“…If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”
— John 15:5 (NIV)
Matthew 11 begins with John the Baptist in prison. By offending Herod Antipas, the governor over Galilee and Perea, John knew in his heart that he would likely never leave. It would take an army — or a miracle from God — to resolve his dire circumstance. In the midst of this, John “heard about the deeds of the Messiah” (Matthew 11:2) and his faith in Jesus unraveled. In the next verse (11:3), we read that John sent some of his followers to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
This morning, I couldn’t find my phone. I looked everywhere. I even went out to my wife’s vehicle to search for it. Twice. In the midst of my frantic search, I realized how silly it was to get upset, panicked or frustrated about it. My awareness of dependence upon that goofy little device only came in its absence. It’s easy to talk about peace, but a whole ‘nother thing to walk it out. I eventually found my phone, sitting on a shelf in my little boy’s room, right next to the VeggieTales devo I read with him every night. Oh, how fragile and precarious the lives we lead.
The question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” only dawned on John’s conscious mind when his work abated and he was left with nothing to do beyond pondering and reflecting upon his relationship with Christ. John was, by all accounts, a religious rockstar. John’s ministry had captured the hearts, imagination and attention of everyone from shepherds to Pharisees to Herod. John had a flock of his own disciples — even after Jesus was on the scene. Plus, John was doing really important stuff — in his own eyes.
John’s exclusive ministry was to herald the advent of the anticipated Messiah. Unfortunately, John saw that as a destination rather than an ongoing journey (John 1:29). How do I know that’s the case? Why didn’t John become one of Jesus’ disciples? Why didn’t John jump into those ranks? What could John possibly have to do that was more rewarding or important than spending time with Jesus, the very Messiah whose arrival and ministry he had announced?
It wasn’t until John was brought to a place where he was deprived of any duties, pressing appointments or self-inflicted projects, that he could truly reflect upon who Jesus was and how John was related to him. Therefore, in prison, John asked, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
Jesus’ answer for John might seem cryptic, initially:
“Go back and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.”
— Matthew 11:4–5 (ESV)
It might surprise you to find out that who Jesus is has nothing to do with any obligatory work we do. There is no amount of service, programs, planning, projects or strategizing that trump or replace joyous abiding and abandon in him. Jesus’ identity is neither determined nor altered by our personal or immediate circumstances, even when fatefully dire. Thankfully, Jesus provides us with the same response he issued to John the Baptist. We can know who Jesus is (i.e., God, our King and Savior) based on the perfect atoning body of work he finished (Hebrews 10:12), and the intercessory ministry he graciously continues on our behalf (Hebrews 7:25).
As Matthew 11 closes, Jesus reassures us:
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
— Matthew 11:29–30 (NIV)
The joyful journey of heralding the Messiah was not only John the Baptist’s exclusive vocation, but ours as well. Being yoked to the King of the universe is like a gnat being yoked to an elephant. What amount of energy, effort or work could a gnat possibly contribute? Yet there we are, every day, constantly striving, planning, scheduling, coordinating and checking boxes off our critically important lists, yet rarely ever truly following, rarely ever in abandoned worship, and rarely ever mindful of God Almighty to whom we are yoked or his ridiculously extravagant love for us.
Apart from him we can do nothing. So today, maybe, forget duty. Instead, rest in the joy of being eternally yoked to Jesus and let that be your mission and ministry!