Many people like putting together jigsaw puzzles. We like looking at the boxtop to know how it is all supposed to turn out. We like that idea for our life as well. Now, here is the thing about the mystery, the puzzle of human life. We don’t have a box top for our entire life picture. We don’t. We don’t really know what the finished picture of our life is supposed to look like. We know what we WANT it to look like but we don’t really know but God does! God has the box top picture for the entire universe throughout all of time, including every detail of your life and mine. Sometimes we get a bunch of these puzzle pieces that ought to go right there if we had it our way but they just don’t fit and it can be really frustrating. Life doesn’t make sense. It is a mystery of faith.
This is Week One – Now and Then. Pastor G talks about a faith crisis moment in the life of John the Baptist and what we can learn from it during our own missing puzzle pieces of life moments.
“For NOW, we see only a reflection as in a mirror; THEN we shall see face to face. NOW I know in part; THEN I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” – 1 Corinthians 13:12
When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask Him, “Are You the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” ~ Matthew 11:2-3
We read that and we think WHAT???? How can John ask such a thing? Has he lost his mind? If anyone on the planet at that time should have had a crystal clear picture of who Jesus was and what He came to do it was John the Baptist! Right? What is going on? Listen, don’t miss this. It’s because John got one of these puzzle pieces in the mystery of life that suddenly didn’t fit his preferred box top picture. His NOW doesn’t match his THEN! In fact, his NOW is seriously messed up and looks nothing like his THEN that he wanted yeah?
He’s in prison, and he’s NOT getting out. He is pretty sure imminent death is in his future. And so he’s like, “Whoa, hold on. I mean, seriously? Seriously God? Did I have this wrong? Is Jesus actually the Messiah, or did I miss it? Was I supposed to wait on somebody else? Because I was the one sent to prepare the way for the Messiah and if Jesus isn’t the right guy, how am I going to prepare the way for the right guy from inside of this prison?” Think about that for a minute. This is John the Baptist having these kinds of doubts!
And if we’re being real today, every single one of us had a moment like that, right? Where we’re like, “Ummm, God? Where are You in this? What in the world is happening to me right now? I don’t understand this. Why are you letting this happen to me? Did I make a mistake? Did I do something wrong? Did I jam the wrong puzzle piece into a place it didn’t belong? This mystery has me stumped!”
Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” ~ Matthew 11:4-5
That sounds pretty good right? Jesus assures John he backed the right guy! Jesus is the Messiah and He is doing all kinds of cool Messiah stuff right? It’s probably not the whole answer John was looking for.
“Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” – Matthew 11:6
You see, what Jesus was really saying to John is, “John, yes, I am the Messiah you prepared the way for. You did your job right John. I am the Messiah when blind eyes are opened. I am the Messiah when the deaf hear. I am the Messiah when the lame walk. But John, I am still the Messiah even when you get arrested. I am still the Messiah even when you are stuck in prison. I am still the Messiah even when you are forced to give your life as a martyr for the kingdom of God. So don’t stumble in your faith John. Don’t doubt. Stay strong. I promise, your “then” is still secure with me, even when your “now” looks like this.
Don’t think our doubts cause God to cease loving us. John is still the apple of Jesus’ eye. Look at verse 7:
“As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John:” – Matthew 11:7a
“Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.” – Matthew 11:9-14
Even in the midst of John’s momentary doubt, Jesus affirms who John is and John’s place in history and in the kingdom of God because He loves John. Even in the midst of John’s current stumbling in his faith, even during John’s faith crisis between the NOW and THEN of his life. John’s relationship with Jesus and his place in God’s universe is still secure. Jesus knows even the greatest human prophet of all time, is still only human after all. Jesus understands the human tension between the “now,” and the waiting for the “then,” and He loves John through it. He does the same thing for you and me.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” – Jeremiah 29:11
Now, that’s good news for you and me as well because these promises also apply to us. God does not plan harm for you. He plans to prosper you, to give you hope and a future. Even when things in life look dark and confusing NOW it is not God’s plan for THEN.
Right now, some of our situations feel a little bit puzzling. Sometimes they are situations we have brought upon ourselves with our own disobedience and sometimes they are situations we face BECAUSE OF OUR OBEDIENCE to God. After all, Jesus promised us following Him would not be easy.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” – Matthew 5:10-12
“THEN you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord…” – Jeremiah 29:12-14a
Isn’t that an extraordinary promise? Does that encourage you and lift you up like it does me? God already knows what is going to happen tomorrow. God already knows what will happen in your NOW and your THEN moments. You will call on Him and pray to Him and He will listen to you. You will seek Him and you will find Him. However, you must seek Him with ALL your heart. We need to always remember that our faith and our hope and our future is always found in God, not in the outcomes that we want.
Sometimes, let’s face it, sometimes the NOW really sucks. That’s why we have to look forward to the THEN. That’s where the hope and the future are. We are so focused on the puzzle that is our life that we sometimes forget that even our whole, entire, completed life puzzle is still just one single very tiny piece in God’s much larger puzzle for the universe. In THIS life, in THIS world we will have trouble but THIS life, THIS world is not all there is. Take heart because Jesus has overcome this world so that we can have access to the NEXT world, the NEXT life. That’s when our NOW and our THEN become one. That’s when there is no more death, no more sorrow, no more pain, no more evil. I am so looking forward to THEN but in the meantime I need to live the best life I can in the NOW and trust tomorrow to God. I can do that because His thoughts, they’re higher than ours. His ways are higher than ours. He’s got something else going on. Something bigger than just me.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28