John in prison, He with His disciples departed from that region and went to a completely different part of Judaea. In all reality you would expect Jesus to have heard that John was in prison and immediately have risen from where He was and visited John in that dark prison cell where He was. The truth of the matter is that Jesus didn’t go and visit John in prison, and in all reality went to a completely different place within the region of Judaea. In fact, it might even be said that Jesus travels with His disciples into a completely different region of Judaea in order that He might engage Himself in the ministry for which He has been sent. This seems incredibly difficult to handle and to bear, for you would think that Jesus would hear that John was in prison and would immediately rise from His place and go and visit him in prison. You would think—especially given what Jesus wrote concerning those who were naked, those who were thirsty, those who were sick, and those who were in prison, and men and women coming to visit them, and how that ministry was an extension of the ministry which was done unto Jesus the Christ. We would think that Jesus would have gone and visited John in prison, and in all reality we would have expected Him to immediately rise up and go to visit John in prison. After all, the two were cousins and undoubtedly grew up with each other as young boys.
What is so incredibly interesting and powerful about this passage of scripture is that we find John completely and utterly disappointed with the fact that Jesus has not come to visit him in prison. As you read this passage of scripture you will find John sending two of his disciples to go and find Jesus in order that they might ask whether or not He was the one they should look for and expect, or whether they should look for another. What’s so interesting about the encounter and experience John had in prison was that when Jesus sent his disciples with a response to John, Jesus made sure at the very end to emphatically declare unto John that blessed are those who are offended in and with Him. At the very end of that which Jesus spoke unto John we find Him declaring unto John they those who were not offended in Him would be blessed. I am utterly and completely convinced that this is an absolutely incredible statement which Jesus spoke and sent unto John. We would expect that when Jesus heard the questions which the disciples of John asked of Him, He would recognize the struggle that was taking place within the heart of John and would recognize the need to come and visit him there in that prison cell. The eleventh chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew begins and opens up with Jesus departing from where He gave instruction to His twelve disciples, and traveling with them to their own cities where He taught and preached in those cities. Immediately after we read of Jesus teaching and preaching within the cities of the disciples we find John hearing in prison the works of Christ, and something stirred within the very depths of his heart and soul. There is not a doubt in my mind that while John was sitting there in that dark prison cell that his disciples continued to come and visit him there in prison. This fact can most readily and easily be proven by the fact that not only did John hear of the works of Christ while in prison, but also sending two of his disciples unto Jesus with a very specific inquiry. Oh, I can’t help but wonder what it was like for John the Baptist to be sitting there in prison hearing of the wonderful and mighty works of Christ outside the prison cell, and yet the works of Christ which were being performed outside the four walls of that prison cell were not translating and manifesting within the prison cell. What I mean by this is that there was absolutely no indication that the works which Christ performed within Judaea, within Jerusalem, and within the surrounding region had made their way into the prison where John the Baptist was being held.
Please make note of this fact, for I am sure there was a tremendous struggle within the heart and soul of John while sitting there in that prison cell, for not only was he sitting there in that prison cell, but he was sitting there in that prison cell and hearing of the wonderful works which Christ was performing among men within the earth. I can’t help but wonder what it was like for John to sit there in that prison cell and to hear report after report of the many and mighty works of Jesus Christ which he performed among men. I can’t help but wonder how often John’s disciples came unto him there in that prison cell and as they sat and spoke with him, conveyed to him concerning the many wonderful and mighty works which Jesus was performing and completing on behalf of those within Judaea, Jerusalem and the surrounding region. There is not a doubt in my mind that while sitting there in that prison cell hearing the works which Christ was performing in the earth, John’s soul and spirit were being stirred from within the very depths of his being. I can’t help but think that as John heard concerning the works which Jesus was performing and completing there in the land, John’s faith and confidence grew, and he might very well have thought that surely Jesus would have come to visit him there in prison. What’s more, is that perhaps John even believed that Jesus would come and deliver and set him free from that prison cell. Is it possible that while sitting there in that dark prison cell in the land of Judaea because of crying out against Herod having his brother Philip’s wife, John heard the works which Christ was performing in the earth, and had great anticipation and great expectation concerning that which Jesus was capable of doing. It’s worth noting that when Jesus sent the two disciples which John had sent unto him inquiring whether or not he was the Messiah, the first words which he conveyed unto them was “Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see.” Mark those words and mark them well, for they shine an incredible amount of light on to the visits these two disciples had with John while he was in prison. Pay close attention to the fact that when Jesus sent the disciples of John back to him there in that prison cell, He instructed them to go and shew John “again” those things which they did hear and see. That word “again” is of great importance, for it suggests and conveys the awesome and incredible reality that these disciples had not only witnessed the mighty and wonderful works of Christ in the earth, but they also brought report back unto John there in the prison cell concerning those works. The simple fact that Jesus instructed these two disciples to go and shew him again the works which they did see and hear wonderfully and powerfully suggests that they had witnessed the mighty works of Christ on a number of occasions, and had brought report back to John at least once before. Oh, I can’t help but wonder how often these disciples of John brought report back to Jesus concerning the mighty works of Jesus Christ to John there in prison, and what it was like for John to hear of those mighty works.
