Jesus ❤’s Sinners
“John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’”
(Luke 7:18ff ESV)
Thesis :: When John struggles with doubt over who Jesus is, Jesus publicly defends John and challenges everyone else to decide for themselves.
1. John Doubts | An Examination of doubt
2. Jesus’ view of John | Jesus is OK with your doubt
3. Jesus’ view of this Generation | Doubt can be a blessing or a curse
Our story today has 3 distinct sections. First we will learn that John the Baptist has doubts about the identity of Christ. Next we will see Jesus turn to the crowd and defend John. He speaks very highly of John. Finally, Jesus challenges everyone to decide what they believe about Jesus’ identity. So, as we go through these 3 sections together, I want us to see 3 things. First, I want to examine doubt. I find it completely refreshing that John struggles with doubts because I struggle. And — I am pretty confident that you do too. So I want to take a good hard honest look at doubt. What are your doubts? Where do you struggle? What questions do you have that make it hard for you to trust God? Secondly, I want us to see that Jesus is OK with your doubt. He isn’t offended. In fact he welcomes your questions because he has compassion on the doubter. Finally, after we are honest about our doubt, Jesus wants to invite you to trust him, despite the doubt. Jesus will challenge us to examine whether or not our doubts are real or just bratty crutches that we use to avoid the truth.
An Examination of doubt
The disciples of John reported all these things to him. And John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And when the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” (Luke 7:18-23 ESV)
Ok, this story just won’t work with out an understanding of two very important backstories. One about John and the other about Jesus. Here’s the back story of John. John was born to Zecharias and Elizabeth. The Bible tells us that they are well advanced in years, meaning too old to have children, and yet they were longing to have a child. At the ripe old age of something like 101, an angel came to them and told them that they were not only going to have baby, but that they were going to have a very special baby. He was going to be the four-runner of Messiah. God told John’s parents that. So growing up, you just know that John’s parents wouldn’t let him forget it. You know — are a special kid. God has chosen you to prepare the way for the Lord. Special kids obey their parents you know. Special kids play nice with their friends. I am pretty confident that John knows his own story.
Anyway, we meet John in the first part of the gospels as a homeless adult who lives out in the desert. He eats bugs and honey and the only clothes he has are animal skins. John is a very eccentric kind of guy. But that doesn’t stop thousands of people, including wealthy tax collectors and snobby religious leaders, from hiking out to the desert to hear John preach. John has a very popular preaching ministry despite his unpopular message. His message was simple. You are a sinner. God is coming soon. You better repent and be baptized, or washed, in this river.
One day, as John was preaching and baptizing, someone asked him if HE was the messiah. John quickly denies the title and adds that he is actually unworthy to even touch the sandals of the Messiah. Then Jesus comes to John to be baptized in the Jordan River and John just sort’a freaks out saying, “I cant. I’m unworthy!” But Jesus insists and when John baptizes Jesus a miraculous event occurs. Several gospel writers tell us that, as Jesus is being lifted out of the water, the sky opens, a dove flies down and lands on Jesus, and a loud audible voice proclaims, “This is my beloved Son whom I am well pleased.”
So that is the back story of John the Baptist. His birth was surrounded by all sorts of miraculous stuff. He know’s his destiny, that he has been called to prepare the way for messiah. Then, when Messiah comes, he not only recognizes him but feels completely unworthy to baptize him. And to top it all off, he actually witnesses the heavens open, a dove landing on Jesus’ head, and hears the actual voice of God declaring that Jesus is the messiah.
So, I want to just ask this question. How is it, that a man with that kind of back story, could even begin to doubt the identity of Jesus? I mean, he is asking a very clear question. There is no doubt about it — John is doubting. His question get’s repeated twice verbatim. “Are you the one, or should I wait for another?” In other words, “Are you the Messiah, or is the Messiah still to come?”
Now when I was baptized, there were no birds, no voices, there wasn’t even a sky because I was baptized indoors, in this lukewarm baptismal of a Free Will Baptist church in San Leon, Texas. If John gets an opened sky, a dove and a voice and yet still doubts, how much more likely will you and I experience doubt?
