Date: October 28, 2018 Audio: Transcript:
Here is a Bible Trivia question for you: Who did Jesus say was the greatest person ever born?
I will give you a hint: It is not anyone in this room!
Luke 7:28a – I tell you, among those born of women (which includes pretty much everyone), no one is greater than John.
He means John the Baptist.
Friends, this morning we will look at what I think is one of the most interesting passages in the Bible – Luke 7:18-28. What makes it especially interesting is that right before Jesus gives John this ultimate compliment, John does something which seems very strange. Rather than proclaim his great faith and confidence in the Lord Jesus, he expresses his doubt. He is wondering whether or not Jesus is really the Messiah. This is a bit puzzling.
Last Sunday we talked about the faith of the centurion – what Jesus called the greatest faith he had ever seen. We tend to view doubt as the opposite of faith. Why would Jesus call a “doubter” the greatest man ever born?
Yet, as we explore this passage and see how Jesus dealt with a doubter, I believe the Lord will help us grow in our understanding of doubt and faith. That’s important because some of us here have our own doubt with which we need to deal. And many of us have family and friends struggling with doubt whom we would like to encourage.
Let’s pause and pray the Lord would use His Word to help us better deal with doubt.
The setting of our text is John the Baptist sitting in prison. This guy was not a Baptist deacon or anything. He was a cousin of Jesus, who baptized many people, including the Lord Jesus himself.
He had also denounced King Herod Antipas for divorcing his wife and marrying Herodias, who had been the wife of his half-brother. This angers Herod, and he has John thrown in prison. It is there (verse 18) that John hears of the magnificent miracles Jesus is doing.
Luke 7:18b-19 – So John summoned two of his disciples and sent them to the Lord, asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
In other words: Jesus, are you really the Messiah, or do we still need to wait for him to come? This seems like a rather strange question for John to ask. It was probably just a few months earlier that he had been proclaiming that Jesus was “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” At that point, he clearly viewed Jesus as the Messiah. But now, he is not so sure.
John is having doubt. But this is not unbelief. It is important to realize these are different things.
In his book, “In Two Minds,” Os Guinness gives a helpful definition of doubt, which he says is “being in two minds.” A person who believes is in one mind, accepting something as true. Someone who does not believe is in another mind, rejecting the idea that something is true. The doubter wavers between these two, between belief and disbelief and is really doing both at the same time, and thus, is in two minds.
This is what James 1 means by the double-minded man.
A Chinese definition of doubt is “standing in two boats, one foot in each one.”
Indeed, doubt can be a very uncomfortable, even agonizing position in which to be. Keep in mind that doubt is not the opposite of faith; unbelief is. The danger, however, is that doubt, if not treated, can lead to unbelief. It can be a very quick journey from being a doubter to an unbeliever.
Yet, John’s experience reminds us that no one else is immune from doubt. Just as people in excellent physical health can still get the flu, folks in tip-top spiritual condition can still be afflicted with doubt. John the Baptist was.
If we go back to the Old Testament, we see that the great prophet Elijah was (1 Kings 19). One of Jesus’ twelve apostles even earned the nickname, “Doubting Thomas.”
Francis Schaeffer died in 1984. I realize many younger folks may not be familiar with him; but after Billy Graham, he is considered the most influential Christian leader of the 20th century. In the fall of 1951, Schaeffer began to struggle with doubt. At that time, he had been serving as pastor and missionary to Switzerland for almost ten years.
Yet, he found himself asking those most basic questions: “How do I know God exists? How do I know Christianity is true?” He spent countless hours walking back and forth in the hay loft that winter, struggling with those questions, until finally he was again in one mind, believing that God does really exist and Christianity is indeed true.
The summer of 1976 was perhaps the most difficult time of my life. I was 19 years old and home for the summer after my first year of college. It was the American Bi-Centennial, but that didn’t really cheer me up because I was a doubter. I had been very active in both the high school youth group and IVCF that first year at college. Yet, a wave of doubt had hit me. I found myself wondering: “Is there really a God? Why should I believe what the Bible says?” Those questions would pound inside my mind numerous times each day.
People struggle with all sorts of different doubts: Does God exist? Is the Bible true? Or yes, I believe in God, but is He truly God? Am I really a Christian? Has God forgiven all my sins? What if there is no heaven? Perhaps the most common doubt is reflected in this thought: Does it really make sense to follow the Lord and obey Him? It seems I would have a lot more fun if I did things my way.
Doubts come in a lot of different flavors, and I don’t believe any one of us is immune from it. Even if you have never faced doubt up to this point in your life, it is something you may have to deal with in the future.
It is always encouraging to talk to a believer in Jesus, who when facing death, is not afraid to die. He/she has a total confidence in the eternal life God has promised. I love to tell you about those folks. I don’t tell you some other stories, however. Some people have faithfully trusted and followed Jesus for decades, but as they enter that valley, facing death, they are hit by a wave of doubt and are gripped by fear.
