given on Sunday, December 12, 2010
Main idea: Even John had doubts who Jesus was.
- What doubts do we have about Jesus even today?
- How do we handle our own doubts about Jesus?
- How can we answer others’ doubts?
Do you ever catch yourself lost in thought? Does one question lead to another? Do you hear an answer and move on, or do you hear an answer and stop to dwell on it? In our lives today, we do not allow much time for thinking. We are in a hurry. We cover up quiet reflection with noise—the TV, the radio, the talk at work, even phone conversations. Seldom do we allow our minds to roam wherever it wants to go.
There is one time that my mind does get to roam—when I am in the car, usually when I am driving and all alone. I admit that those quiet moments are frequently short since it is from Point A to Point B right here in town. Still, those are the times when I usually do not have anything interrupting my thoughts.
Now, lets time travel backward. Jump back to about 33 AD, and put yourself in a culture without electricity, without motorized travel, without a phone, without a TV. What would it be like? Would you be busy just taking care of business: washing clothes, preparing food, working the field, creating another handmade net or piece of pottery, or running a business without a full staff?
In all this work, casual conversation brings news of this odd ball, John the Baptist. What more, he is telling the world that the Messiah is right here walking on the same roads as you are. Then a day or so later another conversation talks about this carpenter who is no longer working, but walking around sharing this idea of ‘peace and love.’ Rumor has it that he is healing people and challenging the rabbis. News travels slowly, but it is certainly the talk at all the local hot spots.
This type of conversation creates all kinds of wild ideas. The truth is caught somewhere in the middle of all the rumors. Two men, who everybody was talking about, were doing such odd things and each of them had followers, disciples. Today, here in 2010, we do have people who are speaking out and promoting all types of different ideas. They, too, have followers, but for some reason we do not pay much attention.
The scripture this week places John the Baptist in prison. He was so outspoken about Herod’s decision to marry his own sister-in-law that he was arrested. The prophet who was telling the world that Jesus was the Messiah was locked up. He could not continue his work moving from one place to another preparing all who would listen that Jesus was the Messiah.
Yet sitting there in prison, John the Baptizer still had contact with his disciples and they continued his work outside of the prison walls. Consider all the quiet, reflective time he had to evaluate his work, to whom he had spoken, and even the time that Jesus, his own cousin, stood in the water with him asking to be baptized. How could he keep from questioning all that had happened much less why he was sitting in prison?
Studying this week’s scripture led me to even more questions. Sure, when John’s followers gave news of what Jesus was doing, he must have questioned himself as to whether his prophecy was being fulfilled. Yet he must also have known Jesus was the Messiah, just like we know when we are right about something. One of his questions must have been how to make sure that his own disciples also were certain that Jesus was the Messiah.
There are two different schools of thought concerning these scripture verses. First, there is the viewpoint that John the Baptist, sitting in prison, wanted confirmation that his prophecy was accurate so he sent his followers to confront Jesus and ask. The second viewpoint, which was presented in a document on the website for the Catholic Encyclopedia, was to prove to others his prophecy:
At this point it cannot be supposed that John’s faith wavered in the least. Some of his disciples, however, would not be convinced by his words that Jesus was the Messias. Accordingly, he sent them to Jesus, bidding them say: “John the Baptist hath sent us to thee, saying: Art thou he that art to come; or look we for another?
Which viewpoint does not change the importance of the answer. Jesus told the followers, “Go back and tell John what’s going on: . . . Is this what you were expecting? Then count yourselves most blessed!”
Does Jesus’ answer leave questions in your mind? How often have you asked yourself whether Jesus was the Messiah or not? How often have you questioned the stories in the Bible? How often have you wanted concrete proof that Jesus is the Messiah? Do you wonder what the term ‘second coming’ really means? How do you feel when you find yourself asking such questions?
John the Baptist, whether he needed the confirmation or whether he was trying to assure his followers that Jesus is indeed the Messiah, asked the tough questions. Why shouldn’t we ask questions, too?
