Steven Furtick — The Benefit Of The Doubt
In Matthew 1, the record goes: "This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came аbout: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man, and did not want to expose her to public disgrade, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this," because sometimes, your first instinct is not God's will. "After he had considered this," after he did the math, and after he calculated his next move, God spoke.
It is often contrary to our logic when God speaks. It often violates what we see, when God calls us to walk by faith, but after he had considered this: "An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, 'Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus...'" everybody say that name, you are to give him the name, "Jesus". "'Because he will save his people from their sins.'" I know you're confused, I know you're bewildered, and I know that you're hurt, but Matthew 1:22: "All this took place to fulfill..". I know you're having a hard time making sense of the situation right now, but all this took place to fulfill. It's not random, there's a reason. All this took place to fulfill.
I hear the Apostle Paul, all the way over from Romans 8, he wants to get in on this. "All things work together for the good of those who love God, and are called according to His purpose". All this, the parts you like, the parts you don't. The parts you get, and the parts that keep you awake at night. The parts that feel good, and the parts that leave you with tears on your pillow. All this took place: "To fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 'The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel' (which means God with us). When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her," just to make it clear. He had no union with her: "Until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus".
I wanna speak for just a few moments today on, "The Benefit of the Doubt". Christmas is rightly celebrated as the story of new beginnings, but the story begins at a dead end. By the time you get to Matthew 1, heaven has been seemingly silent since the time of Malachi the prophet, for several centuries. And I did not read you the whole of Matthew 1. If I had started with Matthew 1:1, you might've been asleep by the time that I got to the part I wanted to read, because it's just a genealogy of how Jesus came into the earth from a human perspective. And Matthew gives us 14 generations between Abraham and David, 14 more between David and the Babylonian exile of the people of Israel, 14 more from the exile to the birth of Jesus Christ. That's all in Matthew 1.
It's a list of names, really, but it signifies how at this point in God's redemptive story as told in the pages of holy scripture, heaven has hit a dead end. God has sent the law to His people, but they broke it. Literally. When Moses came down the mountain with The Ten Commandments, showing the people how to live to be a people, by the time he could get the rules down to them, they were dancing naked around another god that they made 'cause they got tired of waiting on the one they couldn't see. And so, Moses, in his frustration, broke the tablets, had to go up and carve out some new ones. Not only was their hope of keeping the law broken, like it is every time we try to do God's will in our own strength, but the prophets that God had sent to His people were each turned away, despised, rejected, many of them died at the hands of the very people that they came with the word to deliver.
And so, now, they've broken the law, disobeyed the prophets, and by the time you get to Matthew 1, heaven has hit a dead end, and as man after man after man after man comes into the earth, none of them being the Messiah who was able to rescue and redeem, it seems that we're at an impass because the true character of God cannot break through the frailty of humanity, to deliver this love message that has existed before time began. "The beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God". And the full pre-incarnate Word of God was existed in Jesus Christ before He was ever made flesh on Christmas day. But it is not yet found its way into the earth, not by the time we have read Matthew 1.
So what we get is 42 generations of frustration, and suddenly, Christ is born, heaven has hit a dead end, and humanity feels the same way. No matter how they tried to follow God, there seems to be something in their hearts prone to wander. No matter what commitment they make, they seem unable to keep it. And so, now, you have heaven at a dead end, because God is perfectly holy and cannot violate His standard to relate to unholy people, and humans who are unholy have no way to God, and all of a sudden, here comes a ladder named Jesus. Not from the earth, to the sky, but from the heavens, to the earth. And it's the throne of the rule and reign of a sovereign God is lowered into the everyday affairs of humanity, we see Joseph is also at a dead end. Maybe he really looked forward to having Mary as his wife, but he gets some bad news when it comes to his attention that she's claiming that she got pregnant by God.
Now, I wanna say something about that real quick, because in church, we just skip right over this stuff, but a lot of people come to church on Christmas and don't come any other time of the year, and they sit and listen politely to stuff like this, but when we say that she had a baby, but it was all Ys, no X, they get kind of confused about this, because you know, this stuff doesn't just happen everyday, and what we're shouting about, they're kind of skeptical about, so let me talk about this for a minute, because it must've been hard for Joseph to take the angel at his word, when he saw no way forward. I mean, he wants to marry her, he's looking for a way to go through with it, but the law requires him to put her away so he's going to do it in the most dignified way possible. He's not going to humiliate her, he's going to do it in a righteous way, but he sees no road forward, no route past this indiscretion.
And so, the scripture says that he had in mind to put her away, but sometimes, what you have in mind is not what God has in store. It's just that he can't see a way forward. He's at a dead end. I was looking forward. You know, Mary is a wonderful person we find out. Very content. Not a wife who's hard to please. She was gonna be such a good wife. And I already put a deposit down on the venue for the wedding, and it's non-refundable, but I don't see any way to go through with this, 'cause she's got a baby, and it's not mine, and she says it belongs to the Lord.
