Dealing With Doubts in the Christian Faith

Title: Dealing With Doubts in the Christian Faith

Text: Matthew 11:1-6

Date: August 2nd, 2009

 

For the past few weeks I’ve been teaching about the reliability and trustworthiness of the Bible. Today, I’ll get back into the Gospel of Matthew where I was moving through verse-by-verse for the year. Actually I’m picking up in Matthew at a good place, on an appropriate topic, especially after dealing with objections to the Bible over the last few weeks. I’m dealing with the topic of doubt in the Christian life. Why am I dealing with that topic today? Not that I have any particular doubts about the Christian faith in my life, but we see here in the passage for today, Matthew 11:1-6, that John the Baptist seemed to have his doubts or at least questions about whether Jesus really was in fact the Messiah. We pick up the scene with John the Baptist in jail. If you remember the biblical account, John got himself arrested for speaking out against the adultery of King Herod. He confronted the king and told him that according to the law of God he was living in sin for taking the wife of his brother Philippe. As you can imagine this message didn’t go over very well with Herod and his wife Herodias. So John was arrested and kept in prison. While he was rotting away in prison it seems that he was having his doubts about Jesus – or at least was questioning whether Jesus really was the long-awaited Messiah. He knew that he might be facing death through execution soon and so he probably wanted to know whether he was correct in identifying Jesus as the Messiah publicly or whether he had been wrong. Now when I first read this account in the New Testament of John’s doubts and questions I was a little disappointed. I couldn’t believe that a great New Testament prophet like John would doubt for one minute what God had so clearly showed him. For example, in John 1:29-33 says, “The next day John saw Jesus coming towards him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. This is the one I meant when I said, “A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.” I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.’ Then John gave this testimony: ‘I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me. “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.’” So I was shocked when I read that he began to doubt that Jesus was the Messiah. But then I realized that John was made of flesh and blood. He also was a Jew with the typical Jewish Messiah expectations of a conquering hero in the style of King David to overpower the Romans and re-establish the Jewish state in the Holy Land. When that didn’t happen right away I think John was a little discouraged. So he sends some of his followers to Jesus with one simple question, “Are you really the Messiah or should we look for someone else?” We all face doubts about our faith sometimes. It might be about the Bible or it could be about God’s active presence in our lives or maybe about God’s love as we go through a tough time. For some people, there are doubts about God’s plan for the world or about the practicality of the Christian faith in our modern world. Some have intellectual doubts, while others have existential or emotional doubts. While still others just have questions, not so much doubts, but questions about the ways of God. But whatever form or doubts or questions take, we can learn how to deal with them by seeing how Jesus responds to John. Let’s take a look and see how it might help us too when we have our doubts. Matthew 11:1-6 (read).

 

 First, it’s better to face our questions and doubts honestly. Matthew 11:1-3, “After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee. 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?’” Now the passage doesn’t actually say that John had doubts and questions about Jesus as Messiah of Israel, but we can infer that from the question he gave to his disciples to ask Jesus. Also, remember the message that John the Baptist was preaching before his arrest, “John answered them all, ‘I baptize you with water, but one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.’ 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.” So in John’s mind, the revelation that God had given him, he saw the Messiah as both the Savior of sins and the Deliverer of Israel. He couldn’t figure out why Jesus wasn’t already beginning to deliver the Jewish nation from the Roman conquerors. Had he got it wrong? Had he been mistaken? I’m sure laying in that cold, damp, dark prison must have caused him to get a little discouraged and depressed. We can think of Paul and Silas in their prison cell singing hymns of praise and witnessing to the jailers in spiritual optimism, but we must remember that not all Christians go through difficulties and hardships the same. Yes, we know that God’s Word says, “I am more than a conqueror in Christ Jesus” and “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” but we all have our weak moments. We shouldn’t judge John the Baptist too hard. He had great and courageous faith – how many of us would have confronted a king with his sins? – but he, like all of us, have our weak moments of questions and doubts. God knows that we are all but flesh. God understands that even the best sometimes waver. Not everyone is like Abraham, who it says never wavered in doubt but continuously believed. Most people have their moments of questions and doubts. They may come when we are discouraged or depressed or lonely. They may come when we are under pressure or put on the spot. But however questions and doubts arise, it’s always better to acknowledge them, get them out in the open, just like John did. The worse thing to do is bury them, deny them or hide them. John did the right thing – he asked. If you have a question of God, ask. If you have your doubts about the Bible, the church, Christianity, faith – ask. Give God a chance to answer you, give God a chance to explain things to you. But there’s more.

