The account of the imprisonment of John the Baptist provides much insight into the adversities that come into the life of believers regardless of their spiritual growth. Scripture reveals the Lord’s accolades of John … “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist” (Matt 11:11a NIV). This John was a voice in the wilderness calling the nation of Israel to repentance. “Religion” was draining the spiritual life of the people as it promoted pharisaical elitism, overt observance of ritual with little or no understanding as to the true meaning of the sacrifices, feast days and Sabbaths.
In short, Israel was steeped in religiosity as the means of having a relationship with God. Those who were responsible for teaching God’s Word had perverted their mission and message. God in His faithfulness repeatedly exposed the hypocrisy of the nation. John the Baptist was not the first prophet to summons the nation to turn back to God. God had His prophet Isaiah 700 years earlier to call the people to repentance. His message was clear … “The multitude of your sacrifices — what are they to me?" says the LORD. "I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats” (Isa 1:11 NIV).
Hosea’s message challenged the people to true worship, that which reflected the inner condition of their soul and not that which was external to be seen of men … “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hos 6:6 NIV). God’s message through Amos bluntly stated that … “Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream” (Amos 5:22-24 NIV)!
These warnings and calls to repentance continued to go unheeded. The nation of Israel had learned little from its exile to Assyria and Babylon. Still, it was the divine intent to bring Messiah into the world through the Jewish nation. After four hundred years of divine silence, God sent another prophet. “And this was his [John the Baptist] message: "After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:7-8 NIV).
John was merely … “A voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all mankind will see God's salvation” (Luke 3:4b-6 NIV). “And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them. But when John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of Herodias, his brother's wife, and all the other evil things he had done, Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison” (Luke 3:17-20 NIV).
God’s faithful servant was not immune to adversity. He had faithfully announced the coming of Messiah, yet now he found himself in prison. This adversity caused discouragement and doubt to surface in his thinking. “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?" Had John mistakenly identified Jesus as the Savior who would go to the Cross and bear the sins of mankind? Was not the good news that faith in this Jesus would result in a personal relationship with God that could not be attained by outward acts of religious observance and ritual? Jesus would reply ... “Go and tell John…” (Luke 7:22 NKJV).