Dealing with Doubts

Intro: Are you sure? That depends on what we are talking about. But even the things concerning my faith are subject to doubt at times. What does that mean? Does the appearance of doubt signal a lack of faith, or spiritual weakness, or sin? It can be troubling to deal with. How should the Christian deal with doubts? What is the proper response?

I. Doubting John? Matthew 11:1-6 – Now it came to pass, when Jesus finished commanding His twelve disciples, that He departed from there to teach and to preach in their cities. 2 And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples 3 and said to Him, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” 4 Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: 5 The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. 6 And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.”

A. This event may perplex us. Notice John’s question:    It seems that John is entertaining doubts concerning the identity of Jesus. The “coming One” refers to the Jewish Messiah, whom John was sent to usher in (make the paths straight). John had been given clear evidence of Jesus identity: Read John 1:29-37. We do not expect John to be in this position. He has already expressed his faith in that which he now questions. Is it wrong to consider again what you once accepted as true?

1. When John asks: “Shall we look for another?” he uses the term heteros, which suggests “another of a different sort.” Had the Lord not fulfilled John’s expectations? Had the Baptizer hoped that Jesus would be a different kind of ruler, and perhaps usher in a political regime? Where was the baptism of fire (judgment) against evil that John had prophecied about?

B. John was in prison because of his courageous preaching and unwavering confidence in his God-given mission. Jesus understood that John was not a vacillating spiritual weakling. He commended him to the crowd: Luke 7:24-2624 When the messengers of John had departed, He began to speak to the multitudes concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? 25 But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Indeed those who are gorgeously appareled and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. 26 But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet.

1. Did John’s present circumstances lead to his apprehensions about Jesus’ identity? At times intense suffering can cause doubt. Especially if God does not react in the manner in which we desire or anticipate. (does not answer our prayers). Can you imagine the kinds of things John was thinking? How could God allow a prophet such as me to be put in prison? Why has Jesus not brought deliverance to God’s people rather than allow this tyrant to continue to oppress the righteous? Burton Coffman offers some conclusions on this circumstance: “The uncertainty probably arose from the following circumstances: (1) John had been cast into prison, and Christ had made no move to free him; (2) John was suffering cruel and unjust persecution and probably foresaw his approaching martyrdom; (3) Jesus’ identity as the Messiah was not being proclaimed at that time with the dogmatic certainty which John doubtless expected;..” (from Coffman’s Bible Commentary)

C. There are some connections here for us:

1. If a man as great in faith as John had doubts, then we should not be surprised when we do. Doubts are not a sure signal of apostasy or abandonment. Jesus does not rebuke John or censure him. He understands the need for reassurance.

2. Difficult physical circumstances can be the environment for doubts. We should not underestimate the pressure that suffering can place on our faith. Life can have a grueling effect upon us all. As we grow older we face new challenges to faith. We think we are strong in that we have overcome the temptations of youth, or have well incorporated our beliefs into our life (worship, teaching, morality). But then our faith is tested from another direction – physical suffering. God may sometimes act in ways that we may not think he “ought” to. We may be disappointment or confused by His actions.

II. Jesus’ Reassurance of John: Read from Luke’s account: Luke 7:21-2321 And that very hour He cured many of infirmities, afflictions, and evil spirits; and to many blind He gave sight. 22 Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them. 23 And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.” How did Jesus react? Was Jesus offended or incensed at the question? I think many of us would have reacted differently, and maybe would expected Jesus to react differently as well.

A. Jesus’ concern is for John’s faith, not his image. Jesus wants to reassure, not rebuke John. How does He do this?

1. He immediately goes out (that very hour) and performs miracles so these messengers can witness them. John did not perform miracles, so this certainly implied Jesus’ superior position and calling. The power of the miracles was undeniable evidence that John was not mistaken, and that he did not need to look for another. But notice that Jesus did not do these miracles before John. Nor did he empower the messengers to perform a miracle for John to see. .

a. John’s reassurance would come through the power of eyewitness testimony.  These messengers would go back and tell John what they saw, “Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard:” This is a preamble to the work and commission of the apostles in preaching the gospel. God did not intend for everyone to see a miracle, or for every preacher to work a miracle. My faith is based upon the evidence of miracles in the same way that John’s faith was fortified by miracles… through the testimony of those who saw them. … John 20:30-31 -“These are written that you might believe”

2. Jesus refers John back to what had already been written by God – the OT scriptures. Jesus seems to refer to the distinct O.T. prophecies of Isaiah:

            • Isa 29:18-19 – In that day the deaf shall hear the words of the book, And the eyes of the blind shall see out of obscurity and out of darkness. 19 The humble also shall increase their joy in the Lord, And the poor among men shall rejoice In the Holy One of Israel.
            • Isa 35:4-6 – ay to those who are fearful-hearted, “Be strong, do not fear! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, With the recompense of God; He will come and save you.” 5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, And the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. 6 Then the lame shall leap like a deer, And the tongue of the dumb sing. For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, And streams in the desert.
            • Isa 61:1-3The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, Because the Lord has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 2 To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, 3 To console those who mourn in Zion,

a. John did not need to see or hear something new. He only needed to hear again what he had heard before. To look again at God’s promises, and the evidence that Jesus was truly the One. John’s trying circumstances had not changed the words of Isaiah, or the mission of Jesus.

b. The words Jesus referenced here remind us of Jesus’ appearance in the synagogue of Nazareth at the advent of His ministry. He presented the words of the prophet (Isa. 61) as evidence of His identity as the Messiah – Luke 4:21And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

III. How Should We Deal with Our Doubts? There are some lessons for us here.

A. Do not allow doubts to discourage. God allows our faith to be tested, and doubts will arise. But our doubts do not change the facts of what God has said and done.

B. Take the question to Jesus, not other doubters. Burton Coffman says… Note too that John took the wise course by presenting his difficulties and uncertainties directly to the Lord. If he had inquired of the Pharisees, or others, he could have found no alleviation of his distress. Many times when our faith turns to confusion or uncertainty we immediately try to find answers in the thoughts and teachings of men – find someone who will agree with us and confirm our misgivings. But we need to go to the words of God. He alone can answer our doubts with truth. This is not easy – takes a shovel and some muscle to dig deep enough to erase our doubts and answer our questions.

C. Consider carefully the eyewitness testimony God provides. Many doubts arise because we convince ourselves that God owes me a personal confirmation of what He wants me to believe. Many put their confidence in a feeling or experience, when God has confirmed His message in the testimony of scripture. “Faith comes by hearing the word of God.” How can we know for sure? 2 Peter 1:10-12 – Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; 11 for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Peter’s Approaching Death 12 For this reason I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things, though you know and are established in the present truth.

D. Go back to what God has already revealed in scripture. Acts 20:18-36 Paul to the elders at Miletus. A case file on how to strengthen others for survival:

        • keep back nothing… teaching… testifying
        • do not be moved – “these things do not move me
        • watch… Acts 20:32 – I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

Conclusion: 2 Tim 1:12 – nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day

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