Robert Jeffress - For Those Who Doubt
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress, and welcome again to "Pathway to Victory". At some point nearly every Christian goes through a season of doubt regarding God's existence, or at least God's goodness. And many people are too ashamed to ever admit that they have those doubts. Well, doubt is a natural part of the Christian experience, so how do we handle those inevitable moments of uncertainty? Today we'll look at Jesus' surprising reaction to the crippling doubts of one of his most faithful disciples. My message is titled, "For those who doubt", on today's edition of "Pathway to Victory".
Most of us at some point in our Christian life have times of great doubt. In fact, I've come to believe those who never doubt are those who never think much about their faith. In fact, if I were to ask today for a show of hands, and I'm not going to, but if I were to ask you, how many of you have ever had a time in your Christian life when you questioned your faith, I imagine most hands would go up, wouldn't they? It happens to all of us at some point in life. You may be a student, you grew up in a Christian home and in a Bible believing church like this one, but you go off to college and you hear the so-called facts of evolution and you think, if the Bible is wrong about that, what else is it wrong about? Or maybe a young adult picks up a secular news magazine like "Time Magazine" and reads the cover story, "The history of Christianity", and the writer makes the claim that Jesus never claimed to be the Son of God.
In fact, that title was conferred upon him 300 years after his death at the Council of Nicaea for political power. And that young adult reads that and thinks, gee, it's in "Time Magazine", it has to be true, doesn't it? Or maybe you have a child or a grandchild who is rebelling against God, and you pray continually for that son or daughter or grandchild to return back to God, and yet they move further and further away from God, and you think, if God can't be counted on to answer a prayer like that, what good is he? Or perhaps your mate, a strong follower of Christ, has been struck with a debilitating illness that has left mate in a terrible, painful existence for months, perhaps years, and you begin to question, if God deals with his followers like that, why would I want to trust in him?
All of us at some point in our life will question either the love, the wisdom or even the existence of God. If that's true of you, you're in good company. It may surprise you to know that some of the greatest men and women in history who have been used by God have all had times of great doubt. I think about Martin Luther, who said at one point in his life, "Christ was wholly lost. I was shaken by desperation and blasphemy against God". The puritan preacher Richard Baxter said that his faith rested on "Probabilities instead of full, undoubted certainties". A fellow puritan leader named Increase Mather wrote in his dairy things like, "I have been greatly molested with temptations to atheism". A church in Chicago delayed D.L. Moody's membership because of his beliefs that seemed so uncertain.
Actually, you can go back further in history than that. People like Moses, Jeremiah, Elijah, even the apostle Paul had moments of doubt. Even the Lord Jesus himself, while he hung on the cross said, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me"? Today we're going to look at the individual who Jesus said was the greatest person in all of human history, and yet even though Jesus said that about him, this individual had moments when his faith was shaken to its very foundation. Even though he spent his ministry proclaiming that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God, he himself began to doubt that because of unanswered prayer and undeserved suffering in his life. Of course we're talking about John the Baptist.
If you have your Bibles today, I want you to turn to Luke chapter seven, because today you're gonna find this message very encouraging if you've ever had periods of doubt in your life. Or in the life of somebody you care about deeply. Let's look and see what God's word says for those who doubt, Luke chapter seven, beginning with verse 18. "And the disciples of John reported to him about all these things". All what things, you may wonder. Well, the disciples of John went back to report to John all the things about Jesus, the miracles he had performed, just like we looked at last time, the healing of the centurion slave, the raising of the widow's only son from the dead. So they go back to report to John what Jesus was doing.
Now, of course, the question was, where was John when they reported to him? Let's go back and remember where we are in this story of John himself. The last time we saw John he was at the river Jordan. John was baptizing, John was announcing, get ready, for the long-awaited Messiah is about to come. That was his ministry in the wilderness. And then one day Jesus appeared, and remember John proclaimed, "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world". And Jesus came down and requested that John baptize him. But John's ministry didn't stop there. We last saw him in Luke three when those things happened, but after that time John continued to preach that Jesus was here, but not only that, John in his ministry continued to confront an ungodly culture and ungodly rulers.
