John the Baptist was locked away in a dungeon, a prisoner of an evil and illegitimate king. In that terrible place, John questioned Jesus’ power and identity. He sent his followers to Jesus with a question:
“Are You the one, or should we expect another?” (see Luke 7:20)
The question revealed the depth of John’s despair. After all, he had been the first person to declare Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, the Lamb of God, and John had heard the voice of the Father declare at Jesus’ baptism, “This is My beloved Son.”
Then John’s circumstances took a dark turn. He could no longer see Jesus’ miracles or hear His teaching. As a result, his faith in Jesus’ identity was fading. John had fallen into the shadowlands. The wickedness of King Herod’s persecution and the awfulness of his dungeon had blocked John’s vision of the Light. God had not abandoned John, nor had Jesus’ identity or mission changed ‒ but from John’s vantage point he could see neither.
When Jesus heard John’s question and understood his despair, He sent friends back to John with a message. “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard,” Jesus instructed them. “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear …” (Luke 7:22). Through his friends, Jesus wanted John to see the light that was hidden from his sight in Herod’s prison and be encouraged.
John’s experience in the shadows reminds us why a life of faith must be pursued in community. There will be times when sin and circumstances conspire to block our vision of God, when we fall into the shadowlands and question Jesus’ presence and power. In those seasons, we need to see the light through the eyes of others ‒ our sisters and brothers on higher ground, who can see the sun beyond our valley of tears.
This is precisely why Scripture tells us to meet together regularly. We need the encouragement of others if we are to persevere and mature in our faith. On any given Sunday, there will be some believers who are struggling to see God’s presence and power. They are, like John, trapped in the world’s dark dungeon. They need you, their sister or brother, to come alongside and tell how you have seen Jesus at work.
Before long, you may find the roles are reversed. You will be the one in a dungeon of doubt, and it will be the community that gathers to encourage your faith. John discovered what we also need to learn. Following Jesus takes more than faith. It takes a community.
Reflection: Do you feel like you are in a season of shadow or light? Are you struggling to see God’s goodness, or do you have something to share that will encourage others? Sharing our stories of God’s goodness is another way of expressing Whole-Life Generosity.
(Excerpt from Whole-Life Generosity Devotional, used with permission from GenerousChurch).