That happened to Addison Leitch, Elisabeth Elliot’s second husband, a faithful servant of the Lord. As he was dying of cancer, he struggled with doubt. Now, by the grace of God, those doubts often dissipate rather quickly; but my point is that none of us, even those with the strongest faith, knows if and when doubts might seep into our soul.
Why do we struggle with doubt? For many different reasons. Certainly John the Baptist’s doubt was connected with the fact that he was in prison. If Jesus was really the Messiah, why would his cousin and ministry partner be rotting in a Roman dungeon? Doubt often springs up when we hear or experience something which conflicts with our view of how things are supposed to be.
That is why that freshman year of college can be fertile soil for doubt to grow. Being in a Biology class where the brilliant professor says that Neo-Darwinism is a fact and God is a myth can shake one’s faith. When an articulate Philosophy instructor claims the Bible is full of errors, and Christianity is really an anti-women religion, the college freshman sometimes feels intellectually overwhelmed. Truths taught by parents and churches all of a sudden don’t seem so obvious.
Doubt frequently hits when someone feels despair. A serious illness, severe family conflict, physical exhaustion, or just a lack of Christian fellowship are situations which provide fertile soil for doubt to grow.
I suspect the reason some of us have not struggled with doubt is that we have been isolated from anti-Christian thought or have not had to deal with many of life’s tragedies. If things have usually been pretty easy for you, you may be a lot more vulnerable to doubt than you realize.
And always remember, “A ship is safest in the harbor, but that is not what ships are made for.”
Our goal should not be to insulate ourselves from the possibility of doubt; rather, our goal should be to follow the Lord wherever He leads us and deal with doubts whenever they arise.
So, how should we deal with doubt? I think we can get some help from our text. Jesus’ response to John’s doubt is certainly different than I would have thought. I would expect Jesus to respond to John’s questions with, “What’s wrong with you? Of course I am the Messiah! Don’t be stupid!” But note Jesus’ response to John’s questions:
Luke 7:22-23 – “Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the good news, and blessed is the one who isn’t offended by me.”
Then after the messengers are on their way back to John, Jesus turns to the crowd and begins to ask some questions:
Luke 7:26-28a – What then did you go out to see? (Meaning when John was baptizing) A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you.
Two things happen in those verses: #1 – Jesus provides an honest answer to John’s honest questions. And #2 – rather than condemn John for his doubts, Jesus commends him for being a faithful servant of the Lord.
In dealing with our own doubts or those of friends and family members, that is what we need to do as well – though I would reverse the order.
#1 We need to make sure we do not condemn people struggling with doubt or asking questions, and then we need to do our best to address those doubts and answer their questions.
Unfortunately, when teenagers express doubts about Christianity, many parents respond by scolding their children: “You should not be asking questions like that!” Even in the church, we sometimes discourage people from asking questions, telling folks they should just believe – even if something doesn’t make sense to them.
As a result, those with doubts and questions often end up keeping them to themselves. They stay quiet because they don’t want to cause a disruption in the family or church, or they simply don’t want to make others uncomfortable.
Yet, doubt that is suppressed, doubt kept in the closet often doesn’t go away. It can keep growing, eating deeper and deeper into our souls and evolving into unbelief.
Now, it is probably not a good idea to broadcast your doubts publicly, especially on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. That can make things far more complicated than they need to be. We should, however, make sure there are times, both at home and in the church, where people feel free to ask questions without fear of being condemned.
One thing we as a church need to do is always make it clear that doubt is not a sin. Unbelief is, but not doubt. Remember, doubt is that middle ground between faith and unbelief. It is a temptation to reject true claims God reveals to us in the Bible. It is wrong to refuse to believe what the Lord says is true.
John, however, is not doing that. He has heard Jesus’ claims to be Messiah. He is tempted to think Jesus was not telling the truth. He has doubts. But, instead of choosing to embrace unbelief and reject Jesus as Messiah, John asks questions, expressing his doubt.
When people do that, we should not condemn them, but seek to encourage them. When we ourselves are struggling with questions, we should not panic, beat ourselves up, or give up. We need to seek answers to our questions.
Now, I will say that doubt isn’t really something to celebrate. Some people, and even some churches, proudly claim that they encourage people to doubt; but what they are usually doing is encouraging unbelief. When someone does have doubts, however, when they find themselves standing in two boats, not sure whether to choose belief or unbelief, we need to do our best to help them get both feet into the boat of believing the truth.
#2 As we seek to encourage doubters or deal with our own doubts, we need to provide honest answers to honest questions.
“Now, Pastor Dan, why would a question not be honest?” Well, sometimes unbelievers – not doubters, ask questions to which they don’t really want an answer. They have already decided not only that they don’t believe, but they don’t want to believe.