As I read the words which are found in this passage of Scripture, I can’t help but be absolutely and completely gripped and captivated by the fact that John the Baptist heard in prison the mighty and wonderful works which Jesus Christ had performed in the earth, and that eventually there came a point in time when after hearing of the mighty works which Jesus had performed in the earth, John expected the works of Christ to translate into his current situation. John undoubtedly heard how Jesus caused the blind eyes to see, and how Jesus caused the deaf ears to hear. John undoubtedly heard how Jesus cleansed the lepers, and how He had healed those who were sick with the palsy. Undoubtedly John heard how Jesus caused the lame to walk again, and how He had healed all manner of diseases and illnesses present during that time. What’s more is that John undoubtedly heard that Jesus had cast out demons and how Jesus had raised the dead to life, and as a direct result of hearing of the mighty works which Jesus performed in the earth, expected that Jesus would come and bring that ministry unto him there in that prison cell. It might very well be that John expected Jesus to come and to at the very least visit him there in that prison cell, and at the very most actually cause John to be released from that prison. After all, John was cast into prison—not because he had said or done anything wrong, but simply because he had cried out against and denounced Herod having his brother Philip’s wife. Over and over again John heard of the mighty works which Jesus the Christ performed within the earth, and I can’t help but wonder if after each time John heard the works of Christ, and perhaps even after those disciples had left the prison cell, John sat there in that cell hoping for a miracle to take place within his own life. I mean, what do you do when you continually hear of the works of Christ all around you, and yet your own situation doesn’t seem to change? What do you do when you hear of Jesus interacting with all those around you, and yet it not only seems that He is silent, but also absent from your life and your situation? There is not a doubt in my mind that there in that prison cell John wrestled with a God who would be so involved in and with the lives of others, and yet would seemingly be so uninvolved with his own life. What do you do when it appears that those around you are experiencing the mighty works of Christ and the mighty power of God within their lives, and yet that doesn’t translate to your own situation? What do you do, and how do you respond when those around you seem to be receiving their own miracle, and yet your situation remains completely and utterly unchanged? How do you react when you hear of those around you who are experiencing healing and miracles and the wonderful power of God within their lives, and yet you appear to be isolated and all alone?
I can’t help but read the account of John the Baptist in this passage of Scripture and get the strong sense that there in that prison cell, he felt isolated and all alone. Sure his disciples came unto him there in that prison cell and visited him, yet they would and could not remain with him night and day, and there would eventually come a point when the disciples would leave the prison, and John would be there left all alone in the prison cell—alone with his thoughts, alone with his emotions, alone with the knowledge he had concerning the works which Jesus the Christ was performing within the earth. There in that prison cell John was all alone struggling with a Jesus who could heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons and raise the dead, and yet he could not release him from prison. Scripture seems to indicate that it was never the will of the Father for John to be released from prison, and that once cast into prison, he would remain there until the time of his beheading at the behest and request of Herodias—the wife of Philip, Herod’s brother. Oh, I can’t help but wonder what it was like when John was seized, and when he was cast into prison for doing nothing more than crying out against adultery and immorality. I can’t help but wonder what it was like when this messenger and forerunner of Jesus Christ was seized by Herod’s guards and soldiers, and he was promptly and immediately cast into prison. I can’t help but wonder if John immediately wrestled and struggled with understanding the will and purpose of the living God in and for his life having been cast into prison. After all—how could God allow him to be cast into prison when he faithfully did everything he was called and sent to do? How could God allow John to be cast into prison, and to remain in prison until the day he would lose his head according to the command of Herod? What’s more, is how could God allow John to remain in prison while Jesus was out there on the other side of those walls performing great and mighty works? How could God minister to the countless needs of those around him outside that prison cell, and yet do absolutely nothing for him with his current and present situation? How could God cause the dead to rise, and cause evil spirits to be cast forth from the minds and the physical bodies of men? How could God exercise such great authority and power, and yet He couldn’t release John from that prison cell? It’s interesting and worth noting that there seems to be a strong connection between John hearing concerning the many mighty works which Jesus performed in the surrounding region of Judaea and Jerusalem, and Jesus crying out against those cities in which He did most of His mighty works. This chapter seemingly begins and opens with John hearing concerning the works which Jesus Christ performed in the earth, and it almost ends with Jesus crying out against those cities in which most of those works were performed.
