Thursday, April 21, 2016

Dealing With Doubt (Part 4)

This will be the final post of this series on dealing with doubt.  What we have learned as we have explored the dilemma of John the baptizer in Matthew 11:2-6 is that many of our doubts arise from flawed expectations and misunderstandings about the nature or purpose of the Lord. 

Jesus’ Challenge

When John asks if Jesus is truly the long-awaited Messiah, Jesus sends word back for John to consider how the work of Jesus truly fulfills those things which Messiah will do when He arrives.  Having revealed His identity to John, Jesus ended His reply with a challenge: “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Matthew 11:6).[1]

Reality had not lined up exactly with John’s expectations of a warrior Messiah who would bring in a time of fire and judgment.  This presented John with a choice.  Would he be offended (the Greek word is literally ‘scandalized’) and doubt Jesus and disbelieve, or would he accept the evidence and embrace Jesus fully as the Messiah.

We do not read anything of John’s reaction, but I surmise that Jesus’ answer was more than enough to satisfy him.  Once John’s expectations could be brought in line with reality, once he was able to see, reality turned out to be so much better than what he expected.

Dealing With Doubt

When reality does not meet expectations, doubt often follows.  So what can we do?

The main thing we must do is ‘own it’! 

We often feel guilty when doubts creep in, but remember what I have already said: doubt does not automatically equal disbelief.  Doubt simply means that your expectations are being challenged by reality.  If you let your doubt drive you away from God, then there is a problem.  But if your doubt drives you to God…that’s good! 

So go to God!  He is big enough to handle your questions and gracious enough to give an answer.

John did not let his doubts and questions drive him away from belief in Jesus.  He went to Jesus and asked Him plainly why reality was not meeting expectation.  Jesus did not scold John or belittle his questions.  He graciously helped John see his expectations from a different perspective.  Once he did, John could see that Jesus met every expectation and more!  Happy is the person who can see Jesus for what He is, and does not ‘stumble’ or ‘fall away’ because He isn’t exactly what we thought He would be.

When reality does not meet expectations, doubt often follows.  Yet reality often does match our expectations if we are able to see it; and when we can, we will find it to be much better than what we expected.

Having ‘owned’ our doubt, having taken them head on and gone in search of the answers we will find ourselves better equipped to handle future doubts and in a position to walk with others through their doubts as well.

Have these posts answered every question?  Obviously not.  But I hope they have given you a starting point for your battle to face and overcome doubt.

Be Blessed.

[1] English Standard Bible.  Copyright © 2000, 2001 by Crossway Bibles, A Division of Good News Publishers, 1300 Crescent Street, Wheaton, Illinois 60187, USA.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Dealing With Doubt (Part 3)

How do we deal with the doubts that come our way as pertains to our faith?  We will continue on in Matthew 11:2-6 for the answers.

Jesus’ Response

John sent his own disciples to Jesus to ask if He was truly the Messiah.  Jesus offers this answer: “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.” (Matthew 11:4-5) [1]

We recall that the previous chapters of Matthew’s Gospel record the healing of the blind, the lame and the leper and the raising of the dead.  But Jesus is not simply saying, ‘Look at what I’ve done’.  Jesus wants John to consider His work, certainly; but more important is that John recognizes Jesus’ work as the fulfillment of the work of Messiah as predicted by the prophets. 

The blind see; the lame walk; the deaf hear: Isaiah 35:5-6 says, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.”  A wider reading of the context reveals that this is a text with connections to the end times![2]  Isaiah 35 begins: “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.  Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not!  Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you’” (35:3-4).  In connection with this vengeance and divine retribution comes healing and wholeness!

The lepers are cleansed; the dead are raised: Isaiah 42:6-7 reads, “I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.”  This is a text which promises the coming of the Messiah.  When He appears, Messiah will release those who are bound by sin, disease and death.  He will set them free!
The Good News is preached to the poor: Isaiah 61:1 tells, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.”  Isaiah 61 is also a Messianic text[3].  Verses 2-3 go on to declare that the days of preaching and healing would also bring the Day of God’s judgment.