 

Second, go to God to give you an answer to your doubts and questions. Matthew 11:4-5, “Jesus replied, ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 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.’” Ok, the scene is this – John is sitting in prison under arrest by Herod, probably facing death by execution soon, and he begins to doubt whether Jesus is really the long-awaited Messiah. Is Jesus the one from God or should he hope for another? John sends his disciples to Jesus with the question in search of an answer. And what does Jesus say? He basically describes the supernatural ministry he is conducting. “Go back and report to John what you hear and see” – all the miracles of healing, the exorcisms, the raisings from the dead, and the gospel of salvation is preached. And that was Christ’s answer. But how did that reply answer the question of John? Because it basically demonstrated that Jesus was from God, even though it didn’t address the liberation of the Jews from the Romans question. Remember Nicodemus, the Pharisee who came to Jesus at night in order to talk to him about the kingdom of God? Remember what Nicodemus first said to Jesus? “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miracles you are doing if God were not with him,” John 3:2. The supernatural signs and wonders performed by Jesus established the fact that he was from God, from heaven. He wasn’t a magician, he wasn’t a trickster, he wasn’t a charlatan, he wasn’t a false prophet, he wasn’t a false messiah. He was the real deal. Now the thing that threw off John and probably others as well – maybe it through off Judas enough to betray Jesus and it even threw off the faithful disciples even after the resurrection – and that was Jesus came first of all to save us from sin, not save us from our earthly enemies. That will come later at his second coming, which the Bible, Old and New Testaments also describe. But John, like the disciples and like many early Christians, was confused because he thought that the Messiah would come to do everything all at once. But that’s wrong. Jesus first came to deal with sin invisibly, later, he’ll come to conquer visibly. He didn’t understand that at first, but maybe after his disciples came back with the reports of Jesus supernatural ministry he’d begin to understand better – or at least accept that Jesus was the Messiah of God and trust that his full work would take place in its appropriate time. But the point is John asked, and Jesus answered. That’s how we must deal with our doubts in the Christian life. Ask God in prayer. Ask yourself questions and be prepared to search for answers. If you have doubts about the Bible, ask the questions and get the answers – they are out there. If you have questions about God’s love for you, consider how he has already worked in your life, the blessings you already currently possess. Get your questions and doubt out in the open and then search for answers. Don’t just bury doubts and questions. Don’t just sit on them, they won’t go away but probably get worse. We have nothing to fear by going to God with all our problems. He won’t let us down. We might not get the answers we had hoped for, or we might get a partial answer – like John did from Jesus – but at least we’ll get enough of what we need to keep on keeping on in our faith. But there’s one more thing.

 

