The other day I listened to Erwin McManus’s Easter message on the Mosaic podcast. As he discussed the encounter between Mary, Mary, and Joanna and the angel that met them at Jesus’ tomb in Luke 24, McManus noted how odd the angel’s words were, given the situation.
“Why do you look for the living among the dead?” the angel asked them.
But they weren’t looking for the living among the dead. They were looking for the dead among the dead.
The angel’s question prompted something deeper than their immediate concerns.
In the same way, have you ever noticed how often Jesus answers a question by talking about something that seems at first like it’s completely unrelated?
In Matthew 11, John the Baptist is in prison, and he sends a message to Jesus, asking Jesus if He is the Promised One, or if they should expect someone else. Jesus responds by telling John that blind people are being healed, cripples are walking, lepers are being cleansed, the ears of the deaf are being opened, the dead are coming back to life, and the poor are hearing the good news. The list clearly references Isaiah 61:1-2 (which also shows up in Luke 4), except that Jesus leaves out one of the details from the list – release of prisoners. Both John and Jesus knew that Isaiah 61 was one of the famous Old Testament passages that told people how they were supposed to recognize the Messiah, which means that the short version of Jesus’ answer was, “Yes, I’m the One.” But both Jesus and John would also have been aware of the omission – the promise of the release of prisoners.
For John, who was in prison about to get his head chopped off by a maniac dictator, the release of prisoners seems quite the pertinent detail, and for Jesus to leave it out of the list appears more than a little thoughtless. In the end, Isaiah’s promise didn’t do John much good.
But the point here is that Jesus could have just said, “Yes.”
Instead, Jesus gave John a cryptic riddle and pronounced a blessing on those who choose not to be offended by Him. In the original Greek text, the word Jesus uses here is skandalidzo – “blessed is the one who is not scandalized by me.”
Jesus’ answer to John was, in effect, “I am the one you’re looking for, but I’m not going to come through for you. I am the one that releases the captives, but I’m not releasing you. At least not now. Not in the way you expect.”
By distinguishing what John wanted from what he needed, Jesus turns a yes-or-no inquiry into an examination of John’s deeper beliefs about his expectations of the Messiah, allowing John to see, perhaps for the first time, what those expectations revealed about his ideas about the character of God. He forced John to wrestle with the disturbing fact that, even though Jesus could and was healing and saving people left and right, some of His closest associates, and even members of His family, may not reap the benefit of His power. Jesus could easily have gotten John out of prison, but He didn’t.
And because He didn’t, John had to either surrender his ideas about God or be offended.
We can’t know which John chose, but John is not the point of the story. Jesus is.
Like the angel who appeared to Mary, Mary, and Joanna, Jesus tries to get us (with John) to see that when we look for nothing more than the answers to our questions, we are in danger of missing something far more profound than what we’re looking for.
Sometimes, what God wants to give us is much deeper than what we think we need, but instead of trusting Him to teach us, we allow ourselves to be scandalized by the fact that He is pointing us to something beyond what we can see.
The women at the tomb knew what they were looking for. But they were looking for something a whole lot smaller than what God wanted them to find.
So what does any of this have to do with what this blog is all about?
Simply stated, our goal is to join God in challenging the things you think you know and sharing with you the times that we ourselves have encountered Jesus’ frustrating habit of ignoring our questions and talking about something completely random.
Because we’ve discovered by following Jesus that nothing He talks about is random.
The women at the tomb surrendered their expectations about what they were going to find when they got there, and even though their friends thought they were lunatics, they were the first people on earth to know that Jesus had been raised from the dead. John had to face the fact that the salvation that Jesus offers is something far greater than the postponement of death. But all of them were confronted with the fact that they were looking for the wrong things.
I once heard Gayle Erwin say that if you’re going to find buried treasure, you’re going to have to dig where it’s buried.
So as we examine Jesus, as we make it our goal to find out the questions He’s asking us rather than holding tightly to the ones that we want to ask Him, remember that your choice is the same as John’s. When you see Him, He will not look the way you thought He would look. In fact, you may at first be scandalized by what you see in Him. But He is good. His goodness runs deeper than the foundations of creation itself. And His love for you is so thorough, and so profound, that He simply cannot leave you on the shore where you’ll never know the terrifying freedom of being swept up in the infinite truth, goodness, and wisdom of God. How foolish we are when we fail to trust that He knows better than we do where the real treasure is buried.