Dealing with Doubts

Posted: October 16, 2016 in Luke, Uncategorized

Luke 7:18-35, “Dealing with Doubts”

People don’t often know what to do with doubt.  Some Christians fear it, thinking that the least amount of doubt will somehow be an affront to God, and they will be guilty of great sin.  Hardened skeptics often embrace it, retreating into doubt as their supposedly logical excuse not to believe the evidence around them.  Few know what to do with it.

A quick Google search on “how to deal with doubt” brings up article after article on the subject.  Some by fine writers & theologians – others from people whose credentials ought to be questioned.  In either case, many of the articles have a certain number of steps to dealing with doubt (5 steps, 7 steps, etc.).  Although there are several minor things that can help, I suggest that there is one single major step that is most important than all the others: take your doubts to Jesus.  Do this, and everything else follows.  When we take our doubts to Jesus, then we find it easier to start relying upon His word and promises.  When we take our doubts to Jesus, then we can remember the things He has done for us in the past.  When we take our doubts to Jesus, we can take all kinds of practical steps in relieving our doubts, simply because we were honest with ourselves in the first place.  We wanted the truth, so we sought out the Truth & found Him, because Truth is a person.  “I am the way, the truth, and the life – no one comes to the Father except through Me.” (Jn 14:6)

In our text, the person who was most obviously struggling with doubts of his own is someone we wouldn’t expect: John the Baptist.  Surely John was a man who ought to have been steadfast in his faith, right?  This was a man who had truly known God, known his calling, and had witnessed God’s personal affirmation of His Son.  If any human being ought to have been exempt from doubts regarding Jesus, it was John.  But no – John the Baptist struggled with doubts, just like everyone else. 

How did John deal with his doubts?  Head-on.  He took them to Jesus, just like we ought to do.

Luke 7:18–35

  • Questioning Jesus (18-23)

18 Then the disciples of John reported to him concerning all these things.

  • By this point in the book, Luke’s narration of John the Baptist had primarily come to an end.  He (like Jesus) had a miraculous birth, and was filled with the Holy Spirit as he performed his ministry.  John preached repentance and the kingdom, all the time preparing the way for the Messiah.  Eventually Jesus appeared to him, and John recognized Him as the Messiah of God, baptized Him, and heard God’s proclamation that Jesus was His beloved Son, in whom God was well-pleased (Lk 3:22).  God had specifically prepared John to recognize the Messiah when the Holy Spirit came upon Him like a dove, and upon seeing that, John was firm in his testimony that Jesus is the Christ/Messiah (Jn 1:29-34).  Although Luke’s gospel didn’t say much more, John’s ministry apparently continued for quite a while after Jesus’ baptism, to the point that he & his disciples actually noticed John’s crowds start to dwindle as the ministry of Jesus grew.  This wasn’t a bad thing.  On the contrary – John rejoiced in it, reaffirming that this was exactly what was supposed to happen with the Messiah (Jn 3:22-30).
  • What happened next?  We don’t really know, as the gospel narratives primarily follow the ministry of Jesus, rather than John.  At some point (however much time passed), John was jailed by Herod Antipas, after John preached the righteousness of God to him regarding Herod’s sin (Lk 3:19-20).  He was generally an evil man, but added to his sins by taking his brother’s wife (Herodias) to himself as his own wife.  Herodias wanted John dead, while Herod was content to leave him in prison.  Eventually she would trick her husband into having John beheaded, but that was still some time yet in the future.
  • At this point in Luke’s narrative, John is still alive – jailed, but still attended to by his disciples.  John may have been locked up, but Jesus’ ministry was flourishing.  According to Luke’s telling, it was filled with all kinds of signs & wonders, while Jesus continued to preach about the kingdom of God & the need to walk with God in humility and faith.  One major teaching section had just concluded (the Sermon on the Plain), and more miracles had taken place – massively important miracles, at that!  First, Jesus showed Himself to have all authority over time, space, sickness, and nations, as He healed the slave of a Roman centurion without needing even to come near him.  The centurion that the faith that Jesus could simply speak a word of healing, and it would be enough…and it was.  The pagan Roman centurion had more faith than anyone Jesus had yet seen in Israel.  Beyond that, Jesus demonstrated His power even more abundantly when He went to the tiny village of Nain and raised a man from the dead in the sight of the whole town.  No doubt all of Jesus’ miracles caught a lot of attention, but these two would have stood out among the rest.  As news of this traveled to some disciples of John the Baptist, they understood they needed to pass it on to their teacher in jail.  They may not have known how John would have reacted, but they knew he would want to know about it.

