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

Why Was Jesus Baptized?

Acts 19

1While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”

They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”

3So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”

“John’s baptism,” they replied.

4Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. 6When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. 7There were about twelve men in all.

(Acts 19:1-7, NIV)

Matthew 3

11“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

13Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptized by John. 14But John tried to deter him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”

15Jesus replied, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.” Then John consented.

16As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. 17And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:11-17, NIV)


The Daily DAVEotional

Have you ever wondered about baptism? What exactly is the meaning of this ritual and why is it performed? Is there some sort of efficacious grace administered via baptism or is it merely a symbolic event?

This week, in my Grant Horner Bible reading, I encountered two different passages (Acts 19 and Matthew 3) on consecutive days, both dealing with the topic of baptism. As I’ve mentioned before here and here, one of the advantages of this system is you encounter these exact scenarios where you see scripture commenting on other parts of scripture, often allowing you to make theological connections that you hadn’t noticed before.

A few days ago, I came across the passage in Acts, where Paul encounters some disciples and asks them if they’ve received the Holy Spirit. They don’t know what Paul’s talking about because they’ve never heard of the Holy Spirit. Paul then asks them what baptism they received and they tell him that they received John’s baptism.

The very next day in my reading plan, I encountered Matthew 3 and Shazam…there’s John out in the desert baptizing people! And then something really interesting happens…Jesus comes along and asks John to baptize him.

What in the world is going on? What is baptism all about and why in the world would Jesus want or need to be baptized?

If you’re like me, you probably have been conditioned to think of baptism in a certain way based on the tradition in which you were raised.

If you were raised in the Catholic or Orthodox tradition, you likely view baptism as a sacrament that is given to infants that delivers grace to them and preserves them until they are old enough to be confirmed and partake regularly of the other sacraments such as confession and Holy communion.

If you were raised in a Protestant tradition, you probably view baptism as an event that occurs at some point after you’ve made a personal decision to follow Jesus – a sort of declaration of your intent to follow Jesus.

But what is the meaning of baptism and why are there different baptisms?

The confusion with baptism is likely because in our minds we can associate baptism with the salvation process. If this is true, it would seem unnecessary to have different baptisms.

The truth is that the main idea behind baptism is not cleansing or salvation but identification. In the New Testament, people were baptized as a way of identifying with a message or a person. A few days ago, I wrote a post entitled “Name Dropping in the Early Church” based on a passage in 1 Corinthians 1, in which Paul says that he is glad that he didn’t baptize anyone in that church.

Why would he say that? Because the people were all aligning themselves with different leaders and Paul did not want people identifying with him; he wanted them to identify with Jesus alone.

So if you look now at the passage in Acts 19, we can see that these “disciples” that Paul runs into were not disciples of Jesus, they were disciples of John. They had been baptized by John, meaning that they had identified themselves with John and his message of repentance. Paul uses this knowledge to explain that John’s message was for people to believe in the one who was coming after him, Jesus!

After hearing this message regarding Jesus, they were baptized into Jesus, which means they accepted the message Paul shared and they chose to identify now with this message of salvation regarding Jesus’ death and resurrection. Essentially, they became believers. It is at this point that they receive the Holy Spirit, which is an indication that they are now a part of the family of God.

So why was Jesus baptized? He didn’t need to repent, for he had never sinned. So then what is the purpose of him being baptized by John?

Jesus came to redeem mankind by bearing the sins of the world on the cross. When Jesus was baptized, he was publicly identifying with sinful mankind, whom he would ultimately die for. This act of identification administered by John the Baptist was the formal beginning of Jesus’ ministry and mission to seek and save the lost.

Since John’s message was for people to follow the one who would come after him, Jesus’ baptism by John served as the official transition, inviting people who had identified with John’s message to now identify with Jesus and his message. From that point forward, John would declare “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30, NASB)

Finally, Jesus’ baptism served as a means of receiving affirmation and authentication from the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Reflection

What has been  your understanding of the meaning and purpose of baptism?

In what ways has your views and understanding of baptism been affirmed or changed from this devotional?

How would you explain the concept of baptism to someone who has just come to faith in Jesus?

 

Photo by Transformation Films from Pexels

 

 

The Beginning of the Gospel?

1The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  2It is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”—

3“a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”

4And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  5The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.  6John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.  7And this was his message: “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.  8I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 1:1-8, NLT)

The beginning of Mark is different than most of the other gospel books. The first words are “the beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ.”

What I find interesting about this statement is that Mark starts off stating that the gospel is about Jesus Christ but then he immediately shifts to some Old Testament passage in Isaiah, followed by a description of John the Baptist, a fiery preacher who lived out in the desert, wore weird clothes and baptized people in the Jordan river.

If the gospel is about Jesus and Mark’s book is about the beginning of the gospel, why is it that we don’t see or hear anything about Jesus until halfway through the first chapter (verse 9)?

I think what Mark’s account demonstrates is that Jesus is the center of the gospel story but he’s not the whole story. The Isaiah passage along with the verses describing John the Baptist indicates that God is always working behind the scenes and preparing people for the arrival of Jesus.

The gospel is indeed about Jesus. He’s the central figure. Without Jesus, there is no good news. But even before Jesus shows up, God is working, paving the way and preparing people’s hearts for the arrival of the king!

Reflection

In what ways did God prepare you for the arrival of Jesus in your life? Who are the key people and what are the key situations that paved the way for you to recognize the king?

What are some ways you can be involved in being a gospel-paver for others?