This material was first published by Redemptorist Publications
and is included here with their permission
“Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see’” (Matthew 11:4)
It’s three o’clock in the morning and Ben is wide awake and worrying. All his day time worries and fears came rushing to greet him, no longer kept at bay by the distractions of the daylight hours.
He worries about his daughter – is she being bullied? He’s anxious about his new business venture – was he right to leave a secure job to do this? He’s frightened by the chest pains he’s been getting – is there something wrong with his heart?
There are no answers at three o’clock in the morning, only chilling uncertainty, more questions, the silence and the dark. It’s lonely.
It’s three o’clock in the morning and Ben is wide awake and worrying.
John is in prison where it’s dark and lonely. He’s a man of the wilderness, of open places, the wind and the sun.
Now he’s locked away in a dark and airless cell: no sun to warm him or river to cool him. He begins to worry and question everything he has believed in.
Perhaps he wasn’t the prophet called to proclaim the coming of God’s Messiah. Perhaps he was mistaken about Jesus who isn’t the Messiah and John has failed in his work for God.
John, plagued by these doubts, searches for answers. He sends some of his followers to Jesus to ask him if he really is the “one who is to come”.
Jesus always shows great insight and understanding of the people who come to him for healing and teaching. Perhaps he senses the doubts and fears that lie behind John’s questions.
Jesus doesn’t give him a straight answer. He tells John’s disciples to report on what is happening around Jesus. They are to say that “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them”.
Jesus knows that John will understand that message. He will recognise the prophecy of Isaiah about the Messiah, the chosen one of God. He will therefore understand who Jesus really is and be reassured and strengthened.
As John’s disciples return to that prison cell Jesus asks the crowd what they expected when they went out to hear John preach. They didn’t go to admire the scenery and no-one would expect to see the robes of royalty out in the wilderness. So what were they looking for?
Jesus affirms to the crowd John’s identity and the message he preached. His task was to call the people of Israel to repent and turn to God, preparing the way for the one who was to come. Now that the expected one has come and a new age is dawning on earth John’s work is done and the world he knew has changed for ever.
Perhaps Jesus is also inviting the crowd to think about what they expected to see when they came looking for Jesus himself.
They might have expected to see the miracles of healing but they might also have expected stirring talk about the overthrow of Roman authority and God’s judgment on the enemies of God’s people, Israel.
Would they have expected the teaching Jesus offered of love, compassion and forgiveness? Would they have expected his acceptance of all who came to him and his message of peace and reconciliation?
There’s a lot in our world to be worried and frightened about. There are plenty of problems to occupy our minds at three o’clock in the morning. Perhaps we also wonder if we’ve got it wrong about God, love, hope and new life. Maybe like John we’d like to ask “is our God really God?” or “were we right to believe and trust in him?”. Faith has many questions, most of which can’t be answered at three o’clock in the morning.
Perhaps Jesus would give us the same sort of answer he sent to John. Look around you and see what’s happening. Wherever people are reaching out to each other in peace, God is at work. Wherever the weak and vulnerable are cared for, God is there; when hope is offered to those in despair and goodwill is shown to enemies, God is there and his kingdom is breaking into our world.
We are part of God’s kingdom and in Jesus we see and hear what life in that kingdom is like and pray that with God’s grace we will be able to play our part just as John played his, with faith and courage.
1. Imprisoned, John the Baptist questions his belief that Jesus is the Messiah. He sends some of his followers to ask Jesus himself if he is God’s chosen one.
2. Jesus sends a message back to John about what is happening around him. He knows that John will interpret these things as signs of the coming of the Messiah.
3. Jesus asked the crowd what they expected to find when they came looking for John and, perhaps, when they came looking for Jesus himself.
4. At times we too doubt our own faith in Jesus and we question our belief in him as Lord. God invites us to look around at places where God is working to bring hope and new life into desperate situations and wherever people are suffering.
Let us bring our prayers for ourselves and others to our Father in heaven who reaches out to redeem, heal and restore us through his Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Lord we pray for your people everywhere as we seek to walk in your Holy Way. In fellowship with the prophets who have gone before us and with those around us now may we receive your good news with joy and thanksgiving. Help us to pass on that good news to the anxious, the weak, the disappointed and all who suffering in any kind of need.
Lord we pray for the wilderness places of the world; places of violence, civil unrest and terrorism; places of grinding poverty where hunger and thirst go unrelieved; places of disease and early death. Help us to play our part in bringing forth water in these wilderness places and streams of healing, nourishment, peace and reconciliation that your will may be done on earth.
Lord we pray for the people among whom we live and work. We pray especially for those who are finding this Christmas season difficult, upsetting or painful. Help us to be sensitive to their needs and to be channels of your light, hope and encouragement.
Heavenly Father, we thank you that you do hear our prayers and are always seeking to bring healing and peace to your people. Help us to seek with you and to be part of your response to our prayers which we offer in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. Amen.