19 And John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to Jesus, saying, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?”

  • John’s reaction seems a bit curious.  He just heard the news of Jesus performing impossible miracles of healing – including even resurrection from the dead!  And yet he sends two of his disciples to ask Jesus whether or not He is really the Messiah.  “Are You the Coming One?” – i.e. “Are You the person I was told to expect?  Are You the one who was prophesied to come from God as His own Son & as the King of Israel?  Or is there someone else?”  Why ask?  Keep in mind that John had already testified of Jesus, having received assurances from God that Jesus IS the Expected One, the Messiah.  Why ask all over again?  What was it about these miracles that caused John to question & doubt?
  • They were miracles, but they weren’t the miracles John was looking for.  These were great things, but these were things done by other prophets in the past.  Moses had taught the word of God and performed miracles.  Elijah and Elisha were known for powerful signs & wonders, even raising the dead.  It seems that John was wondering: what made Jesus any different?  He had proclaimed Jesus to be the King of Israel, but where was the kingdom?  If Jesus is the victorious Messiah, the Son of David, why was His messenger John still in jail?
  • Were there answers for these questions?  Of course…but that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with, especially during times of suffering and hardship.  John the Baptist (very understandably) doubted.  He had a moment when he looked around at his life, thought over what he thought he knew about the Scriptures, and said, “This doesn’t add up.”
    • Have you ever doubted the Lord?  Ever struggled with questions of “Do I really believe all I say that I believe?”  You’re not alone.  All kinds of Christians struggle with doubt from time to time.  Not that we often admit it…we want to put on a public face that we’re always full of faith & never have a moment that we doubt God or question even the slightest of His promises.  But that’s just not true.  Strong, faithful, mature believers still struggle with doubt from time to time.  The prophet Elijah ran for his life into the wilderness after experiencing a major spiritual victory, and it took the whispers of God to draw him out.  David routinely wrote in the Psalms of his struggles with faith, as did some of the other unknown psalmists.  John the Baptist was surely one of the strongest saints of all time prior to Jesus, and even he had his time of questioning.  And it isn’t just limited to people of the Old Testament.  There’s a reason that Thomas has the nickname “Doubting Thomas,” among the 12 disciples.  Simon Peter seemed to sink into depression and doubts after his famous failure, and had to be brought out again and restored by the Resurrected Jesus.  Doubts are common with all Christians.  Doubts don’t make you a bad Christian – they just affirm that you’re normal.
  • So what do you do about it?  If you doubt, don’t deny it; deal with it.  That’s what John did.  He dealt with his doubts head-on as he sent two of his disciples to Jesus to ask Him a direct question.  Vs. 20…

20 When the men had come to Him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to You, saying, ‘Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?’ ” 21 And that very hour He cured many of infirmities, afflictions, and evil spirits; and to many blind He gave sight.