Third, be open and flexible to God’s ways in your life. Matthew 11:6, “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” Obviously Jesus didn’t give John the Baptist the exact answer he was looking for. But isn’t that just like God? God rarely gives us exactly what we ask for, nor does he usually answer us exactly the way we are wanting. And that brings up a very important truth of the Christian life – we must be flexible with the ways of God working in our life. The Pharisees were inflexible in their understanding of God and God’s will. They had their own theology practically set in stone, based more on their own thinking than actually teachings from the Bible. Jesus came along and totally confounded their expectations of the Messiah and they refused to follow. John the Baptist and Jesus’ disciples followed, but they also had expectations that were hard for them to adjust to the reality of Jesus. We all have our expectations about God, about the Christian faith, about life and other things, but the question we have to constantly ask ourselves is this, “Am I flexible enough and open minded enough to follow God into ways that don’t exactly match my expectations?” For most people this is difficult, for others it is nearly impossible. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in following Jesus for thirty some years and it’s this – God rarely follows my expectations exactly. In other words, I’ve learned that I must be flexible enough to follow the will of God outside of my comfort zone. Now the Bible is our authority and God’s Word is the boundary for our life, so we believe and behave within the great truths taught in God’s Word, but within the boundaries of the Word of God there is a lot of room for flexibility. For example, during the 60s the famous charismatic renewal began. Christians started talking more about the Holy Spirit than ever before. They began to explore just what it really means to exercise spiritual gifts and be led of the Spirit in life. Mistakes were made, some people went too far in some areas, there was confusion, there was controversy. But out of all that the people of God came to a greater appreciation for and understanding of God the Holy Spirit, not to mention greater power and productivity in ministry. But not all Christians participated in the charismatic movement, in fact, some Christians actually rejected the new emphasis on the Holy Spirit and refused to learn and grow at all. Why? Because it wasn’t what they had been taught or were used to – it wasn’t within their expectations. Well, we all have areas of life where we are rigid and inflexible, but the question for all of us is, “Are we willing to follow God in any direction within biblical boundaries or are our expectations of how God must work simply too strong for us to move? I hope you can see from this account of John the Baptist how we all need to be flexible within God’s will because we don’t have the full picture. What does the Apostle Paul say in 1 Corinthians 13:12? “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” Until the day – that future day when Christ returns – until the day we will have perfect understanding, we must be willing to remain flexible to God’s will and open minded to God’s guidance. Within biblical boundaries, are you flexible? Are you open to God moving in new ways in your life? If not, ask God for the ability to change and follow him wherever he takes you.

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5 Responses to “Dealing With Doubts in the Christian Faith”

  1. elliott2nd Says:

    I think this post would be more powerful if you did, in fact, have doubts. Are you sure that you have none? I mean, Jesus had doubts in the garden… Job had doubts… David had doubts… I wonder, pastor, if you are able to look at doubt straight in the face for yourself? I can only imagine that it would have a positive effect on the quality of your ministry certainly those REAL people, the folks in the pews, will better relate).

  2. jeffshort Says:

    thanks for your comment. i like to think of myself as a somewhat deep thinker, but in all honesty, i’m not dealing with any particulary troubling doubts about the Christian faith, the Bible, salvation, etc. right now. i think i grappled with more of these issues in college and seminary. so whether people can relate to that or not I’ve got to be honest and say I thank God I’m not dealing with any troubling doubts about faith right now. i doubt more my own ability to discern the will of God through prayer and follow the leading of the Spirit, but I don’t doubt God’s Word is true or that the promises of God are true. you are right, it might connect better with people if I really did have more doubts about the Bible and Christian truth, but i can still certainly empathize with people who are dealing with doubts, because, like i said, I’ve gone through that before, but not presently. anyway, i’d like to be used of God to help lead people out of doubt and into faith, not just leave them there or join them. faith is better than doubt. besides, i’d rather inspire people to faith, rather than merely relate with them in doubt. thanks again for your comment.

  3. Jahlom Says:

    Christianity is an institution created by Roman. The faith that Jesus practiced was indeed Judaism. The evidence is clear. The Catholic Church changed so much in order to use it as control. Today we are told not to question anything. The Bible said that the Holy Spirit would be our teacher, yet we still sit week after week and allow someone to give their hand-me down version of scripture that is explained using their own perspective and understanding. Education usually only consist of someone’s degree. But we wonder why there is so much confusion and why the “Church” is such a disappointment to many. The Bible said the Truth will set you free! So when are we going to admit there is something wrong.
    When are “Christians” going to admit that this country was founded on the unrighteous premise of slavery and racial discrimination. Believers have not even apologized for the unresponsivness actions to the Holocaust.
    Jesus asked us to heal the broken hearted heal the sick and set the captive free.
    Most Christians feel that that means to throw money at some poor helpless African. ( guilt money).
    Why can’t believers do miracles?
    Thanks for sharing. RADIKAL TRUTH.

  4. Jahlom Says:

    It amazes me that Christians are always talking about how terrible the Pharisees were. Funny they haven’t notice that they have become the new Pharisees. Dogmatic and unmovable based on learned knowledge.

  5. pantofi barbati online Says:

    pantofi barbati online…

    […]Dealing With Doubts in the Christian Faith « Jeff Short's Weblog[…]…

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