I don't see a way forward. Heaven is at a dead end, humanity is at a dead end. Joseph is at a dead end, and I just wonder, are you? I wonder, is there anybody in this room, watching online or on television, who has found yourself at a dead end this day? In a relationship, you can find yourself having done all that you know to do for someone that you love, and thinking to yourself, well, if they don't love me back by now, you can find yourself at a dead end with your children. You can do everything that you can do for the very person that you would do anything for, but it is not enough, and you find yourself before God, saying, "I don't know what else to do".
You can find yourself at a dead end in your resources. I'm out of money. I've put everything on every credit card. I've stole a credit card. I lied to get another credit card. I put that balance on this balance, and I can't balance anything else anymore. I'm at an end, I don't know. I think this is it, 'cause I really think I've run out of room to run. I'm at a dead end. You know, religion can leave you at a dead end. When you have made so many commitments to change, but you never do. When you have said so many times, "You know, I'm gonna do better now. You know, I'm gonna really kick that. You know, that's the last time I'm gonna do that. That's really the last time. This time is the last time, I won't do it no more," and then you do it again, and every time you do it, you feel a little more hopeless that you're ever going to be capable of real change.
I wonder, are you at a dead end, and I wonder, did you know that dead ends are the perfect place for new beginnings in Jesus Christ? This is the message that I came to preach this Christmas, not about a doll baby lying in a bassinet. I came to preach about new beginnings. The Lord is come. Let earth receive her King. Let every heart prepare His room. He is with us, and anything is possible. This is not the end. It seems to be the announcement of heaven, that this is not the end. Touch somebody, say, "This is not the end". New beginnings often start when you find yourself at a dead end.
I admire Joseph. I admire Joseph, maybe it's more appropriate to say you admire Mary. Maybe that's sexist for me to preach about Joseph on Christmas, 'cause Mary did all the hard work, and you understand, I'm not trying to be that way, I really just think that I wouldn't have had the faith to give Mary the benefit of the doubt on this one. On this one. And so, it says he had a dream, and he woke up, and he was like, "Cool". See, I wouldn't be cool with just a dream. Unless the angel was Maury Povich, with a paternity test, like, "No, I promise. You can show this". Then I'm good. If we got some DNA on this divine baby in your belly, fine. But I'm not so sure, 'cause I have crazy dreams. This might've been just a crazy dream, but he did what the angel had commanded him.
The angel said something that is simple on the surface, but there's great depth to it. I'd like you to consider it in Matthew 1:20. "What is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit". Simplify, what's in her is from Me. And sometimes, God wants you to know that what is packaged as disappointment is really destiny. Do you see it? What's in her is from Me. And sometimes, when people cause you pain and when life lets you down, it looks on the surface like God has left you. But what's in her, what's happening in your life, is from Me. And he goes with it, and I must have like a really bad version of the Bible.
This is a little older Bible that I preached from, it's a great Bible. It has Billy Graham's signature in it. This Bible. He signed this Bible. They told me he signed it, I wasn't there, I never met him, but. Could've been Larry Bryant with some good penmanship. Who knows. I give him the benefit of the doubt, though, that Billy Graham really signed the Bible. And in this Bible, I was struggling because I couldn't find — anybody else got a Bible? I just wanna cross-reference this, 'cause my Bible must be messed up, because in my Bible — let's see your Bible. Your Bible might be better than mine. Smaller Bible. Just pointing that out. Oh, this is the good one. This might be the King James Version, or something like that. Yeah. This one will have it. Let's see, I'm looking... give birth to a son... Joseph being raised from... Nope. Your Bible's missing it, too.
I was looking for the part of the story where the angel gave Joseph proof. And I couldn't find it in my Bible, or yours. Anybody else got a Bible? 'Cause this — our Bible's are missing stuff. It's disappointing. I know they got new translations. Surely, it'll be in a — in this Bible. What color do you call that babe? That's a... huh? What color is this Bible? Surely, it'll be in your pink Bible. She's got tabs on her Bible. Surely, it'll be... Well, see, this one's problematic too. It's pretty, but it's problematic. 'Cause now, I'm looking for the part where it tells me how Joseph felt. I can't find it. All it says is that God said to Joseph, "It's Me, go forward". And he did it.
I can't find the part where they wrote in the clouds, "No, really. This is God's baby". You know, at their gender reveal party, 'cause they also needed to have a divinity reveal party. I can't find the clouds. I can't find the sign. It was just the voice of God saying to Joseph, "It's Me, go through". And I feel like that might be the Lord for someone today. I know you don't have the proof, I know you don't have the feeling, and I know all signs point to stopping, but it's Me, go through. He must have really trusted Mary.
He couldn't trust Mary, now could he? This is an arranged marriage, they didn't date three years. He didn't get to choose her, pick her based on her profile. Christiansingles.com. Christianpalestinians.com. He didn't swipe for Mary, he just - that's the way it worked back then. You just got her. He doesn't know her like that. He must've really trusted God enough to give Him the benefit of the doubt. What is the benefit of the doubt? I asked God how we should define that term, and He told me to ask Wikipedia. Wikipedia says that the benefit of the doubt is a favorable judgment in the absence of full evidence.
The benefit of the doubt. It means that when it doesn't add up, the variable is God. For me. And so, it means that when I don't have evidence to support my conclusion, that God is good, that He is with me, and that He is for me — let's say those three things. God is good. He is with me. He is for me. I want you to say it again, and I'm looking all the way to the back, to the people with that little Christmas attitude, say it. Say, "God is good. He is with me. He is for me". Now, I have reached that verdict not by the process of deduction and looking at my life to see if it lines up with that assertion, I reached that conclusion by revelation. And once I came to believe that God is good, He is with me, and He is for me, I now live by that verdict, and I collect the evidence to support the verdict that I have already come to.
This is not how you reach a conclusion in a court of law, but in the realm of faith, it works like this. Verdict first, evidence second. What does that mean? I don't look to my bank account or my doctor's report to see if God is a provider or a healer. I've already come to the conclusion that He is Jehovah-Jireh, and Jehoveh-Rophecha. He is my provider, and my healer. That's the verdict. So now, no matter what the evidence says, I can find greater evidence in the depth of Jesus Christ. See, when He hung for me, that settled it. Out of court. I don't need to take it before a judge or a jury. I already know He loves me. I believe it.
Now, I don't always see it, but I believe it. I doubted sometimes, but I believe it. You can't say both. You can't say both. You're not allowed to say both in church. You can't say that in church. You can't talk about doubt in church, 'cause James 1 says: "Let him not doubt, but let him believe in his heart he should have what he says. If he doubts, like the waves of the seas, tossed, drove with the wind. That man think he will receive anything from the Lord, and..". I know that Bible verse, bro. But I think it's confusing for people who think that faith is the absence of doubt. The Bible doesn't say that Joseph didn't doubt. It just said that he did what he had to do, even with the doubt in his heart. It means he didn't let the doubt stop him.
Don't let it stop you. Of course you'll have doubts, just don't let them be dead ends. And a lot of people stand at the dead end of a destiny that God is bringing them into, because they will not walk through the doubt to get to the promise. I meet these people and they say things to me, because of my profession, I guess. They make assumptions about me, because there's a Rev. in front of my name. They make assumptions about me that I don't have real doubts. One gentleman that I was doing business with, he put it this way. He was like, "I envy you, because I would love to have faith. I always wanted to believe in God, but I just always am the kind of person that doubts a lot. And I envy you, that you don't have those doubts".
Now, here's what I should've said back to him, it only took me four months to come up with this. Because he is assuming that faith is the absence of doubt. For me, faith has never been the absence of doubt. Faith is not the absence of doubt, it is the means to overcome it. Do you hear what I'm saying? 'Cause we get in church, and we just all go into this Walking Dead, willing suspension of disbelief. And we just believe things that have no impact on our everyday life, just like we're binge-watching Netflix. Like, I'm just gonna watch this for a little while and hear this little comforting word, but then we go out into the world, and we doubt the stuff, but we can't say we doubt the stuff, 'cause doubt is bad, 'cause isn't doubt bad?
One time, I even had a campus pastor who was giving an invitation, like we will give in a moment, for people who want to place their faith in Christ. And when we do it, at our church, we have people repeat a prayer. It's just the means of allowing them to express their heart to God, so that they can have a moment that they look back on and say, "I placed my trust in Christ". And to me, that prayer is a very sacred moment. It's not a time for people to get their purse and get out and beat the parking. And it's not a time for someone who's preaching to start sharing their opinions. That is a time to present the gospel and get out of the way, 'cause only God can save a person.
And now, well, I believe this campus pastor meant well, but what he said, I had to correct him on later. And I'm not a mean guy. And I make mistakes up here, too. But to me, he made a really big mistake when he was praying the prayer, because he was inviting the people to pray, and he said, "If you wanna give your heart to Christ today, and know for sure that you have a relationship with Him, pray this..". You know, "Lord Jesus, I believe that I'm a sinner in need of a Savior. And I believe, without a doubt..". That's the part he should've left out. I believe, without a doubt, that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and the Savior of the world. Today, I give You my life.
All of it was good, all of it was appropriate, and there is no other way to be saved but to confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord, believe in your heart God raised Him from the dead. You shall be saved. But that one parenthetical insert, without a doubt, I told him never again, when you stand in the pulpit at Elevation, do I want you to put people in a position where you're telling them to pray something that they can't honestly pray. As a matter of fact, don't put them in a position to pray something that you can't honestly pray. Because there is not one of you in the room, even with tabs in your pink Bible, that can honestly say, without a doubt — not one of you, and if you can, hang on. You hadn't had teenagers yet.
The triumph of my faith is not the absence of doubt. The triumph of my faith is the ability for the light to shine in the deepest, darkest recesses of my heart. I've got doubts, but i trust him anyway. Hey, we all have doubts. I know the Bible says that we shouldn't doubt, but we're human, and we do. And if we don't talk about those doubts, they get down deep in our hearts, and we find ourselves feeling far from God, and isolating from others. That's why it's so important that we get the Word of God into our heart, to know how to deal with our doubts, so they don't become dead ends. Now, I don't know if you've been doubting yourself for maybe doubting that God is listening to your prayers, but I want you to know, you don't have to stop there.