The forgotten be-attitude
When our three children were young, we would save all our extra shekels for one vacation each year. Since some kind of road trip was always involved, we would listen to three or four preachers on tape – always the same three or four. We chose them not for theological depth but because they were funny. They made us laugh.
One of the sermons was an amazing message by Vance Havner called "Home Before Dark." I suggest that you listen to it if you have access. In the sermon, Havner made an oblique reference to what he called 'the forgotten beatitude' (Matthew 11:6). Havner paraphrased the verse as "Happy is the man who does not get upset with me because of the way I run my business." The context of the verse is Jesus speaking to the disciples of John the Baptist. John was currently in prison. He had sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus, "Are you the Coming One, or do we look for another?"
John was the cousin of Jesus and had recognized Him early on at Jesus' baptism as "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." Yet in this passage, he appears to question whether Jesus is the Messiah. How can this be? What is the rationale behind John's doubts?
I suspect it was twofold: 1. John's circumstances were somewhat troubling. He was in prison and about to be executed by Herod. It is possible that he was experiencing doubt, self-pity, questions about why evil seemed to prosper, etc.
2. Jesus' ministry was probably not going the way John had conceived of it. There was no kingdom. Many had been turned off by Jesus' message that demanded repentance of heart and were no longer following Him. It must have seemed to John that evil was enthroned and right was imprisoned.
So how did Jesus respond to John's doubts? To John, He encouraged that he adjust his expectations of the Messianic ministry in light of Isaiah 61:1. Jesus told John that the blind were seeing, the lame were walking, the lepers were being cleansed, the deaf could hear, the dead were raised up, and the poor had the gospel preached to them. All of these were exactly what Isaiah promised of the Messiah.
After John's disciples departed, Jesus spoke to the multitude about the powerful impact of John's ministry. He summed up by saying, "Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist" (Matthew 11:11). Havner observed that on the day John said the worst thing he ever said about Jesus — "Are you the Coming One or do we look for another?" — Jesus said the best thing He ever said about John.
Consider the graciousness of the Lord Jesus, even when John doubted. Consider also, however, that Jesus concluded His answer to John's disciples by saying, "Happy is he who is not offended because of Me."
Let me end these brief thoughts by asking you a very serious question: Are you angry at God because of the way He has run His business in your life? Have you allowed suffering to morph into discouragement and ultimately into bitterness against God? If so, I can deduce with almost absolute certainty that you are not happy. Being at war with God is a losing proposition. Consider that Jesus loved John and was very gracious to him amid his suffering and doubt. But He would not permit John to chart the agenda for his life. Suffering and even martyrdom was part of the plan. But consider that the One who asked John to accept this was Himself headed voluntarily to death on a cross.
When Jesus says to His disciples (and to we who follow Him now), "Take up your cross and follow Me," it means that we yield control of our life to Him and follow wherever He leads. Those who do it willingly are promised to know the blessing of happiness and even the mystery of joy in the deepest trial.
Ron McMullan is the pastor at Prineville Bible Church. He can be reached at 541-233-6268.
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