Why did John the Baptist ask Jesus to confirm who he was? I guess the easiest answer is because who Jesus really is, is really important! 🙂 Some people thought he was a prophet. Other people thought he was a trouble-maker. Some people thought he was demon-possessed and a few others thought he was God in human form – God’s Son.
John heard about Jesus’ miraculous healings – and apparently asked Jesus straightaway if he was the “Expected One”. John had sent messengers because was already in prison at this time. His greatest ministry in his whole life was to point to the Christ – indeed it was the greatest ministry of any mere mortal – and John had already testified to Jesus’ divinity at the time he baptized him. So I always assumed that John the Baptist had already known who Jesus really was. Maybe his expectations of the Messianic ministry that came next were being confounded by Jesus’ humble and gentle treatment of the rebellious creatures on earth. Remember John’s preaching style was very direct: “you brood of vipers!” Even though Jesus had and has all authority to condemn sinners he has kept choosing to restrain himself even today. So perhaps John was really confused about God’s big plan to show grace towards nasty people. Jesus later refers to John as the opposite of a “reed swaying in the wind” so he is clearly not a pushover and entirely the sort of person who would hammer home a point. I do not think John’s faith or personality would have been easily dissuaded or discouraged. One could even suppose that John was tactfully prompting Jesus to start taking forceful action, so to easily release John from prison!
Whatever John’s reasons for asking were, Jesus’ answer also strikes me as a little odd. John had just heard reports of the miracles and Jesus instructs his messengers to go back and report the miracles again! But not just any report – it’s shaped to identify Jesus against the silhouette of Isaiah’s prophecies (Isaiah 35:5-6; Isaiah 42:6-7; Isaiah 61:1-3). So the value of that specific message was heavily reliant on its subtext: I am doing exactly what Isaiah prophesied the Messiah would do. I am sure that was a very encouraging response to hear in the dreadful suffering of an ancient prison. I notice that Jesus omitted the part about setting captives free – probably a wise move when the message would be delivered in front of prison guards! Maybe Jesus emphasized the first half of that reference to imply the latter half about bringing freedom?
I for one am glad that resurrection, healing and liberation tend to follow my Jesus around every day. When I seem to lose patience with the messed up ways of this world and feel like questioning our all-powerful God about why He allows so much decay and destruction to continue, this passage gives me hope – that it’s all part of a much bigger plan for grace to triumph. When good people are in prison, who is blessed? It is us who draw nearer to Jesus and do not shrink away from him.
Acknowledgment – I have been richly blessed by a sermon on this passage titled “Who’s Who” by Neil Chambers given at Bundoora Presbyterian Church, Melbourne which is available for podcast.