Updated: Aug 18
In the cult classic, The Princess Bride, the leader of a band of thieves, Vizzini uses the word inconceivable incorrectly repeatedly. Finally, Inigo Montoya, confusingly says to him, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."
I was reading a book recently and the author kept using the word “scandal” … in reference to actions of David and even Jesus. I felt like Montoya, I don’t think it means what you think it means.
In my mind, a scandal is Bill Clinton’s actions with Monica Lewinsky, or the indiscretions of famous televangelists Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggert in the late 1980s. But apparently there is another use of the word scandal. “A circumstance or action that offends propriety or established moral conceptions.” In this case, it is not that the action is necessarily wrong, but it is perceived to be wrong.
When Jesus referred to God as his father, it was scandalous, because that is not how religious Jews related to Yahweh. When he claimed to exist before Abraham, it was scandalous (and they picked up stones to kill him), though it was true.
Crisis of Faith
With that in mind, let’s talk about John the Baptist’s crisis of faith. John sends some of his disciples to Jesus with an interesting question: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matt. 11:3). This is the same John who immersed the Messiah in water and saw the Holy Spirit descend upon him. He heard the voice from heaven “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). But now he is doubting.
We like to think that if we had had supernatural experiences like John, those would be sufficient to satisfy all of our doubts for the rest of our lives. But it doesn't work that way. I have had moments of extreme ecstasy in the presence of God, only to wonder a month or two later if God even loved me. This is part of wrestling with our humanity, our old nature. Elijah is a great example. One day, he is calling down fire from heaven, and the next day he wants God to kill him because he is so depressed (1 Kings 18-19).
Even though John and Jesus were cousins, and most certainly knew each other, it was not until Yeshua began his ministry that God revealed to John that Jesus was the Messiah. If you read John 1:29-34, it is clear that John did not know Yeshua’s true identity until that moment when he calls him the Lamb of God. He said, “I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel” (Jn. 1:31).
So why is he doubting in Matthew 11?
1. Once he identified Jesus, he probably assumed that he would have some role with him. Yes, he said that Yeshua must increase (and John decrease), but did that mean he would have to go to jail?
2. Even though Yeshua is doing miracles, he is not bringing judgment on the Roman Empire. In fact, he is saying bizarre things about turning the other cheek and going the extra mile for a Roman soldier (a Roman soldier could make you carry their equipment for one mile. Jesus says to go two miles).
Don’t be Scandalized!
Jesus points to the miracles he performs and the liberation he brings to the human body, if not from the Romans (these can be seen in Is. 35:5-6, 61:1-1). But then he says something powerful: “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Matt. 11:6). This word offended is skandalizō in the Greek, and can mean to “take offense, stumble, or cause to sin and is [similar] to our English be scandalized.”
John was offended by Jesus. He was scandalized by him! Jesus was the son of God (said the voice from heaven), the Messiah. Not only was he not bringing the kingdom of God—which John assumed was the overthrowing of Rome and the inauguration of the messianic age—but he was letting John rot in jail. Heck, he didn’t even visit him!
One of the greatest mistakes we can make is to get offended at God because he is not doing things as we expect. Let’s look at David when he brings the ark to Jerusalem. In his mind, he is doing a great thing for the Lord. But suddenly the oxen stumbled, and it appeared that the Ark of God might fall. Uzzah reached out and took hold of the Ark, an “irreverent act,” (2 Sam. 6:7) and the Lord killed him.
David was incredulous and angry. He felt foolish. They were all dancing, and jumping and celebrating, when suddenly, Uzzah has a massive heart attack. I would be very tempted as well to be offended at the Lord. But we are clay and have no right to tell the potter what his business is. Our God needed his people to understand his holiness. There was a reason that the ark was usually carried on poles (Ex. 27:7). The ark represented God’s presence—who can touch it? It had been some time since the ark was in the possession of the Israelites, and they must have forgotten this important fact. Sadly, they had to be reminded. But David allowed himself to become offended at God, wondering how he would ever bring the ark to Jerusalem.
You're never gonna let me down...
There is a great worship song about the goodness of God. The bridge says,"You're never gonna let me down." I really enjoy singing that as she repeats the line over and over.
The problem is that it is unbiblical. God will let us down. To be clear, this is not because he wants to disappoint us. It is because of our expectations and assumptions regarding what he should do in our lives can often be wrong.
In 2016 we bought a condo in Virginia. We had been saving for years to buy an apartment in Tel Aviv. But the prices were simply too high. In addition, in Israel, you need 30% down. We felt the responsible thing to do was to at least own something in America as an investment.
We found a two-bedroom apartment that was okay. Okay was good enough for an investment; it was not as if we were going to live there. It didn't have to be amazing. We put in an offer and it was rejected. We raised it $1,000 and it was rejected again. We raised it another time, and it was rejected again. It was disappointing. I began to realize that maybe it was God who was shutting the door. We only had a short window that we were in America before we would return home, so time was of the essence and we were running out. It felt like God was against us.
A few days later, I went back to the website and noticed a property that I had not seen before. Apparently, it had been listed five minutes before I looked. It was bigger, it had beautiful brick walls, it was in one of my favorite sections of Richmond (since I was a kid), and it was just right for us. It was better in so many ways than the apartment we tried to buy. So yes, God disappointed us, but that was because we didn't realize his plan.
We rent it out short term, but use it for ourselves when we are in the US and we love. God disappointed in order to bless us.
To be scandalized by Jesus is to believe that he has acted in a way that is inappropriate. But maybe it is our expectations that are inappropriate? John expected the Messiah to take certain actions. When he did not, he became offended. We too have expectations, but the truth is that life is hard and has a few curve balls. God can use this to test our faith. I can think of many times where things were not going my way and I was frustrated at God. I knew what his will was and he certainly did—so why was my life testifying the opposite of what was supposed to happen?
David has some pretty honest prayers. He is often feeling alone and abandoned. For instance:
I am weary with my moaning;
every night I flood my bed with tears;
I drench my couch with my weeping.
My eye wastes away because of grief;
it grows weak because of all my foes. (Ps. 6:6-7)
God has a strong will
But in the end, David became king. His bloodline gives birth to the Messiah. God did his will through King David. I can think of many other biblical characters who went through seasons where it appeared that God was against them: Joseph, Daniel, the three Hebrew children, Peter, etc. And yet in the end, God was faithful. Don't be scandalized by God.