‘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.’
Matthew Chapter 11 Verses 4 & 5
If ever there was a man on this earth who lived for Christ it was John the Baptist. His whole life was dedicated to his calling as a forerunner of the Messiah. It is clear that he cared little for the pleasures and comforts of this world, as his mind was totally focussed on the One who was to come after him.
For this reason He took delight in proclaiming the Christ of God to all who would listen. His meat and drink was to draw sinners attention away from both himself and themselves and to point them to Jesus. There is no doubt that he was a man with a mission. Called and separated by God for a specific task. His ministry should remind us of that of Noah’s - he was to spend his entire lifetime upon it.
He had faith to believe what others could not. He had power to proclaim the Truth fearlessly. Christ Himself said of him, ‘there had not risen one born of a woman who was greater than John the Baptist.’
So why now does he need to be told ‘again’ about the works of Jesus? In answer we need to see that for all his good work, John was in prison. His ministry had come to an end - and perhaps there was just a doubt or two creeping into his mind. He had heard what was happening outside the prison. There was a man claiming to be the Messiah. But was He truly that One?
Let’s look at and think about two aspects of what John did.
First of all, John never forgot his calling despite his situation. Though he had his own disciples he told them to go to Jesus and ask Him whether He was the Messiah that John had been preaching about.
Remember what John said about himself: “I must decrease but He (Christ) must increase.” There are vital lessons here for us.
First of all, no matter how good we think we may be at our witnessing, yet the truth of the matter is that we cannot save anyone. John the Baptist could not save anyone, and he knew it, but He knew a Man who could. Christ Jesus alone saves through faith. In fact, faith in and of itself does not save!
There are many gifted, sincere, eloquent and powerful preachers of the Gospel, yet no matter how diligent they may be in their efforts to proclaim the Truth, they will be the first to admit that not one single soul will be saved unless the Spirit of the Living God applies the Word preached by His power.
They must remain deaf, blind and strangers to grace and to God apart from the Spirit’s operation.
The longer I go on in the faith, the more keenly aware I am of wanting more of Jesus Christ in my life. I have learned and I continue to learn that I only gets in His way when He is dealing with me. Sometimes, in fact, whatever zeal that I have makes me utter things that afterwards I bitterly regret.
I tend to blunder on, living my life at a helter skelter pace and believing that I am doing good - when all the while the Lord is begging me to ‘Stand still and see His salvation!’
I must learn to decrease more and more in order that Christ may become more prominent (“increase”) in my daily life. I must allow Him to reign completely in my life. I must submit all my thoughts, words and actions to Him. The few times when I am able to do this are without doubt the happiest times.
Pride - and how I love my pride – is my biggest stumbling block to enjoying God. In fact if it were not for MYSELF everything would no doubt be great!
A signpost – that is what I want to be! Just like John the Baptist I must point and direct all who come to me to Jesus the Messiah.
So I would like say a word or two here about witnessing for the Lord. I know of many fine Christians of both genders who live exemplary lives, yet they have great difficulty in telling other folk about their faith. They castigate themselves because they cannot seem to utter the right words at the right time. They may actually feel prompted by the Spirit to speak to someone, and the words are on the tips of their tongues - but that is where they remain.
They may meet with a friend or a work colleague and find themselves almost bursting as promptings from within to speak surge through them. The conversation then leads to a moment in which they realise only too well that it is now or never, but often the moment is lost and only a sore conviction remains in their souls.
They have let their Master down, and they know it! They feel as though they are the poorest witnesses on the planet and that they are the only ones in the world who suffer from spiritual lockjaw!
They are not!
I do not need to describe that awful feeling within that we experience when we let our Saviour down. Guilt may last for a time, and we may even conclude – wrongly – that Jesus has turned His back on us as a result of our failure. This is wrong! Nobody knows our strengths and our weaknesses so well as our Lord does!
We try our best to make amends through various good works. We pray more fervently, we read a little bit more of our Bibles, and we do it in the hope of getting back in good graces with Jesus again. But, dear ones, repentance is needed, not works!
Until we do repent we will ‘feel’ that He is a million miles away from us and we often conclude that He has every right to be angry with us. We can worry ourselves sick and become distressed at our lack of communion with the One whom we love.
We exhaust ourselves trying to win His favour when all that is needed is a turning from ourselves unto God once again, along with making confession of our sins and believing that there is yet forgiveness with Him who shed His blood for us. It is only when we have once again done our “first works” and returned to Him that we realise that He had not turned His back upon us. Neither had He distanced Himself a million miles from us! He had not moved - we had! We simply refused to swallow pride and do the necessary thing (repentance).
So we see that our lives must include repenting again and again and again. Why? Because we sin again and again - and again! Thankfully He forgives and cleanses again and again - and again.
We absolutely must remember, too, that not all Christians are able to witness as powerfully as others or even as fervently as they themselves would like. Additionally we need to remember that we are to witness for Jesus not only in our speaking but also and more importantly in our living.
There is a little slogan that I like. It reads, ‘Preach Christ, use words if you have to!’
Those who are by nature quiet and shy will have strengths in other areas. They may be very great when visiting the sick or elderly. They may be extremely generous with their wealth. Their homes may be ‘open to all.’ They may give more time and effort than most in charity work.
I know that one of my great weaknesses is visiting the sick. I find it very difficult and even embarrassing as often I am lost for words and I just do not know what to say.
Ministers of the Gospel are not exempt from these same weaknesses. Some are powerful preachers yet are hopeless in fellowship with other Christians. Some Professors may be brilliant Theologians yet they may lack common sense! There are ministers who are wonderful at visitation and charitable works but when it comes to preaching they seem to spit feathers!
We are all different, and we must try and work to our strengths and not dwell upon our weaknesses.
Returning to John’s situation again. He was in need of refreshing, and the only place that he knew where that refreshing could be had in this world was in and through Jesus. Here we learn the need for our own souls to daily visit the Fountain of Living Water in order to help quench our thirst and also in order to feed on the Bread of life.
There are many who condemn John for his actions and regard him as being weak. Well I wonder how many of of his detractors have been in prison facing the death sentence? John, like all others on this planet, was a sinner and not greatly different from you and I.
Perhaps the darkness of the prison entered his soul for a while. Perhaps he was physically weaker than normal due to the prison fare. Perhaps he wondered why the One he loved and proclaimed so vehemently had not come to visit him. There is no doubt in my mind that because of a multitude of factors John was in a weaker condition than he had been prior to his confinement.
On the return of his disciples, John’s faith would have been strengthened. His soul would have rejoiced in what he was hearing about the Messiah! He heard ‘again’ that which he had so often proclaimed to others! Like John we need to be reminded again and again of what Jesus has done for our souls. I never weary of taking my soul to the cross and I never tire of the experience of having all my sins forgiven.
I am sorry that I have rattled on a bit longer than I had planned, but you see I never get tired of speaking about Him either!
Written by : Iain Mackenzie Edited by : Pastor Al Moak