John the Baptist, greatest of all the prophets, herald of the King, and preacher of the kingdom, was cast by Herod into prison, and his bold and faithful testimony was rudely stopped.
The effect of this sudden arrest seems for the moment to have shaken his faith as to the Messiahship of Jesus.
Accordingly he sends two of his disciples to ask Him if He were the actual Messiah, or if another were to be looked for. Does not such a question indicate a degree of uncertainty? No doubt it does; but then we must remember that there never was a true servant of God whose faith was not put to the test, or who was not in some way exercised as to the testimony he held. Indeed the higher the testimony the severer the test.
Nor did John escape. His testimony was high indeed; for he was the immediate forerunner of the Lord, and was sent to prepare His ways. His preaching was distinct, his call for reformation loud, his life beautifully separate, and his faithfulness most brilliant He lived in full expectation of the immediate establishment of the kingdom.
Yet he was imprisoned; he had to suffer; and he was apparently taken by surprise. Why should the herald of the King thus be silenced? Why should the announcement of the kingdom thus be arrested? In his difficulty he sends to Jesus, and receives from Him an answer to his question, as exquisite in its simplicity, complete in its explanation, and solemn in its import, as his shaken faith could have wished. “Go,” said the Lord, “and show John again those things which ye do hear and see, the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in Me” (Matt. 11:4-6).
A beautiful answer indeed to the difficulties of His poor suffering witness. The Lord does not allude to His own personal glory, does not bid these two disciples carry back to their master statements of His Deity or Messiahship. He merely draws their attention to public and well-known facts connected with His gracious ministry. He can call on a Bartimæus to tell how he received sight; or a cripple, who had lain for years at the pool of Bethesda, wholly cured by one brief sentence; or a leper touched by His health-giving hand; or a deaf man whose long-closed ears opened to His magic “Ephphatha”; or a Lazarus raised from the tomb, and on multitudes of the poor who had heard tidings of mercy. He can call on such witnesses to attest His mission, and confirm His claims. How effective! How conclusive. But, further, He does not fail to instruct John in the truth or the suffering path on which he had entered, “Blessed,” He said, “is he, whosoever shall not be offended in Me.”
“Offence” was quite as much a part of His mission as the giving of life or health to the needy.
Was John offended by his imprisonment? He had now to learn that his truest honour as his Lord’s forerunner lay in suffering for Him. A special blessing attaches to his sharing the sufferings of Christ—“Blessed is he”! Oh how this word must have calmed the troubled mind of John! How it would explain his situation as a prisoner, and add lustre to his chain. In it the Lord predicted His own cross, and stamped the nature of all true Christian testimony.
It were an easy service had we only to preach the gospel to the poor, and witness the benevolent acts of a gracious Saviour; but whilst this is our privilege, we are connected with One who was crucified. He esteems the cross His highest glory, and He values the heart that follows in the same path.
Paul broke in upon luxurious Corinth with the gospel; but his motto was, that he should know nothing among them but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. This steadied his soul, and kept him clear of Corinthian folly. He sought to know a crucified Christ.
And in the luxury—the religious luxury—of this 19th century how this searching truth is needed. The day of glory will come; but meanwhile we are called on to learn the offence of the cross. That offence has not yet ceased; and the cross is, on the one hand, as ever, the badge of man’s enmity to God, as it is, on the other hand, at once the proof of God’s love and of His judgment.
God tests everything by the cross of Christ. What savours most of it is dearest to Him, and the religion that refuses it is held in abomination by Him.
How much of this “offence” is to be found in the popularized Christianity of the day? Nay, the one effort seems to be to avoid the cross, both in its atoning and world-condemning characters. It is despised as of old; and therefore this popularization of the truth has brought about the most fearful anomaly possible. What could be a greater travesty of the Christianity of the apostles than the sad counterfeit we see around us? There is no resemblance between that which is presented to us in the Acts and the money-loving, pleasure-seeking, world-hunting Christianity of today. Infidelity is largely the child of this abortion. It is, as a system, the negation of Christianity, and for the general decay we have to bear the shame. If then one testimony brighter than another could be rendered, it consists in not being offended in Jesus.
Outward success in His work is deprived of the greater part of its glory if that be lacking. “Blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in Me” had its deep and significant meaning to the imprisoned John, just as much as the fact that the blind, the lame, the deaf, the leper, were cured, or the dead raised. It was, and is, an integral and essential part of the one divine testimony.