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?”—Luke 7:19
This is John the Baptizer—the man who heralded the coming of Christ. A year or so earlier, he had looked at Jesus and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God … I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” John’s anointing and entire life had led up to his heralding of the Savior to a waiting world – and now, he wasn’t so sure.
Dude. You had one job.
There’s a lot going on in and around this passage, but let's start with the observation that John’s bout with doubt didn’t faze Jesus in the least. His answer to John’s disciples contains no anger or angst, just a straightforward report of the facts. Here’s what’s happening—remind John—his faith is not in vain.
Another great comfort in this passage is that Jesus’ affection for John is not mitigated by John’s question: “I tell you, among those born of women, none is greater than John.” Jesus was used to being questioned by those around him, but John was both a family member and the ordained Messianic messenger. His questioning could be taken as a serious affront, an abandonment. John may have suspended faith in Jesus, but Jesus never lost faith in John.
This is sweet comfort for us. Knowing that Jesus will not turn away from those who are doubting means that we are free to ask questions—free to be less than certain. One might even say that Jesus invites cross-examination. There is no question we can ask that wasn’t answered before God laid the foundations of the world. And when we’re questioning, we’re engaged, pondering, digging deeper. This honest searching, Jesus knows, is honoring the Father.
So what was behind John’s question? Scripture tells us that John had been in Herod’s prison for several months, maybe a year. He had been arrested not long after baptizing Jesus for berating Herod publicly for his relationship with his brother’s wife. Having spent most of his adult life in the open wilderness, he was now confined to a small and sordid cell with minimal contact with the outside world. He knew that prison sentences rarely ended with being released to a halfway house—execution was a very real possibility. He had done what God had assigned him to do. So why was he now being treated this way?
It’s a fair question and a reasonable source for doubt. John may have even raised politically inflammatory questions believing that God would protect him from the repercussions of doing so. Instead, he was rotting in prison, and Jesus, meanwhile, was gaining fame. Add to that the apparent fact that Jesus essentially ignored John while he was imprisoned. “I must decrease,” John had said—but this was unbearable.
It’s unlikely that any of us will ever face the conditions or temporal future that John faced (God willing), but we will all experience the feeling—sooner or later, possibly multiple times—that Jesus is neglecting us. Despite your fervent prayer and your work on behalf of the Kingdom, the Father has seemingly turned his face away and left you to face whatever’s next on your own.
Beloved, this is the time to give God’s promises more credence than your own experience and reasoning. Like a skewed compass or a poorly drawn map, your senses and circumstances will give you inaccurate data. Your enemy, that old serpent, will gladly reinforce the error and you’ll be off-course and wandering/wondering whether you’ve been taken in by a myth.
The Bible is full of stories about doubt: Moses, Abraham, Joseph, Paul, the disciples (Matthew 28:17), to name a few. This is one of the things that gives God’s Word blessed credibility—the acknowledgment that, in our fallen flesh, doubt is inevitable. And not every example is followed by God showing up in the next chapter to lay that doubt to rest. This is how God accomplishes his will in us—tempering and strengthening our faith by causing it to work.
Scripture doesn’t record how John responded to Jesus’ reply to his question. In fact, the next thing we hear about him is that he is ignominiously dispatched—beheaded on a whim for the sake of entertainment. This is probably not what John or his followers would have hoped for or planned. But God’s plan was better, and John was ushered into his presence before he turned 35, having accomplished all that God had asked of him—including reminding 21st-century believers that our questions are welcome.
SUMMARY: At some point we are all seeking a miracle. In today’s Resolute Podcast, we will hear the story of a man who was seeking a miracle for his child and discovered the answer in a man who provided him with just that.
