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Jack Graham - Bird in a Cage

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    Jack Graham - Bird in a Cage
TOPICS: Why Believe?, Doubts

Today in the message we're introduced to a man that Jesus called the greatest man born of woman. Now if someone were to ask you "Who is the greatest mortal who ever lived"? Not Jesus Himself, the God-Man, the Creator of all, but any man, woman born of a woman. Who is the greatest of all? You might choose a leader of a nation. You may choose someone like Lincoln or Washington in our own United States. You may choose some great inventor or scientist, you may choose some great author. What characterizes greatness in your mind? Well who is the greatest person? Maybe you'd say, my dad, my mom was the greatest person who ever lived. But Jesus said the greatest person who ever lived was a man called John, named John.

Now remember that John was introduced to us first when he was born, kicking and screaming before he was born, anointed by the Spirit of God even before his birth in his mother's womb. He was born to parents by the name of Zachariah and Elizabeth, a godly couple, a dedicated couple, a ministry family, because Zachariah was a country priest. He lived way out on the back side of nowhere and served faithfully and genuinely as a priest of God. Elizabeth was barren and they had prayed and prayed and prayed for a child, and nothing happened until one day the angel of the Lord announced to Elizabeth that she was expecting a child. That child would be great. He would be a preacher. Ultimately he would be the forerunner, the one who would come before the Lord, the Messiah Himself, and introduce Jesus to the world.

As I said, the Bible tells us that he was anointed from his mother's womb. He was chosen... he was set apart. And he grew up, indeed, to be a powerful man, a great prophet. In effect the last prophet of the Old Testament is John the Baptist. But Jesus said in the passage we're about to... to read here in the Gospel of Luke that he was greater than a prophet because he introduced to the world the one who is the fulfillment of all prophecy, Jesus Himself. John, the Baptist! Now, though we Baptists would love to claim John, he was not called John the Baptist because he was as a member of Prestonwood. You know, it's not like John the Baptist as in, you know, Pete the Pentecostal, Mike the Methodist, Earl the Episcopalian, Pat the Presbyterian, and so on. That's really funny. That's funnier than you laughed, okay! But anyway... It's not like that, but John the baptizer. This is what he did.

He came preaching repentance and the remission of sins, and he baptized. And he was in the wilderness; he was a desert disciple, and he was an ascetic, and he was rough-hewned. This was not a girly man; this was a dude's dude! This was a man's man! He had long hair. He dressed in leather. He ate bugs and honey. He had bugs in his teeth! He probably smelled really bad! He was not some metro-sexual minister in tight skinny jeans and a vee-neck, silk shirt! This man was a man's man and he was God's man! And man enough to get in the face of Herod the Great, the most powerful man in the region, accuse him of his sin, confront him with his sin, hoping to bring him to repentance but ultimately it landed John in jail. And not just any jail, but in Herod's jail in Herod's desert palace which is east of the Dead Sea. He was put in jail by Herod.

So he's in jail; he's languishing in prison. He's suffering and he has some genuine questions, because his expectations are not being met. He's wondering is Jesus really the one? He's doubting; he's despairing. He's facing an uncertain future, probably the end. His ministry he believes is over. He's depressed; he's a classic case of depression and the darkness of doubt and uncertainty that come upon our lives in hard times and difficult times. And so in verse 18 of chapter 7 here's what happens: "The disciples of John reported all these things to him", speaking of all the things Jesus was doing. "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?'"

Now this is the one who baptized Jesus, who said John 1:29, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world". He's thinking, "Did I baptize the wrong one? Is He really the expected one"? So he asks. "Shall..." He says to these messengers, "Go to Jesus; ask Him this". Verse 20: "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"?' And in that very hour in which these men arrived", there's a snapshot of what Jesus had been doing, "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've 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 in me'".

Yes, John was doubting, and I'm sure that you've been there as well. When your expectations were not fulfilled, when what you planned blew up in your face. You see, John expected Jesus to come and take over. He had prayed and planned like many others for a Messiah to come and throw out the Romans and to destroy the evil, corrupt religious system that has surrounded them. And when John introduced Jesus to the world, he said He's coming with a saber in His hand winnowing and, yet none of this was happening.

Now John's in jail. Herod put's his hand on him, throws him in the bottom of the dungeon, turns out the light and throws away the key. Many people face disabilities and disease and languish in near despair and suffering. Some of you walked in here depressed today because life has not turned out the way you expected. You didn't get the report you wanted. You prayed for a child; a child never came. You prayed that your child would grow up to live for Christ and that is not happening right now. And I could... relationship disasters and financial disasters. You prayed for a career path and that's all gone. What you expected from God... what you prayed has vanished. And like John, you don't know what to do. So what did John end up doing? Number one, this is what we do when we face our fear and face our doubt.