Here it is two thousand years after Jesus was actually living among the people of his world. We are so physically removed from that place. We are so chronologically distanced from that real-world experience that questions have to be running through our mind. The question now shifts to how can we not believe? How do we know what the second coming is? Does a prophesied second coming change anything at all?
Questions are healthy. Over these two millenniums, the world has witnessed changes beyond imagination; and it has been filled with people trying to convince the world of one major idea or another. The oldest religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam are still a major influence in societies around this world. There are all types of tribal belief systems in Africa and South America that also co-exist with Christianity. Questions are thrown at us all the time by so many still searching for the truth, for evidence of God.
How do we manage? How do we assure ourselves, much less others, that Jesus is the Messiah and his message is so powerful that it is indeed world-transforming? The Life Application study notes may be the key:
If you sometimes doubt your salvation, the forgiveness of your sins, or God’s work in your life, look at the evidence in Scripture and the changes in your life. When you doubt, don’t turn away from Christ; turn to him.
Look at Jesus’ answer to John’s disciples:
“Go back and tell John what’s going on:
The blind see,
The lame walk,
Lepers are cleansed,
The deaf hear,
The dead are raised,
The wretched of the earth learn that God is on their side.
Is this what you were expecting? Then count yourselves blessed. . . .
The scripture provides the evidence. Yet we still have questions; and, as John Wesley would want, we can look at historical and personal evidence, too. By looking backward, we see that when the new covenant is applied even the worst in history is managed and love wins.
In our own lives, only we know privately when Jesus’ message has healed us. The message used in all the counseling services incorporate the loving forgiveness of God. We ask questions, and we listen for God to answer. We can hear the answer: God loves us so much that he sent his son to us. He demonstrated the power of love. He assured us that as long as we believe and apply the Golden Rule, we will be forgiven and we will join him in eternal life.
Regardless the purpose of John’s question to Jesus, the answer was clear. And in that answer, Jesus also explained how John the Baptist was the new prophet that even Malachi, an Old Testament prophet, predicted. In Jesus’ words we hear another promise:
. . . in the kingdom (John the Baptizer) prepared you for, the lowliest person is ahead of him. For a long time now people have tried to force themselves into God’s kingdom. But if you read the books of the Prophets and God’s Law closely, you will see them culminate in John, teaming up with him in preparing the way for the Messiah of the kingdom.
The way is prepared for us. Even when we have doubts or when others challenge us with their questions, we can turn to Jesus’ very words recorded, translated, and preserved in the Bible. We can quiet our uncertainties and we can help others, too; because we know that Jesus was indeed born of Mary, grew up in a faithful family, and as a man taught, healed, and modeled how to love one another. He proved that loving one another does transform a world.
Today, as we prepare to leave the sanctuary of our own church, we may still have questions, but let the words of the scripture assure you that Jesus is the Messiah. When life causes you to question your faith, turn to the scripture, talk to God, and trust that God answers your questions. When others ask you questions, answer with confidence. Show them that God loves them and help them find ways to understand. Bring them to church. Welcome them into our Christian community. The questions will be answered. They will experience the joy we do when we look at the light in the candle and know God’s light is alive within us, too.
Dear Loving God,
In a noisy world filled with questions,
thank you for sending John the Baptist as a prophet.
In a world crammed with the business of living,
Thank you for the birth of Jesus.
In a life filled with challenges,
Thank you for loving us so much you died for us.
During this busy season filled with hustle and bustle,
Help us to stop and listen for your answers.
During this busy season filled with yummy treats,
Help us to satisfy our hunger with love for one another.
During this busy season filled with people and events,
Help us to find the quiet and the peace of knowing you.
May we truly offer glad tidings to others
Still filled with questions.
May we truly offer healing to the ailing
Still asking, “Why me, Lord.”
May we truly find peace and contentment
During this season and year round.