He did everything right. He was filled with the Spirit before his birth. He renounced physical comforts. He lived in the desert, focusing on God and His service. He traveled relentlessly up and down the Jordan preparing people to receive Christ when He came. He faithfully proclaimed a message of repentance and he ostracized himself from elite society by pointing out the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees. He recognized Jesus when He came and even baptized His own Lord in obedience. People started to follow Jesus and his own ministry declined. He accepted it in humility without jealousy. Let’s face it, John the Baptist was a pretty awesome individual.
So why is he left to waste in prison–Herod’s prison–a nasty fellow, a man of total depravity? Jesus is God’s Son, right? He’s devoted everything to Him. Jesus is performing miracles and John is still in prison? Would it be so hard to free him? The days go by and John’s faith is tested to the breaking point. Finally he calls two of his followers to him and sends them to Jesus. He just needs to know that he hasn’t gotten everything wrong. And here we have one of the most poignant interchanges between a suffering servant and his Lord:
‘And John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
And he [Jesus] answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and 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
Jesus’ answer said it all. Yes, He was the Messiah, doing all the miracles the Coming One would do. And then Jesus said something that still resonates in the heart of every believer. “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
I never considered that I could be offended by God. I love Him for all He has done for me. But following Him is not a bed of roses. Actually, maybe it is, come to think of it. His presence graces our days with beauty and the fragrance of truth, but thorns are there for anyone who follows long enough. Obedience pricks the fingers of those who live in God’s garden. He asks us to do hard things, to love difficult people, to deny ourselves for the good of others. Doing all this for a short time is one thing–but when the trial is protracted? When hard situations hold no promise for change? How do we feel then? Angry? Cheated? Offended? Hopeless?
Jesus said, “Blessed in the one who is not offended by me.” When we are tempted to be offended at our lot, and yet choose to believe God’s promise that He loves us, has good plans for us, disciplines us for our good, and is preparing a place for us, we do something we could never have done without walking through trials–we honor Him, we glorify Him, and, best of all, we express true love to Him. “We become a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing unto God.”
So my rose garden has now taken on new meaning for me. I will remember that the thorns of obedience will always be with me in this life…after all, who am I to complain? Jesus was crowned with them.