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The news had traveled across Galilee seemingly faster than the boats that brought it, and by the time the crowd formed again, it was all they were talking about. The inscrutable Nazarene had not stopped making a splash, and now he had upped the ante. He had performed many healings here on the western side of the sea, but none quite as dramatic as yesterday. After traveling across during the night, he and his disciples had arrived at the small Gentile village of Gerasa, where he had literally stepped off his boat, walked to the tombs at the edge of town and exorcised an entire legion of demons from a man who had been tormented for decades. Afterward, he got back on the boat and crossed the sea back to Capernaum. It was as though he had gone there for one reason: to powerfully heal an obscure foreign demoniac and shock his village in the process. And, in a delightful coup de grace, the demons were sent into a herd of swine and off a cliff. Bad news for the swine-herders; gratifying story for the Jews.
And if this weren’t enough, the sub-story making the rounds was that the incredible storm of two nights ago that had torn through Capernaum and whipped Galilee into a boat-swamping frenzy and then disappeared into a calm that turned the big lake into glass – this terrible storm had been stopped, they were saying, by the command of the Nazarene. Not just stopped, not just calmed, but exorcised like those demons across the same sea, and gone. With a word. Who in the world was this man?
——- + ——-
Jairus heard the excited commotion in the streets before he noticed it. He had been focused on preparing the synagogue for today’s meeting. There was always a lot to do to prepare, to make this place of study and worship suitable for the wise ones who would be there soon – tables and chairs to arrange, wicks to be trimmed, the scroll to be brought out and opened.
As President of Capernaum’s Synagogue, Jairus took his duties and his commission seriously. He knew that he wasn’t the best teacher in town, and he knew that other Pharisees knew the Law and the Prophets better and kept them more diligently than he. But no one had worked harder at this career – no one. From the time he started studying under his own father’s tutelage, he resolved that he would rise through the ranks and become the local Ruler, whatever it took. To their credit, the older Pharisees took notice of this intense young man and rewarded his zeal for the synagogue with more and more responsibility. Two years ago, when it was time to appoint a new President, Jairus had been the only reasonable choice. He intended to continue to earn the respect of his peers and to keep this noble position until he could no longer physically do it. At forty years old, he was planning for many more years in his role.
Part of his motivation was the situation at home. Jairus’ wife Drusilla was from a good family; well-connected and well-respected. Her father had been delighted to participate in the arranged marriage with a family that had such a solid history in the faith. There were many children in her family, including three brothers, and Drusilla was the last. Because she had been born much later, her health was not as robust as that of her siblings, but they had been an attentive family with enough resources to make sure she got the medical help she needed, and, as a result, she had persevered.
Jairus was an understanding and devoted husband, and when his first child, a son, was stillborn, he was saddened but not shocked. The pregnancy had been painful for Drusilla and her health history had prepared him for it – so they mourned the loss together. Then, two miscarriages followed, and Jairus began to despair of having a son. Finally, twelve years ago, a child was born – not a son, but a beautiful daughter. Talitha would be an only child, and he would be a doting father, especially because she was as frail as her mother. Seemingly susceptible to every sickness, she had been ill more than well, but she had survived and prevailed – until now.
Now, she was wasting away. Every day was worse. Two weeks ago she was outside, playing with friends. A week ago, she couldn’t get out of bed. Yesterday, she was as pale as her lambskin cover and could barely lift her head for a drink. Jairus had prayed for Talitha every day of her life, and in these last two weeks his prayers had grown in both intensity and duration, until it seemed like he did nothing but pray and work in the synagogue. Surely God was pleased with him, surely God must answer such heartfelt prayers from a man of such devotion to the Law! But the heavens were like bronze, and his prayers had no effect. So he worked harder and prayed harder, and hoped that both would keep his mind off of the recognition that his daughter would soon be gone.
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When the commotion finally registered, it was because people were talking just outside the synagogue window, to a chorus of shouts in the background. “Well, no, I didn’t see it myself,” said one, “but the fisherman who told me was there when it happened!”
“Jesus healed him with a word – one word?” asked the other.
“One word – one. He said ‘Go,’ and the demons left the man instantly.” “And went into the pigs? Really?”
“Every pig in Gerasa, I think!” exclaimed the first man. “And then, as though they
were driven; off the cliff, into the sea and drowned! It seems insane, but this is the story they’re telling. And they say he stopped the storm, too! Who IS he?”