One of those rulers that John the Baptist confronted was Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch, the king, who had taken his brother's wife as his own wife. And John the Baptist condemned him for this unholy act. And as a result, John was imprisoned, and later he would be beheaded. By the way, I have to stop here and make an obvious but important point for today. When John preached, he didn't just preach to God's own people, the redeemed Israelites. When John talked to unbelievers, he didn't just talk to unbelievers about their need for Jesus Christ as their Savior. There's no evidence in John's words to Herod that he ever said, Herod, you need to trust in Jesus as your Savior. Instead, he said, "Herod, what you are doing is wrong. It is a violation of God's standard".
Somehow we have allowed to seep into our culture, our Christian culture, this idea that God's people, especially pastors, have absolutely no right to speak to an ungodly culture, that we can only talk to Christians. And if we ever talk to non-christians, the only thing we can ever talk to non-christians about is their need to accept Christ as Savior. That's the only message we have for a lost world. Wrong, wrong, wrong. And you look at all of the prophets of the Old Testament, they spoke to an ungodly culture as well. Thank God the pastors of our own American history didn't fall for that malarkey that all you can do is talk to unbelievers about Christ and nothing else.
You look at our American history, it was Christian pastors who were at the forefront of bringing change in our nation. It was the black-robed regiment, the black-robed regiment, that group of pastors, courageous pastors in the American revolution who stood up and said, "We are not going to put up with the tyranny of King George any longer. We believe in a free church and a free state". It was pastors who led the way for the abolition of slavery in our country. It was pastors who were at the forefront who led for civil rights in our country because they chose to get involved in the political process.
And I believe, ladies and gentlemen, that God's people, and especially pastors, oughta be the ones right now standing up and talking about the sanctity of marriage, the sanctity of life and religious freedom. If we don't do it, who's going to do it? God has called us to do that. I'll say it again, we're not going to transform the world through politics. All we can do through politics and standing up for these principles is slow down the decay of our country. Slow down the unraveling, slow down the rotting away of our culture. Slow it down, we're not gonna stop it, slow it down so that we have longer to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ before the Lord returns again. That's the only reason we do that. That's the only reason we get involved. That's what Jesus said when he said, "You are the salt of the world".
Salt was a preservative, it didn't stop the rotting of the meat, it just delayed the rotting of the meat. Gave the meat a little longer, gave it a little longer shelf life. John the Baptist understood that. John the Baptist was willing to confront an ungodly leader in an ungodly culture, and because of that, he ended up losing his head. But I digress, back to the story of John here. John would be beheaded, but right now in Luke chapter seven, John is in prison, he's been there for 18 months languishing. And at this point the disciples of John go back to report to John about all the things that Jesus is doing. Look at verse 19, "And summoning two of his disciples, John sent them to the Lord, saying, are you the expected one, or do we look for something else"?
John, what are you saying? Are you the expected one? Have you had a heatstroke, don't you remember John? You were the one who said, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world". You've said here is the one who is the answer to the Old Testament prophecies for Messiah. What's wrong John, why are you having these doubts? I've actually read people who say, "Well, John really wasn't asking for himself, he was asking for others around him who had those doubts". No, he asks a question here, verse 20, he asks the same question again. "Lord, are you the Messiah"? What would cause John to doubt that?
Remember, the Old Testament prophets and John believed that when the Messiah came, he would come not only to be the Savior of the world, but the king of the world. He would come not only to offer salvation, but to offer freedom from oppression. They didn't understand that there would be a gap of thousands of years between the Messiah's first coming and his second coming. When Jesus came the first time, he came to be the sacrifice for our sins, the suffering servant, but he's coming back again one day, isn't he? And when he comes back again, he's coming to rule the world in justice and righteousness. They didn't understand that, they thought it was a whole ball of wax with one coming. And so here is John, and he's saying, "Lord, are you the expected one"? I mean, after all, you've said some nice things. You've performed some pretty impressive miracles. But I'm still here in prison. So where is this freedom that you've been talking about? It hasn't happened yet.
Now John, out of his respect for Jesus, actually softens the question a little bit. He pulls his punch, he says, "Lord, are you this expected one in the Old Testament, or have we just misunderstood it? Should we be looking for someone else"? At the root of John's question was a profound disappointment in what Jesus was doing or not doing in his own life. John was saying, Lord, if you're the expected one, why am I in this dark, damp, Roman prison?
Let me stop here for a moment and point out what I believe are four sources of doubt in our life. If you or somebody you know doubts his or her Christian faith, it's usually for one or more of these reasons, and I want you to write this down. First of all, unlived truth. Unlived truth can be a source of doubt. One of my seminary professors used to say to us, he said, "Remember this, preachers, nothing will cause more doubt in your life than trafficking in unlived truth". He was saying, if you stand up week after week and profess and teach things that are not true in your own life, it's gonna cause doubt. That's not only true for pastors, it's true for all of us. If there is a contradiction between what you profess to be true and how you actually live, you can't live with that dissonance for a long period of time. I tell Christians who are living disobediently one of two things is gonna happen soon. Either you're gonna change your behavior, or you're gonna change your beliefs. But you can't continue to claim what the Bible says to be true and live a disobedient lifestyle. Unlived truth can be the source of doubt.
Secondly, an unexamined faith can be the source of doubt. Somebody has said it's better to debate a question before settling it than to settle a question before debating it. You know that old adage, the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it. That's a great motto, but it really doesn't work that well. The fact is there needs to be a time when you closely study and examine what you believe, because there's going to come a time of testing. There's gonna come a time of doubt, and as first Peter 3:15 says, you need to be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks, including yourself, for the hope that is within you.
This is especially true of students who go off to college. They grow up in a cocoon like this church or a Christian home and then they go and they're confronted with an ungodly professor who teaches ungodly things and they begin to question their faith. I think about the atheist professor who was lecturing his class one day, and he said, "I'm going to prove to you that God doesn't exist". And he looks up and he said, "God, if you're up there, I want you to come down and strike me".
A few minutes pass, nothing happens. Finally a 300 pound football player at the back of the class stands up, starts walking toward the professor, gets in front of him and cold cocks him. Sends him reeling on his posterior. The professor stands up, wipes the blood off of his nose and said, "Why did you do that"? The football player said, "God was busy, so he sent me".
Now, students, somewhere you're gonna meet a professor like that who has all of this evidence, and that's why it is so important that you be grounded in your faith and know what you believe and why you believe it. And let me just take this moment to say that is why I am so grateful for the youth ministry of our church, our youth ministry has a long tradition which they continue to this very day of equipping our high school students in the fundamentals of the faith, what they believe and why they believe that, so that when their beliefs are assaulted, they can be firm in their faith.
And that's why, parents, it is so important, forget every other involvement, you make sure your child, whether they're in grade school or in the youth area, they're here every time the church doors open so that they can receive that foundation they're going to need in their faith. An unexamined faith can be a source of doubt. There's really nothing in the text that suggests that there was any unlived truth in John's life or an unexamined faith, but these next two sources of doubt I think apply.
The third source of doubt can be unanswered prayer. John wasn't upset about what Jesus was doing, it's what he wasn't doing. When John the Baptist said, "Send a message to Jesus and ask him if he's the expected one", what John was really saying was, hey Jesus, remember me? I haven't heard from you in 18 months. Have you forgotten about me? No doubt he was requesting that Jesus intervene in his situation. Many times we do the same thing. We ask God for an intervention in our life, to do something miraculous on our behalf or the behalf of somebody we care about deeply, and yet the more we plead with God, the more silent God is. The heavens seem as brass, and that causes doubt for many people.
The fourth cause of doubt is probably the bottom line cause of doubt, and that is undeserved suffering. A survey recently asked a cross-section of Americans, "If you could ask God only one question, what would you ask him"? You know what the overwhelming response was? God, why do you allow suffering in the world? I have the sneaking suspicion when people respond that way and they wanna know about suffering, they're really not thinking about earthquakes, famines, starving children in Africa. When they ask about suffering in the world, they're talking about suffering in their world. Lord, why do you allow bad things to happen to me?
By the way, that question isn't original. David, Solomon, Job all asked the very same question, and here was the question. God, if both believers and unbelievers suffer financial hardship, illness, divorce, death, then what use is it being a believer? If good things and bad things happen both to the righteous and the unrighteous, what advantage do the righteous have over the unrighteous? Phillip Yancey, well-known Christian author, tells about a very popular radio Bible teacher, everybody knows this person's name, on the radio he preaches with great authority, but in his own private life he suffered an illness that caused him to doubt greatly the things he believed about God.
And Yancey says on one occasion this popular Bible teacher said to Philip Yancey, "I have no trouble believing God is good, my question is more, what good is he? I heard a while back that Billy Graham's daughter was undergoing marriage problems, so the Grahams and the in-laws all flew to Europe to meet with them and pray for the couple. They ended up getting divorced anyway. If Billy Graham's prayers don't get answered, what's the use of my praying? I look at my life, the health problems, my own daughter's struggles, my marriage, I cry out to God for help, and it's hard to know how he answers. Really, what can we count on God for"?
That's what John was really asking. He said Lord, if you can't even get me out of this prison, what good are you? I want you to notice how Jesus responds. First of all, he speaks to John directly through these messengers. Secondly, he speaks to the multitude who are overhearing the whole conversation and finally he has a word to the pharisees, first of all to John himself. Look at verse 22. And Jesus answered and said to John's messengers, go and report to John what you have seen and heard. The blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear. The dead are raised up, the poor had the Gospel preached to them.
Jesus knew John was in prison. He couldn't see all of this so he said go and report to John everything that I'm doing and then Jesus said and by the way, verse 23, remind John blessed is he who keeps from stumbling over me. That word stumble means to ensnare and trap. He was saying very gently to John, John, remember, you'll be a lot happier with me if you don't stumble over me because I'm not performing just the way you think I should. You know what impresses me about this is the way Jesus deals with John. He doesn't blast him away. He doesn't deal with him that way at all. He deals with his doubt gently and he does the same with you and with me.
You see, there's a difference between doubt and unbelief, big difference. We'll talk about it more in just a moment but doubt, in and of itself, is neither good nor bad. It's either good or bad depending on where it leads you. If doubt leads you to a deeper belief after questioning your faith and examining the evidence, doubt can be a good thing, it can strengthen you but if doubt leads you to turn away from God, then it's an evil thing. By the way, parents, please remember that truth. If it hadn't happened to you already, more than likely there's gonna come a time when your child, during his or her teenage years or a young adult, is going to come and say, you know, mom, dad, I grew up hearing all this stuff. I thought I believed it. But I'm really not sure I believe in Christianity any longer. I'm not even sure I believe in God any longer.
You know, don't hit the panic button when that happens. Don't call in the priest for an exorcism, okay? Don't think everything is lost. Understand questioning is a normal part of teenage and adult passage. As they move from embracing your faith because it was your faith to embracing their own faith. There's nothing wrong about questioning. When they question, don't panic. You can say, if it's true, you can say well you know what? I've gone through those same doubts myself and here's how I resolved them but parents, understand, that is a normal process. It was for John, it will be for you and most people as well. Then after dealing gently with John, notice he said a word to the multitudes. There's a whole group around Jesus. They had heard Jesus' interchange with John's disciples and so after Jesus dismissed these men to go back to John, look at what it says in verse 24.