Questions like: “Can God make a rock so big He cannot move it?” or “What about the Salem Witch Trials?” usually are not meant to clarify, but confuse and obscure the real issues. However, when people have sincere questions, it is important that we seek to provide answers. And if we have questions, we need to look for answers.
When John the Baptist asked his questions, Jesus gave him answers. “How do we know you are the Messiah, Jesus?” Jesus responds, “John, consider what has happened. Blind people now see. Lame people now walk. Dead people are now alive. All this is because of me. John, do you really think I could do these things if I were not the Messiah? Oh, I know it is really tough to be in prison, but don’t let your circumstances keep you from seeing this obvious truth. Overwhelming evidence supporting my claim to be the Messiah is right there in front of you.”
Now, unfortunately, when we have questions, Jesus will probably not provide us such a direct answer. However, the good news for those of us living in the 21st century is that we have pretty significant resources right in this little device. If we have a question, we can just google it or ask Siri, and we will have an answer. The bad news is there are too many answers, too much data and too many opinions. We have to evaluate the quality of an answer, seeking to discern whether it is accurate and relevant.
How do we do that? Praying and asking God for wisdom is a good place to start. And then we need to research and study, using the minds that God has given us to seek the truth. It is very helpful if we have a person we trust who has done a lot of research and study to guide us along that path.
And that is one thing Pastor Mark or I are glad to do. If you have questions or you are trying to answer questions friends or family members are asking, we would love to talk with you and try to help you answer those questions.
Now, you may come up with ones that Mark and I have never considered before, but we have both been around for a while, and most likely we are going to be able to help you find some good answers to your questions.
There are some other things which can be helpful when we or folks around us struggle with doubt. We need to keep going to church – hearing God’s Word proclaimed and having fellowship with other Christians are two very important means of grace that can strengthen our faith and help us deal with doubt.
When you are struggling with questions and not sure what you believe, going to church or reading the Bible or spending time in prayer may not be what you exactly feel like doing, but those are exactly the things you need to do.
The other very practical thing you can do is change any negative circumstances that might be contributing to your doubt. Now, if you are in prison like John was, you cannot exactly let yourself out. I guess the best lesson is to do your best to stay out of prison.
However, if exhaustion or maybe depression are feeding your doubt, then things like getting enough sleep, regular exercise and a healthy diet can provide at least some relief. When it comes to doubt, there is a correlation between emotional and spiritual health. Things you can do to keep yourself emotionally healthy are part of a good strategy for dealing with doubt.
Forty plus years ago when I went through my summer of severe doubt, I made one mistake and made a couple of good choices. My mistake was to walk that dark path alone. I didn’t tell anyone about my doubt until long after that season was over. Why? Pride.
I was a leader in our Christian group at college, and it was embarrassing that I was not even sure God existed. What would other people think of me? Yet, I think if I would have told two or three of my close Christian friends and maybe my pastor, they might have been able to help me in a variety of ways. Again, if you are struggling with doubt, it is not a good idea to keep it to yourself.
OK, that was my mistake. My good choices were these: First, I read a book specifically addressing my doubts about God’s existence. My friend Debbie – I will always be grateful to her – for some reason. I had not told her about any doubt, but for some reason she gave me Francis Schaeffer’s book, “He is There, and He is not Silent”.
Again, Schaeffer was that great Christian leader who also went through a dark season of doubt. Even though I didn’t really understand everything in that book at the time – it was a bit over my head – the Lord did use it to convince me that there were very good reasons to believe in God. In the book Schaeffer argued that without the God of the Bible, there would be no basis for meaning or morals in life, and really no foundation for knowing anything with any degree of certainty.
That led me to a second good choice – crying out to the Lord to help me believe. The verses the Lord used to answer that prayer were:
John 6:67-68 – So Jesus said to the Twelve, “You don’t want to go away too, do you?” Simon Peter answered, “Lord, to whom will we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Friends, at that point I realized that I, like Peter, had nowhere else to go. Every other road was a dead end. And even though I could not see exactly where this road of trusting and following Jesus would lead, I knew I needed to trust Him. And so I prayed, like the man in Mark 9: “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” That is a prayer God has graciously answered over forty plus years.
Oh, I still have doubts, but God has graciously helped me deal with them, kept them from infecting my soul, and allowed my faith in the Lord to grow and stay strong. Again, this has nothing to do with me being a wonderful person, but everything to do with Jesus being a wonderful Savior.
Friends, I don’t know what doubts you have had in the past, are dealing with today or will face in the future. I do know the Lord will not condemn you for having those doubts. And when you have doubts, He wants you to ask questions, seek the truth and find the truth that will satisfy your soul.
Chisholm Baptist Church is a church that welcomes doubters because we are not afraid of questions. We are convinced that the ultimate answer to all our questions is found, not in religion or philosophy, but in a person – Jesus Christ. Trusting and following Him is, indeed, the best way to deal with doubt.