As the pair moved out of earshot, Jairus returned to his reverie. He had met Jesus – twice – when he had been at synagogue and read from the scroll. There had been a depth to his comments that belied both his youth and his rustic appearance.
After the second visit, Jairus dubbed him “the teacher from nowhere,” not just because he hailed from the backwater of Nazareth, but because he was completely itinerant, moving from town to town and never staying in the same place more than a night or two. As he processed the words from outside the window, Jairus recalled the similar excitement Jesus engendered during his last visit, when he had also performed an exorcism right inside the Synagogue.
It had been surreal. Having read the lesson of the day, Jesus sat down and began to earnestly talk to the room full of Pharisees and scribes, opening the scriptures to them with applications they had never heard before. As fascinated as he was, Jairus could not now recall the teaching because as Jesus was speaking, the demon- possessed son of the hide tanner had silently crept into the room. Without warning, he leapt onto a table and began to scream, “Leave us alone, Jesus of Nazareth! Did you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!”
The men of the Synagogue were dumbfounded and frozen in their seats as the scene unfolded. No one moved to grab the boy, no one said anything – it was as though time had stopped. But then Jesus spoke. Without getting up from his seat, he spoke with calm authority. The sound of his voice was a combination of tenderness and thunder. “Be quiet, “he said, “and come out of him.” Throwing him off the table and onto the floor, the unclean spirit convulsed the boy, caused him to shriek, and was, without another word, gone. Before anyone could do or say anything, the boy stood up and quietly walked back to his father’s shop. And, apparently, Jesus had left too.
They had spent the rest of the day conferring with one another, trying to understand what they had just seen. More importantly, the Pharisees needed to figure out what to do about this man who had authority over demons. Some of them were convinced that he was the devil in human form, hence his ability to command spirits.
Jairus did not speak to the subject, but he quietly hoped that Jesus was, in fact, what the demon had called him: the Holy One of God.
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Suddenly, and with utter clarity, Jairus knew what he had to do. When the rest of the teachers arrived, they could finish preparing the synagogue – Jairus needed to find Jesus.
If the conversations were true, he might still be at the harbor, only a few streets away. He listened for the crowd noises which were, indeed, coming from the direction of the sea, so he hiked up his robe and began running toward the sound. In a few minutes, out of breath, he was at the edge of a crowd that had gathered around a man who was talking about wine and skins – a merchant selling his wares? But as the man turned toward him, Jairus recognized the strong features and tender eyes – it was the Teacher, and he was looking directly into his eyes, as though he had expected him.
Jairus felt like he was in a dream. Jesus had met his gaze, and it seemed as though he was drawing him closer, inviting him forward. Strangely, the crowd in front of him parted as Jairus walked toward Jesus, and when he was an arm’s length away, he dropped to his knees in front of the younger man, bowing his head. Jesus lifted his chin, this time looking into his eyes as though inviting him to speak. Before he had time to formulate a thought, Jairus implored, “My little daughter is at the point of death!
Please, come and lay your hands on her, that she may be made well!”
The crowd had grown silent as they realized what was happening. This was Jairus – the ruler and Pharisee – begging for supernatural healing from the man who had become a threat to their position and power! An older man on his knees before a younger man; a man of prestige and influence, imploring the wandering Nazarene for the life of his daughter. Yes, he was wise; yes, he had done some healing – but this was Talitha – everyone knew she was dying. She might already be dead!
Jesus wordlessly invited Jairus to get up and then, inexplicably, pointed in the direction of Jairus’ house and nodded, and together they set off. If the meeting with Jesus had been peculiar, the ten minute walk to the house was bizarre. The crowd had grown by a hundred or more and they surged around the pair like waves of the sea.
They had gone from silent and amazed to talkative and expectant and then noisy and demanding. At one point, Jesus stopped to talk with a woman who had hurried up behind him and touched his cloak, assuring her that she had just been healed from her disease and that her faith had played a part in it.
