Did John the Baptist waver in his faith?
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The simplest form of Evangelism
Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, And said unto him, Are you he that should come, or do we look for another? (Matthew 11:2-3, KJ2000)
Many people ask a very legitimate question when they read this passage. It usually goes something like this: John knew his whole life that Jesus was the Christ. He baptized Him and saw heaven opened. He always declared that he was not the Christ, but that he was preparing the way for Jesus (Matthew 3:11ff). After John's question, Jesus immediately called him the greatest man born of a woman (Matthew 11:11). John always said that Jesus must increase, he himself must decrease (John 3:30).
If that’s all true, then how come that this great man suddenly doubted Jesus? Isn’t this exactly John expected when he said “Jesus must increase, I must decrease”? And aren’t there other people in the Bible who held on to their faith in much more difficult situations? Why is John called the greatest? Does John really have greater faith than Abraham? Or Elijah? Or Jeremiah?
John didn't doubt Jesus!
Well, I personally don’t think that John ever doubted Jesus. I believe that John knew perfectly who Jesus was. And I believe He never had any doubt about his ministry or about Jesus’ identity. I believe John’s Faith was as strong as ever.
Then why did John ask this question?
I believe John did something that we can learn from. I believe he helped his disciples whose faith was wavering to come in the presence of Jesus. What do I mean by that?
We know that John had disciples who were following him (e.g. Mark 2:18, Luke 7:18). The two men that he sent were actually called his disciples. The way I envision this situation is that John was in prison, and his disciples hanging out around the prison. They were looking for a way to free John. They followed him, they were dedicated to him. But John realized: “My ministry has come to an end. I will probably not live much longer. I’ve run my race, I’ve prepared the way for Jesus. But some of my disciples are still clinging to me. And I cannot help them any longer. Because my ministry has come to an end.”
I believe that’s the dilemma that John was in. His disciples were looking to him to get out and continue proclaiming the name of God. But John realized: That was not going to happen. So there was only one more thing that John could do: Getting his disciples in the presence of the one who could help them: Jesus!
I believe John’s disciples were clinging to him, and John realized that he cannot help them any longer. Telling them to “go away and follow Jesus instead” was probably not going to work. So instead John used his authority he had over them to do two things:
- Get into Jesus’ presence. Talk with Him. Have a personal encounter. See what He does.
- Ask them the only question that ultimately matters: Jesus, are you the One? Yes or No?
I believe John’s intention was that his disciples would discuss this question among themselves. On the way there, on the way back, they would ask each other: “Wait a minute. All this time we have been following John. But John always said that he is not the Christ. Maybe we should ask ourselves another question: Is Jesus really the Christ?” I believe John’s aim was that his own disciples would recognize that Jesus was the Christ, and then choose to follow Jesus and stop following John.
After all, that’s how John always understood his own ministry: Jesus must increase, I must decrease.
I personally believe that John never doubted Jesus. His disciples did. So John sent them to Jesus, to recognize who He was, and then to follow Him.
What about us?
So if that was what John was doing, how does that apply to the 21st century? Well, I believe that many of us can do something similar to lead people to Christ. We can always tell people about Jesus. But often that’s not enough. Many people have all the head knowledge about the claims of Christianity, but choose not to accept them, for various reasons. But from experience I also know that many people come to Christ when they experience God’s presence. When they have a personal encounter with Him.
How can we do that for people? Well, there are many ways. But the easiest of all I believe is to simply invite our friends to Christian gatherings. Over the years I met so many people who came to church for the first time and said something like this: “I didn’t understand the message. I felt uncomfortable when we prayed. But I did feel there was something special in this place. I feel loved, I feel accepted. There’s a sense of peace and joy here that I can’t explain. So though I generally don’t like it, I do want to come back next week.” People experience the manifestation of God’s presence. They don’t know what it is. It just “feels good” to them. And it draws them back. And as they seek this “special atmosphere”, they will eventually understand that what makes the church special is the supernatural manifestation of the presence of God.
In the story above John the Baptist evangelized not by preaching. Not by explaining. Not by reasoning or arguing. What he did was simply to find an excuse to send his disciples in Jesus’ presence. He did that by asking a question that he wanted them to answer for themselves.
And we today can do exactly the same. Simply invite your friends to church. You don’t have to preach. You don’t have to answer difficult questions. You don’t have to have a lot of Bible knowledge. Simply do what John the Baptist did, and what millions of people did over the last 2.000 years: Give people a chance to experience God’s presence, by inviting them to church or to your small group. Some will not come at all. Some will come once and say they won’t like it.
But some will come back a second time. And a third time. Soon they will make it a priority in their schedule. And a few weeks or months down the road they might come back to you and share one of the most joyful news you could ever hear: “Thanks for inviting me to church six months ago. Last week I became a Christian. Thanks for your investment in my life. Because of you I have received eternal life.”
Don’t miss your chance. Invite someone to a church gathering. Ask God who He wants you to invite. And let Him do the rest. It can be one of the most joyful and most rewarding things that you will ever do in your whole life.
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