The ministry of John the Baptist reached its height when Jesus’ own public ministry began. The moment Jesus entered the scene, John’s disciples began to leave him in order to follow Jesus. In a very short period of time this once thriving, dynamic ministry lost its steam; this well known, charismatic leader suddenly had fewer, and fewer followers.
A short time later, Herod threw John into prison because the firebrand of a preacher dared take a public stand against flagrant immorality. The resentment against John was so entrenched and boiling over that through a disgusting sequence of events, John was beheaded.
By all accounts this marvelous ministry at the peak of its strength and popularity appeared to just crash and burn out. But Jesus, when speaking of John the Baptist said, “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist…” (Matthew 11:11) Apparently Jesus measured success by a different standard.
Godly decisions will not always lead to comfortable outcomes. Another name for the Holy Spirit is “Comforter”. How ironic that the “Comforter” has been known to lead us into some very “uncomfortable” situations. The Bible says that, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert…” (Luke 4:1).
The turn of events in John’s life briefly thrust him into a crisis of faith. In a moment of humanity, John began to question God. He began to wonder if God was really with him after all. Was the hand of God really on him and his ministry? Was it really God who led him to preach in the Desert of Judea? Was it really the Spirit, or his emotions? The enemy was challenging the very call of God on his life. Moreover, he was causing him to doubt everything he knew to be true about Jesus.
The Bible says that from prison John sent word to Jesus to ask him, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:4). All this pounding on his faith had finally caused him to ask out loud, “Are you really the one?” From conception John knew exactly who Jesus was. Luke 1:41 states, “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” It was John who had just pointed to Jesus and declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” When Jesus came to be baptized John pleaded with him, “I have need to be baptized of you.” If anyone knew who Jesus was – it was John. In fact, he was quite possibly the only one at the time who knew he was the Son of God. The words of Jesus must have jolted John back to his senses. Jesus said, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see. The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” (Matthew 11:4-6)
The term “fall away” is the same term that Jesus used when he said, “When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.” (Matthew 13:21) It means to cause to sin or go astray. It’s almost as if Jesus was telling him, “You know the truth John. Don’t take the bait. Stand firm in your faith.” Someone once said, “Never doubt in the dark what God has told you in the light.” In the darkness of his prison, and in the hour of his testing, John would be reminded by Jesus to hold steady.
There are times in life when we will make decisions that are birthed of the Holy Spirit. We are then led into a time of testing and trial. Any call of God will be tested. Whether it is a private choice to obey God, or a choice with more outward, and visible consequences. If there is a call there will be a test.
Maybe you are going through a time of testing right now. Maybe the enemy is suggesting to you that you’ve missed God. Maybe you are asking yourself, “Was that really the Lord who led me to do that?” Maybe you’ve been waiting for the fulfillment of a promise and you are being tempted to take matters in your own hands rather than wait on God. The reason that you are experiencing this trouble and hardship is on account of Jesus.
In our time of testing the enemy’s goal is to get us to “fall away” because it’s just too hard. James 4:7 says, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” Because of Jesus, we can refuse to go along with the urge to act without faith. 2 Peter 1:3 says, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” Because of Jesus, you can and you will emerge from your time of testing victorious!