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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Mike Novotny » Mike Novotny - I Sometimes Doubt God

Mike Novotny - I Sometimes Doubt God

Mike Novotny - I Sometimes Doubt God
TOPICS: Christmas Stress, Christmas, Doubts

In the last month, I had two conversations with two very different women from two very different backgrounds, but the conversations ended up being about the exact same thing, doubt. Doubts about the faith that I believe in, doubts about the book that I read every single day, doubts about the Savior that I try to follow. In the first case, it was a young woman who had not grown up with a lot of church, not a lot of Jesus, not a lot of Bible, she was from just a different kind of family with a different kind of religion. But then as life went on, she met this guy, and you probably know the story. She falls in love, and she wants to be with him, and he wants to be with Jesus, so she ends up spending a little bit of time with Jesus.

To her credit, she's humble enough to come to church with him to listen to the message. To her incredible credit, she even takes the class that our church offers to learn the basics of the Christian faith, she's listening, she's learning, she's intrigued, there's beautiful things about the Christian faith, but she's left with this question, "How do I know"? Yeah, the people here at this church, they're passionate, and they're confident, and they say, "God is like this," and, "Jesus did that". But the people I grew up with were just as sincere, just as genuine, just as nice, just as confident about their faith which was very different, so how do you know? They both say things that can't, like, totally agree, they're mutually exclusive, so how can you be absolutely sure that it's this instead of that?

And it turns out that's the same conversation I had with the second woman. We sat down at the coffee shop, and I heard her story, and it turns out that she grew up a lot like I did. She grew up with a lot of church, with a lot of Christianity, with a lot of Bible, with a lot of prayers, with a lot of friends and family members who were followers of Jesus. But like happens to many of us, maybe to most of us, as you get older, you start to ask questions that you didn't ask the pastor or the priest when you were seven like, "What about Buddhism? And how can Christianity be true if there's all these messed up things that happen in the world even to good people? If God's all powerful and all loving, how can this be? And what about hypocrites within the church? And man, there's some people who seem to be morally better than some of the people at the church, so how..."

And she wasn't rude about it, but she was honest about it. Like, "How do I know the things that my parents told me when I was little, things about Jesus in this book, are true"? Within days, I met these two very different women from very different backgrounds, but they were both wrestling with the exact same thing, doubt. Like, someday, no matter what path you take, you will die. And when that moment comes, if you're sitting in a hospital bed when the doctor says you have Cancer, you do not want to have doubt about God. You do not want to have to guess is there a God, does God have a plan for me, can he conquer death, can he bring me to heaven. No one likes dying with a shrug, but you can die with confidence and faith if you just know in the depth of your soul, if you're certain that there is a Savior who conquered death in your place and rose from the dead to prove that it's true.

And so, here's the tension I want to wrestle with today. Lots of us have doubts about Christianity. When it comes to the Christian faith and our relationship with God, we prefer not to have doubts, but how can you not when so many questions pop into your mind? Well, here's my first step for you. My first step for you is to give serous consideration to a man named Luke. Y'all know the story of Luke? He was one of the four guys who wrote the four Gospels, what we call the biographies of Jesus. Matthew, and Mark, and Luke, and John. He's actually a really big deal to Christians, he wrote the Gospel of Luke, and then a sequel called the Book of Acts. And even though he only wrote two books of the New Testament, those books are actually so long that Luke is responsible for 28% of the total words of the New Testament. Like, Luke is a huge deal in the history of Christianity, that's why we name hospitals and churches after this guy named Luke.

But what I love about Luke, one of my favorite things about Luke is that he intentionally wrote his Gospel for skeptics. For those of you today who, like, aren't a hundred percent certain about the Christian faith, who wonder in a diverse world, like, "Is this really true"? In fact, in some of the opening verses of Luke's Gospel, we find these words, I'll show them to you on the screen. Luke says, "I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things that you have been taught". In the very opening introduction of his Gospel, gives us some incredible reasons to push back against our doubts. It's actually... I'm just not saying this. This is one of my favorite paragraphs in the entire Bible. Like, I got a couple, top five for sure. Like, what I'm about to share with you, it's just four verses long. But inside those four verses, we are going to find six good reasons to have zero doubts about Jesus. Sound good? Four verses, six reasons.