When they were only a block away from Jairus’ house, his servant ran to them, tears streaming down his face. “There’s no need to bother the Teacher anymore,” he said, “Your daughter is dead.” Jairus slumped, beaten. A few minutes ago, he was certain – certain! – that Talitha would be alright. Now, he knew that it had been a foolish and futile hope. She had been beyond saving, and he had asked a preacher instead of a physician to make her well. Jairus turned in the direction of the Synagogue and took only one step before he felt Jesus’ strong hand on his shoulder. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Believe. She will be well.” Then he held up his hand to the crowd to keep them from following, and motioned to three of his followers and to Jairus to continue on to the house.
When they reached the house, the hired mourners had already begun their task, and there was the expected weeping and wailing that a tragic death would call for.
Jesus addressed them, insisting that they were premature in their commotion. “The child is not dead, she is sleeping,” he promised. At this, their false tears turned to genuine laughter, but it was not joyful laughter based on the good news, it was scornful, and directed at the crazy Nazarene. “She sleeps without breath or heartbeat!” they mocked, “This is truly amazing!” “Perhaps you could wake her, Teacher,” they laughed, “It’s nearly supper time, and you know how hungry corpses are!”
Jesus and his disciples ushered the mourners out of the house while Jairus and Drusilla, heads bowed and spirits crushed, clung to each other by the wall. For some reason, God had meted out this punishment on them, and they would have to endure not only losing their only child, but also the public spectacle of their misplaced hope. He would not be welcome in the Synagogue after this, Jairus knew, and the people of Capernaum would alternate between pity and scorn for him for the rest of his life. Still, the day wasn’t over; Jesus was still in the house, and as he walked toward Talitha’s room, there was purpose in his step.
“Follow me,” Jesus said, and the six of them crowded into the small chamber where a frail corpse lay on the mat. He knelt down and gently took her small, limp hand, cradling it in his own rough ones. He looked at Drusilla, then at Jairus, and smiled. Then he turned back to Talitha and said softly, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.”
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Today, when Jairus walks the streets of his beloved Capernaum, it’s at a deliberate pace that is slowed by the infirmities the years have brought. Often, he is accompanied by one or more of his five grandchildren, who always delight in the stories he tells of the days before they were born. When they walk past the Synagogue, he tells them of the glory of the Law and the Prophets, even as his heart is weighed with deep sadness over how the teachers of the Law had helped to condemn the Teacher from nowhere. Almost twenty years had passed since his daughter had been given back to him, and he had not set foot in the Synagogue since – he knew he never would again.
The glory of that day when Jesus had been in their home had changed both Jairus and Drusilla forever. It was literally as though they had been brought to life at the moment Talitha was restored, and this new life brought with it a new love for each other, their families, their friends, even their neighbors. Jesus had instructed them before he left the house not to talk of what had happened, and they complied, for a while. But, in truth, all of Capernaum knew before the week was over – the dead are not raised in secret – and Talitha was not only alive, she was more alive than she’d ever been: Full of
energy and color, cheerful and vivacious. As she had grown up, it seemed there was nothing she couldn’t do, no relationship that didn’t blossom in her presence.
Talitha had met Jesus for only a few minutes, held his hand for a few seconds.
But when he first touched her, she had been a corpse – already starting to rot. She had gone from a sickly, living death, to a literal decaying death, to a new life that Jesus had given with a word and a touch – a new life that had changed her and everyone around her forever. She could not have contained the story even if she wanted to, and she and her parents talked of it wherever they went, with anyone who would listen.
Jesus had left Capernaum after that day, and never returned. The story was that he had made his way to Jerusalem, teaching and healing as he went. There, he confronted the world’s most powerful men – Jewish authorities and Roman kings – telling them – showing them — that he was exactly who the demons said he was. The demons knew something that most of the people didn’t, that the very Son of God was in their midst. The long-awaited Messiah had come to bring dead people to life. It was all too much, too fast, and the authorities would not be bullied like this, so they did away with him. By the time the news reached Capernaum, the story of his crucifixion was accompanied by the story of his resurrection – he had brought himself back to life!