By making these connections, John would be able to see that Jesus was truly the long awaited Messiah.  There was no need to look for any other.  In Jesus, the One and Only Savior had come.  Once he understood this, John would be able to see that not only did reality match his expectations but reality was in fact much better than what He expected.

As mentioned at the close of the last post, when we face doubts regarding our faith, one of the first things we need to do is check our expectations.  The next step is to dig into God’s Word to correct our misconceptions; to see exactly what God has revealed about those areas where we are struggling. 

In the concluding entry of this series I will offer some final thoughts on facing up to and overcoming our doubts and walking away with a stronger more stable faith. 

[1] English Standard Bible.  Copyright © 2000, 2001 by Crossway Bibles, A Division of Good News Publishers, 1300 Crescent Street, Wheaton, Illinois 60187, USA.

[2] Isaiah 34:1-4 speaks of the Lord’s anger at the nations and His coming wrath.  4All the stars of the heavens will be dissolved and the sky rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like shriveled figs from the fig tree.

[3] This text was also quoted by Jesus in His synagogue sermon in Luke 4

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Dealing With Doubt (Part 2)

In the previous post I embarked on an exploration of the issue of doubt.  We began considering John the Baptizer as our example.  Matthew 11:2-6 reveals John’s ‘doubt’ and how he handled it.

John’s Question

“Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” (Matthew 11:2-3)[1]

Although John was in prison, he had contact with the outside world, and was aware of what Jesus was doing.  Matthew 8-9 records Jesus’ miraculous ministry, particularly the miracles of healing.  Jesus was healing people of leprosy and other diseases and those afflicted with paralysis, blindness and muteness.  Extraordinarily, He had also raised a girl from the dead. 

John heard all this but still had questions.  As mentioned previously, John’s preaching centered on the coming judgment.  When Jesus appeared and the Spirit revealed Him to be the Christ (see John 1:32-34) John’s thoughts must have naturally turned towards the impending arrival of the Kingdom of God.  Why, if Jesus was the Messiah, did the Romans still oppress God’s people?  Why was he still a prisoner?  Why hadn’t the fire of God consumed the wicked? 

When reality does not meet expectation, doubt often follows.  The reality of Jesus’ ministry did not line up with John’s expectations.  Shades of doubt had entered his thoughts; so he sent his disciples to Jesus for an answer.  They asked Jesus, ‘Are You the One who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’

‘Are You the Coming One…?’ 

Everyone was hoping and looking for Messiah.  The Pharisees had wondered if it was John (John 1:19-21).  Maybe they had in mind the words of the Psalms and the Prophets (see for example Psalm 118:26; Isaiah 59:19-20; Malachi 3:1).

John now asks the same question.  Who exactly is Jesus?  Is He Elijah or the Prophet?  Is Jesus the Christ?   ‘…or should we be expecting someone else?’  The verse translates better as, ‘…should we be expecting a different type [of Messiah])?’[2]

Why would John think to ask about a different type of Messiah?

Out in the desert, near the Dead Sea, lived a Jewish religious community called the Essenes (the group responsible for writing and collecting most of the Dead Sea Scrolls).  While John was probably not part of this community, many believe he had some contact with them.  Theologically, there were some strong similarities between them.  Perhaps this question betrays some of that familiarity.

From some of their writings, the Essenes appear to have had a belief in multiple Messiahs, different from one another.[3]  They believed that, at the end of the age, a Priestly Messiah, the “Messiah of Aaron”[4] would appear first to teach and reform.  The Messiah of Israel, a warrior who would lead the final battle, would then follow.

There is a distinct possibility that John was wondering if Jesus was the Priestly Messiah but not the Warrior Messiah.  Should he expect a different type of Messiah?

I would argue that most of our doubt flows from a misperception of Who God is; of Who Jesus is.  We may have some idea of what God should be doing; of the way He should act.  We may have ideas of what Jesus should be like.  When the reality of life hits us; when we are confronted with a challenge to our preconceptions, doubt can begin to creep in.

If you are facing doubts, the first thing you need to do is check your expectations.  Chances are there is something askew there that needs to be corrected. 

We will take up how we are to handle doubt in the next post.

[1] English Standard Bible.  Copyright © 2000, 2001 by Crossway Bibles, A Division of Good News Publishers, 1300 Crescent Street, Wheaton, Illinois 60187, USA.