  • The men were faithful to ask the question exactly as John had phrased it.  There was no question that Jesus was a Man sent by God, but was He THE Man?  Was He the expected “Coming One,” or was there someone else for whom John ought to be watching?  John was in prison, but was his ministry in regards to the Messiah over, or was there more for him to do?  Again, these were honest questions and doubts, and John was right to deal with them directly.  He may have had questions for Jesus, but he understood that Jesus was big enough to handle his questions.  Jesus is not easily offended.  He isn’t petty.  Just because a believer has questions every now & again doesn’t mean that Jesus is going to cast us off & forsake us.  Perish the thought!  No – God made us, and He knows how we think.  He knows that we will sometimes struggle and have doubts & other questions.  And He still loves us.  Far better to bring our struggles to the Lord, than to wallow in them unresolved!  Unsettled doubts turn into cynicism – cynicism leads to heartache, and even apostasy.  How many former-Christians have you met?  They had an issue that was never resolved, and it became a stumbling block between them & Jesus.  Whether or not they had ever been truly born-again is a theological problem for another time, but the fact was that they looked Christian, and now they publicly reject Christianity.  If they had just taken their doubts to Jesus & dealt with them, their outcome might be vastly different.
  • The thing to remember is that there are answers to our doubts!  We might have questions that are difficult, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t answers available.  We just need to be open to the answer that God provides us.  After all, sometimes the answer isn’t so much a “what” as it is a “who.”  For all of Job’s questions & doubts, he never once received an answer to his question of why all of his tragedies came upon him.  (Why his wealth was taken away, children killed, and his own health was in misery.)  What he did get was an answer as to Who he could trust in the midst of it all: God.  God had made the heavens & earth & had Job right in the palm of His hand.  Thus the answer to Job’s question was a Person – the Person of God.  Likewise for John the Baptist.  The answer he was looking for was indeed in Christ Jesus – he just needed to be reminded of how Jesus identified Himself, which is what Jesus will go on to explain.
  • Luke notes that the question of John’s disciples could not have come at a better time.  They arrived asking if Jesus was the Coming One, and it was at “that very hour” that Jesus was involved in His healing ministry.  Apparently He was in the middle of some vast crowd, and all kinds of healings were taking place.  So much was going on that Luke basically summarizes it all in general categories.  People were healed of “infirmities, afflictions, and evil spirits”…even blindness.  Elsewhere any one of these miracles might have received individual attention in the gospel books, but at this point there were too many to count.  People were being healed left & right.  It was like one of the healing crusades often shown on TV, except it was for real & without all of the shills in the audience.  Imagine going up to Jesus with questions of doubts as to His identity, and finding Him in a hospital healing all of the patients as He walked up & down the hallway.  To ask Jesus at a time like that if He is really the Son of God almost seems silly – but there’s no question that you had all the evidence you could ever need.
  • That was the point that Jesus made to them.  Vs. 22…

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.

  • “Want evidence?  Look around!”  It ought to have been clear who Jesus is by the works that He did.  In fact, that is one of the ways Jesus told the Jews in Jerusalem how to recognize Him as the Messiah.  Jesus spoke of four independent witnesses of Himself: John the Baptist, God the Father, the Scriptures, and the works of Jesus – John 5:36, "But I have a greater witness than John’s; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish—the very works that I do—bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me."  Everything that Jesus did provided one more piece of evidence of who Jesus is.  That includes all of the miracles of healing.  Had other prophets performed healing miracles?  Sure…but none to the extent of Jesus.  Depending on how one counts, Elijah and Elisha performed around 42 miracles between the two of them, roughly 6 of them being healings.  How many miracles did Jesus perform?  We haven’t a clue!  There are 37 accounts of miracles (all pre-crucifixion…the Resurrection, Ascension & other events are counted separately), but many of these are multiple miracles at one time (such as Lk 7:21-22, and including the other 27 accounts of Jesus’ healings).  It was seemingly routine for Jesus to perform dozens of miracles at one time, which is why the gospel writers began grouping them together in large categories.  And as large as that number is, if we counted each person who was fed during the two times that Jesus multiplied loaves and fishes, the number jumps into the thousands.  And those are just the recorded miracles!  As the apostle John wrote, there were many other things that Jesus said & did, and no book in the world is big enough to hold it all. (Jn 21:25)  The point?  Jesus’ miracles are a massive witness to His identity!  We cannot look at Jesus’ miracles & simply lump Him in with other miracle-working prophets.  He far outweighs them all!
  • Beyond that, the type of miracles performed by Jesus were incredibly significant.  Jesus lists them out for John, and this list ought to have sounded pretty familiar to him – especially as a student of the writings of Isaiah.  Isaiah 35:5–6, "(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."  The words that spoke of the Messiah’s future kingdom were coming true right then & there in the present day.  Everything the Scriptures foretold about the Coming King were coming true.  So yes, John (and his disciples) could look around at the works of Jesus and know that yes, He indeed is the Messiah!
  • Objection: “Not everything came true, did it?  There were some things Isaiah prophesied about the Messiah that were still off in the future.”  True.  And some of those things may have been exactly the stumbling block for John.  Isaiah 61:1–2, "(1) “The 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,"  When in Nazareth earlier in His ministry, Jesus proclaimed this prophecy (all the way to the 1st part of vs. 2) fulfilled (Lk 4:21).  And yet, not all was done literally – much of this had a spiritual fulfillment.  Most notably for John the Baptist, those who were literally in prison were not literally freed – Jesus primarily spoke of the spiritual freedom from sin & death that He offered through the gospel.  (Although there would be literal freedom from those actually imprisoned in the grave!)  But for John, he was still in jail & he may have been wondering about this very promise (and/or a similar one in Isa 42:7).  When would his freedom come?  Was he included in the earthly ministry of Jesus?
    • And the answer is yes.  John was in jail, but that was part of the ministry that God had planned for him.  The same God who worked miracles through the hands of Jesus was working His will through the sufferings of John the Baptist.  How can we know?  Because in Jesus’ listing of His works, He went from smallest to greatest.  He began with physical maladies being healed – progressed to the dead being raised to life – and concluded with the gospel being preached to the poor.  Is the gospel really the greatest miracle?  You bet!  This was the reason Jesus came!  Jesus certainly healed a lot of people of a lot of diseases, but He didn’t come to be a walking ICU or hospital ER.  He didn’t come to make sick people temporarily well.  He came to give life to those who were dead.  He came so that men and women might be forgiven by God & eternally reconciled with Him.  John had a critical role in all of that, and God was using him right where he was, so that people’s attention would be on Christ Jesus.
    • We dare not lose sight of why Jesus came!  He didn’t come to make this world a better place (though He does, and so do we as we walk according to His precepts).  He didn’t come to heal people of their diseases (though He did, and still does as He moves within His will among people of faith).  Jesus did all sorts of good things, and there are all kinds of practical benefits from living according to His ways, but that isn’t the main thing.  We have to keep the main thing, the main thing.  And the main thing is the gospel!  The main thing is His work to satisfy the wrath of God towards sin, reconcile us back to God the Father, and right every wrong in the universe through His death and resurrection.  THAT is the reason Jesus came!  He came to seek & save that which was lost, and to glorify His Father.  Everything else is just a bonus. 

23 And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me.”

  • The word Jesus uses for “offended” is interesting in that it relates to the idea of scandal.  In fact, our word “scandalize” is a direct derivative of the Greek verb (σκανδαλίζω).  It comes from a word that refers to a trap, and the original idea for the word (from a passive sense) was to let oneself be trapped or ensnared.  It came to be used in referring to being caught up in sin, or simply being offended (as the NKJV & others translate).  Can you imagine being scandalized by Jesus?  That’s what happened to John, or at least what John was in danger of allowing.  Like a stone in the road, John was about to stumble over Jesus, and fall into the trap of his own doubts.  His doubts were about to get the better of him, and that was a true danger.
  • Be careful not to get the idea that Jesus is chastising John.  With the way Jesus goes on to speak about John the Baptist, it’s clear He had nothing but respect for the man.  What He is doing is warning him.  It’s one thing to encounter doubts from time to time & wrestle with them – it’s another thing to remain in those doubts, letting them take a foothold.  One other possible translation of the general idea behind “σκανδαλίζω” is “to fall away.”  To let our doubts so traumatize our faith in Jesus to the point that we would fall away from Him is an awful thought.  And yet, was that not what John was contemplating?  He sent his disciples to ask Jesus if He was the Messiah, or if there was another.  “Are You the One, or not?  Because if not, I don’t want to waste my time, and I’ll go looking for someone else.”  John was actively considering apostasy.  That’s true scandal & stumbling!  And this is exactly what Jesus was warning John against doing.  “Don’t turn away – don’t look for anyone else.  How happy is the person who doesn’t turn aside from faith in Me!”
    • Again, everyone questions from time to time.  Every born-again Christian will struggle with doubts at some point.  But there’s a difference between wrestling with doubts, and being rolled over by them.  There’s a difference between stubbing your toe on your walk of faith, versus stumbling so much that you fall off the path altogether.  Questions are normal – but deal with them.  Don’t let them fester and turn into something worse.  Don’t let your doubts lead you to despair away from Jesus.  The Christian who’s happiest isn’t necessarily the one who’s never struggled with doubts, but the one who has struggled & come out on the other side with a stronger faith.

Although this was a personal question from John to Jesus (via his two disciples), it seems that it took place in a public setting.  After all, Jesus was currently in the process of healing untold numbers of people at the very moment John’s disciples arrived.  Thus anyone in earshot would have heard the question to Jesus & His answer in response.  This gave Jesus an opening for a teachable moment with the crowd…especially since there were doubters and skeptics among the crowd to whom Jesus was ministering.

  • Questioning the crowd (24-28)

24 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.

  • Prior to John’s imprisonment, there were many misconceptions about his ministry.  Some wondered if he was one of the earlier Hebrew prophets come again, somehow miraculously returning from heaven.  Others wondered if perhaps John was the Messiah himself.  For all of the unknowns, there were a few certainties about John the Baptist, which Jesus underlines.  (1) He wasn’t weak or without conviction.  No one stumbling across a sermon of John the Baptist would have considered him a weakling with a lack of confidence.  No one would have wondered where he stood on the issue of holiness, repentance, and the judgment of God.  He certainly was no “reed shaken by the wind,” tossed to & fro by every wind of doctrine.  (2) He wasn’t a softie.  He wasn’t some academic who occasionally left his ivory tower to come give his knowledge to the unwashed masses.  He wasn’t a rich man who didn’t have any experience of “real life” like all of the other Jews around him.  Not at all!  He wore clothes of camels’ hair, and ate locusts/grasshoppers for lunch.  If anything, he was a wild man; not a wealthy one.  He was a man who commanded the attention of religious scholars, tax collectors, soldiers, and the average Joe.  All kinds of Jews from all over Judea came to see him.  They understood him to be a powerful man of God.  And as Jesus points out, they understood John to be a prophet…

26 But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet. 27 This is he of whom it is written: ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You.’

  • Was John a prophet?  Without question.  He was the last of all of the prophets of the Old Testament (covenant).  He came in the spirit and power of Elijah (Lk 1:17), and truly spoke forth the proclamation of God to God’s people.  Not everyone liked his message, but no one could ignore him.
  • But that wasn’t all he was.  John was a prophet, but as Jesus said, he was “more than a prophet.”  He was a special prophet – a specific prophet – a prophet with a named mission from God in regards to the Messiah: the “Messenger.”  Interestingly, the word for “messenger” in Greek is same word translated elsewhere as “angel,” (an angel being a “messenger” from God).  Obviously John was a normal human being & no heavenly creature, but he was a God-sent messenger sent to “prepare” the way for the Messiah.  The Scripture Jesus quotes is Malachi 3:1 (LXX), and it is commonly understood in Messianic terms.  Malachi 3:1, "Behold, I send My messenger, And he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, Will suddenly come to His temple, Even the Messenger of the covenant, In whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,” Says the LORD of hosts."  (Fun fact: “My messenger” is literally Malachi in Hebrew. מַלְאָכִ֔י )  The prophecy speaks plainly of a messenger coming prior to the Messiah, Who would eventually be seen suddenly in the Jerusalem temple, and this Messiah would Himself be a Messenger of the covenant of God (i.e. the new covenant).  In a sense, Malachi 3:1 sees both the 1st and 2nd comings of Christ (something not uncommon in OT prophecy), but Jesus’ point was that John the Baptist was central to this.  John was this messenger.  This messenger was faithful to prepare the way for God so that God Himself could come among His people and show them His glory.  So was he a prophet?  Sure – but he was much more than that!
    • BTW – as born-again believers in Jesus, we share a similar role as John the Baptist.  Obviously Jesus’ way (His mission) has already been prepared, but like John, we have also been commissioned as the messengers of God.  We have been given the Great Commission, commanded to go out into all the world specifically to make disciples of all the nations.  So likewise, we also prepare people to see Jesus.  When we share the gospel with others, they will also know that there is a God in heaven to whom they must answer, but this God loves them & has sent them Jesus to give them His grace.  Whether or not they receive Jesus as Savior is unknown, but at the very least, they have been prepared.
  • Of course it doesn’t take a 21st century preacher to make application from John the Baptist to every born-again believer.  Jesus did it first (and best!).  Vs. 28…

28 For I say to you, among those born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist; but he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

