“Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?'” – Matthew 11:2-3 (ESV)
I’ve begun this year reading through the Gospel of John and am amazed again at the man we know as John the Baptist. It’s difficult to find another person in Scripture who is a better example of real humility. Confronted by priests and Levites during his ministry to explain who he was, John the Baptist stated emphatically that he was not the Christ. Although he had a following of his own, John continually made sure to point these followers away from him and toward Jesus – “Behold the Lamb of God!” he said on more than one occasion to deflect his own disciples to the Messiah. As he is about to exit the public stage, John the Baptist declares, “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:29-30). John Calvin commented on this verse that “this zeal of John all pastors of the Church ought to imitate by stooping with the head and shoulders to elevate Christ.”
This is the last we hear of John the Baptist in the Gospel of John. We have other accounts of his ministry in the other Gospels, and one of these has always been a little puzzling to me. We are told in both Luke 7 and Matthew 11 that while John is in prison, he sent his disciples to Jesus to ask Him the following – “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” This question doesn’t seem to square up with John’s prior testimony, especially with what we read in the first chapter of John’s Gospel.
I wonder what was going through the mind of John the Baptist at this point in his life. Was his faith faltering a bit here ? Did he expect greater earthly results from Jesus’ ministry ? Is it simply that he was just an earthly man, with doubts and struggles like the rest of us (and Jesus’ own disciples, for that matter, who deserted Him as well) ?
Just thinking out loud here without having any real opinion. John the Baptist’s words, “He must increase, but I must decrease” ring loudly in my ears as a picture of what real humility looks like in the life of a Christian. I’m just wondering if anyone out there has any ideas on why he sent his disciples to Jesus to ask Him those questions. What might be going on here ?