How Jesus Responds to Doubts

Matthew 11

1When Jesus had finished giving these instructions to his twelve disciples, he went off teaching and preaching in towns throughout the country.

2John the Baptist, who was now in prison, heard about all the things the Messiah was doing. So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, 3“Are you really the Messiah we’ve been waiting for, or should we keep looking for someone else?”

4Jesus told them, “Go back to John and tell him about what you have heard and seen—5the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor. 6And tell him: ‘God blesses those who are not offended by me. ’”

7When John’s disciples had gone, Jesus began talking about him to the crowds. “Who is this man in the wilderness that you went out to see? Did you find him weak as a reed, moved by every breath of wind? 8Or were you expecting to see a man dressed in expensive clothes? Those who dress like that live in palaces, not out in the wilderness. 9Were you looking for a prophet? Yes, and he is more than a prophet. 10John is the man to whom the Scriptures refer when they say,

‘Look, I am sending my messenger before you, and he will prepare your way before you.’

11“I assure you, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist. Yet even the most insignificant person in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he is! 12And from the time John the Baptist began preaching and baptizing until now, the Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing, and violent people attack it. 13For before John came, all the teachings of the Scriptures looked forward to this present time. 14And if you are willing to accept what I say, he is Elijah, the one the prophets said would come. 15Anyone who is willing to hear should listen and understand! (Matthew 11:1-15, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Matthew 11 contains a very strange passage about John the Baptist. While Jesus is preaching and teaching in towns throughout the country, John the Baptist hears about all the things Jesus is doing and then he sends his disciples to go and ask Jesus if he’s really the Messiah.

What’s going on here? If anyone should know the true identity of Jesus, you would think it would be John the Baptist. Remember back in Matthew 3 John was out in the desert baptizing people and he told the crowds that while he baptized with water, one would come after him who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. John said this person would be so much greater than him that he would be unworthy to even be this person’s slave.

Immediately after that, Jesus shows up and is baptized by John, after which the Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus in the form of a dove while the voice of the Father affirms Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. I previously wrote about this baptism event here.

John had been born for the purpose of preparing the way for the Messiah. He had prepared his whole life for that moment of introducing the Messiah to a lost and dying world. He had known Jesus since birth and Jesus’ identity and mission had been confirmed to him and all those present at Jesus’ baptism.

So why is John the Baptist suddenly asking Jesus whether He really is the Messiah? If you think about it, you have to wonder why this passage was even included in the text at all. It doesn’t appear to add any new information of value to what we already know about Jesus. What then is the purpose of this odd interaction?

I think this passage demonstrates a universal phenomenon that we all deal with.

Doubt.

Imagine that. John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus, the way-maker appointed for preparing a path for the coming Messiah, the one who first identified Jesus as the Messiah and the Lamb of God to the crowds, the one who baptized Jesus and was a witness to the affirmation of Jesus by the Father and the Holy Spirit, is suddenly doubting whether Jesus really is the Messiah.

Why would he doubt?

I think a couple of things are happening that might help us understand.

First of all, John the Baptist had been arrested fairly soon after Jesus was baptized. In Matthew 4, Jesus goes out into the desert after His baptism and undergoes 40 days of temptation. The text says that after Jesus heard John was arrested, he began to preach (Matthew 4:12-17). So Jesus really doesn’t even begin his public ministry until after John is arrested.

Being in prison means that John cannot be a personal witness to the things Jesus is doing.

The bottom line for John is that things are not going the way he expected. He was not expecting to be imprisoned and he likely was also not counting on being sidelined while others had a front row seat as eyewitnesses to the many miracles and the public teaching of the Messiah.

When life doesn’t turn out the way we expect or hope, doubt can set in. Doubt can be so powerful that even the most stable, fundamental truths to which we’ve always held can suddenly be questioned.

Jesus’ response to John’s doubt is quite revealing.

Notice that Jesus doesn’t get angry or impatient. If it were me, I’d probably respond with a derisive, “Really bro? You know me. We grew up together. You were there when I was baptized. Remember that? And don’t you remember the dove descending and the voice from heaven? Why you gotta be a hater? C’mon man!”

Jesus is not upset and he’s not rattled. He simply responds to John’s disciples by quoting from Isaiah 29, Isaiah 35, and Isaiah 61, passages which describe what the ministry of the Messiah would look like. It just so happens, these are the exact things that Jesus is doing in His ministry.

Notice too that after John’s disciples leave, Jesus speaks glowingly to the crowds of John the Baptist and his ministry, calling him the greatest of all the prophets who had ever lived.

Jesus is not phased by John’s doubt. Jesus is not threatened or concerned by John’s doubt. Jesus does not use John’s doubt against him.

If Jesus can handle the doubt of a guy he called the greatest prophet who ever lived and who knew Jesus personally, He can certainly handle my doubt and your doubt.