  • It’d be tough to find a greater compliment than this.  There were some amazing prophets sent to the Hebrew nation.  Elijah and Elisha worked incredible miracles, calling down fire from heaven & raising the dead.  Ezekiel and Isaiah each had visions of the throne of God, and they were incredibly blessed to see God’s glory with their own eyes.  And of course, Moses surpasses them all, not only seeing the glory of God, working the miracles of God, providing the word of God, but actually speaking with God as a man does with his friend: face to face (Exo 33:11).  And yet Jesus says there’s a prophet greater than them all: John the Baptist.  Moses wrote the first 5 books of the Bible; so far as we know, John didn’t write a single letter.  Elijah worked amazing miracles; John isn’t recorded doing one.  Yet John is greater.  By what metric?  God’s.  Jesus said so, and that’s enough.
  • And it makes sense.  After all, the other prophets of the Old Testament did some truly amazing things, but not one of them had the privilege of preparing the way for the Messiah.  Almost all of them prophesied of Jesus in some way, but only John walked with Him, spoke with Him, presented Him to others, and even baptized Him.  John the Baptist had privileges that previous prophets could have only imagined.  Moses spoke with the Lord God, and saw the rear-parts of His glory – John the Baptist looked into God’s eyes, and witnessed the Triune God testify of the Son.  Truly, John was the greatest of all the prophets!
  • But even with all of this, Jesus says there is something better.  As great as John may have been, “he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”  You & I as born-again Christians are greater than John the Baptist.  Every single New Testament believer is greater than the greatest of the Old Testament prophets.  That’s not to say that John the Baptist didn’t know the Lord Jesus in faith & isn’t somehow included in the kingdom of heaven – not at all.  Simply that in John’s Old Testament role, the New Testament privileges are greater.  The man and woman who is least in the kingdom of God has still received a new spiritual birth by the Holy Spirit.  Those who are least in the kingdom still have the Holy Spirit indwelling them.  Those who are least in the kingdom still have spiritual gifts, power over sin in the present, a down-payment on eternity, and the privilege of being co-heirs with the Son of God.  As great as John’s Old Testament role may have been, it didn’t include any of that.  The privileges of belonging to the Lord Jesus as His kingdom citizens are tremendous!
    • And the best part is that it isn’t limited to only a select few.  Anyone can receive of the grace of Jesus Christ!  Anyone can be made a child of God, simply by responding in repentance & faith towards the Lord Jesus.  Confess the Lord Jesus with your mouth, believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, and you will be saved! (Rom 10:9) 
  • Questioning motives (29-35)

29 And when all the people heard Him, even the tax collectors justified God, having been baptized with the baptism of John. 30 But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.

  • There were two basic categories of people listening to Jesus that day, in regards to John the Baptist: those who had heard him & believed, and those who heard him & did not.  The ones who saw the righteousness of God through the ministry of John the Baptist had responded by being baptized.  John had preached against their sin, pointing them to the Holy God, and preparing them to see the Messiah.  They knew their only hope was to humble themselves before God & receive His mercy & start all over again – which is what John’s baptism symbolized.  And all kinds of people responded in this way: the general masses, the tax collectors, soldiers, and more. 
  • However, others did not.  The “Pharisees and lawyers” (or “scribes”) heard John’s message, but they rejected him – and thus “rejected the will of God for themselves.”  John had preached against their religious hypocrisy, and they bristled.  In their minds, they were already self-righteous in the sight of God, so what need would they have to humble themselves in repentance and baptism?  What need did they have of mercy if they were already justified before God?  And of course, that was the problem.  They were not justified before God.  They may have been self-righteous, but they weren’t truly righteous.  Their supposed good works were nothing but filthy rags in the sight of God.  Their religious rituals had not left them justified, but condemned.  They preached the letter of the law, but violated the heart of it.  Thus they rejected not only John the Baptist, but Jesus.  After all, they preached the same message.  To reject one is to reject the other.
  • Jesus knew they had a problem with both He & John, and He called them out on it…

31 And the Lord said, “To what then shall I liken the men of this generation, and what are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, saying: ‘We played the flute for you, And you did not dance; We mourned to you, And you did not weep.’

