Blessed is he who is not offended by me.
— Matthew 11:6 —
These are the words Jesus spoke to John the Baptist, when John sent his disciples to Jesus asking this question: Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?
If you have never considered the pain of John’s words, it is worth time to ponder.
In John’s Gospel, John the Baptist is introduced as a faithful witness to Christ—a witness who so longed for the kingdom of God that he is willing to lose his kingdom. In John 3:30 he says, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” These are the words John declared, when his disciples came asking him about Jesus and the fact that more people were following him.
With humble faith, John accepted his role as a friend of the bridegroom and thus when the groom arrived, John rightly and righteously slipped out of the way. In fact, after John 3 the Baptist is not heard from again in John’s Gospel.
Nevertheless, this does not mean we do not know the rest of the story. Because we do! In Matthew 14, Mark 6, and Luke 9, we have the report that John was beheaded by Herod the tetrarch after his wife’s daughter requested decapitation as a party trick.
Yet, before his execution, Matthew 11 records the words that John sent to Jesus, as the forerunner to the Lord lay imprisoned, awaiting his deliverance or his death. And why does John ask his question about who he is? Is it because John doesn’t know Jesus, or believe him to be the Son of God? No, it is because things are not going as John anticipated!
Indeed, John was waiting for Israel’s redemption just like all of Jesus’s followers. And yet, here he was arrested, impounded, and daily threatened with death. And so he asks the one on whom he saw the Spirit descend: Are you the one? Or is there another?
And in reply, Jesus gives these words,
And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Matt. 11:4–6)
In this dialogue, Jesus could have said simply, “Yes, I’m the One, have no fear.” But he doesn’t say that. Instead, he presses John back to Isaiah and the Prophet’s messianic promises. When the messiah comes, he will heal the sick, give sight to the blind, and raise dead.
Such is the way of Christ. God rarely answers questions the way we ask. And he always brings us back to his Word to strengthen our faith. And so with John’s faith hanging in the balance, Jesus gives him exactly what he needs.
He doesn’t release him from prison. He doesn’t tell him, “I’m on my way.” Rather, he demands that John remember the Word of God and believe what it says. And then Jesus says, “Blessed in the one who is not offended by me.”
Truly, this is the hidden beatitude that you and I need. And we need it because of this fact: Jesus will personally and purposefully offend all of his followers.
To be clear, I don’t mean that God’s gospel is offensive. That truth is generally agreed upon. No, what I am saying, and what is less appreciated, is the fact that Jesus himself will and must offend his followers.
As John the Baptist had to learn in prison, the joy of knowing Christ is reserved for those who do not take offense at the path Christ gives them. That is what Jesus says in Matthew 11:6. And in John 6:60–71 the message is the same. Blessed is the one who is not offended by the words and the ways of Christ.
On Sunday, this was the overarching theme of my sermon John 6, where in the closing section of that chapter Jesus describes the doctrine of election in stark terms. Indeed, God’s unconditional election of some and his sovereign reprobation of others (i.e., his choice to pass over others) is powerfully offense doctrine. And truth be told, it is meant to be.
For as much praise as predestination elicits, the doctrine of God’s sovereign choice of his people equally shuts the mouths of those who reject him. And few places in Scripture show this truth more plainly than John 6. And in Sunday’s sermon I attempt to show how this is the case, and how God’s sovereignty over salvation is a shield, a scale, and a sword.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds