Summary: Should Christians ever doubt - and what should we do if we do?
Doubt: Mt 11:1-15
This morning’s Gospel reading shows how doubt comes to that great man of God, John the Baptist.
How come you might ask? Last week’s reading showed John the Baptist being very sure that Jesus was the Messiah.
He had heard the words of God the Father announcing that Jesus was his Son (Mt. 3:13-17).
You may recall that Mt. recorded the story like this
“When he had been baptised, Jesus came up immediately from the water and behold the heavens were open to Him and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and descending on Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven saying “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mt. 3 16-17).
But since then, John had been languishing in Herod’s prison – which was a pretty grim state of affairs.
Michael Green summed the situation up like this
“John been put in prison for publicly rebuking Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee for his marital affairs. Herod had visited his brother in Rome and seduced his wife. He then divorced his own wife and lured his sister-in-law to leave her husband and marry him. John denounced this behaviour and paid the penalty – prison in the fortress of Machaerus in the burning mountains by the Dead Sea” (The Message of Matthew Michael Green p. 137)
Herod’s prisons were pretty grim. The rats probably ran through. The floor was hard and you were reliant on friends bringing you food in – if you wanted something to eat.
And in prison, John had time to think and worry.
Prison does strange things to the best of us.
John had, like many of the Jews of his day, been expecting an all conquering Messiah.
And when Jesus did not fulfil those expectations – he had time to ruminate.
And in the loneliness of prison had started to lose his faith.
This passage tells me that there is nothing wrong with doubt. Even Great Men of God – Doubt. Those in ministry Doubt.
It gives me permission to doubt.
But the 64.000 dollar question is how do we deal with doubt.?
Story: By the age of 19,G. Campbell Morgan had already enjoyed some success as a preacher.
But then he was attacked by doubts about the Bible.
The writings of various scientists and agnostics disturbed him (e.g., Charles Darwin, John Tyndall, Thomas Huxley, and Herbert Spencer).
As he read their books and listened to debates, Morgan became more and more perplexed.
What did he do?
He cancelled all preaching engagements, put all the books in a cupboard and locked the door, and went to the bookstore and bought a new Bible.
He said to himself, “I am no longer sure that this is what my father claims it to be—the Word of God. But of this I am sure. If it be the Word of God, and if I come to it with an unprejudiced and open mind, it will bring assurance to my soul of itself.”
The result? “That Bible found me!” said Morgan.
The new assurance in 1883 gave him the motivation for his preaching and teaching ministry.
He devoted himself to the study and preaching of God’s Word.*http://www.bible.org/illus/illus.asp?topic_id=440)
I am encouraged because it is how we deal with that doubt that matters.
Some people do the wrong thing – and lose their faith. They give up on Jesus,
But both John and Campbell Morgan did the right thing – they were honest and brought their doubts to Jesus.
They didn’t try and pretend they didn’t have a problem.
Morgan cancelled all his preaching engagements.
John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask
“Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”
They didn’t run away from the problem but faced it with God himself.
I find Jesus’ reply to John the Baptist so encouraging
He didn’t put John down and give him a lecture on faith. Instead He was kind and encouraged John to come to the right decision himself. He said to the disciples of John
“Go and tell John the things you hear and see. The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended in me (Mt. 11:5)
Jesus didn’t say to John “O ye of little faith”. Sometimes that is a reason we don’t bring our doubts into the open. We are scared of rejection
Jesus never rejects the honest seeker.
And just to emphasise the point that He wasn’t knocking John and his ministry, Jesus speaks very highly of John.
“Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist…”