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Luke 7:19-30 and Matthew 14:1-12

Author: Dr. George M. Flattery

Luke 7:19-30 and Matthew 14:1-12

book on top of table and body of water

Thoughts from Luke 7:19-30 and Matthew 14:1-12 The Problem of Suffering

Through the years of our lives, we know that we can experience suffering as well as many good things.  We readily receive the good things and may even ascribe the good things to our faith.  On the other hand, we may experience difficult times.  These hard times are admittedly harder to understand.

It is probably safe to say that all believers experience some hard times in their lives.  It is my privilege to interact by email with many people who respond to our Network211 website messages.  Most of them write because of the problems that they are enduring.  They wonder why believers, as well as others, suffer.

It would be presumptuous of me to say that I have the complete answer for suffering.  I do not.  However, we can learn some important truths from the end of the life story of John the Baptist.  Although his story does not give us every answer, we can learn much from his experience.  So, for the next few days, we will consider what happened to him.

John the Baptist was the forerunner of Christ.  He was a man of the outdoors who lived a tough life.  He was a man of faith and strong convictions.  He was a man of humility who knew that he was only the forerunner of the Messiah.  Therefore, his end-of-life story has him asking a question that may be surprising to us.

According to Luke, “Summoning two of his [John] disciples, John sent them to the Lord, saying, ‘Are You the expected One, or do we look for someone else?’” (Luke 7:19).  John did not reject Jesus.  He sent his disciples to him for the answer.  He just wanted to hear from Jesus Himself that He was the “expected One.”

Those of us who read Facebook posts and comments know that many believers report times of suffering.  We have many opportunities to pray for each other.  It would not be unusual for a believer to call upon Jesus to manifest His presence in his or her life.  As believers, we need to be faithful to pray for each other during these times.

More Thoughts from Luke 7:19-30

For a few days, we will be discussing why believers in Christ sometimes suffer.  With this in mind, we are studying the life, ministry, and death of John the Baptist.  At the outset, we recognize that God often deals with us individually.  So our life probably will not exactly follow the example of John the Baptist.  Nevertheless, we can learn from God’s dealings with him.

John the Baptist was the forerunner of Christ.  His father, Zacharias, prophesied that he would be the forerunner (Luke 1:76).  John the Baptist himself claimed to be the one who would prepare the way for Christ (John 1:23).  In addition, Jesus, citing Malachi 3:1, declared that John was the messenger preparing the way for Him (Luke 7:27).  Even though John had a great role as the forerunner of Christ, in our text we find him in prison.

While John is in prison, the crowds are gathering around Jesus.  John had preached repentance and salvation and had baptized Jesus in water.  He had powerfully fulfilled his role as the forerunner.  John knew that his ministry would decrease and Christ would increase (John 3:30).  However, John probably did not know that his ministry would result in his imprisonment.  His ministry would lead to his being beheaded (Matthew 14:10).

With human reasoning, we cry out “Why?”  God could have delivered John.  John is a young man in his early thirties.  With a little more time, perhaps he would become a very great evangelist, but God’s ways are higher than ours.  Our text does not answer the “why” question.  However, it is reasonable to think that in God’s eyes, John’s work was done.

All this can lead us to great confidence in God.  We need not fear for God’s work.  The gates of hell will not overpower the church (Matthew 16:18).  Moreover, we can rest assured that God will take care of us on earth until our work is finished.

More Thoughts on Luke 7:19-30 The Problem of Suffering

We all encounter difficulties at some time in our lives.  We may suffer for entirely different reasons, but we all have problems to endure and overcome.

We are discussing the reasons why John the Baptist suffered imprisonment and death.  In my last “thoughts” we noticed that John’s work was finished.  This no doubt was one reason that God did not deliver John from prison.  He allowed John to be executed by the king.  Today, we will observe that John suffered because he confronted Herod about his sin.

Today, we will observe that John suffered because he took a courageous stand for truth and righteousness.  John was a bold and courageous preacher.  He told Herod that it was not lawful for him to have his brother Philip’s wife.  Matthew writes:  “For when Herod had John arrested, he bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip.  For John had been saying to him, ‘It is not lawful for you to have her.’  Although Herod wanted to put him to death, he feared the crowd, because they regarded John as a prophet” (Matthew 14:3-5).  As things turned out, Herod did have John put to death.

John the Baptist did not have to confront the king, but he felt that God wanted him to do so.  Some ministers would have avoided such a confrontation, but God wanted John to face it.  We might say “If only John had not confronted Herod with his sin, he could have lived.”  However, in this instance God wanted John to confront Herod.

Sometimes it is appropriate to avoid confrontation; at other times confrontation may be necessary and the right course of action.  Whatever course of action we take, we must be guided by the Word of God and the leadership of the Holy Spirit.

More Thoughts from Luke 7:19-30  The Problem of Suffering

We have been discussing reasons why people, including believers, suffer.  We cannot, in a few brief posts, fully treat this subject.  However, by studying the lives of individuals in the Bible, we can learn important truths.

Currently, we are discussing the imprisonment and death of John the Baptist.  Why did John suffer in this way?   Our text does not explicitly say why, but we can surmise several reasons.  One reason is that God allowed it because John’s work as the forerunner was finished.  Another reason is that John confronted Herod about his sin and suffered the consequences.  He felt that it was God’s will for him to confront the king.

