The Struggle Between Doubt and Faith
Paul Harvey tells a story about an attractive airline stewardess who was being hounded by two men during a 3 hour flight. One man at the back of the plane was making suggestive comments, while the man at the front of the plane was much more direct. Near the end of the flight, the man at the front of the plane became particularly bold and handed her a key to an apartment, with a note that had an address and was signed see you at 7:00. She took the key and the note and walked to the back of the plane and handed it to the other man, winked and said, don't be late. Paul Harvey surmised that later on that evening there were two very disappointed men in some apartment somewhere.
Have you ever been disappointed when someone you were looking for didn't show up? Our text this morning deals with fear and doubt, because John the Baptist is looking for a little reassurance. (Read Text)
John sent some of his disciples to ask Jesus if He was the Messiah. The passage read for us this morning from Matthew gives us one additional piece of information about the situation; John sent his disciples ... from his prison cell. I really feel for the man who sat in a prison two thousand years ago. The four walls that surrounded him must have obscured his vision. There are plenty of things in this world that I know in my head but in my struggles sometimes I doubt and wonder. John had heard about the works Christ had done for others. He was there when the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus and he heard the voice of the Lord. I am sure that intellectually John knew Jesus was the Messiah. But there is a difference in a head faith and a heart faith. Sitting in that prison cell John was having a little trouble knowing it with his heart.
Maybe you can relate. Maybe you’ve known Christ long enough to witness His marvelous works, or you have heard stories of His intervening power, or even felt the peace that passes all understanding. But then something happens that shakes your faith because of something He didn't do for you personally. Maybe you are like John and spent time waiting and waiting on Christ to come through in your life, and now you are struggling because He seems silent.
You might have walked with Christ for quite a while, spent years seeking Him, finding Him, and serving Him then suddenly have a fight with faith and discouragement. Then we become overwhelmed with guilt and fear, wondering how we could be struggling with doubt after all this time. It's a horrible feeling! But I need you to know that these kinds of doubts are probably not coming from our heads. They're coming from our hearts. Our feelings. Our emotions. Our hurts.
John wasn't a wishy-washy person; he was a man of absolute conviction. His parents taught him the Old Testament Scriptures, how to pray, and serve God from a young age. He’s part of a ministry family, and he becomes this mighty preacher. Multitudes come out to hear him and yet he still has questions. I love the fact that Luke tells us that the guy with all the answers still struggles with questions. The truth is that all of us have questions about Jesus, and that is nothing to be ashamed of; it's actually a good thing.
It doesn’t matter how long you walk with Jesus. It doesn’t matter how many books you’ve read, or how much Scripture you’ve memorized, or how many sermons you’ve listened to, or how much truth you have embraced, you’re still going to occasionally have a question. You need to know that’s not unbelief, it’s just a question. The best way to remove doubts is not by pretending they doesn’t exist, but by exposing them to the truth of God.
John is not rejecting Jesus, he just needs a little clarification. And not just clarification for himself, but he also wants clarification for his disciples. He’s sitting in prison waiting, knowing that this will not end well for him. He wonders who will lead his disciples when he’s gone? He loves these people and he feels a responsibility for them. So he sends his friends to Jesus to ask, are you the one we have been waiting for, or will there be another? It’s an honest question that we sometimes ask as well. And it’s okay to ask the question because our all powerful, all knowing God has never been afraid to answer our questions.
Jesus answers John’s doubts by going back to the scripture, specifically the book of Isaiah. You might remember from our look at The Story that the book of Isaiah is filled with promises and prophecies about the coming of Jesus. Many times Isaiah said that Jesus will do this or that and this is what it will look like so you will know that this is the one you’ve been waiting for. So Jesus uses Isaiah as proof of His divinity in what Joel Green calls a “Festival of salvation!” Jesus refers to Isaiah and tells John’s followers, Go tell John that everything that Isaiah promised would happen when God was among you.
First tell John that the blind receive their sight.
Jesus is establishing a perfect kingdom, in very much the same way that He created a perfect world. In the Garden of Eden there was no sickness, suffering, sin, or death until sin entered the picture. As Jesus begins to establish His kingdom, He is pointing to the time when this world and all of it’s struggles and pain will come to an end. Jesus is giving us a glimpse of the coming Kingdom. In His Kingdom life is made right through His power. Jesus demonstrates His power by giving sight to the blind.
There was a time in my life when I really struggled with my sight. You know that big E that is on the eyesight chart? I couldn’t even see the chart. It was awful, until I had lasik surgery. For the first time I could see without glasses. I got so excited the first night when I woke up at 3:00 in the morning and could see the clock that I woke Trista up to tell her what time it was; she wasn’t as thrilled. The gift that Jesus gives these folks is much greater than that. Jesus says, Tell John that the blind see. Tell John that moms and dads can once again see their children. Tell John that spouses are seeing their loved ones for the first time. Tell John that people are squinting who have never squinted, because they’ve never seen the brightness of the sun.
I love the fact that several times in Scripture Jesus heals people who are blind, and when those people open their eyes the first person they see is Jesus. What an amazing experience and beautiful gift that must have been.
Next tell John that the lame walk.
We live in a broken world, and living in the Kingdom of God does not take away our nagging, debilitating, and physical issues. There are those of us that have a degenerative disease and we live with the fact that it’s coming. For others of you, you are already dependent upon scooters, walkers, canes, crutches, wheelchairs. We are either lame or someone we love struggles physically.
