John was in prison. He had dangerously critiqued the political leader of the day and was shut up in prison. To top it all off, a threat of being decapitated loomed over his little cell. How was it that this was happening to him? Wouldn't everything be different now that the Messiah, the new, powerful conqueror, was finally here? Surely the Messiah's political coup and overturn of the throne would free John from his incarceration.
Just to make sure, John sent some of his students to ask Jesus about his situation in Luke 7:18-23. "Are you the one who was to come," they asked, "or should we expect someone else?" Jesus' response is strange:
"Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me."
This little discourse is a quotation from prophecy about the coming Messiah (Isaiah 61). It is the same quotation that Jesus borrowed from when he began his ministry at the synagogue (Luke 4:17-19). This probably was not good news for John. While helping the poor and healing people was all well and good, when would Jesus assume the role of conquering king? Better yet, when would Jesus bust John out of prison?
Notice that Jesus leaves an action out of this quotation from Isaiah - When compared with the quotation from Luke 4, it is apparent that there is no mention of Jesus' freeing the captives this time. Jesus leaves out the segment that was relevant to John's situation.
This is a special rabbinical interpretation of a text. They would omit something to emphasize it. John would have been very familiar with this passage and would notice that this one phrase was missing. By omitting this idea, then, Jesus was communicating to John that he wouldn't be freed from prison. Jesus was not the political, conquering king that John thought he was. Jesus then encourages John not to fall away on account of his true identity.
Sometimes, following Jesus does not turn out the way we would like it to. We want the benefits without the sacrifice. Like John, we want a conquering king instead of a suffering Savior who calls us to die with him.
The truth is, you can't have the relationship without the sacrifice that comes with it. You either follow Christ with all your heart, for better AND (not "or") for worse, or you don't. Jesus said that some people will receive his message about the kingdom but then fall away when trouble and persecution comes (Matthew 13:20-21). But blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of Christ's true nature and true calling to his disciples: devotion at all costs and in all circumstances.