[2] Luke 7:18-23 also records this episode.  Both accounts are almost identical in every way: except here.  Luke’s verse translates as ‘…should we be expecting another [Messiah])?’  Luke uses the Greek word allos which means ‘another’, usually of the same type.  In Luke, John is asking if there will be a second Messiah, similar to Jesus.  Matthew uses the Greek word heteros which means ‘another of a different sort’.  Note the ‘hetero prefix that we use on word such as ‘heterodox’- a different belief; ‘heterogenous’- of a different part or species. 

[3] For those really interested these references can be found in the Dead Sea Scrolls called The Community Rule (1QS; 4Q255-64; 4Q280, 286-7; 4Q502; 5Q11, 13); The Messianic Rule (1Qsa = 1Q28a); Blessings (1Qsb = 1Q28b); Messianic Apocalypse (4Q521); as well as 4Q266; 1QSa11, 20

[4] From The Messianic Rule (1Q28a).  Interestingly enough this ‘Messiah’ would be ‘begotten of God’.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Dealing With Doubt (Part 1)

[The following posts are adapted from a sermon preached on March 7, 2010.  Scripture references are from the ESV[1]]

Our hope in the Lord is based on this thing we call faith.  Faith is, as the writer of Hebrews tells us, “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) 

Holding onto this ‘faith’ is not always easy.  The world often throws things at us, which force us to hold our faith up for examination and inspection.  We are faced with the hard question as to whether or not our ‘faith’ can stand up to the tests.

Let me make one thing perfectly clear.  Doubt does not equal disbelief.  When those times come, and they inevitably do, which cause us to question the strength and legitimacy of our faith we must take this challenge head on.  We cannot ignore or push off the struggle and ‘just believe’ (this is what I see as ‘blind faith’), nor can we fall into some guilt-laden despair as if our questions somehow disqualify us from enjoying God’s promises.  Our ‘doubt’ should be a catalyst, driving us to explore more deeply our beliefs.  These force us to ask genuine, profound and meaningful questions, and hopefully come away with a stronger and more stable faith.

Many persons in the Scripture had these moments.  One such character was John the Baptizer.

John knew his place in the wider plan of God.  He knew he was a ‘herald’ of the coming Messiah.  When John recognized Jesus as the promised One, he knew his time would be drawing to a close (John 3:30).  John was happy with this.  When his own disciples asked him about Jesus’ increasing popularity, John responded, “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.” (John 3:29)  From John’s perspective, he was full of joy that with the arrival of the groom, the wedding, the Kingdom of God, could begin.

Not long after, John was arrested and thrown into jail under orders from Herod Antipas.  While in his prison cell, John continued to hear of the ministry of Jesus.  Yet the seeds of doubt began to gnaw at John.  

When we consider John’s early preaching, it is clear that he believed the great and final judgment of God was imminent.  He had declared, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.  His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Luke 3:16-17) 

John had been completely convinced that Jesus was the promised Messiah; the winnower and the kindler of God’s fire.  He was the Bridegroom.  With His coming, God’s people would partake of the wonderful wedding supper, as God’s Kingdom became reality.  “[But] Jesus…carries no ax or winnowing fan, [He] cleans no eschatological threshing floor and burns no chaff.”[2]

John seems to have had certain expectations of Jesus; reality wasn’t meeting expectation.  He had questions; ‘doubts’.  Had he been wrong?  Was Jesus the person John had thought He was?  Was his own ministry a failure?  If the bridegroom has arrived, why hasn’t the wedding begun? 

When reality does not meet expectation, doubt often follows. 

If our faith is built on unrealistic expectations or misunderstandings, it is almost a given that we will experience some type of doubt or ‘faith crisis’. 

As we work through these struggles it is hoped that our expectations will be corrected and we will be able to see the reality of our faith.  And we will find it to be much more than what we expected.

In the next post I will explore John’s question to Jesus.

Be blessed

[1] English Standard Bible.  Copyright © 2000, 2001 by Crossway Bibles, A Division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois
[2] Evans, Craig, New International Biblical Commentary: Luke.  Hendrickson: Peabody MA, 1998.  p116