In the first century, someone who was lame not only suffered physically but they also suffered the shame of not being a productive member of society. Their suffering was compounded by the fact that under the Old Law someone who was lame could not approach the alter; they were kept out of the temple. When Jesus comes to establish His kingdom, He opens the doors for everyone to come to the throne. By giving the lame the ability to walk He opened the doors of the temple, and by giving His blood as a ransom for our brokenness, He is opening up the doors of Heaven. So you go tell John that the lame are walking.
Tell John that the lepers are cleansed.
Think for a moment about the pain that is associated with leprosy. You are forced to leave your family and your community, there is this immense sorrow of knowing that you would not get to see your children grow up, or be able to hold your wives hand, or feel the hug of your husband. I cannot fathom the indignity of having to scream out UNCLEAN every time someone was near me. There is a difference from being at the bottom of the social order and being considered cursed by God.
Leprosy is a disease that causes severe, disfiguring skin sores and nerve damage that steals the ability to feel pain or sensations. Lepers would burn themselves and not know it, or cut themselves without feeling it. The result is death through horrific suffering. Oftentimes they were physically disfigured; being diagnosed with leprosy was a walking death by torture sentence. People cursed with the disease were some of the saddest and loneliest people to walk the earth.
In His overwhelming love for His creation Jesus took away that curse. He healed those struggling and dying in their leprosy. Now you go tell John that the lepers aren’t shouting, unclean any more. Tell John that the lepers are not running away from people, but toward them, to embrace them, because they’ve not been hugged in decades. Tell John that the lepers are being healed because I took away the curse. Tell John I offered cleansing to those who so desperately needed it, but couldn’t find it.
Tell John that the deaf hear.
There are people who have never experienced the blessings that we take for granted, and sometimes complain about. There are folks who have never heard a bird chirp, or a congregation sing. There are those who have never heard the soft words of affection from a loved one or heard the blessing of a baby’s laugh.
Tell John that there are people who have missed out on the blessings that we have taken for granted. But tell John that they are not taking this gift for granted. For the first time they can hear, for the first time they are able to communicate with their loved ones. Tell John that in a world that is filled with struggles and pain, for the first time they can hear the words of the Savior that bring life, and peace, and joy.
Tell John the dead are raised up.
While Jesus tells John’s disciples that He has raised the dead, the Gospels give us three specific names: Luke tells us about Jairus’ daughter and the widow’s son while John tells us about Lazarus. Jesus has the power to raise people from the dead, because He is the King of Life. Jesus will soon die and experience death Himself, but He will rise in victory over death.
Tel John that mankind’s brokenness might have ushered death into this world, but I am greater than your brokenness. Tell John, that I have the power to defeat the greatest enemy that you will face. I am qualified to be your Savior and King because I am greater than your enemy.
Tell John that the poor have good news preached to them.
One of the reasons that I love the gospel of Luke, is the fact that he highlights the way that Jesus treated the poor. And I guess I love that picture of Jesus because that’s the way I grew up. My dad served in the Navy while I was growing up and we didn’t have much. My mom worked in cafeterias and drove school busses so that we could have money to go to school. In the evenings my dad would go out to the garage and fix lawnmowers so that we could have a little breathing room. I came from a very hard-working family, but money was tight. My dad didn’t drink the money away, gamble the money away, or buy expensive things. I remember times when we didn’t have much and my parents gave away what we did have to help someone else who had even less than we did. We were poor.
Jesus grew up in that kind of family and He knew that those kinds of people tend to get overlooked. I admit that I have worked in churches that have chased the rich people and tried to pacify rich people. I know that God loves the rich, and the rich need Jesus, and the rich need a church. But Jesus says that He came to bring Good News to the poor (Luke 4:18). Our community is filled with folks who are struggling with a huge debt that desperately need some hope. We are surrounded by single parents who have a hard time affording school supplies, and something to eat. We are surrounded by families who have downsized to one income so mom could stay home with the kids. We are surrounded by folks who live under Government assistance, who want so badly to make their own way, but they are struggling under a government who wants her citizens to stay dependent on her.
Jesus says you go and tell John that the good news has been preached to the poor. Tell John that salvation is free, not because it’s cheap, but because it’s priceless. Salvation is a gift given to us, from our Lord and Savior who paid the price. His death and resurrection is good news to the poor who would ask what does it cost to come to God? The good news is that Jesus paid it all. Jesus has canceled our debt. Jesus’ life purchased our salvation, and it is given to us by grace.
Jesus closes with this amazing little line: blessed is the one who is not offended by me.
Some translations say, have doubts, lose their faith, or stumble because of me. While this might sound a little off to us, you need to understand everything Isaiah says. I don’t think that John was doubting because of what Jesus was doing, his doubt was because of what Jesus hadn’t done. Isaiah 42:7 says that the Messiah will not only open the eyes of the blind, but He will also free the captives from prison. I imagine that John could use a little saving right about now. And as he sits in that dark and damp prison cell he is probably fighting with frustration and disappointment.
The truth is that some of us here this morning know what it’s like to be frustrated and offended by Christ. Our life is not going the way that we wanted it to go. God has blessed others and we could use a little blessing right about now. Or worse, we have calloused knees from all of the prayers we have offered only to hear God say no, or worse nothing at all. I mean I have a script and Jesus refuses to read His lines and that has left me hurt and offended.
Jesus says to you this morning, I know it’s difficult but trust Me. I know what I’m doing. I might not be the Savior that you anticipated, but I am definitely the Savior that you need. I am faithful to complete what I started in this world and in your life as well. John was considered great because he allowed Jesus to do whatever is best, and that’s what Jesus always does.
This morning Jesus says trust me because I have already paid for your ticket to come home. I have paid it all, all you have to do is come to me.