When John... We're calling this message "Bird in a Cage" because John was more than a bird; he was like a great eagle locked up in a cage. He's lost his song. Maybe you feel like that. So what do you do? You ask Jesus. That's what he did? He had some questions but he defeated his doubt because he took his questions to Jesus. When you have questions do what John did, go straight to Jesus. Go straight to Him because we all wrestle with questions. If you say you never have doubts, I doubt you are a real believer. You know, doubt is faith acting up. It's sort of like the warning light of the computer that signals you on your car that something's wrong under the hood. I've got one of those things going on right now.

Several things. A little thing saying: Tire maintenance. I don't... Does it want me to change the tire? Rotate the tires? I don't know! I'm... now it's saying: Oil Change. So what I do... I just punch the button and make it go away! And that's what a lot of people do when doubt shows up, we just stuff it down, especially Christians, because we think, "I shouldn't have these questions", "I shouldn't have these doubts". But in our humanity we all have questions that we can't answer! Right? Am I telling the truth? Sure, I am. If we're being honest we have questions because there are things we don't know! But there's a difference between unbelief and doubt. Unbelief is sin and it leads to despair. Doubt is faith which leads to a greater faith, if you will do what John did and that is take it straight to Jesus.

He sends these messengers to ask Jesus, "Are you the expected one? Are you really the Savior? Are you really the Redeemer? Are you the... are you the promised One? Are you the Messiah? Are you the one we've been waiting for"? If you're an unbeliever, and you may classify yourself even as a skeptic... It's fine to be a skeptic, just don't be a cynic. A cynic is someone who doesn't know, really doesn't want to know what is true and what is not true. Unbelief is often just a disguise for sin. Jesus spoke of an evil heart of unbelief. Unbelief is sin. And if you want to know the truth you can know the truth. Jesus said, "Seek Me and you will find Me".

In John chapter 7, verse 17. It's a verse you can write down. He said, "If anyone wants to know if the doctrine... the teaching that I'm giving you is true, he will know". If you want to know, you will know! So be honest with your doubt. Be honest with your questions. If you ask honest questions... if you are truly seeking to know what is right, what is wrong, what is true, what is not true? Is Jesus God or is He not God? You go straight to Him and you ask Him. Say, "Lord, show me if this true or not". Open the Word of God. Invite the Spirit of God to teach and He will show you. Expose yourself to truth and you will discover the truth. But, of course, most of you who are listening to me are not unbelievers; you're believers. And because of circumstances and hard times and suffering and loss and difficulty, your faith is shaken. You've lost confidence. You have these doubts. What do you do? I'm putting this in the most simple way I can but yet it so, so true. Ask Jesus.

You Say, "Okay, how do I ask Jesus"? Open your Bible. Ask God to speak to you. You know John never heard the words of Jesus. John the Baptist was not there when Jesus spoke these words. When Jesus gave them the answer, the messengers took it back. So we are reliant, are we not, on the Word of God, the messengers that God has sent from Jesus to tell us what is true and what is not true. And so this Bible... this Book is a faith-building Book. Romans 10:17, "Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God". So, Christian, if you have questions, open your heart to the Word of God. Prayerfully seek answers in God's Word. Pursue truth. Cry out to God to show you what's real and what's not real! Go to church. Be among Christians around the Word of God! Christians who will encourage you, who will give you godly council when you're hurting, when your life is falling apart. Get... Don't isolate yourself or insulate yourself! But get with God's people. Get under the sound of God's Word. Get in God's church! Trust God's promises!

Number one, when you doubt, ask Jesus. Number two, trust Jesus. What did Jesus say to John? We're going to read it, "And in that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues, evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. And he answered them". Okay, here's the answer. Here's your answer: "Go and tell John". And remember all these things in the Scripture? The story of John is also your story, so apply it to your life. "Go, tell John that the blind receive their sight (that's number one) the blind received their sight". Not only physically, but spiritually. He opens blind eyes. And listen, when we physically are in the presence of Jesus, we will see what we've never seen before. We will know even as we are known. In the life to come you are guaranteed total and complete healing! You will have a resurrected body. No more pain, no more suffering, no more disease, no more blindness!