Do you ever doubt? Do you wrestle with who God is, who Jesus is? Have you ever experienced what one poet has called the “dark night of the soul”? A time period of questions with no answers? A season of silence? A crises of faith? I believe that we all will experience something like that at least once in our lives. “Doubt is probably a permanent feature of the Christian life. It’s like some kind of spiritual growing pain.” (Os Guinness in Doubt and Assurance, 32.)
John has a question. And though I am comforted by the fact that he too has doubts and questions, I have to admit, I’m not so relieved by Jesus’s answer.
In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
Do you feel like Jesus answered his question? It doesn’t really feel like it. It’s a simple question really. “Yes or No. Are you the One?” Well — this is where the other back story becomes helpful. We have to know a backstory about Jesus too. So, right after Jesus gets baptized by John. He goes into the synagogue on the Sabbath and he is invited by the leaders to read from the Holy Scriptures. Jesus gets up. He takes the scroll, unrolls it to Isaiah 61:1 and reads this.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19 ESV)
As he rolled the scroll back up, he handed it to the leader and sat back down. Then, while everyone was still looking at him, he said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” This angered the crowd so much that they dragged him outside and set him at the edge of a cliff in order to throw him off. The Bible simple says he slipped out. Which I think is pretty cool. But why did they get so mad. Because that text from Isaiah was a very popular text that every Jew knew as a prophecy concerning the Messiah. Essentially Jesus said. Today, this text has ben fulfilled because I am Messiah.
So that is the back story of Jesus. This is one of his favorite verses. He quotes it in the synagogue and claimed it as his signature verse. Now John asks him if he is the Messiah, and Jesus just quotes this verse again. Notice that our passage says “in that very hour he had healed many”. So he didn’t just quote a verse he fulfilled it — literally.
The back story is important because it helps us see that Jesus really does answer the question. He actually does better than answer the question. He proves it. It would have been one thing to simply say, “Why yes, I am the Messiah!” That might have left John with more doubts. John might say something like, “Well of course you would say that. But how do I know?” Jesus by-passes that problem altogether by saying, “Well watch this.” He heals a bunch of folks, turns to John’s disciples and says, “Now go tell him what you saw and then quote Isaiah 61 too.”
One reason why I am certain that pretty much all of us will wrestle with doubt is because of the way Jesus answers our questions most of the time. Let’s just be honest. I want a real honest look at this. Sometimes, maybe even most of the time, God is just silent. The cry, “Where are you God!?”… is not only a common theme in Scripture (see the Psalms) but it is the most penetrating question of our age. Do you remember Paul Newman and the movie “Cool Hand Luke”? Oh man, he was always arrogantly testing the existence of God. “Hey old man, you up there? You got something to say about this?” Cool Luke is the poster child of the postmodern mind.
The postmodern asks, “Where is God anyway. I mean if God is real, why is there so much hurt and suffering in the world.” And you know what, God doesn’t really seem to answer that question for us. See also, the book of Job. See also John the Baptist.
Here is a thought — did you notice how Jesus quoted the verse a little differently when he sent the message back to John? Did you notice what he skipped — twice? Did you notice how he did not say that part about captives being set free and freedom for the oppressed?
Now that’s interesting. Cause you see, John is in prison right now. He is in a dungeon waiting to have his head served up on a platter to Herod’s wife. That is why he is doubting. That is why he has to send his disciples. Essentially John is saying, “Look, I am about to die up in here and I just need to know are you the Messiah. Isn’t the Messiah supposed to set the captives free. I could use some freedom here Lord. Where are you on this?”
So Jesus answers John’s question. He proves the answer. Yes I am Messiah, but he leaves the freedom part off. He answers the Messiah question but leaves the dungeon question lingering. The fact that he doesn’t quote that part certainly spins John into further questions. “Does that mean I’m going to die? Does that mean the cancer is going to take me? Does that mean I’m going to loss my job? Most of the time He doesn’t answer those questions. And so doubt is real, and even if God showed up and spoke to us in an audible voice, doubt is still very real. But its ok.
