Part 3 in the series, It’s About the Encounter (read Part 2)
When John the Baptist is in prison and receives reports of the miracles Jesus is performing, he sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3). Why do they ask such a question? Maybe John’s faith was wavering a bit. Or maybe John was not wavering at all, but wanted to help his disciples learn for themselves the truth about who Jesus really is.
While my personal belief is that the latter is true, I’m not sure how much it really matters. Either way, the question was asked, and Jesus answers by rattling off several points about His ministry and how He is fulfilling the words of the prophet Isaiah. He wraps up with these words: “And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me” (Matthew 11:6).
Why would Jesus make such a statement to John’s disciples? He has just told them how He has given sight to the blind, made the lame able to walk, cleansed the lepers, and raised the dead. Other than the Pharisees, who could possibly be offended by that? But Jesus knows there is a time coming in which the men to whom He speaks will need to hold on to the words He has spoken.
He knows He will not be intervening on John’s behalf. John is going to die.
Jesus could have done something to stop it, but He chooses not to, and John’s disciples will have to struggle through the offense they experience as a result. Since offense makes us unable to experience gratitude, and since we can’t possibly grow in love without a grateful heart, Jesus knows that how John’s disciples respond to these events will affect their lives deeply from that point forward.
Why does Jesus come through for someone like Bartimaeus while leaving His friend, John, to die in prison?
More importantly to me, why does He heal Bartimaeus and seemingly ignore my prayers for Him to heal my mother and grandmother?
At the time of this writing, it has been almost ten years since the dreadful months in which my world fell apart around me, and over the years I have considered that question a great deal. Do you want to know the conclusion I have come to?
I don’t know.
That’s right. I have no idea why God didn’t come through the way I wanted Him to. And I have struggled with it. A lot. But, as I have struggled, God has begun to teach me a couple of invaluable lessons.
First, Jesus allows our minds to be offended in order to reveal our hearts. He acts in certain ways and allows certain things in our lives in order to cause our hunger to grow and to force our unperceived offenses with Him to the surface so that they can be dealt with. How we respond determines whether we are delivered from those offenses or they consume us.
Also, while Jesus did commend Bartimaeus for his great faith, elsewhere He taught His disciples that even faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains. I’m not a horticulturist, but I know that a mustard seed is pretty small, which leads me to believe that it is ultimately not the amount of faith we can muster that matters, but truly knowing the Object of it. I know a number of preachers who would cry “Blasphemy!” at that assertion, but it is a conclusion with which I have become quite comfortable and confident.
Please understand what I am trying to communicate here. By no means am I attempting to minimize the importance of faith in the life of a believer. We are saved by grace, through faith. Without faith, we cannot please God (Hebrews 11:6) and we cannot experience grace. However, it is grace that ultimately saves us, not faith. Faith just leads us to grace. Or better yet, it leads us to the Source of all grace.
In short, faith leads us to encounter.
Think about this for a moment: did Bartimaeus have faith before he met Jesus in the city of Jericho and was healed? Of course he did. If he did not, why would he have sought Jesus in the first place? Nevertheless, until he encountered Jesus, he remained blind. For Bartimaeus, faith ultimately led to an encounter with Jesus, and the end result was healing in his body.
In my case, desperation, combined with at least a mustard seed-sized amount of faith, led to encounter as well. While my mother was not set free from the addiction that eventually took her life (at least not on this side of eternity), encountering Jesus gave me the strength that was necessary to navigate the darkest year of my life. Do I still wish God would have healed her? Of course! However, I am grateful beyond words for the emotional healing that has taken place in my heart over the past ten years by honestly struggling through such a painful loss with the Holy Spirit as my Comforter.
Without the loss I experienced, I would not have had the opportunity to learn about the Father’s great love for me in the way I have. Moreover, experiencing His love in the midst of tragedy has caused me to love Him even deeper than before. I still am not completely clear why Bartimaeus was granted his request while I was not, but I am clear about this one thing—it is not about the miracle or the answered prayer.
It is about the encounter.