This passage of scripture holds a lot of information and complexity, but no part of it would be complete without the surrounding text. John the Baptist is in prison and he sends his disciples to Jesus to ask if he really is the Messiah. John knows that this is Jesus' claim, John himself baptized Jesus and declared to those who would listen that Jesus is Messiah. Sitting in prison, though, John needs to know with absolute certainty that Jesus is really the One.
Amazing, how God never chastises those who ask openly and honestly for reassurance. Recently we talked about Abram asking God to tell him once and for all just how he planned to fulfill his promise when God had not yet given him a son. Just like God dealt compassionately with Abram, he deals compassionately with John.
Jesus, without saying a word, turns and heals the sick and diseased, gives sight to some who were blind, and drives out evil spirits. He tells John's disciples, "Go tell John what you witnessed with your own eyes." Here he quotes from Isaiah 61 about the coming of the Messiah, but he leaves off that part about liberating those in prison. It is as though he tells John, "Yes, I am the Messiah, but you will not be set free." He says "Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me." He is saying in essence "Things aren't going to turn out the way you want, but hang in there. Don't fall away."
John's disciples leave and Jesus turns back to the crowd where he tells them that John the Baptist was a prophet preparing the way for the Messiah, and that he is the greatest man ever born of a woman. This crowd just heard him say that John would stay in prison.
Then Jesus paints a picture for us of a problem faced by people of that time, and I would argue of any age, they want to set the tune. They want to play a happy tune and have God dance along, they want to weep and wail, and have God join in the wailing. They, and we too, want to call the shots.
It is easy, it is the human nature thing to do. But Christ calls us to live above the human nature to the very nature of God present in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. God will not dance to our tune. He will not allow us to manipulate him. He desires to mold and shape us. He calls us to lay down our "want to's" and allow him to work.
John wanted to get out of prison. But even John did not get to call the shots. Jesus did not want to die on the cross, but even Jesus was willing to lay down his fleshly desires to do the will of God. This is hard to understand, it is tough to think that God could have a greater purpose in something as gruesome as the cross or a prison beheading. These are not the things we like to think about.
Jesus closes this section with the words, "Wisdom's children prove wisdom right." I read those words as an encouragement. We can choose to be children of this age, demanding our own way, or we can choose to be wisdom's children, finding out that wisdom (God's way) is right by following God's path.
As a result of John's suffering, we see a witness to steadfast faith in the face of persecution. In Christ's sacrifice we see that death is not the end as he is resurrected and ascends to glory. Walking through difficulty while choosing the path of wisdom instead of seeking our own way allows us to witness God in action.