Doubts about God (Matthew 11:2-19 & Luke 7:18-35)
Have you ever had doubts about God? Have you ever had doubts about his power or even if he is real? Is this OK to doubt Go? Is doubt allowed? Can you be a strong Christian and still doubt? Well, that is what we see happening in this passage today.
The greatest prophet to ever exist, John the Baptist, has doubts about Jesus. However, we see that the reality is that even for those who seem to be the most faithful, faith is sometimes hard. Doubting does not prove that a man has no faith, but only that his faith is small. And even when our faith is small, the Lord is ready to help us.
Doubt is natural within faith. It comes because of our human weakness. However, there is a difference between doubt and unbelief. Unbelief is the decision to live your life as if there is no God. It is a deliberate decision to reject Jesus Christ and all that he stands for. However, doubt is something quite different. Doubt arises within the context of faith. It is a thoughtful longing to be sure of the things in which we trust.
Doubt is natural, right? And God does not leave us hanging. God does not want us to have a blind faith, but an educated one. So if someone walks up and tells you that someone was raised from the dead, you’re naturally not going to believe them. And if someone tells you that they were born of a virgin, you’re naturally not going to believe them either because that’s physically impossible. But that is what the Bible calls us to believe, but since God knows how unbelievable those events are he makes sure that he gives us ample proof to show us that these things are impossible, unless the God of the universe intercedes for nothing is impossible with God. (Platt, 2012)
Look with me in our passage today starting with Matthew 11 versus 2-6. Here we see that despite John the Baptist’s doubts, Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah. Look at verse three, John asks the question, are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else? Why is this question surprising? Read Matthew 3 verses 13 through17.
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.
It is surprising because John was there when the heavens opened up and God declared that this was his son, whom he was well pleased and show the spirit descend upon him like a dove. So if anyone should live without a doubt that Jesus Christ is Lord, it should be John the Baptist, right? So what caused his doubt?
Well, the answer is the same things that cause our doubts. First being difficult circumstances. When we go through discouragement, we forget that God is God and God is good. John is probably concerned because his present imprisonment does not match his understanding of the Coming One’s arrival, which was to bring blessing on those who repented and judgment on those who did not. John probably thought that he was going to have a miraculous release from prison, but instead he has a prolonged imprisonment and his disappointment that a baptism of fire had not yet occurred.
This leads us to our second reason why we doubt God and that is unmet expectations. After all, this is the Messiah of whom it was prophesied in the Old Testament, “He will proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.” On a broader level, it was becoming clear by this point that Jesus was not meeting many of the expectations that many Jewish people had for the Messiah. John had prophesied, “Judgment is coming with the Christ,” but the Roman system was still in place. And John was in jail because of it! Roman authority still reigned, sin was still rampant, political and religious corruption still ruled, everything seemed like it was the same it had been the same for generations, and John is thinking, “Isn’t the Messiah the one who is going to deliver us from all of this?” Instead, He is spending time with irreligious sinners, teaching them about forgiveness, and he is not fasting. (Platt, 2012)
As John the Baptist waits in his jail cell, it reminds us of Elijah in chapter 19 of 1 Kings. We see similarities because John the Baptist just like Elijah yearned for one thing and one thing only, as far as we know, through the whole course of their existences as prophets of the Lord—they wanted to see God glorified in Israel. They wanted Israel to turn back to God. They wanted repentance. They wanted conversion. They wanted to be the instrument of conversion and restoration in Israel so Israel glorified God. Then they get a message saying they are going to be dead because of their message that God had given them. They realize: It is not going to happen the way they dreamed. It is not going to happen.
Difficult situations, unmet expectations, and in the midst of it all the third reason why we doubt is because of our limited perception. John simply did not understand everything that was going on around him, so he sends these disciples with the question. Sometimes we only see one piece to the puzzle and it does not make sense to us, but God sees all the pieces and knows the beautiful picture that it is going to make when it is put together.