Jesus is OK with your doubt
When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, “‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” (Luke 7:24-28 ESV)
I just want to be very clear about this — its ok. If John the Baptist can doubt, you can too. It is not a sin to doubt. Jesus doesn’t rebuke John. He doesn’t say to John what he normally says to his disciples, “You of little faith.” Instead he turns to the crowd and defends John. He says, “You don’t judge John! There is no one greater than John.”
So I want to say it again. It is ok to have doubts. Jesus is ok with your doubts. If he weren’t, then he would answer all our questions so we wouldn’t have room to doubt. Doubt is not a sin. Doubt is not the enemy. In fact doubt could very well be the mother of faith. I like what R.C. Sproul says about doubt. … “Doubt can appear as a servant of truth. Authentic doubt has the power to sort out and clarify the difference between the certain and the uncertain.” (page 16).
It seems to me that there has been a trend in the church to sort of demonize doubt. Over the years I have witnessed some friends wrestle alone with their doubts because they felt their doubts where not allowed in church. C.S. Lewis spoke of two mistakes we make when we think about doubt. The theological liberal tends to be too soft on doubt. They love notions of ambiguity and uncertainty. “But the theological conservative tends to be too hard on doubt, demonizing the dire consequences of unresolved doubt and verging on a spiritual perfectionism that leaves doubters in such a state of guilt or despair they dare not acknowledge their doubts to others of even themselves.” (Os Guinness in Doubt and Assurance, 32.)
Doubt is ok. I want you to know that your questions are welcomed here. It is not a sin to doubt. Os Guinness goes on to say, “I believe in doubt”, which is another way of saying that there is not believing without doubting so that even in doubting, I believe.” (Ibid)
You see, doubt is not the enemy, unbelief is. And we must first understand the difference between doubt and unbelief. Unbelief is the opposite of faith, doubt is not. Doubt is “the state of mind in suspension between faith and unbelief.” (Os Guinness in Doubt and Assurance, 32.) Despite popular belief, Christianity is not blind belief. Faith is the assurance of things not seen, but it is not blind. And so — it is ok to have questions. It is ok to doubt.
In fact, some of the greatest, most influential men of the faith have been die hard skeptics. C.S. Lewis, whom I believe to be one of the greatest Christian thinkers of the last century, was a proud atheist in Oxford England. He described himself as being “very angry with God for not existing”. When he finally became a Christian he described his journey to faith as,”kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance to escape.” He doubted Christianity, and he fought against become a believer but he couldn’t help it.
There are many many others. Like, Renee Descartes who doubted everything, including his own existence. Descartes coined the famous line, “I think therefore I am.” And from this one simple premise, The only thing that I can know with certainty is that I really do exist.” From that one premise he developed a powerful argument for the existence of God in an era saturated with skepticism.
So I want to say it again, Jesus is ok with your doubts, your questions — and the church is too. You can ask your questions here. But I must add this. So we should also take our doubts very seriously. We must hold the tension between faith and unbelief. If we can not hold that tension, we run the risk of slipping into unbelief or allowing a preoccupation with our doubt to hinder the growth of faith. The key to faith is doubting your doubts. Like the centurion who asks Jesus for a healing in this very chapter. He says, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.” Or like John — who is asking Jesus for help with his doubt. John is not sitting in prison, feeding his doubt. Instead he is pursuing Christ for answers. So despite the fact that doubt is normal, and scriptural, and even a healthy path to faith, it can not be used as a crutch for unbelief. That leads us to our final point.
Doubt can be a blessing or a curse
(When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John, but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.)