  • Imagine a scenario where a group of young musicians arrives offering to play requests.  Yet no song selection from the people makes the audience happy.  They don’t dance to the happy tunes, nor did they cry with the sad ballads.  Nothing the musicians do makes the audience happy.  That’s the way it was with John & Jesus, in how they were received the Pharisees, scribes, and other religious elites.  Vs. 33…

33 For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ 34 The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’

  • It’s the classic catch-22.  John was too puritanical, and Jesus was too permissive – at least in the eyes of the Pharisees.  The Pharisees couldn’t keep up with the holy righteous standard laid down by John, and when they looked at who Jesus spent His time with, they thought He was a libertine party-goer.  Obviously, both viewpoints are exaggerations.  John lived and preached righteousness, but he did not preach slavish legalism or works-righteousness.  (That was actually the forté of the Pharisees!)  Jesus welcomed all kinds of people to come into His presence, but never once did He personally engage in sin.  He is the only person in history to live a life of absolute purity in the sight of God.  If Jesus had walled Himself off from sinners, He wouldn’t have hung around anyone!  Jesus had to be around sinners if He was to be around anyone at all. 
  • The point?  The Pharisees and scribes had no reason for their rejection.  They had many excuses for not listening to either John or Jesus, but that’s all they were: excuses.  They had already shut their ears & their hearts to the truth of God.  Once that happened, it didn’t matter who preached in front of them.  They weren’t interested in listening at all, which is what Jesus goes on to say…

35 But wisdom is justified by all her children.”

  • Actions speak louder than words.  The Pharisees claimed certain things about God, but they refused to humble themselves in baptism.  The tax collectors knew they had nothing in the sight of God, and that’s exactly why they were so ready to be baptized.  Which group was truly wise?  The ones who had listened to God’s messenger, and had prepared themselves to meet God’s Messiah.
  • It’s interesting, isn’t it?  The whole conversation had begun with the doubts of John concerning Jesus, and by the time it came to a close, Jesus was talking about the doubts of the Pharisees.  Yet there was a crucial difference between the doubts of John & those of the Pharisees: honesty.  John stumbled for a moment, but he was sincerely seeking the truth the whole time, no matter where it led.  He just wanted to be reassured of the truth in regards to Jesus.  The Pharisees didn’t.  They claimed skepticism & doubt, when in reality it was rebellion.  If they had truly been wise, they would have recognized the truth and responded.  As it was, their rejection of both Jesus & John showed that they cared nothing about the truth in the first place.
    • It’s normal to have doubts from time to time.  Honest people experience honest questions.  But hardened skepticism has nothing to do with honesty.  Someone who is unwilling to be persuaded to the truth isn’t really interested in the truth at all.  When it comes to Jesus, the truth is evident & abundant.  He really did do all of the miracles.  He really did preach the truth of God.  He really did die on the cross, and He really did rise from the grave.  And because He did, we can know that He is the truth.  Are you willing to believe?

Conclusion:
Doubts do not have to be feared – doubts can be dealt with.  So deal with them!

From John’s perspective, he didn’t sit in his doubts dwelling upon them, letting them wash over him, dragging him down into depression and despair.  He took them to Jesus.  Doubts are normal.  If John the Baptist can have doubts, so can we!  Do as he did, and take them to Jesus, allowing our Lord to comfort you.  And then follow the same advice Jesus gave to John: look at the evidence.  God has surrounded us with evidence about Himself in creation.  We have abundant witness to Jesus’ identity in His works…especially with His resurrection.  We even have personal witness in our own lives as we remember the many ways God has worked with us individually, and we have the promises in His word to which we can cling.  Look at the evidence!  See the things that Jesus has done, and be renewed in your faith.

From Jesus’ perspective concerning John…John’s doubt’s didn’t make him less than a prophet.  It did not diminish him at all in the sight of God.  John had been faithful in his obedience & witness – he simply stumbled a bit along the way.  John the Baptist is a tremendous example to us all!  That said, the better thing for us is not to be John, but to listen and heed John’s message!  John preached the Messiah & His kingdom, and the person who is least in the kingdom has a greater place than even the greatest of the Old Testament prophets.

In regards to the hardened skeptics, there will always be some people who steadfastly look for reason not just to doubt Jesus, but to reject Him.  In their minds, no evidence is sufficient.  If a person is totally opposed to even the possibility of the Lord Jesus Christ being God, then no argument will persuade him/her.  For the Pharisees, John the Baptist was too rigid, while Jesus wasn’t rigid enough.  These were flimsy excuses then, and they are flimsy excuses today.  The person who has already made up his mind not to even be willing to believe is a person who isn’t interested in the truth.  And he’s left himself without excuse.  The good news is that no one has to stay that way!  Be willing to examine the evidence for yourself!  Look around and see the works of Jesus.  See how He has revealed Himself to all the world, and then do the only logical thing in response: humble yourself before Him in faith, and receive Him as your Savior & God.

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