The former Ruler of the Synagogue and his family knew beyond any doubt that the story was true because it was their story too. By the power of Almighty God, and the obedient sacrifice and glorious resurrection of his Son, this was just the beginning. The Kingdom of God had, indeed, come – to Capernaum and Jerusalem and the ends of the earth. No one would ever be the same.
Doesn’t the idea of calling God “Father” seem, sometimes, highly presumptuous?
Because God is so high and holy, so beyond our understanding, so unlike us (we may be made in his image, but the part of God that’s like us is a tiny part), so powerful and authoritative, that reasonable and prudent reverence for Almighty God should keep us on our knees with averted eyes, hoping to not be noticed so we won’t be punished.
And yet, consistently, God invites us to call him not just “Father,” but, affectionately, “Papa (Abba)”. In the closest Father/Son relationship imaginable, Jesus gives reverent obedience to his Father even as he invites us into the relationship as his brothers and sisters. How incredibly precious is it that the words of his greatest prayer begin with “Our Father”? To be included in this – invited in, adopted and loved as legitimate offspring – how is this even possible? What do we do with it?
I want to live in a state of proper fear of the Lord, recognizing that even my small and finite understanding of his sovereign authority and limitless power must lead me to a kind of trembling worship. God’s admonition of Job (ch 38-39) puts the distance between us in perspective, and the writer of Hebrews wisely observes that “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Heb 10:31)
This is where we exist, and to treat the Most High God with cavalier impudence is reckless, dangerous, breathtakingly stupid. Yet as I think of my relationship with my dad, or my son, I see very often an affectionate familiarity that invites a sort of loving impertinence that borders on disrespect. God help me if I should address the Creator in such a way as I do my earthly father.
And if that wasn’t enough dichotomy, I’d remind you that, before you were his child, you were his enemy. You were a Jesus-hating, disobedient, sin-directed enemy of God. Recoil against that if you like, especially if you came to faith as a youngster, but you can’t really deny it. No child has to be taught disobedience or selfishness, and making a god of your self is making God your enemy.
This can’t be overstated: Like the sunny-day-in-winter process of sublimation, where ice turns directly to vapor, skipping the step of liquid water on the way, we were converted, at conversion, directly from being enemies of God to being beloved children. There was no intermediate stop at some “neutral zone” of peace without salvation, no time when we were on good terms with the King but not yet pardoned.
We were reconciled to God, Paul says in Romans 5:10, while we were enemies, by the death of Jesus. Weak, ungodly sinners, transferred from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of the Son (Col 1:13) and now, called sons of his Father.
Because of Jesus, we have entered into a new kingdom with a new economy. Listen to him explain this in Matthew 5:43-45:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy,’ but I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.’”
Love your enemies – this is what God did; this is what Jesus is doing on the cross as he is literally praying for the Father to forgive them (us!) who put him there. In the economy of this Kingdom, the sons of God are those who spend themselves in this way. It makes no sense in the world, but in the Kingdom of God the children of God are able to do supernaturally, in his will, what we wouldn’t even consider in the flesh. We’re called to it and gifted for it. Do you wonder how you can actually have affection for someone who is at odds with you (and I know you’ve had this experience)? Turns out it’s in your adopted DNA. It’s inevitable. God is your Father.
Heavenly Father, the uncomfortable truth is that I never would have loved you apart from your originating love of me. If you had chosen, in your holiness and wisdom, to be only a distant, punishing and rewarding Sovereign King, it would have been completely reasonable and just – you are the Most High God and there is no other like you. But you have never compromised your holiness, even as you have extended your life-giving love to us who hated you – what wondrous love is this!
Thank you, Papa. Help us climb onto your lap to look at you in wonder and childlike love, and to learn from you to become like Jesus. Grant us hearts of mercy like yours, and the ability to love like you do. Cause us, O God, to follow in our Father’s footsteps.