Theme: Skepticism about Jesus as the Christ is alleviated through acceptance of God’s Word.
Introduction: The issue of doubt is a contest inherent in faith. When you consider the issue of doubt, you recognize that in order to doubt, you must first believe! What you don’t believe, you cannot doubt … you simply deny. Doubt is the exercise of the mind whereby you desire confirmation of what you believe. Hence, it is a means to the end of greater belief and is helpful when the energy associated with doubt leads one toward confirmation and not outright denial. This is the very sentiment communicated by the father of the demoniac In Mark 9:23-24 who came to Jesus and in response to Jesus’ statement: “All things are possible to him who believes,” the man “cried out and said, ‘I do believe; help my unbelief.’”
Doubt can result from the presence of sinful conduct – whereby one’s indulgence in sinful activity conflicts with what we know we ought to do and be. Our rebellion creates a disparity with our identity in Christ and we doubt what we have believed – thinking that we have “believed in vain.” Such doubt is designed to check the progress of our indulgence and call us back to faithfulness to the grace of the Lord in being an overcomer and victor through that grace. Yet, doubt creeps into our minds at unexpected, intermittent times when we cannot explain why. Our text today provide us great insight into not only the arousal of doubt, but our anchor in the midst of doubt. Finally, we are given the allegiance that we must maintain in the midst of our struggles with doubt.
I. The Arousal of Doubt is Certain – 7:18-19
A. Personal Tragedy – v. 18
- The context of our text is Luke’s desire to demonstrate that Jesus is the Messiah – and has been developing this through his careful examination of the life of Christ.
- He has been intensifying the awareness of the credentials of Christ throughout his presentation – culminating in the previous section with His ability to overcome death through the power as the Lord of Life.
- Immediately, Luke decides to address the issue of doubt head-on – reporting the struggle with doubt that a man identified as “the greatest person who had ever been born” – cp. Matthew 11:11
- Luke shares: “The disciples of John reported to him about all these things. Summoning two of his disciples, John sent them to the Lord, saying, ‘Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?’”
- John had every privilege and provision of truth that was available at the time –
- John had leapt in the womb of his mother when Jesus was in the womb of Mary,
- … grown up in Jesus’ extended family with parents who were persuaded that Jesus was the Messiah (Elisabeth & Zecharias),
- … prophesied that the Messiah was coming, …
- … announced the arrival of the Messiah, identifying Jesus as the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,
- … declared his unworthiness to baptize Jesus,
- … baptized Jesus to inaugurate His Messianic ministry,
- … listened to the voice of God affirming His Son,
- … declared that Jesus must increase, and John must decrease.
- … proclaimed that the axe was at the roots of the tree in judgment at the hands of the Messiah (Luke 3:9)
- His confidence in his vision of what the Messiah would do had given him confidence to boldly & fearlessly confront the sin of Herod & Herodias – guilty of immorality, divorce, incest and a host of other sins – cp. Mark 6:17
- His expectation was that the Messiah was “make all things right” – and his negative circumstances were confusing him since he had sought to be a faithful and sacrificial servant of the Lord.
- Again, when a person is in rebellion and sin, negative circumstances are able to be explained – but, when a person is faithful, devout, and sacrificial in their service to God, they have a hard time explaining difficulty.
B. Partial Revelation – v. 18
- Another reality that John struggled with was a lack of complete revelation concerning the agenda for the Messiah.
- We are told that while he was incarcerated, his connection to Jesus and what He was doing was limited.
- We are told that he was dependent on the reports that his disciples would bring to him – “The disciples of John reported to him about all these things.”
- He wasn’t able to have personal, first-hand information about Christ – but relied on the reports of others.
- Additionally, he was lacking a major detail in God’s agenda – the reality of the distinction between the 1st and 2nd Advents and the purpose of God to call out for Himself a people from among the Gentiles.
- The rejection of the Messiah by the people was not something that John and the Messiah’s leaving the house of Israel in desolation until the 2nd Advent was a total mystery to John.
- Often our own doubt results from our ignorance of God’s Word – we have failed to properly discern the plan of God to bring Himself glory in our lives, the attending graces that He promises to provide, and the revealed obligations to remain faithful and true to Him for “better or for worse.”
C. Popular Opinion – v. 19
- A third and related cause of doubt is the influences of popular opinion (or conventional wisdom).
- The prevailing opinion of the day was that the Messiah was going to come and crush Rome as a conquering king.
- According to the Jewish religious leadership, prior to the coming of the Messiah, God was going to send a series of prophets who would “reappear” – to prove God’s activity in sending the Messiah – cp. Matthew 16:13-14
- Hence, John asks Jesus: “Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?”
- In other words, are you the Messiah … or simply one of the expected prophets?
- In our day, a majority of “Christians” believe that God wants them to be healthy, wealthy, and happy – that anything that conflicts with this is not from God.
- When they experience anything such as disease, deprivation, distress, or difficult causes them to question God’s sovereignty – not knowing that there are times when God brings these things into our lives to refine us or give to us the opportunity to glorify Him.
- The ungodly can glorify God when they know health and wealth, but only genuine recipients of grace can glorify God when live is difficult, diseased, and distressed.
D. Presumptuous Expectations – vv. 19
- Connected to all of the previous three, this cause for doubt expects God to make things right by judging sinners.
- This is why his preaching was so focused on repentance – calling people to get right.
- He condemned the Pharisees declaring that the axe is already at the roots – a God-given prophecy, but improperly interpreted by John as a reference to something that would happen immediately.
- When Jesus didn’t fulfill John’s expectations to bring swift and soon judgment, he was confused – “… do we look for someone else?”
- What are some ways that you have found to prioritize truth over experience?
- Why is it necessary to carefully screen undesirable voices – that is, those that conflict with Scripture?
- When you have struggled with doubt, are there any common stimuli? What can you learn from this?