When the messengers of John had left, Jesus began to speak to the multitudes about John. He knew some of the crowd was gonna think less of John after what they had just heard so Jesus wants to correct their thinking. He says what did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? Remember just 18 months ago when you all were flocking around the Jordan River to listen to John? What was he? Was he one of this little tiny bamboo like chutes that springs up out of the lake and just blows whichever way the wind blows? Was that John? No! He spoke with power and with authority.
Verse 25, and what did you go out to see when you went out to see John? A man dressed in soft clothing? That word soft in Greek means effeminate. Jesus had been Arnold Schwarzenegger, he might have said what do you think John was, a girly man? A sissy? That wasn't John. He was dressed in camel hair. There's nothing more uncomfortable than camel hair. He wasn't living a life of luxury in the palace. No, he was out there in the wilderness subsisting on locust and honey. He was a tough guy. Verse 28, and I say to you, among those born of women, there is no one greater than John. He extolled the faith of John and then he adds this word, yet he who is least in the Kingdom of God is greater than he.
Why did Jesus add that? Was that a backhanded kind of compliment? Not at all. Jesus was saying as great as John was, he was part of a bygone era, the prophets, he was the last of the prophets. Jesus was anticipating a new era that was about to come after his death and resurrection. The church era in which every follower of Christ would be permanently in-dwelled by the Holy Spirit of God. That had never happened before. Abraham didn't get to experience that. Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, David. No other person before had ever had the full in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit of God.
You and I living in the church age right now, when we trust in Christ as Savior, we are in-dwelled by the Holy Spirit of God. We can do miraculous things. We can bring people to faith in Christ. We can do miracles of conversion all through the power of the Holy Spirit and that's what he means when he says as great as John was, he's nothing compared to those who are least in this coming age. But what I want you to see in this is John, a Jesus attitude toward John was not diminished by his momentary lapse of faith. Jesus is still saying he's greatest of anyone who's ever been born.
Aren't you glad God doesn't judge you or me by one episode in our life? One slip up. One mess up. God throws us out of the kingdom. Doesn't work that way. I mean, just look in history at the way God dealt with those who had their own stumbles and falls. I think about king David. A man guilty of adultery and murder and yet God said about him, he's a man after my own heart. Or think about Abraham. Talk about lapses in faith. It was one screw up after another in Abraham's life and yet God said about Abraham, he is my friend. Fact is, God doesn't judge us by one episode in our life. He looks at the long view and when he looked at John's life, he said now, this momentary lapse of faith, that's not who John is. My impression of him remains firm. He's the greatest in the Kingdom of God.
Now unfortunately, Jesus didn't have such kind words for the third group he addressed, the pharisees. Look at verse 30. But the pharisees and the lawyers rejected God's purpose for themselves, not having been baptized by John. Now you may think wait a minute, why is Jesus so hard on the pharisees? They didn't accept him as Messiah. John questioned whether Jesus was the Messiah. What's the difference between the two? The difference is the difference between doubt and unbelief. John had doubts. The pharisees were plagued with unbelief and to understand the difference between doubt and unbelief, Jesus tells this brief parable.
Look at verses 31 and 32. To what then shall I compare the men of this generation and what are they like? They are like children who sit in the marketplace and call to one another and they say we played the flute for you and you did not dance. We sang a dirge and you did not weep? What in the world is he talking about? One commentator calls this the parable of the bratty kids. Let me help you picture what Jesus is talking about here. You know how kids get together sometime and they're looking for something to do and somebody says hey, let's play hide and go seek. Everybody else says nah, we don't wanna play that. Somebody else says let's play cowboys and Indians. I don't know, is that still politically correct, play cowboy, it may not be, I'm sorry if it's not. But let's just say somebody says let's play cowboy and Indian. Nah, we don't wanna play that either. No matter what suggestion is made, everybody declines.
