Have you ever been in the dark? Physically or mentally? In a situation where you just couldn’t “see” what was going on right in front of you? It’s disorienting and above all frightening, scary movie kind of stuff! I hate it in both realms! I hate the dark, and I hate not knowing the real truth. In either situation, you are at the mercy of the elements or someone else; you are out of control.
Matthew takes us from Jesus’ apostolic send-off of the twelve directly to another set of Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 11. Jesus speaks to a crowd this time, but his words are no less enlightening! He launches into this discourse in response to questions from someone who was literally and figuratively, “in the dark.”
John the Baptist was a great man; in fact, Jesus said he was the greatest man ever born! (11:11) That’s some pretty high regard for this prophet cousin, who himself, fulfilled long awaited prophesy amongst the Jewish people. He was the long haired, locust eating, desert wandering guy that pointed the way to Messiah! He preached repentance and had many followers. He riled up the crowds saying that a great messiah/judge was coming, who was going to baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire, one who was coming to town to cut down some metaphorical trees, and slash a super sharp sickle around, and light the place on fire! (Mt.3:10-12)
John seemed to be expecting a rebel agitator when his cousin came on the scene! Imagine his surprise when Jesus’ modus operandi was “agent of mercy.” Jesus seemed to shock everyone who had been waiting for a different kind of messiah. Even John, knowing without a doubt from his miraculous birth to his stand for truth against Herod, that he had a unique calling from God, found himself in a dark and dank prison cell, “in the dark” to his kingdom effectiveness, doubting himself and Jesus. He sent some friends to Jesus to ask him, “Are you really the one who was to come?” You can almost hear between the lines, “Was this all for nothing?; I’m about to die for this!”
I love Jesus’ response to John, because it resonates with me. He didn’t placate nor patronize. He assured him with scripture; promises that John had held tightly to as confirmation of his own sacrificial calling. Quoting Isaiah 29:18-19, Isaiah 35:5-7, and Isaiah 61:1-2, Jesus told his trusted friends to go tell John: the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached! These aren’t just good things, they’re THE THINGS John was looking for in the Messiah. They were the promises that meant something to him. Jesus lovingly assured him with words that were uniquely significant to John. They were the light that enlightened the eyes of his heart; that helped him to “see” what was invisible in the darkness. They were truths that would help him face the gruesome death he was about to endure (Mt 14:1-12), promises that lit his way, safe into the arms of the Father.
John, the greatest guy Jesus knew, who had one of the most important kingdom jobs ever, felt the pressure of darkness, doubt and fear. I imagine the fear remained all the way to the guillotine, but John had access to what even the least person in the kingdom of God has access to: the power of God, the purest of lights to lead him home, safe and sound.
He did his job and he followed the light from the lighthouse safe to shore. When I feel in the dark, and can’t understand why I feel imprisoned to my thoughts or alienated from people that I love, I look to the same light, the promises of God available to me in scripture. God speaks to me in a way that I can uniquely understand! He came. He redeemed. He’s coming back, to redeem it all for good and forever. Death has no power over me. Darkness never wins.