Saturday, October 20, 2007

PLAGUED BY DOUBT



Hebrews chapter 11 has been called the Bible “Hall of Fame”. In it we find brief accounts of numerous Old Testament believers who trusted God in a variety of different circumstances and “obtained a good report” (verse 2). The names of these individuals are familiar to many of us and have become the subject of countless sermons throughout the Christian era; but the Old Covenant gave way to the New Covenant, and with it came a new era in the unfolding story of men and women who comprise that great cloud of witnesses which encompasses us (Hebrews 12:1). If you were asked to compose a list of New Testament heroes of the faith, whom would you include? I suppose that a few of the apostles would appear, some devout women who followed Jesus to Calvary and testified of His resurrection, and Stephen, the first to give his life for Christ. Undoubtedly, the greatest of all apostles, Paul, who became Christianity’s most influential evangelist, teacher, and author, would be at the top of everyone’s list; but what about a man who served fearlessly and with great zeal in a hostile environment but who, in the end, languished in a prison cell, plagued with doubt? Would such a man make your “heroes of the faith” roster? Of course, I am speaking about “a man sent from God, whose name was John” (John 1:6). How could he be excluded, if Jesus said that “among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist” (Luke 7:28) ? Surely this radical preacher, who was accused of having a demon (Luke 7:33), demonstrated a rare blend of courage and godliness as he confronted the leaders of Israel with their sin: “But when he [John] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance” (Matthew 3:7-8). Furthermore, John’s holy boldness was not confined to the religious crowd. He also brought the figurative sword of God’s law to the heart of King Herod Antipas, accusing him of adultery and incest (Mark 6:18). This public denunciation of the King outraged Herod’s wife Herodias, and it led to John’s imprisonment in the wilderness fortress at Machaerus, near the Dead Sea.

There, in a dark and foreboding dungeon, John had plenty of time to be alone with his thoughts. As he reviewed his mission, doubts began to enter his soul and reached a climax as death appeared imminent. John dispatched two of his disciples to ask Jesus: “Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3). How could this be? It was John who gave the Spirit-filled testimony that Jesus was “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) and “bare record” that He was the Son of God (John 1:34). What happened to John’s faith in Jesus? I think the answer lies in John’s failure to recognize God’s Divine timetable. As the forerunner of the Messiah, John believed that Jesus would usher in the promised Kingdom of God. He did all that was required of him. He had been faithful to his calling; he laid the axe to the root of the trees (Matthew 3:10). This “voice of one crying in the wilderness” prepared the nation for the revelation of God’s Deliverer (Matthew 3:3); but what about the present moment in John’s life? Was it not Isaiah the prophet who wrote of the Messiah: “He hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn (Isaiah 61:1-3)? To his dismay, John’s own prison door had not been opened; he was still confined. Personal circumstances had clouded his understanding of God’s Word. While Jesus was increasing in popularity, John’s ministry abruptly ended. He knew that this must be (John 3:30), but there was another problem. Imperial Rome was still in full control; the triumph of the Messiah had not come. John had given up everything for Jesus, but the script was not going as he thought it would. In such a time as this, mortal men are vulnerable to the worst of doubts, even the greatest of them. In a nutshell, God had failed to meet John’s expectation. Knowing that “the best of men are men at best,” Jesus did not upbraid John harshly. Ralph Wilson wrote: “Friends, there are times when we are weak. When we have taken a blow. When we are still reeling. Know this, that Jesus is not there to chide you when you are struggling for air; he is there to help you. He does not push you down, but pulls you to the surface. It is the devil's voice, not God's, that incessantly condemns.” Jesus responded to John’s doubts with grace, kindness, and hope. He sent John’s disciples back to him with the assurance that He (Jesus) was sent by the Father and was filled with the Spirit to set men free from the tyranny of sin (Matthew 11:4-5). However, because Israel would reject His message, “the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God” would be delayed (Isaiah 61:2). John would die but not in vain. Jesus never asks His children to go where He has never trod. He would soon walk a path similar to that of John, but He would open heaven’s door to all who desire to enter in through the shedding of His blood at Calvary (Hebrews 10:20). His Divine mission would be accomplished! John had prepared mankind for it; he was indeed a chosen and faithful servant of God. He certainly deserves recognition as a hero of the faith, despite his great moment of doubt. “The greatest of prophets” simply did not understand how God would fulfill His Sovereign plan of redemption. He did not comprehend that it included not only a very dark time for his own soul, but even Christ’s ultimate rejection by the nation of Israel. “He came unto his own, and his own received him not” (John 1:11).