It’s worth noting what is recorded concerning Jesus and John in the fourth chapter of this New Testament gospel of Matthew, as well as what is recorded in the eleventh chapter of the same New Testament gospel. There is not a doubt in my mind that the fourth and eleventh chapters are connected by one single, and one common thread—namely, the struggle of John the Baptist there in prison, and the temptation to grow bitter, angry and offended with God over unmet expectations. Consider if you will what is recorded in the fourth chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew beginning with the twelfth verse, as well as what is written concerning John the Baptist in prison as recorded in the eleventh chapter of the same New Testament gospel:
“Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, He departed into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; the people which sat in darkness saw a great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up” (Matthew 4:12-16).
“And it came to pass, when Jesus had made an end of commanding His twelve disciples, He departed thence to teach and to preach in their cities. Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, and said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another? Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me” (Matthew 11:1-6).
Please note each of these passages, for there is a wonderful and powerful connection between both of these passages concerning John the Baptist. As you come to the fourth chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew you will find Jesus hearing that John was cast into prison, and upon hearing that John was cast into prison, He immediately withdrew from that region and departed into Galilee where He would dwell in Capernaum. This is quite remarkable and interesting to think about, for as has already been mentioned—you would think that upon hearing that John had been cast into prison, Jesus would have gone and visited him there in that prison cell. You would have thought and perhaps even expected that Jesus would have heard that John had been cast into prison, and having been cast into prison, Jesus would have either left His disciples, or brought His disciples with Him and gone unto John there in that prison cell. What we find, however, is something completely and entirely opposite from what you would expect—particularly and especially concerning Jesus—for we don’t find Jesus arising from where he was to go and visit John in prison, but instead departing into an entirely different region of Judaea during that time. We find Jesus departing from Nazareth upon hearing that John had been cast into prison, and entering into the region of Galilee where he would dwell in Capernaum. It was immediately after we read of Jesus departing into Galilee and dwelling in Capernaum that we find Him coming upon the first four of His disciples—Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew, as well as James and John the sons of Zebedee. Jesus heard that John was cast into prison, and yet He appears to have been completely and totally unmoved and unaffected by John’s being in prison. In fact, it’s almost as if it did not, would not and could not deter or hinder Jesus from completing and fulfilling the work for which He had been called and sent. It was true that Jesus had heard that John had been cast into prison, and yet Jesus made absolutely no attempt to visit John there in that prison cell. Oh, I can’t help but be reminded of another instance found within Scripture where there were certain expectations surrounding Jesus, and Jesus once more hearing report of one close to Him in desperate need. In the eleventh chapter of the New Testament gospel of John we read concerning Lazarus who was the brother of Mary and Martha, and who was also greatly loved of Jesus the Christ. Consider if you will what is written and recorded in this passage of Scripture beginning with the first verse of the eleventh chapter of the New Testament gospel of John:
“Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. (It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.) Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he won thou lovest is sick. When Jesus heard that, he said, This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might by glorified thereby. Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sisters, and Lazarus. When he had heard therefore that he was sick, He abode two days still in the same place where he was. Then after that saith he to his disciples, Let us go into Judaea again. His disciples say unto him, Master, the Jews of late sought to stone thee; and goest thou thither again? Jesus answered, are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. But if a man walk in the night, he stumbleth, because there is no light in him. These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. Howbeit Jesus speaketh of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. Then Jesus said unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him. Then said Thomas, which is called Didymus, unto his fellow disciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him” (John 11:1-16).
