Matthew’s story of John the Baptist asking who Jesus was (Matt. 11:1-6) deserves our undivided attention. This is a familiar passage we should run to in time of need. John the Baptist was imprisoned at the outset of Jesus’ public ministry (Matthew 4:12), so he had heard about the deeds of Christ (Matthew 11:2) but is somewhat baffled he’s still in jail. He wonders why cataclysmic judgment has yet to occur. Many at that time thought that the Messiah who was promised to come would bring fiery judgment against God’s enemies and vindicate his people. The prophets before had promised it. John himself continued to herald that message. But things hadn’t panned out for John. He was imprisoned somewhere east of the Dead Sea because of Herod’s self-involved infatuation and egotism, and Rome was still occupying the land. With a hint of bewilderment, John’s disciples ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3).

A UNIQUE RESPONSE

That’s a loaded question—but one that would be asked several times until Jesus asks Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” How does Jesus’ answer this? His reply is puzzling. Jesus pulls from several passages in Isaiah describing what is happening under His ministry: the blind can see, the lame are now walking, lepers are cleansed, the deaf can now hear, the dead are raised, and the poor hear the gospel preached. Careful readers will note that in quoting Isaiah, Jesus leaves off two remarkable things: The day of vengeance (which would come in A.D. 70; cf. Is. 35:4 with Lk. 21:22), and the release of prisoners (Is. 61:1). No doubt John the Baptist would have been mildly shocked to hear that the Messiah’s work would not involve rescue and release plan for him. A cruel fate under the Sovereign care of God would await John (Matt. 14:1-12).

CRYPTIC WISDOM

The real shock comes when Jesus sends John’s inquiring disciples away with this beatitude: “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (vs. 6). John was not offended by Christ; he was merely inquisitive about this Lamb who was to take away the sins of the world. Just prior, Jesus had explained God’s Kingdom demands for his disciples (Matt. 10). Mockery, ridicule, slander, and even death await the disciple of Christ. John’s story is no different. Don’t we face real temptation to be offended by Christ? Or to be put off, embarrassed, or ashamed by him?

Jesus calls the one who is not ashamed blessed. Remarkable, isn’t it? In terms of worldly standards, Jesus was just a nice guy who got caught up in something nasty. He failed to meet so many people’s expectations, so why bother? Wrong place, wrong time. Why should we waste time giving him a second thought?

TRUE DISCIPLESHIP

Many are so offended and embarrassed they angrily persist in an unrepentant, unregenerate state. They find the claims of Christ to be a stumbling block and a waste of time. They are put off by Jesus’ followers, message, and truth. Ultimately they will never take up their cross and follow Him because there is no holy and righteous God to them, and because of that, his atonement is irrelevant. Who needs a savior if there is nothing to be saved from?

Others, as Spurgeon said, profess Christ, “Who joins the Church of Jesus Christ [and] after a time are offended.”[1] For them, he explains, “The novelty wears off.” Of course, it does. I’ve seen it in my church. People come and are excited about the music, the kids’ programs, the coffee, and maybe even the sermon! They commit to serving the body of Christ, even jumping head first into the next opportunity—then the novelty wears off. In a culture that thrives on discontinuous change, we must consider whether or not we want to continue in this vein of pleasure with so many options inundating us. The modern church movement hasn’t helped. Flash-in-the-pan ministry may amp up a crowd and “prime the pump” with exciting commodities, but then things get hard because a loved one got cancer, a marriage fell apart, or depression sets in. Novelty won’t steer you through pain—only a deep and wide understanding of the gospel will.

When it comes to being offended by Christ, Jesus envisioned this last category for blessings. For those not offended like John the Baptist, those not put off by him, and those not ashamed to call him “Lord,” Jesus had blessings in store. Counterfeit discipleship cannot, and will not, stand the test of time. True discipleship is not being offended by Christ. Discipleship does not get tripped up by Jesus’ message, demands, and calling. It does not look to the things of this world for happiness. It abides not in the whims of man and the tides of contemporary culture but in Christ. Because of that, the Lord Jesus calls all those who are his disciples blessed.

As a pastor, I strive to promote this type of discipleship. The hard stuff of life shapes us into disciples of Christ. It’s calling people to endure the trials and tribulations that inevitably come our way. Don’t expect worldly success. It’s not attractive. Our culture here in America highly values the new and shiny. We cater to this by giving the novelties, and we get upset when we realize it doesn’t work. Success and blessings come in the form of faithfulness. Faithfulness is found in refusing to be offended by Christ.

[1] C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 24 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1878), 91.

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