Week 3

born in jail

Rev. Ben Robinson

Senior Pastor | Urban Grace – The Downtown Church


“When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

From Matthew 3:1-12

Made Flesh

John had one job, and this job shaped his life. Angelic prophecy foretold that he would prepare the way of the Lord. Angelic prophecy didn’t mention eating bugs, or how to prevent a camel skin loincloth from chafing, but God gave John a job, and John said yes to all the job entailed.
John had one job, and he was good at it. He called the people to repent, and they showed up in mass to be baptized. One day Jesus showed up, and John nailed that too. No one else seemed to realize, but the moment John saw Jesus he declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
John had one job. It shaped his life, and he was good at it, but something went wrong. That something was named Jesus, and Jesus messed everything up. Jesus was supposed to wield his winnowing fork and heave the chaff into the unquenchable fire. Jesus was supposed to take care of evildoers like Herod, but that didn’t happen. Now John is sitting in Herod’s jail while Jesus is enjoying extravagant dinners with corrupt, rich tax collectors.
So John sends a message to Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” This feels like the meanest question John could ask. The singular purpose of John’s life is to prepare the way for Christ. If anyone knows what the messiah looks like it’s John. So his question reads like he is saying, “I know what the messiah looks, and it ain’t you. So should I keep looking?”
Or could it be another way?
Should I keep looking? Did I do something wrong? Though it looks like a dig at Jesus, perhaps John’s question is not actually about Jesus. Perhaps John is asking a question about himself. John bet his life on what he expected the messiah would look like, and now he is wondering if he was wrong. It could be that John is not angry, but doing something beautiful. It could be that John is asking if his unmet expectations are leading him away from the Christ.
Despite all he knew, John’s expectations cause him to think certainly the Christ can’t look like that. It’s a thought that dwells within us all, even if it never rises to consciousness. Our expectations of how Jesus is revealed in the world limit our ability to see God at work. Like John, there are folks who we don’t even consider as a potential teachers and prophets because they are a Wall Street banker, or an addict on the street, or an angry atheist railing against the church’s abuses. Yet our expectations are often a projection of our unmet desires or our insecurities seeking external validation. Our expectations tell us more about ourselves than how God is actually acting in the world.
And yet, this remains a story of good news. For despite the rough edges of John’s question, Jesus responds with tender affection,

Go, report to John what you hear and see. Those who were blind are able to see. Those who were crippled are walking. People with skin diseases are cleansed. Those who were deaf now hear. Those who were dead are raised up. The poor have good news proclaimed to them.

It is like Jesus is saying, Now that we are done with all those unrealistic expectations, I would love you to really meet me. Here is who I am. I am bringing hope, and life, and healing to the folks society has abandoned.

Dwelling Among Us


Is there a word or phrase stands out to you? What is it calling forth?


How are your expectations leading you toward or away from Christ? In what sense do you find yourself locked up and imprisoned? How is God breaking in and setting you free?

Public Action

Drive to the Detention Center in the Tide Flats or walk around the county jail downtown. Get in touch with the great needs for liberation in our city and your own desire for liberation. Pray this prayer: Emmanuel who is born in jail, come. Free us.