Today, we observe that John suffered (Matthew 14:1-12) because wicked people put him to death.  Herod wanted to put him to death but did not for fear of the people.  Then, Herod had a birthday party at which the daughter of Herodias danced.  Herodias was the wife of Herod’s brother and was the woman with whom Herod had an affair.  Herod liked the dance of the daughter and promised to give her whatever she asked.  When prompted by her mother, she asked for the head of John the Baptist.  As a result, Herod had John beheaded.

These were wicked people who acted in league with Satan.  They had no power except what God allowed.  What God allows, He allows for His purposes.  According to some reports, Christians are suffering more persecution today than any other religious group.  We pray for all who are being persecuted and for their families.  We know that God will have the last word.

More Thoughts from Luke 7:19-30 The Problem of Suffering

Today, we will continue our discussion of the reasons why John the Baptist suffered imprisonment and death. We have discussed the fact that his work was done, that he confronted Herod and bore the consequences, and that his suffering was imposed on him by wicked people.  Now, we will consider the triumph of his faith.

Keep in mind that John the Baptist was the forerunner of Christ.  John identified Jesus as the Son of God (John 1:34) and thought of Him as the Messiah.  He expected Jesus to do all the prophesied great works of salvation and judgment.  Later, in prison, he sent messengers to Jesus with a question.  As Luke records: “Summoning two of his [John] disciples, John sent them to the Lord, saying, ‘Are You the expected One, or do we look for someone else?’” (Luke 7:19).  The “expected One” is another title for the Messiah.

At this point, John seems to want reassurance that Jesus was the Messiah.  He had not lost faith or confidence in Jesus, but he wanted to hear that Jesus was the “expected One.”  This was the very truth that John came to proclaim.  This was the strong point of his ministry.  Elsewhere, I have listed several reasons why John may have wanted this reassurance.

At this point, I would just emphasize that God allowed John to be tested concerning his faith.  Jesus reassured John by sending John’s disciples back to him with a great report of what Jesus was doing.  Luke does not record how John responded, but it is clear from what Jesus said that John was fully reassured.  Jesus said: “I say to you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John” (Luke 7:28).  John’s triumph of faith is a great witness to all who may be perplexed at some time about a given trial or test.

More Thoughts on Luke 7:19-30 The Problem of Suffering

John the Baptist was in prison.  He sent two of his disciples to Jesus with the question, “Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else” (Luke 3:19).  This question causes us to wonder what was troubling John.

The fact that John the Baptist sent his disciples to Jesus lets us know that He was not doubting the Scriptures.  Neither had he lost confidence in Jesus, but He seems to be uncertain about whether or not Jesus was the Messiah.  The “Expected One” was a title for the Messiah.  This was the very truth that he had so ardently proclaimed.

The Bible does not say why John was uncertain, but we can think of several possible causes.  Whether or not these points applied to John, we believe that everyone has problems that test their faith.

First, he was in prison.  This was physically and psychologically hard.  He was an outdoors kind of person.  He was used to roaming the wilds, drinking from fresh streams, and sleeping under the stars.  Now, he was in a depressing dungeon.

Second, John had said concerning Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).  John could not have known, however, that he would decrease down to a prison cell.  Perhaps this affected his thinking.

Third, Jesus, in His first sermon at Nazareth, had quoted Isaiah, declaring that He had come to “proclaim release to the captives” (Luke 4:18).  However, John, the forerunner of the Messiah, was still a captive in prison.

Fourth, it is possible that John did not fully understand the ministry of Jesus.  John had spoken about Christ’s ministry of salvation (Luke 3:6) and he had heard Jesus say that He would “bind up the brokenhearted” (Isaiah 61:1).  However, John himself (Luke 3:9) had preached more about judgment.  There will be a judgment day, but John did not see it happening.

Fifth, it is possible, also, that John may have expected that Jesus would institute a universal temporal kingdom.  When he was in prison, this would not have seemed to be what was happening. Indeed, it is not going to happen until Christ returns.

Although we cannot know for sure why John was uncertain, we can learn from his situation.  Because Jesus commended John so highly, it is reasonable to assume that his faith remained strong.  We can learn from John’s story to remain strong in faith during our tests and trials.

If you wish, please comment on the above reasons.  Your comments might include our thoughts on why John asked his question and what you feel we can learn from John’s story.

More Thoughts on Luke 7:19-30  The Problem of Suffering

All people encounter problems in their lives.  Not everyone suffers in the same way.  Not everyone suffers to the same degree as others.   In one way or another and to one degree or another, we will have to endure suffering.

As believers, we turn to God for help during our times of suffering.  We rejoice when we, as well as others, are delivered.  However, we know that there are times when we are not delivered from our suffering.  These are times when our faith and trust are tested.  The question becomes, “How will we react?”

We have been studying John the Baptist.  Although the problems we face are different from his, we can learn from his steadfastness in his faith.   He was perplexed about the identity of Jesus.  It is comforting to us to know that a great prophet like John seemed to be perplexed and needed clarity and reassurance.  We rejoice, also, because John maintained his trust in Jesus.  Jesus reassured John about His identity and spoke about John’s greatness.

We learn that God allows us at times to go through suffering.  Our appropriate response is to trust Him and know that He is fulfilling His will for our lives.  At times we may be perplexed about why we suffer.  Sometimes we do not know how to pray, but we can be vessels through which the Spirit prays.  The Spirit intercedes according to the will of God.  All things are not good, but God will cause all things to work together for good.

When we are going through a trial, we can hold on to Paul’s classic words in Romans 8:26-28.  “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God, And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

George M. Flattery, Ph.D., is the founder of Global University and Network211.

Excerpts transferred from a series originally posted on Dr. George's Facebook.

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