If you're a pastor as I am, and our pastors here at the church... any pastor really... we are constantly dealing with sickness and suffering, hospitals and funeral homes. Death calls and contacts and visits. This week I think I have dealt with a death situation almost every day of this past week. And our ministers have done the same. Because we live in a broken world, and because of sin there is suffering, and because of suffering there is sadness and death. And we deal with this daily. Heart attacks and cancer and all the rest. But in the kingdom, Jesus is reminding us here while He was on earth it was happening then in the very hour that they saw it, but in the kingdom when the kingdom fully comes, Jesus reigns and rules. The blind will see.

I always promise people when I speak to them after the death of a loved one, that your loved one is now totally and completely healed! Healed! We pray for healing. Healing comes ultimately in the kingdom. This side of eternity we live in a growing global sorrow and sickness. But one day we will see Jesus face to face. The blind will see, the lame will walk! Anybody here slowing down a little bit? I mean I see it. In the mall... I see it here at church and people on the walker, people on the little scooters, people in wheelchairs, people with canes, you know, start being debilitated and slowed down by life. I see when I walk in from time to time here our special needs groups and children as well as adults. We minister... we built a building here to house our special needs ministry, and as I look at these precious ones, many of them who are debilitated and they're in that sense lame, they're in wheelchairs or they can't walk and they're suffering, and their families are suffering.

Did you know that one of the most unreached, unchurched people groups... We talk a lot about people groups. One of the most unreached, unhelped people groups... unchurched people groups in America are the families of the disabled and of special needs children. Higher divorce rate, problems. Think about it, if you had a special needs child, you find it difficult to come to church yourself for the very spiritual nourishment you may need. So I'm grateful that we've done what we've been able to do and that we're going to do more with special needs, but when I see these... these little kids in wheelchairs and I say God bless those kids! God bless their family. But I'm looking forward to the day when the lame will be walking, the disabled will be on their feet, dancing in the presence of Jesus! Can I get an Amen on that?

The blind will see! The lame, they're gonna walk! And He went on to say, "Tell John this: The lepers are cleanses"! Lepers were the outcast. They were put out of society. It was a loathsome disease, a terrible disease! Limbs, appendages falling off and therefore, you were put out, you were estranged from your own family. Here's a man; he's got leprosy. It's been forever since he's felt the hug of his own children, the embrace of his wife, since a friend shook his hand. Everywhere he goes he has to cry out, "Unclean! Unclean! Unclean"! But when Jesus shows up the lepers are made clean! And in the heavenly kingdom we'll not be saying unclean, unclean! We'll be saying, "Clean, clean in the power of Jesus Christ"! The lepers are cleansed! Jesus has power of disease, disabilities, darkness. These lepers were lonely because they were isolated. But in Christ He is the dearest friend we've every known.

Number four, He said, "Tell John this... tell My people this, the deaf hear". Those who have never heard My word will hear. And then He says, "Not only is it about physical healing, and people getting their bodies back, but the poor have good news preached to them! The poor have good news preached to them"! Jesus had an affection, a strong affinity to the poor. Now He loved the rich and spent time with people like Zacchaeus and Nicodemus and other rulers of the Jews and so on. He spent time... He loved rich people, but He had a special love for poor people, hurting people, bankrupt and broken people. And so should we. You know, the poor have often been rejected by religion because often religion chases rich people. Religion chases rich people.

But there are special promises to those who love the poor. The promise is in the Word of God... unique, given to those who love the poor, who lend to the poor, who give to the poor, who serve the poor, who show mercy to the poor, who share the good news with the poor, announce good news to the poor! And what is good news to poor people? That the Gospel... salvation is free! You don't earn it; you don't deserve it; you don't buy it! It can't be purchased! It's already given at the blood of Christ at His cross! It is, therefore, priceless. Isaiah the prophet said, "Come without price. Come without money. Just come"! The Gospel is free to anyone and everyone! When John is giving us... or rather Jesus is giving to John and us all of these announcements: The blind see; the lame walk; the lame... the deaf hear; and the lepers are cleansed. He's quoting passages... because Jesus knew the Bible... He wrote it after all. But He also in His humanity He learned these scriptures. He's quoting verses... passages right out of Isaiah.

So John when he heard these things would have immediately known... he would have immediately known that Jesus is saying, "I am the One! I am the Messiah! I'm the fulfillment of all of this! And I'm coming to preach the Gospel to the poor". The Gospel is good news to anyone and everyone regardless of your social-economic background or status, because Jesus paid it all. And if you want to know why believe, it's all... the crux of it is the cross and the resurrection. The dead are raised; Jesus is alive! So ask Jesus and trust Jesus! The works and the wonders and the words of Jesus! When you're doubting, when it's dark, when you don't know how or why or when, trust in Jesus!
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