What if I doubt?
- Monday, January 11, 2016
- By Tyler Strickler
I grew up in a solid Christian home, the kind of family that was at the church every time the doors opened. I even had to skip a varsity basketball game one time because it was scheduled on a Wednesday night…a church night. Christ came first in everything, causing our commitment to Him to flow into all of life. I am so thankful that I got to grow up in that kind of a home as the Christ-centeredness of my parents trickled down to all four of their children as we continue to serve Christ today.
My personal commitment to Christ led me first to Bible College, then seminary, and now into pastoral ministry. Yet occasionally I still have the fleeting thought, “is Christianity the truth or simply what I have been taught my whole life?”
Now you may be thinking, Pastor! How can you say that?! Well I am not the only one who has this thought occasionally. John the Baptist asked the same question in Matthew 11:3.
John the Baptist was an amazing man. His conception was a gracious intervention of God, and his birth was foretold by an angel. Even in his mother’s womb he was filled with the Holy Spirit. He was the second coming of Elijah, whose ministry was to prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah (Is. 40:3; Mal. 4:5-6). His public ministry saw great success as he preached repentance of sin and the coming kingdom of God. He even had the joy of baptizing Jesus and proclaiming to the crowds that He was the Messiah!
Yet Matthew 11 opens with a story of John the Baptist that, in light of everything he saw and did, might surprise us. John was in prison because he had told Herod that his relationship with Herodias (his brother, Philip’s wife) was displeasing to God. His proclamation of God’s word ultimately led to his execution. So John was no coward as his commitment to God ran deep, costing him his life.
While in prison, John wondered if Jesus really was the Messiah, so he sent some disciples to ask if he was right about Jesus or if they should be looking for someone else. Like everyone else in his day, John was probably expecting the Messiah to be a political leader who would restore the glory of Israel as a nation, not the suffering servant that Jesus was. John was at the end of his life, and if Jesus wasn’t the Messiah, then he needed to know so he could find the true Messiah that he had paved the way for.
I find Jesus’ response interesting. He was not angry with John for doubting, nor does He rebuke him for a lack of faith. Yet it is also interesting that John’s disciples ask a yes or no question, but Jesus does not answer yes or no. Instead, He points to the activities of His ministry as the witness of who He is.
Jesus tells them to report to John what they see and here. The miraculous works Jesus was doing were the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophesies, so Jesus points John to what the Bible said about Him and how His actions fulfilled the Scriptures.
John had already heard and seen much. He saw the Spirit of God descend from heaven like a dove and land on Jesus after His baptism. He heard the voice of God say that Jesus was His beloved Son in whom He was well-pleased. Jesus might not have been what John expected, but He was still the Messiah. So He pointed John back to the witness of Scripture and how His works were the works God said would come with the ministry of the Messiah.
Jesus ended His response by saying blessed is he who keeps from stumbling over Me. Again, this is an allusion to the Old Testament. Isaiah predicted that the Messiah would be a stone to strike and a rock to stumble over (Is. 8:14). Jesus’ ministry wasn’t what the Jews expected, yet it was exactly the ministry God had told them the Messiah would have. It was like the Jews had forgotten all about Isaiah 53. Jesus did not come to save His people from Roman oppression, but to save His people from their sin. Those who realized this would be blessed with eternal life.
Jesus’ response was to see what God was doing and believe. John knew that Jesus was the Messiah. God had told him this directly. Yet in his suffering, he had a moment of doubt. Jesus’ response points him and us to God’s word so that we might see how Jesus’ ministry fulfilled the Scriptures and believe that He was the Christ, come to save His people from their sin.
So how do we respond when Satan tries to cast doubt upon our faith? Hebrews 11:1 says faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not see. When our faith is tested, we turn to God’s word, which bears witness to the works of Christ. His life and ministry proclaim that He is the Son of God who came to pay the penalty of sin on the cross. After drinking the full cup of God’s wrath, He rose from the dead and ascended back into heaven. No other person in history has ever done the things Jesus did. Even when the apostles imitated Christ’s miracles, they did not do it in their own power but in the name of Jesus. Truly, Christianity stands unique from every other religion because it is the one religion that worships a God who became man in order to deal with man’s sin problem. It is the only religion that provides a Savior. In fact, it isn’t even a religion, because religions are manmade. It is the truth revealed by God to mankind so that they might know how they can have a personal relationship with Him.
The occasional doubt never lasts more than about 2 seconds for me. When doubts come, Jesus tells us to reflect on what we have seen and heard. I know the Bible is God’s word, so the moment doubt arises, I simply smile and reflect on the Bible’s witness of who Jesus is and what He has done. Not only that, but I can add to it 30 years of personal experience of how Jesus has been working in my life and the life of others, slowly and steadily transforming His followers into His image.
Doubting isn’t necessarily a sin. It becomes sin when we stumble over who Jesus is, allowing momentary doubt to birth disbelief. We have no witness that John’s faith ever went there. Instead, we see him being faithful to the end as he suffered a martyr’s death. And it is comforting to know that Jesus’ response to our doubts isn’t anger or rejection, but the simple reminder of who He is and what He has done. Like John, may we reflect upon what we have seen and heard about Christ in His Word and allow the truth to drive away our doubts.