I hope you have something to write with because we're going to jump in strong. Luke starts, "Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word". I see at least three compelling reasons to take Luke words seriously in these first few verses. Here's the first one. Because Luke is telling us that there are multiple researchers. Write that down for me, huh, "multiple researchers". Catch the first word, "many". He said, "Many have undertaken to draw up an account of these things about Jesus".

Did you know that there are many religions such as the Muslim religion, Islam; the Mormon religion, Mormonism, whose entire faith is based off of not many but just one. Muhammad was a man around 700 A.D. who went into a cave, he said that God spoke to him, and what came out of it was the entire Quran. Joseph Smith said he had this special connection through an angel, what came out of a single man's experience was an entire holy book that's very different than how the Bible approaches its story about Jesus. In this case, Luke says, "Many have undertaken to draw up an account". Matthew did, and Mark did, and Luke did, and John did. Mark, in fact, did a lot of his interviews with Peter who was part of Jesus' inner circle, John was part of that inner circle too, as was his brother, James, who he talked to. You had Jesus' half-brothers, James and Jude, who wrote books in the New Testament, you had the Apostle Paul, who knew the apostles personally. There were many, many people who were digging into the original details of Jesus' story, right?

So, when we say the Bible tells the true story of the life of Jesus, we're not saying that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John cracked open a 12 pack of Israeli IPAs and started to riff it about what happened with Jesus. No, this was serious to them, this was official to them. In fact, notice the language. He says, "Many have undertaken to draw up an account". Sounds official, doesn't it? And it was. It's not like you voice texting a friend with all the spelling errors and punctuation marks wrong, it's like a lawyer trying to build an official case to present before a judge. Luke says, "Here's the first thing you need to know. There were many researchers".

And now, here's number two, there were also multiple prophecies. You might have caught that interesting verb in verse 1: "Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us". Do you know how many things were written before the New Testament about Jesus that all came true in Jesus? Like, we have documented copies of the Old Testament that were written before Jesus was ever born that make insanely detailed predictions about the life that Jesus would live. And I always want to say to people who are intellectually serious, how do you explain that? Like, the Old Testament is not like a horoscope, "Something's going to happen sometime". No, it says things like, "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one whose origins are from of old, from ancient times".

Alright, when the Messiah comes, the eternal God, he will be born, not just in any Bethlehem, but Bethlehem Ephrathah, that little village just south of Jerusalem. That was written by Micah centuries and centuries before Jesus was born. How did he know that? The prophet that Isaiah, 700 B.C., talked about the suffering and death of Jesus, that his hands would be pierced, that he would be crushed. It says that he would be buried, and not just in any tomb but in a rich man's tomb which is exactly what happened when Joseph of Arimathea took his body down from the cross. How did he know that? In 2,000 B.C., God had said to a man named Abraham, "It's from your family tree that all the nations of the earth will be blessed". And a thousand years later, he said to king David, 2 Samuel 7: "David, from, you will come a king who will sit on a throne forever and ever, and ever".

That's why Jesus was called the Son of David, the Son of Abraham. How did they know that? Some scholars actually call the Book of Isaiah in the Old Testament, 700 B.C., the fifth Gospel because it says so many things about the life of Jesus, the death of Jesus, the miracles of Jesus, and the resurrection of Jesus. It seems like it was written in the first century A.D. and not the seventh century B.C. How did they know that? How did the Old Testament prophets know that Jesus would be betrayed by a friend? How did they know the price of his betrayal? How did they know at one time in history he would be born during the Roman Empire? How did they know all of these things? My answer is because God wrote the book, what's yours? So, it wasn't just a lot of serious researchers digging into the data, it was also multiple prophecies that proved that whatever happened to Jesus was true.

And if all that weren't enough, lets jump to reason number three. Reason number three, Luke tells us there were also multiple eyewitnesses of the life of Jesus. He says in verse 2: "All of these things that were fulfilled were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses," plural, "And servants of the word". This guy up here in the second row, his name is Alex, he's a lawyer. He was trained in law at Michigan State University, is that right? Aw, man. We forgive you for that, we Badgers. He's pretty respected in his field. I believe, works for the federal government now. When I read, like, this logical, reasonably, persuasive case that Luke's trying to make, I immediately thought of Alex, and I sent him just these four verses from the start of Luke's Gospel, and I said, "If you were in a courtroom, what would grab your attention in this"?

