Matthew writes his Gospel with intention and purpose. So on the heals of demonstrating Jesus’ leadership, he writes of John the Baptist’s struggle. Jesus’ leadership isn’t just to the willing and able. It includes encouraging those who are struggling and unable.
Matthew had earlier noted that Jesus had moved His base of operations to Capernaum after hearing of John’s imprisonment, “When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee.” That was back in chapter 4, before Jesus’ ministry began in earnest. In fact, it was just before His healing ministry took off and the Sermon on the Mount. Which means that John the Baptist would’ve found himself in prison prior to Jesus’ rise in popularity. To that point we can know that John would have known the fulfillment of his own prophesy over Christ, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
All the same, John’s time in prison must at some point to have caused him to second-guess what was really going on. Matthew writes, “When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”” The question tells us much about John’s state of mind pending his execution by Herod. It is a state of mind that Jesus gently turns around. Jesus gives John hope. “Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see.”
Sometimes the very best leadership is not to those doing the work. It is to those who cannot participate on account of circumstances beyond their control. That doesn’t mean they are excluded from the Kingdom. It means they cannot actively participate through hands-on effort. They can still pray, and on that account they are powerful workers, for prayer is the real work behind any Kingdom-minded effort.
Recognizing that contribution during this stage in John’s life, Jesus does not leave John without a response. He does not consider John someone who has ‘done his bit’. He does not leave John in the dust of a flurry of activity. Rather, Jesus takes the time to listen to John’s concern and to respond to that concern in a way that He knows John will find encouraging.
Jesus knows that all He is doing is most effective because of the circumstances that the Father set up for Him, and that includes the shoulders upon which He stands. After all, it was the Father who sent John to prepare the way for Him. Matthew had already recorded that, “This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” ” So Jesus does not dismiss John or his disciples or the question. He honors John and pauses to answer the question.
It is a profound lesson for all of us who labor in the Father’s vineyard: Leadership in the Kingdom of God includes leading those who – on account of their season in life and circumstance – can only follow in prayer. We do not dismiss them, ignore them or discourage them, because God is near to the suffering, and their prayers are powerful.
There is a mysterious efficacy in the prayers of men who dwell near to God. Even if they were compelled to keep their beds, and do nothing but pray, they would pour benedictions upon the church.Charles Spurgeon
Give thanks for those you know in your circles who are in seasons of life where they can and do spend many hours a day in prayer.