Now in Jesus day, they didn't play hide and go seek. They didn't play cowboys and Indians but that's the idea here. Jesus said this generation, you pharisees are like a group of bratty kids. Somebody says hey, let's play wedding. That was a popular game back in Jesus' day. Kids would play like they were at a wedding. We'll play the flute and you dance as they do in a wedding precession. The children said nah, we don't wanna do that. You keep playing your flute but we're not gonna dance. Somebody else says oh, I've got a better idea. Let's play funeral. Let's play funeral, let's have a funeral precession. We'll sing a dirge and then you all be the mourners weeping over the lost one. And so a group starts singing the funeral dirge but everybody said ah, we don't wanna play that.
That is a real downer, play funeral? Who wants to do that? Jesus said you pharisees are just like those children. You don't like to do anything. You won't receive anybody. Here John the Baptist comes and says repent, repent! You say oh, we don't wanna listen to that. That's too hard of a message. Jesus said then I come and I preach a message of grace. You say we don't like that either. That's too easy. The fact is, you're looking for a reason not to believe and that's the difference, folks, between a doubter and an unbeliever.
Somebody has said a doubter is one who is honestly searching for the truth. An unbeliever is one who runs from the truth. A doubter looks for a reason to believe. An unbeliever looks for any reason not to believe. God accepts doubters but he rejects unbelievers. I'm speaking to some of you today, some of you watching or listening to this broadcast. Perhaps you're going through a period of doubt in your life or you know somebody who is. How do you deal with that doubt?
Let me give you four principles in closing, very, very quickly, for dealing with doubt, either in your life or the life of somebody you care about. Number one, discern the cause of your doubt. Look over those four reasons I gave. Is it because of unlived truth in your life? Is it because of an unexamined faith? Maybe, but more than likely, the cause of your doubt is God is not behaving like you think he should in your life. Andrew Greeley once said if you wish to eliminate uncertainty, tension, confusion, and disorder from your life, then there's no point in getting mixed up with God. It's a big mistake to think of Jesus like a kewpie doll or a genie or a divine bellhop who's there at your every beck and call, that he needs to operate just as you tell him to. God's not like that. Remember the words of Isaiah 55:9 in which God said my ways are higher than your ways. My thoughts are higher than your thoughts. Discern the cause of your doubt.
Number two, share your doubts with a mature Christian. Share your doubts with a mature Christian. Somebody has written that doubt flourishes in the dark like mushrooms that grow in a damp cellar. It's in solitude, when we're separated, when we feel all alone that our doubts become larger and more ominous. Remember where John was when his doubts began to grow. He was isolated, he was in prison, he was alone and that's why it's so important that if we have doubts, we talk to somebody about it, a mature Christian, maybe a Sunday school teacher. It may be a mature Christian friend. It may be a parent. You know, Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 4:9 and 12, two are better than one, Solomon said, and a cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart. That's why it's so important, folks, to become not just a spectator in a church like this but to become a member where you are bound together with other people who can help you, who can encourage you whenever you stumble or fall in your faith. That's the value of being a part of a body of believers.
Number three, view your doubt as an opportunity to grow. You know, James 1:3 says the testing of your faith can produce endurance and that's true about doubt. If you respond to it the right way, it can actually make your faith stronger. Mark littleton gives this little formula about how to deal with doubt. I put it on your outline. Jot it down. Turn your doubts to questions. Turn your questions to prayers and turn your prayers to God. Finally, remember that our doubts never diminish God's love. Our doubts never diminish God's love. Can I tell you something about God? He's not threatened by your questions. He's big enough to handle your doubts. Whenever you doubt, it doesn't change what God thinks of you one bit.
A number of years ago, I was talking to a young Christian girl who was going through a very hard time in her life. She was crying and through the tears, she said I'm not even sure I believe in God any longer. And I think God gave me exactly the words to say to her. I said that's okay. Even when you don't believe in God, he still believes in you. Isn't that the truth of scripture? 2 Timothy 2:13, even when we are faithless, he remains faithful for he cannot deny himself. Good words to remember for those who doubt.