And Alex took a few days to think about it, then he replied, and I knew it was going to be good because on the reply to his email, he included an attachment. It was the official State of Wisconsin instructions for jurors to evaluate witnesses. Pretty good. It made me feel for your family and what it's like to be married to you. This is part of Alec's email back to me. He got to this part about eyewitnesses, and he said this, quote, "This is huge. These are the witnesses who are the most credible". But then he asked a few good legal questions. Number one, "Were the witnesses right there when something happened"? Luke's answer, "Yes". Matthew was there, John was there, Mark is interviewing Peter who was right there. Question number two, "How many eyewitnesses were there"? Answer? "Lots". Luke continues to write, "With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus".

Here's reason number four. Luke's intelligence, you get Luke's personal involvement in this. He says, "With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything". Do any of you know what Luke did before he wrote this Gospel? He's not an architect, he'd be pretty smart, he was actually a medical doctor. He was a companion of the Apostle Paul. At least two times, Paul calls him Dr. Luke. He was incredibly intelligent, and you might not have caught this, but he proves it in these very verses of the Bible. In our translation here into the English language, we don't quite catch it, but in the original Greek that Luke wrote in, verse 1-4 are one long, complex, classic, Greek sentence. This is not, "Jesus talked," period; "Jesus fed people," period. This is like main verb with sub clause, with multiple participles hanging off of the last clause with... Like, Luke is trying to prove that if you want to speak AP Greek, he can do it. He's not some religious dummy, he's a very intelligent man who has put his intelligent brain into studying the life of Jesus.

If that weren't persuasive enough, reason number five is Luke's approach. Catch these words. Luke says, "I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning". Like, "I myself, I didn't ask my teacher's assistant to take care of this one. Carefully investigated, I didn't just google this, I wasn't double screening it while I figured out my fantasy football lineup for the weekend, careful investigation". And he says, "I did all of that with everything from the very beginning". You long time Christians might not have know this, but Luke's Gospel is the only one that covers all of it. Like, if you want to know what happened before Jesus was born, Luke is the only one who gets there. If you want the complete story of the birth of Jesus with the shepherds, and the angel, and running to Bethlehem, Luke is the only one that covers it. If you want to know what happened to Jesus when he was a pre-teen, Luke is the only one who covers it. All the Gospels cover the life, and works, of words, death, and resurrection of Jesus, Luke is the only one in the Gospels who covers fully the ascension of Jesus and his return into heaven.

So, if you want, like, the whole story, if you're new to Christianity, well, Luke says it best, "I've carefully investigated everything from the beginning," which brings us to our last reason, reason number six. I'm going to call this Luke's assistance. You might have been intrigued by the name that showed up in these verses. Luke says, "I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus". Now, people have wondered for the past 2,000 years who this Theophilus is, but here's what we do know. In Luke's writings in the New Testament, he only uses "most excellent" for very, very high-ranking government officials. If you read the end of the Book of Acts when Paul is speaking, defending his faith before governors and kings, he would call them "Most Excellent" so-and-so.

So, we think that Theophilus had a very, very high political position, and because he's showing up in the introduction like a dedication, in the ancient world people generally did that to honor the patron or the supporter of their research and their work. We're not a hundred percent sure of this, so don't write it down in pen, but it seems like Theophilus had learned about Jesus, he was a really important man who probably had a lot of money, but he had these doubts about the Christian faith, so what did he do? He gave a bunch of that money to Luke, Luke took a little bit of a time off from his medical practice and he used his sharp mind to research, and interview, and carefully investigate all these things about Jesus. Think of it like a research grant, alright?

Some big foundation gives all the money so you can really go deep and solve a problem. Luke wasn't just on his own, it seems like he had major, major help. And this isn't my most logical point, but some of you Christians know that Jesus had also promised Luke spiritual help. The night before he died, Jesus said, "I will send the Holy Spirit to remind you of the things that I've said". That's why Christians believe the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit, it's not just human people hoping to get it right. Actually, God oversaw the whole process so we could have certainty of these things that we have been taught. So, put all this together and what do you got? We got multiple researchers: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John,9 Peter, Paul. We have multiple prophecies: born in Bethlehem, died on a cross, buried in a rich man's tomb, raised on the third day. We have multiple eyewitnesses, people who were there just 30 years before to see these things when they had happened.