Brethren, are you plagued by doubts? Are you discouraged because what you expected in serving Christ has not yet been realized? Can I tell you, truthfully, that no child of God is immune from what John experienced? You are not alone in your feelings; but God is good, and He is faithful. He will be the lifter up of your head (Psalm 3:3) and carry you through the darkness on eagle’s wings (Isaiah 40:31). Your strength will be renewed, and your season of weariness will pass as you learn to trust in Him for His will to be done, in heaven as on earth, in His perfect time. “For now we see through a glass darkly, but [one day] face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Your doubts will all be erased when you gaze upon the Lord’s glorious face. Your deepest hopes and longings will be realized in His loving presence.


Cheer up ye saints of God,
There's nothing to worry about,
Nothing to make you feel afraid;
Nothing to make you doubt;
Remember Jesus never fails,
So why not trust him and shout!
You'll be sorry you worried at all, tomorrow morning.


“If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).

Keep looking up brethren,


Pastor Tom

Thursday, October 04, 2007

A WILD BOAR IN THE VINEYARD



Numerous scholars of the history of Christianity, while they often differ on many details, are in substantial agreement that a new era in the course of Christianity began in the sixteenth century. Great political, social, economic, intellectual, and religious changes were sweeping the globe. Through the adventures and discoveries of mariners like Columbus and Magellan in the prior century, the oceans of the world had become highways for trade and the exchange of knowledge. Printing by movable-type had also made knowledge available to the common man. In the religious realm, a great battle was being waged. The early reformers like John Wycliffe of England, who died in 1384, and John Huss of Bohemia (1415) had challenged the authority of Roman papacy with the authority of God’s Word. They were called “dissenters,” a Latin word which means to disagree. Praise God for such dissenters. Many doctrines of the Catholic Church were subjected to the light of Holy Scripture and judged to be in error. As Isaiah the prophet said, “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20). The great spiritual battle over the question of proper authority and the right to interpret Scripture reached its zenith on October 31, 1517 in Germany, when a disillusioned Augustinian monk named Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the castle church at Wittenberg. Many would agree that Luther was the man raised up by God to lead a reformation that would take the church back to its biblical roots. Historian Bruce Shelley states: “In the summer of 1520 a document bearing an impressive seal circulated throughout Germany in search of a remote figure. “Arise, O Lord,” the writing began, “and judge Thy cause. A wild boar has invaded Thy vineyard.” [1] The document was a papal bull condemning the beliefs of a wild boar named Luther. Rather than retract his teachings, Luther preached them with even more boldness, and the fire of the Protestant Reformation spread beyond the borders of Germany.

Though known for his protests against ecclesiastical abuses, Luther was foremost a biblical scholar. While studying Paul’s epistle to the Romans, he came to the glorious truth that man is sinful and God is holy. In His holiness, God demanded a righteousness that sinful man could never satisfy through religious duty or sacramental merit. In 1520, Luther grasped what Paul had taught the ancient Church of Rome: Only the cross of Christ could satisfy the just demands of an all-holy God. In the words of Luther, “Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that ‘the just shall live by faith’ (Romans 1:17). Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which, through grace and sheer mercy, God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise.”

Luther may have been judged to be the wild boar who invaded the Pope’s vineyard, but the truth is that Martin Luther’s soul was invaded by the penetrating and liberating power of God’s Word. “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). The wild boar had been liberated from the tyranny of a works-based religion. He understood in his heart that “to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Romans 4:5). The troubled soul of Martin Luther found great joy and rest in the words of Paul: "[Christ] loved me, and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20). What a precious thought.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.

As churches born out of the 16th century Reformation celebrate their spiritual heritage in the month of October, we must all pause to ponder the liberating truth of the gospel of grace which we have freely received. Luther’s experience is our experience, and it is reflected in the many hymns and songs of praise that constitute the heart of our corporate worship. We gather together as the redeemed saints of God each Lord’s Day to offer our praise and gratitude for His marvelous work of redemption. Hallelujah! We have been justified by faith, without human mediation. We have no priest but Christ, no sacrifice but Calvary, no confession but the throne of grace, and no authority but the Word of God.


Titus 3:5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;
6 Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour;
7 That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Dear brethren,


Worship Him alone from Whom all true blessings flow, “The Lamb slain for sinners”!


Pastor Tom


[1] Bruce L Shelley, Church History in Plain Language (Word Publishing: Dallas, 1982), p.255
Note: At the Diet of Worms in April 1521, Martin Luther refused to recant his theses and concluded his defense with the statement, “Here I stand, I can do no other.”