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

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