We have Luke writing, an incredibly intelligent man who's approaching this in a very systematic and thorough way, and he has not just God's help, but human help top pull it off. Put all of that together and what do you get? You get a reasonable faith, you get people who can be deeply Christian and deeply thoughtful at the same time, you have answer from God to deal with some of those doubts that sometimes pop up in your heart and in your head, and you have a reason to keep reading these amazing things about Jesus. So, that's my hope and my prayer for you today. When you who are raised in the church have that first doubt, I need you to know the Bible is not the kind of book that says, "Put your hand down, no more questions, just believe".

Mm-mm, that's not Luke. And if you're one of those people that think that, well, you read something on the internet, and the Bible's written by people, and it contradicts itself, so obviously this is all wrong, and you must be stupid if you believe it, uh-uh, that is so far from the truth. Instead, I hope that all of us with humble hearts will continue to read these amazing things that Luke wrote about the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ. You see, if you would read the Gospel of Luke, you would find out that he is famous for talking about Jesus' love for very imperfect people. Even though he was a doctor and rubbed shoulders with most excellent Theophilus, Luke's Gospel is filled with Jesus interactions, not just with men, but with women; not just with the rich, but with the poor; not just with the put together people, but with prodigal sons, tax collectors.

Who's the one that tells the long story of Mary and Joseph, these poor kids from up north in rural Israel? Luke. Who's the only one that talks about the shepherds, these third shift, rough around the edges kind of guys who get good news of great joy? Luke. Who's the only one in the Bible to tell the story of Zacchaeus, that rich, scumbag tax collector who met Jesus and whose life was changed? Only in Luke. Where's the only spot in the Bible where you can find that short story of the prodigal son, the kid who turned his back on his father, went away from home, wasted his money on prostitutes on partying and then came home wondering if he could be accepted again? That is only, only, only in the Gospel of Luke. Luke wants you to know that if you're not the top of the social food chain, if you haven't lived a perfect life, Jesus. The reason he wrote his Gospel is not just so that you would ace the theological test. The reason he wrote his Gospel is at the end of the day, you might have certainty of the things you have been taught about the love of God through our Lord and Savior, Jesus.

Friends, Christmas is an amazing season of the year, but what makes it amazing-amazing is being certain about Jesus. He was born, he lived, he died, he rose, he returned to heaven. Luke researched all of it so that you and I could deal with our deepest doubts. Is God with us? Is God for us? Does God forgive us? Through Jesus Christ, the answer is no doubt. Brothers and sisters, this... this is most certainly true. Let's pray:

Dear God, I pray that your Holy Spirit would persuade hearts right now. There're people who are watching on TV or online, there're people who are sitting right in front of me who are very tempted to go back to a life that does not include you at the very center, the sun that everything else resolves around. And God, whatever they're pursuing, whatever they're prioritizing, it might seem so good now, but it won't very soon. I pray that you would change their hearts right now to see that sin is serious, their situation is serious, but Jesus was dead serious when he gave his life on the cross. God, there are tender hearted souls here, big-hearted, compassionate people who constantly wonder if they're worthy, if, they're enough, if they've sinned too much.

Just do in the hearts what I simply can't with my words. Convince them without a doubt that God loved the world, and if that's true, then God must have loved them, that Jesus said, "It is finished," not, "It has started," so it is finished for them too. Help them to rest this Christmas season with actual hope, peace, and joy knowing that this baby born in the major was born to save us from our sins. And God, I pray for all of us who are about to start another holiday season. There're going to be high moments when we're absolutely sure of this story, God born of a virgin; there're going to be doubts and questions as the enemy attacks us. Help all of us to remember today, this is not just a story, this is not a myth, a fable, a tale, it's not some guy long ago sharing his religious opinions. This is much more than that, this is your story, this is history, and of this we can be sure. Decrease our doubts today, God, so we can increase our hope and our joy in your son, Jesus. It's in his beautiful name that we ask all these things, and all of God's people say "Amen".

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