It’s ok to doubt. Doubt is an expected response to unforeseen and unexpected circumstances.

But like John the Baptist, we shouldn’t wallow in our doubt. Instead, we should seek Jesus out, share our doubt with Him and allow Him to lovingly remind us of all the ways in which He has demonstrated who He is by the things He’s done in our lives and in the lives of others!

Reflection

What are some common reasons or circumstances that you think cause people to doubt?

What is a time in your spiritual journey where you doubted? What were the circumstances? How did you deal with that doubt?

What has been your response to others you know who have doubted God or Jesus or Christianity?

What are some helpful resources or steps you could provide to someone who is experiencing doubts in their faith?

 

Photo by Nathan Cowley from Pexels

Dealing With Doubts about God

While scrolling through my Twitter feed recently I saw a post from Sean McDowell with the title “Hawk Nelson’s Lead Singer Shares He Has Lost His Faith in God.”

My heart sank as I thought, “Not again.”

If you’re not familiar with Hawk Nelson, they are a Christian pop/rock band that has produced a number of top songs, including the enormously popular “Drops in the Ocean” and “Diamonds” from their 2015 mega-hit album “Diamonds”.

Jon Steingard, front-man for the Christian pop/rock band Hawk Nelson, recently announced via Instagram that he no longer believes in God.
Photo by Dave Lowe

I clicked on the link and read the article, as well as the 2200 word Instagram post from the lead singer, Jon Steingard, where he declared to his fans and to the world that he no longer believed in God.

What happened?

Steingard grew up as a pastor’s kid in a loving Christian home. Church was a way of life and since everyone he knew was a believer, he naturally became a believer. It was all he knew. He discovered his musical talents early on, participating in church worship and ultimately joining the Christian band, Hawk Nelson.

Steingard described his slow deconstruction of faith like wearing a sweater with a loose thread. As he pulled on the thread of doubt, the sweater of faith slowly began to unravel. Eventually, there was no sweater left.

What are the doubts that caused Jon Steingard’s sweater to unravel? The doubts mostly seem to stem from unanswered questions about the nature and character of God and the veracity of the Bible.

Steingard compared his faith deconstruction like a sweater with loose threads that began to unravel
Photo by rocknwool on Unsplash

For example, Steingard began to question the evil in the world. If God is loving, why wouldn’t he stop it? And what about natural disasters? Why is there so much suffering in the world? Steingard wondered why God seems so angry in the Old Testament and yet so loving in the New Testament.

Steingard also questioned various Biblical contradictions he saw and wondered how these inconsistencies could occur if God was really the author. He finally concluded that the texts were not authored by a perfect God but were the product of fallen, imperfect people like himself. It was at that point that Steingard realized there were no more threads to pull.

It’s a sad reality that more and more young adults like Jon Steingard are abandoning the church and the faith with which they grew up. There are a myriad of reasons for this but doubt and uncertainty about the truthfulness of the Bible and the Christian worldview is a common “thread” (pun intended) in the stories of many prodigals. The truth is, doubts are common. But they don’t have to be an onramp that leads to the deconstruction of your faith.

How should we handle doubts?

First, I think we need to acknowledge doubt and do our best to give space to those who have real questions without making them feel like 2nd-class Christians. Highlighting those who have struggled with doubts and allowing them to share their stories could go a long way to helping de-normalize the phantom-Christian caricature (who never doubts) that many hold.

Doubts and questions, while common among Christians, don’t have to be an onramp to deconstruction of our faith.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels

Secondly, while we acknowledge that doubt is real and common, we also can affirm that being a Christian does not mean being anti-intellectual. It’s popular in our culture for people to promote the idea that faith is anti-science (whatever that means). The reality is that faith and science aren’t in opposition to one another and Christianity is and always has been based on truth.

Third, we need to help those with doubts to reinforce the loose threads on their sweaters instead of pulling them and unraveling their faith altogether. We do this by helping them to see the truth in the foundations of the Christian faith. This is a primary role of apologetics.

The questions Jon Steingard wrestled with are not new. They are the same questions Christians have been wrestling with for two thousand years. The good news is that there is a lot of scholarship that affirms the Christian position and provides reasonable responses to many long-standing doubts and questions.

How is your sweater of faith? Are there loose threads of doubt? If so, reach out to someone who can help show you appropriate ways to reinforce your faith with a foundation of truth.

Nobody, whether Christian or non-Christian has all the answers. Life is complex and chaotic. But we believe God has revealed himself to us clearly through the Scriptures and through the person of Jesus Christ. This isn’t just some Sunday school fairy tale but is based on solid evidence.

If you’re struggling with doubts, let us know. We don’t have all the answers but we can point you to resources that you may find helpful.