The passage isn't preached very often. Indeed it is not one you use to grow your church with by any means. In fact, if you DO cover this story be prepared to have a bit more seating in your church the next week. Because I have no fear of "attendance", today's post will cover an event that is mentioned in all four gospels to varying degrees of detail. However, the lesson it holds flies in the face of much popular "Christian" reasoning.
John the Baptist was a man set apart for the gospel. His existence was prophesied in the Old Testament which foretold a "voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make His path's straight.'" (Isaiah 40:3-5) Gabriel, the divine messenger of God, payed his father a visit in order to announce his birth. He was born of a women who was "advanced in years," well past the time of her life where she should have been naturally able to bear children. He lived in the wilderness, ate locusts and honey, and his preaching captured the attention of thousands. While baptizing Jesus, he heard the audible voice of God proclaim Jesus to be the Father's Son. All in all, this man was obedient to God in every aspect of his life that we know of. He denied himself in every way, and his very existence totally depended on God. Jesus Himself referred to His forerunner as "the greatest among those born of women." (Luke 7:28) And here comes the tricky part.
Shortly after he baptized Jesus, he was thrown in jail by Herod for speaking out against Herod's adultery with Herod's brother's wife. The long dark days and nights in those cells did a number on John's steadfast faith, and he began to have doubts. Being the good spiritual leader that he was, he doubted his doubts instead of giving into them, and he sent a couple of his disciples to Jesus to ask him if "he is the one who is to come, or if they should expect another." (Luke 7:20) Jesus responds by using several prophecies from Isaiah about the coming Messiah. "The blind receive sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them, and blessed is the one who is not offended by me." (Luke 7:22-23) The first thing we should learn from this is that sometimes having doubts while we walk with God is okay. If the greatest man in history had doubts, it's only logical that we can too. Jesus certainly did not scold him. The second lesson is much tougher.
The list that Jesus gives them to recite back to John has a glaring and prophetic omission in it. Jesus purposely leaves out one of the Isaiah prophecies, "and the imprisoned go free." John was in the darkest moment of his life, a miracle life that had been completely devoted to the Lord, and he wasn't going to get out of his situation alive. A little while after receiving Jesus' answer, he was dragged out of the prison and up to a party room where he was publicly beheaded as a drunken gift from Herod to his daughter-in-law. In this life, following Jesus did not work out well for him. Prosperity gospel preachers (in particular) will NEVER touch this passage, and this isn't the only one they'll steer clear of. The bible never promises that all will go well for you in this life if you follow its advice. In fact, it doesn't take more than a skim reading of Paul to realize that he does everything but promise the opposite. You WILL have a hard time in this life if you truly give it to Christ.
Every disciple except for John, the one Jesus loved, met a violent and brutal end at the hands of the people they were trying to save, and John himself died in exile. Stephan's last breath was used to beg God's forgiveness for the men who were stoning him. Paul suffered hardships, floggings, stonings, cold nights, hungry days, ship wrecks, imprisonment, beatings, and in the end was beheaded in Rome. These were men who were entirely devoted to God; who gave every aspect of their lives for his cause, and they were murdered after living penniless and pain-filled existences. (I have yet to even mention the fact that the Savior we follow died an excruciating death after a hard life.) Most of us don't face these kinds of struggles today, but most of us will face dark and troubling times. Where then do we get this prevalent idea that life will be pleasant for us if we follow God, and why, when our lives go awry, do we feel anger or resentment towards God for our trouble? Why do a good number of "Christians" listen to this Prosperity gospel bull-crap when life shows itself to be contrary to the message preached?
To answer my own questions, its a heart issue. We still don't believe that we have wicked hearts. Ultimately we don't believe that we all deserve Hell. We don't believe that God, in His mercy, is offering us a way out of our unpayable debt. We seem to think that we're mostly good people, and we're doing God some sort of favor by responding to His message of salvation. Therefore, since we're being gracious enough to give our lives to God, it's expected that He should be so kind as to give us what we think will make us happy. Here's the truth: He doesn't need you. He doesn't need me. He has every right to do whatever He wishes to any of us at any point in time for He is sovereign and He is just. You're not here to live in "health, wealth, and happiness," you're here to glorify God with every breath. Luckily though, that's what will ultimately give us the most fulfillment and joy throughout the course of our lives and beyond. He has our eternal well-being in mind. Often times, we just can't see the bigger picture.
"Pick up your cross, and follow Me." - Jesus