There is a strong similarity between what we find hear in this passage of Scripture concerning Lazarus whom Jesus loved, and what we find in the fourth chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew concerning John the Baptist who was Jesus’ cousin. In the eleventh chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew we find Mary and Martha—the two sisters of Lazarus of Bethany—sending unto Jesus concerting their brother Lazarus, and how Lazarus was sick. What we read immediately after Jesus hearing that Lazarus was sick was not something you would expect, for Scripture records how after Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, “he abode two days still in the same place where he was.” Please don’t miss what is being written within this passage of Scripture, for Jesus heard that Lazarus whom he loved was sick, and yet instead of rising up from the place where He was, He chose to abide and remain where He was two more days. In fact, by the time Jesus actually arrives at the grave where Lazarus’ body lay, Lazarus had already been dead and buried there in the tomb four days. FOUR DAYS! Pause for a moment and consider that reality for a moment, and consider how Jesus heard Lazarus was sick, and how upon hearing he was sick, He abode where He was for a full two days more. What’s more, is by the time Jesus arrived at the tomb of Lazarus, another two days had passed. I can’t help but believe that it was on that first day when Lazarus died, and on that first day he would be buried. When Jesus had arrived at the scene of the tomb, Lazarus had already been dead and buried four days. Think about that for a moment, and consider the fact that not only did Jesus not show up while Lazarus was sick, but in Jesus’ seeming absence, Lazarus ended up dying. I am convinced that there is a lot that can happen is Jesus’ absence, and a lot can happen in Jesus’ silence, and in the case of Lazarus, we find in the absence of Jesus Lazarus’s condition growing worse, and ultimately him dying and being buried in the tomb. Undoubtedly, when Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus concerning their brother Lazarus being sick, they fully hoped, anticipated and expected Jesus to arise at once and come unto their brother and heal him of his sickness. Instead of Jesus coming unto their brother immediately, Jesus chose instead to abide where he was for another two days. As a direct result of Jesus not showing up, Lazarus ended up dying, and would ultimately be buried in a tomb. What makes this even more difficult to handle and bear, is that Scripture records how Jesus loved Lazarus, and not only Lazarus, but also his two sisters Mary and Martha. What’s more, is that it was this Mary who anointed His feet with ointment, and washed his feet with her hair. Not only do we find love and affection within this particular passage of Scripture, but we also find worship and adoration as Mary the sister of Lazarus was the same Mary who worshipped Jesus with her alabaster box.
WHEN JESUS DOESN’T SHOW UP AT THE PRISON! WHEN JESUS DOESN’T SHOW UP AT THE BEDSIDE! Within the account of Lazarus and John we are confronted with a God who doesn’t meet our expectations, and fulfill those things which we hoped for. Within the accounts of these two men we are confronted with a Jesus who does not meet our expectations, and a Jesus who either doesn’t show up when we want or expect him to, or doesn’t show up at all. IN the case of Lazarus who was buried in the grave for four days, Jesus didn’t show up while he was sick, but rather, after he had already died. In the cast of John the Baptist, Jesus didn’t show up at all. This is not something we would expect from Jesus, and there is not a doubt in my mind that John the Baptist expected Jesus to show up at the prison where He was and at the very least visit and speak with Him. There might even have been the expectation within his heart for this same Jesus who had performed many mighty works within Judaea and the surrounding region to exercise His authority and power and release John from prison. This, however, would not happen, and John would remain there in that prison cell, and would ultimately be beheaded. In the case of Lazarus, Jesus didn’t show up at his bedside when he was sick, but instead showed up at his graveside after he had already died. What kind of God does this? What kind of God—especially one who loves you as Jesus loved Lazarus and his two sisters—would hear of your present condition and plight, and would not immediately come to that place where you are? What kind of God would hear of your infirmity, your struggle, your dilemma, and would choose to remain where he was for another two days? Such thoughts are thoughts which are undoubtedly found within the hearts and minds of countless men and women—both within the church, as well as outside the four walls of the church. What we find within the accounts of Lazarus and John the Baptist are unmet expectations concerning Jesus—and not only how He should show up within our hearts and lives, but also when He should show up within our situations. What we find in this passage of Scripture is a powerful confrontation within our hearts and lives concerning the expectations we have concerning Jesus Christ, and how we respond and how we react when Jesus doesn’t show up when we want Him to, or do what we think, feel and want Him to do. Jesus declared unto John that “blessed are those who are not offended in Him,” and we would be incredibly wise to recognize and understand that which Jesus spoke unto John through His disciples, for it brings us face to face with the reality of our own expectations concerning Jesus and His activity within the earth. I can’t help but leave you with the words which we find at the end of the eleventh chapter in the New Testament gospel of matthew, for not only are we confronted with the reality of possibly being offended with God, but we are also confronted with our own weariness, and our own tiredness. Consider if you will the words which are found and recorded in the final three verses of the eleventh chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew:
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).