SOS John the Baptist

Do you know what the worst thing about prison is?  You can’t see the sky.

I could handle the injustice and the rough treatment of guards who hated me as part of their assignment.   I could handle the whispering of people who knew my legend but had never spoken to me.  I could handle the lack of physical comfort, or a good place to rest.  But I missed the sky.  I missed the open air of the wilderness that was my tabernacle.  It was a blessing that I didn’t expect when God called me away from the city.  I loved being away from the noise and the crowds and away from the stench of Roman rule.

In this gray cell there was no escape and I had a sense that my chapter was about to close.  My disciples and friends came often to try to encourage me, but I was in the depth of despair.  I was so sure it was Him, that I had finally found the Messiah… for years I was convinced that Jesus was the One.  But recently my doubts seemed stronger than my resolve.

Outwardly, I tried to put on a good show.  I growled and told the guards to repent before it was too late.  I don’t know if that had any effect, or even if they understood.

Inside, the overwhelming weight of my calling was more than I could bear.  From the time I was a child, even before I was born, God’s Spirit had been on me for a specific and unalterable purpose: to prepare the way for Messiah to come.  I was dedicated my entire life for ministry and I was led to a complete commitment to His purpose.  My childhood wasn’t a childhood.  It was an intense time of training for the work to come.  Even when His Spirit led me to the wilderness, it was ordained.  People came from everywhere seeking to hear the bold words of God that were my heart and teaching.

There were no crowds here.  There was no purpose here.  There was no water to baptize here.  I couldn’t escape the thought that I was wrong, that He wasn’t the One, that I had missed the path that God needed me to walk.  Were my parents wrong or deluded?  Was it ego that had led me to believe I was so important to God’s work?

I was so sure He was the Messiah when He came to be baptized and the heavens opened.   For weeks I felt a foot taller, excited that the time had finally come!  Now we would see God in flesh, come in His power, and nothing would ever be the same.  The fanfare of God’s Kingdom was deafening in my heart.

And then, nothing happened.

In the weeks and months that followed, nothing had really changed.  Herod still ruled.  The Romans ran their administrations and government as they always had.  The Pharisees still abused people from their empty nests of slithering influence and power.  This wasn’t the Day of the Lord that our fathers prophesied.  The weighing and measuring of the world wasn’t happening in any way I could see.  Again, the horrible thought came unbidden to my soul:

Jesus might not be the One.  Messiah would sift the world and bring righteousness to the whole earth.  The coming King had to be more than an itinerant teacher wandering around Galilee, didn’t he?

For two days I stopped eating and sleep wouldn’t come.  Sitting in shadow and weak from my fast, I tried to will myself into God’s presence and wisdom.  For the first time in a long time, I felt nothing and had no direction.  The boldness I was known for lay broken in the dust around me.  In the depth of my discouragement I asked God to let me die.  Even that prayer went unanswered.  I finally found enough strength to act.  It was desperate, but I had to have something to hold on to.  I needed to know.

But I was trapped here.  I couldn’t even seek Him out myself.

I had no sky.

I told my disciples to find Jesus and ask him directly if He was the One or if we should wait for another.  Their eyes were filled with fear and they spoke in quick, measured words, trying to reassure me with empty encouragement.  I resolutely told them to go.  They eventually agreed, but were clearly shaken by my bearing and sudden lack of conviction.

As they left I waited again.  I waited for a sign and looked for some semblance of hope.  Like prophets and psalmists and great men before me, I asked God my questions in distress… and I waited for a real answer.

God isn’t threatened by our human nature.  He made us and knows us better than we know ourselves.  He isn’t angry at honest questions and He wants His will for our lives even more than we do.  When you desperately need an answer, ask.  When you need direction, seek.  Waiting on God, in the scriptural sense, is an active stance of expectation and prayer.  So I Waited.

I looked toward the beautiful blue of a sky I couldn’t see.  I reached for the warmth of a heaven I couldn’t feel through the cold and rough gray stone of my heart.

I gathered my skins around me and waited for word from a King.

Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the good news is preached to the poor.  Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me. (The Account of Matthew, 11)

Devotional Thought for the Day

Suddenly there was no evidence of the purpose for which John had been created. There were no crowds.  And he couldn’t escape the doubt that he’d been wrong all along.  He questioned everything he’d ever done.  Are you in a place where doubt has moved in and is threatening to discount God’s calling on your life?  Stand firm, wait and trust the One who called you.

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