Yesterday, I started a new teaching series at our church as we continue to make our way through the gospel of Matthew. In the previous chapters of this gospel, we see Jesus flexing His authoritative power. There is no sin, sickness, nature, demonic forces, man, or trial that Jesus is not the King over. But then as we make our way into chapter 11, we discover how different people begin to respond to this powerful King Jesus. It reminds us that everyone responds to Jesus. Whether it be worship or rejection, there is no way to avoid responding to Him. It is inevitable.
In this first account of chapter 11, we find someone, we wouldn't expect, having a moment of spiritual crisis. John the Baptist is struggling with doubt. His doubt was centered in the fact that Jesus had not met His expectations as the Messiah. He knew who Jesus was and had pointed Jesus out to everyone early in his ministry. But after spending about a year in prison and not being able to witness the deeds of Jesus (only hear about them), he began to struggle.
He believed the Messiah was going to come in judgment. He believed Jesus was there to judge people of their sin. He preached a message of repentance and believed that Jesus was ready with an axe to cut them down if they did not repent of their sin. About a year into Jesus' ministry and all the reports John hears has to do with miracles and forgiveness of sins. He just didn't get it. So, from prison, he sends Jesus a message: "Are you the one who is to come or shall we look for another?" In other words, "Are you really the one we have been waiting for? Are you really the one we thought you were?"
His expectations of what Jesus was there to do went unmet. He thought and assumed Jesus was going to do one thing, and I'm sure that John's thoughts didn't include him ending up in prison. He thought Jesus was going to come in and whip up on the unrighteous. But Jesus had a much fuller plan. What John didn't fully grasp was something we like to call GRACE. Yes, Jesus as the Messiah is going to come in judgment, it just wasn't going to happen in His first coming. It was designed to be delayed until His 2nd coming.
But in his misunderstanding of the Messiah, we are taught a valuable lesson on doubt. How do we deal with doubt? I think the actions of John and the response by Jesus teaches us a few things about our moments of doubt.
First, doubt left hidden inside can destroy you. Usually, when someone has doubts about the Christian faith (particularly a Christian), they tend to not share them. Let's be honest, the Christian community isn't very good at listening to them. But John doesn't keep his moment of doubt to himself. He doesn't allow it to fester. He takes his questions to the One who has all the answers. He runs for encouragement to a trusted friend, but also to His God. Sharing your moments of doubt is a great first step of redeeming them instead of being used by them.
Second, doubt should be attacked with Scripture. The problem that brought about John's doubt was that his expectations he placed upon Jesus were not met. The problem was not with Jesus. They were with his expectations. When Jesus responds, He refines John's expectations through the lips of the prophet Isaiah. He shows John that the Messiah was indeed to do those great miracles. When we struggle with doubt, the best thing we can do for ourselves is to refine our expectations with the Word of God. We need to force ourselves to read God's Word for answers.
Third, doubt is not unbelief, but it can lead to it. Jesus is very quick to defend John the Baptist in front of the crowds. He didn't want them to think that this moment of doubt meant that he was like them. In fact, the rest of the section is Jesus showing the crowds the difference between doubt and unbelief. The person who doubts is open to receive instruction; the person who does not believe is closed off to any evidence. At that moment of doubt, we are placed at a crossroads of whether we are going to move closer into Christ and His truth or if we are going to move further away from Him in unbelief. Are we open to receive instruction or are we closed off?
As I studied this topic last week, I was shocked to think through how prevalent this idea is. Doubt is common in our culture, particularly when things do not turn out the way we think they should. I'll try to address that topic a bit tomorrow.
Until then, if you want to listen to this sermon or read my notes, you can find them HERE (audio usually posted by Tuesday night).