Jesus, still talking to the crowd calls them names. It’s sort of funny, yet convicting too. I want us to notice how intentional Luke, the author, is about insuring that we see this contrast between the tax collectors and the religious leaders. He says that some of the people were glad to hear Jesus talk so positively about John, because they did go out to John in order to be baptized. “Tax collectors too,” Luke adds. Tax collectors are the worst of criminals in this culture. Luke wants you to see, tax collectors were getting saved. But the religious leaders, they did not go out to be baptized by John. They went out to scrutinize and judge John. The same is true for Jesus. The sinners, tax collectors too, came out to see Jesus, to hear him, to learn from him, to touch him. The religious leaders scrutinize and judge. And so Jesus says this to them…
“To what then shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, “‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’ For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.” (Luke 7:29-36)
Jesus says you are all like a bunch of bratty kids. That’s how one commentator translates the Greek. (Bock) The bratty kid attitude is, “If you don’t play my way, then I’m going to take my toys and go home. Unless you play my way, then I am not going to play at all.” I was playing Monopoly with a bunch of teenagers once and one of them flipped the whole board over because he was mad that the rest of us believed in playing with squatters rights. He was mad because one player landed on him and didn’t pay despite the fact that he didn’t see it and didn’t ask for the money. He got so mad he flipped the whole board over. Houses and motels flying in a tornado of chaos all because he didn’t get $12 in pastel colored money. I find it sad when my son, who looks forward all day for his friends to come over to play, and then when they get there they spend the whole time fighting over who is going to be the monster. All of them want to play “monster” but none of them want to be the monster. You can’t play “monster” with out a monster. And so they just stand there crying and pouting.
Jesus says, that is really the best way to describe the entire generation. You are all just brats because you wont play the game unless I play by your rules — and you keep changing the rules.
So, John was an ascetic. He fasted from bread and wine and soft clothing. He lived in the dessert and preach repentance and holy living and you reject him. You say, now that’s just too far. He has gone of the deep end there. He is a Jesus Freak! He may even be demon possessed. And you know, there are allot of unbelievers who won’t trust Christ because they are afraid that once they do they’ll have to give up food and wine and then all of sudden they’ll have bad taste in clothing.
Then Jesus says, “So I come eating and drinking. I have good taste in clothing, I drink wine, I eat good food, I celebrate and live a full life with my friends, and yet you say that I am a drunk, a glutton, and a friend of sinners and tax collectors, too. So what gives? You don’t like John because he’s an ascetic, but you don’t like me either. You will never be happy.”
And so Jesus says, “Anyone who is not offended by me will be blessed, but for the brats, I will be a trap. The Greek word used here for offense is skandalon a term used often to describe Jesus. It means a trap.
This section ends with this phrase, “Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.” Here is the ironic thing — doubt is ok, but in the end, you will still need to do something with Jesus. We are not allowed to use our doubts as a crutch. Jesus is either gonna be a blessing or a trap. Those who wrestle through their doubts and trust in Jesus will be blessed. They will be called Wisdom’s children. But those who don’t deal adequately with their doubts, Jesus will be for them a trap to trip over. So you see, it is those who trust in Christ who are wise.
So in conclusion here is what I want us all to understand. Doubt is normal. We will always have questions about God, and life, and suffering. We will always wrestle with the ‘whys?’, and God is ok with that. However, it can not end there. Our doubts must either give birth to trust and faith, or they will give birth to unbelief. We can not use our questions as a crutch. We must make a choice about Jesus.
I know allot of people who use their questions and doubts as a crutch. They say, “If God exists, why is there so much pain and suffering in the world.” Well, I don’t really have a home run answer about that. “That is exactly what I thought, and that is why I will not believe in God.” But, hey listen, I’m sorry that there is pain in the world but that doesn’t really prove that God doesn’t exist. God doesn’t have to play by your rules. God made great pains to show you how much he loves you. He sent his Son Jesus to pursue you and to even die for you. He is well acquainted with suffering. Jesus had questions too. He asked, “Father, why have you forsaken me?” So, just because God doesn’t answer all of our questions, even if he doesn’t answer any of our questions, that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t exist. We don’t get to make up the rules and we can’t use our unanswered questions as an excuse for unbelief.
If you are here today and if you are wrestling with some doubts, I want you to know that you are in good company. But I also want you to know that some of those questions may get answered, some may not, but either way you need to know that Jesus loves sinners and he is comfortable with doubters. But he wont play bratty childish games. Please don’t use your doubt as a crutch not to trust in him. Instead do as John did. Pursue Christ and Christ will defend you because his love for you is greater than your doubts.