Maybe it’s our pride that wants to prove others wrong, but doubt is part of the thinking pattern of us all. We doubt the policies of our government, the motives of our leaders, and the truthfulness of our media.
Even with spiritual things, we doubt. We don’t talk about it because if our faith is strong, we don’t doubt, right? But if God is love, why does He let bad things happen to those He loves? If He is powerful, why doesn’t He stop it? What if there isn’t a God? What if everything I’ve been taught about Jesus is simply not true? How can I know there is a Heaven and what they’re teaching in secular college and universities across our world is true – this is all there is?
John the Baptist struggled with doubt in Luke 7:18-29. The greatest of God’s children struggle with doubt. You can discover some simple principles of doubt as we journey through John’s story of doubt. Can doubt make you stronger?
“Art thou he that should come? or look we for another?” (Luke 7:19)
John actually doubted if Jesus was the Messiah. That’s a pretty serious doubt. Why did John have his doubts?
1 – Personal tragedy. What Luke doesn’t tell you is that John is in prison because he challenged Herod’s incestuous marriage to his brother’s wife, Herodias. She was also his niece by another brother. Why didn’t Jesus get him out of prison?
2 – Popular influence. He might have been a victim of the popular opinion of the Jewish leaders of his day. They ignored the prophecies of a suffering Messiah and focused on a victorious Messiah conquering all enemies. What if others are right?
3 – Incomplete information. John was missing one crucial piece of information not clearly revealed in the Old Testament. While the Old Testament presents two phases of the Messiah, suffering Servant and conquering King, it doesn’t reveal the time between the two.
4 – Wrong expectations. John was a fiery preacher and warned of God’s judgment and expected the Messiah to execute that judgment when He arrived. But Jesus didn’t.
People doubt a lot of things. Did you know that 10% of Americans do not believe that Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. It was a hoax. They have their reasons. There aren’t any stars in the background. A flag that seems to fly in the breeze (no wind on moon). Different shadow lengths.
Isn’t doubt a lack of faith? Not necessarily. There is a difference between doubt and unbelief. Doubt says I can’t believe. Unbelief says I won’t believe. Doubt is honest. Unbelief is stubborn. Doubt is looking for light. Unbelief is content in darkness. Doubt wants to believe. Unbelief refuses to believe.
Doubt is a sign of a thinking person.
It’s good to ask questions and search for answers. The answers may not be there. But God is. So, go ahead and ask your questions.
“Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached.” (Luke 7:22)
Jesus had rejected the Pharisees’ similar requests because they asked in unbelief. However, John was seeking to have his faith strengthened.
Jesus sent John’s messengers back with two forms of evidence to strengthen his doubts – facts and Scripture. Three types of action typify what Jesus was doing – healing, raising the dead, and preaching good news. This was in fulfillment of Biblical prophecy.
Doubt is silenced with facts and faith.
When I was a young teen, I trusted Jesus as my Savior. However, throughout my young Christian life I doubted my salvation. How could I be sure I was a Christian? What if I didn’t do it right? What if I wasn’t saved anymore? What if I was never saved in the first place? I talked with my pastor and he asked me a question. If you were home and couldn’t remember if you locked your front door, what would you do? I would go down and make sure it was locked. So, he suggested I make sure I had asked Jesus to be my Savior. So I redid my salvation and knew what I did and based my salvation, not on how I felt, but on what God said – “Whosoever shall call on the Lord shall be saved.” My doubts began to go away.
We sometimes have doubts because of what God isn’t doing. That’s why John doubted – he was still in prison. Too often we look at a few things that Jesus isn’t doing and neglect the many things he has done for us.
If Jesus hasn’t fulfilled your expectations, don’t quit believing. Jesus promises a blessing on those who don’t fall away because of their disappointment with Jesus: “Blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me,” (v. 23). The Greek word translated “offended” (skandalizo) gives us our English word scandalize and refers to the ‘bait’ in a trap. John was in danger of being trapped because of his concern about what Jesus was not doing. He was stumbling over the Lord and His ministry. But John took heart and remained faithful to the end. Do the same.
“Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist” (Luke 7:28)
After John’s disciples left, Jesus praises John. He makes three commendations as He asks three rhetorical questions:
- John speaks like a prophet – He was not a reed in the wilderness wind. He attracted people because of his moral courage.
- John lives like a prophet. He wore rough clothes.
- John is the greatest prophet.
Though John doubted Jesus, Jesus never doubted John.
Doubt is overcome by honest praise.
For several decades, psychologists have encouraged us to heap praise on our children to build their self-esteem. However, modern research has shown the danger of empty praise. When you tell a child “Good job” for failing a test, striking out in baseball, or doing a sloppy art project or room cleaning, you are doing harm. You are reinforcing negative behavior. Even if they did a good job, too much praise can be bad. If they expect a “good job” everytime they’ve done a good job, they will soon quit doing a good job if they don’t hear “good job.” There really is satisfaction in a job well done. Let them experience it. Recognize what they’ve done but use praise strategically. It is interesting that Jesus praised John to others, but not to him. That might be a good way of praising others.
Jesus said that John was the greatest prophet born of women? Yet, He also said that you and I are greater than John. How?
- We have a clearer knowledge of the purpose of Jesus’ death and resurrection
- He announced the kingdom, we enjoy the privileges of the kingdom.
It is good for us to consider doing our best and leave the praise to Jesus. If you aren’t recognized or feel the appreciation of others, know that Jesus will one day say “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
My last story about doubt… Lew Wallace was the governor of New Mexico over a century ago. He had always been an agnostic and denied Christianity. Robert Ingersoll, a famous agnostic, was a good friend and suggested because he was such an educated man he should write a book to prove the falsity concerning Jesus Christ. Such a book would make him famous and put an end to the foolishness of Christianity. He spent several years researching to prove that Jesus did not exist. After writing four chapters it became clear that Jesus was just as real a personality as Socrates, Plato, or Caesar. He was in an uncomfortable position. If he was wrong about the existence of Jesus, could he be wrong who he was. He said, “After six years given to the impartial investigation of Christianity as to its truth or falsity, I have come to the deliberate conclusion that Jesus Christ is the Messiah of the Jews, the Savior of the world, and my personal Savior.” Lew Wallace changed the book he was originally writing and used all his research to write another book. It became a masterpiece – Ben Hur. Every time you watch the film I hoe you will remember that it was written by a man who doubted that Jesus ever existed and became convinced that He was the greatest man who ever lived!