Just as John the Baptist had no idea how this story of Jesus the Messiah was going to play out…He had no idea all that God was doing to usher in a totally different type of kingdom that was more than just a political regime change; God was ushering in redemption of the entire world. But John did not know that, and his perspective was small. And we must remember, whenever we go through trials, through difficult situations with unmet expectations, and questions begin to rise up within us, “Is God real? Is God great? Is God good?” we need to remember that our perspective is always limited, and we have no idea what God is doing. (Platt, 2012)
Now look at verses 4 through 6 in the book of Matthew. Look at what Jesus says,
And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
What is Jesus appealing too? Signs and Wonders? No, he is appealing to Old Testament prophecies. Here we see that Jesus responds to John’s doubt. How does Jesus assure John the Baptist that he is the Messiah? The same way that we should be assured that Jesus is the Messiah, by looking at the prophecies in the Old Testament and how Jesus is fulfilling them. Jesus points us to God’s Word for reassurance when we have doubts.
John is probably concerned because his present imprisonment does not match his understanding of the Coming One’s arrival, which was to bring blessing on those who repented and judgment on those who did not. Jesus’ ministry, however, is in line with prophetic promises about the time of salvation, as seen especially in these descriptions that recall the words of Isaiah: the blind receive sight (cf.9:27–31; Isa. 29:18; 35:5), the lame walk (Isa. 35:6; cf. Matt. 15:30–31), lepers are cured (Isa. 53:4; cf. Matt. 8:1–4), the deaf hear(Isa. 29:18–19; 35:5; cf. Mark 7:32–37), the dead are raised(Isa. 26:18–19; cf.Matt. 10:8; Luke 7:11–17; John 11:1–44), and the good news is preached to the poor (Isa. 61:1; cf. Matt. 5:3; Luke 14:13, 21). Jesus’ deeds gave sufficient proof of who he was and that the prophesied time of salvation had come (“the year of the Lord’s favor”; Isa. 61:1; cf. Isa. 62:1).
This is crucial for us because when we have doubts we too should turn our focus to the Bible. God’s Word is living and speaking to us and is the only measure of truth that we have. Therefore, if you doubt God’s love, go to the Bible, if you doubt his goodness, go to the Bible, if you doubt his very existence, then go to the Bible. The Bible will speak for itself, and God is incapable of a lie. Therefore, we can glorify God during our doubts by putting our trust in his Word.
And the next way that we can display God’s glory in the midst of doubt is by Joyful submission. After alluding to these verses in the Old Testament, Jesus ends this section by saying, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me,” basically, “the one who trusts in me.” Amidst difficult situations and unmet expectations, even when it’s not easy and seems contrary to reason and everything you think about the way it should be, based upon biblical revelation, trust in Me, Jesus says. And you will be blessed, that is a promise, blessed is the One who trusts in Me. (Platt, 2012)
Now as John’s disciples leave to take that message back to him, Jesus begins to talk about John to the crowds, we see what he says in the passage in Matthew in verses 7 through 15.
It appears that John the Baptist might be showing signs of fickleness or undisciplined weakness. However, Jesus speaks out to disarm any suspicion by pointing out that the man people went out to see was neither unstable nor faithless. His question arose not from personal weakness or failure, but from misunderstanding about the nature of the Messiah, showing John’s place in salvation history. (Carson, 1995)
Sometimes our doubts make us feel like less of a Christian, but here Jesus makes clear that although John the Baptist has his doubts, he is still the greatest prophet to ever live and is still worthy to be respected. However, not only does Jesus defend John the Baptist, but he gives us very good news as well. We get this news in the second part of verse 11.
Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
What does that mean? Do not miss what Jesus is doing here. Jesus is making a shift from all the people, from the days of Abraham, who have pointed to Christ, and says, “John is the climax of them all,” but none of them, not even the highest of them who came before Me, can compare to the position and privilege that is reserved for all who will come after Me. The picture here is powerful, all of these men, including John the Baptist the greatest prophet of all time had an incomplete picture of the Messiah. What they had was a limited perspective of what the Messiah would do and they spoke about it. But we, even the least person who comes into the kingdom after Jesus, has a greater understanding of the Christ, the Messiah, than everyone who came before Him.
Do you realize what Jesus is saying? John was the greatest prophet, and for that he is to be celebrated and commended, but brothers and sisters in the kingdom since the coming of Christ, We have [an even] greater privilege. And position than he did! Think about it! As we just saw, even in all of his greatness, John was unclear on all that the Messiah would do, but we know all that the Messiah has done. And we have the privilege of proclaiming the crucified and resurrected King to the ends of the earth, what a position in redemptive history that we have! Even the least Christian since Pentecost, would have greater spiritual resources than John due to the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Take hold of this, let us be faithful to our task, a task that is greater than all the prophets of the Old Testament. D. A. Carson wrote:
“So often Christians want to establish their ‘greatness’ with reference to their work, their giving, their intelligence, their preaching, their gifts, their courage, their discernment. But Jesus unhesitatingly affirmed that even the least believer is greater than Moses or John the Baptist, simply because of his or her ability, living on this side of the coming of Jesus the Messiah, to point him out with greater clarity and understanding than all his forerunners ever could. If we really believe this truth, it will dissipate all cheap vying for position [in this world] and force us to recognize that our true significance lies [simply] in our witness to the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Platt, 2012)
Do you understand what that means? You are more privileged than even John the Baptist, the greatest prophet ever to live, so when you witness, when you read scripture, when fast, when you pray, and when you are making disciples, you are doing so with more of an advantage than John the Baptist had. However, it will not be easy.
In verse 12, we see that we will be opposed by this world. In other words, as we are advancing the kingdom of heaven, we just like John, Jesus, and the rest of the disciples will face persecution. This greater privilege of proclamation comes with a price, a promise of opposition. Just as John’s message provoked opposition and Jesus’ message provoked opposition, so our message of the Messiah will provoke opposition. We will be opposed by this world, and We will be criticized in this world.
Remember this is not the only place that we get a promise that we will be persecuted. Look back at chapter 5 of Matthew. This is where we received the beatitudes, and remember, we said that if you are a true Christian that you will naturally display the beatitudes. So what does the last beatitude say?
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Remember it was the only beatitude that received any explanation, and Jesus went on to explain why true believers will face persecution by saying:
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Now in our final section of the passage today we will see even more of reason why it is that our message of hope will not be accepted. We see this in verses 16 through 19 of Matthew that many people will reject the Gospel message because they will act like spoiled children and refuse to play either a sad or a happy game, there is no pleasing them. They whine like children because John and Jesus had different styles: one ministered in the desert frugally, while the other roamed freely among the people and approached the rejected and sinful of society.
Indeed, the response to John was a test of one’s response to Jesus. To reject one was to reject the other. In addition, John’s rejection was not because of his style, but because of his message. When the style changed, the message was still rejected. The passage argues that one should take note because after Jesus there is no other.
Many in the world will act in hardness to the Gospel, but wisdom, right living before God, will be justified in the end. In this passage, we see that the people reject the gospel because John and Jesus do not conform to their expectations, so the people continue to do what they want. Therefore, we are to accept the Gospel and we can take confidence without a doubt that the Gospel saves because we will display wisdom and fruit of the spirit.
So the question needs to be asked, where do you stand? What do you think of John and Jesus? Are these messengers of God to be followed? Will you side with wisdom? Or, Will you be like the complaining children, wanting God to play by your rules?
Jesus is the promised Messiah. And even in the middle of difficult situations, unmet expectations, and limited perception, He is worthy of your trust. And it is worth it to give your life telling people about who He is. So fight doubt in this world and fight fear of this world with faith in the promised Messiah. He is the promised Messiah, AND…He is the authoritative Judge.