18 The disciples of John reported all these things to him. And John, 19 calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, "Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?" 20 And when the men had come to him, they said, "John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’ " 21 In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. 22 And he answered them, "Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. 23 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me."
John sends some of his disciples to question Jesus as to whether he’s truly the Christ of God as John had been telling people. In response, Jesus points out his ministry of healing and preaching.
Why does Jesus answer John in such an obtuse way? When John is ultimately concerned with deliverance from oppression by the ungodly, why does Jesus appeal to his good works among the people?
Either John the Baptist or his disciples were having doubts about whether Jesus was really the Christ sent of God. John was in prison, and surely he expected his ministry proclaiming the coming of the Lord to be rewarded rather than punished. Of course, history shows that the prophets are almost always persecuted in this life, often killed, but John or his disciples probably expected that since they were ushering in the kingdom of God that the time of persecution of the prophets was at an end.
Rather than sit and stew over the situation, John sent his disciples to question Jesus directly on the matter. Jesus was at that time, as was his custom in those days, in the midst of a great crowd and healing them of all their infirmities. Knowing the messengers from John were there, and the nature of their query, he performed in their presence the exact miracles described by the prophet Isaiah in the twenty-ninth and thirty-fifth chapters of the book bearing his name. John, on hearing Jesus’ reply, would surely have recognized the prophecy as heralding the coming of the Way of Holiness, a highway for the people of God, where "no lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away." With this statement Jesus was clearly identifying himself with the Savior of God’s people.
He added one more brief sentence, however, pointing out that "the Lord of hosts, him you shall regard as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken," as prophesied by Isaiah in chapter 8. The message to John here is two-fold: First, that Jesus would not be playing the role expected by most of the Jews, and second, that John should hold strong in his faith in the Lord and the work of the Christ, regardless of whether John understands precisely how this work is played out.
Several points arise from this passage that apply directly to how I live my life and relate to God and to the world about me. Primarily, I need to be aware that God is not necessarily going to do things in the way that makes sense to me. When I feel like I’m in prison and being oppressed by evil and ungodly forces I need to remind myself that my reward is not meant to come in this world. My task here is to love the Lord my God with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my mind and with all my strength, and to love my neighbor as myself. Whatever my circumstances, I need to be aware that God is my ultimate salvation, and that though I will suffer in this world, "the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us." Paul, in Romans 8, goes on to explain that creation was subjected to futility through the sins of the original Adam, but that I am to live "in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God." To me this means that God has better things in store for those who love him and are called according to his purposes, but that while I remain in this fallen world I am to be a servant of his revealed will, praying for knowledge of how best I can serve him and the power to carry out those tasks assigned to me.
I also am taught by this passage that understanding the word of God is vital to my ability to understand his will for me. Without a familiarity with the prophecies of the Old Testament Jesus’ answer here makes little sense. If I wish to know the will of God for my life I need to pray directly to Him for guidance, but if I don’t know the guidelines set down for God’s people in the Bible I won’t be able to faithfully interpret or carry out the guidance I receive through prayer and meditation.
Finally, I believe that I am instructed by this passage to go to the Lord when I have doubts about his work in my life. Jesus did not rebuke John for asking, he answered decisively in the affirmative that he is in control, and that he need only look at things with account for the whole counsel of God for the truth to be clear and make sense. If I have doubts or fears I know I can always go to God with them and he is faithful to comfort me and show me the way to faith in his strength and love.