For the past three Sundays, we’ve been examining Jesus’ ministry in the book of Luke. We’ve seen how Jesus was all about God’s Word, quoting it often. We’ve seen how Jesus was a worker of miracles, but was primarily concerned that the people know the message of sins forgiven in accord with God’s promised Messiah. We’ve also seen that Jesus was unafraid to go toe-to-toe with the false teaching religious elite. He had the correct understanding of the Bible, and He let the people know what that was no matter who was standing in the crowd sneering.
Today, we turn to Luke chapter 7, and learn something about faith and doubt.
A couple of Sundays ago we read a story about Jesus teaching on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. It was morning. The fishermen were cleaning up their nets after a long and fruitless night of work. A crowd of people had gathered to listen to Jesus teach.
Jesus got into a boat and asked Simon Peter to push out a little from shore so everyone could hear. Simon said that would be fine.
When Jesus finished his teaching for the morning, he told Simon Peter to row out a little further and let down the nets, one more time. to catch some fish. Peter did so, not because he thought they were going to actually catch anything, but simply because Jesus asked him to.
When Peter’s team began to pull up the nets, they were surprised to find that the nets, which had failed to catch anything during the night, were now so full of fish that they were beginning to break.
Peter was astounded. There in the boat he fell to his knees before Jesus and said,
“…Go away from me Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8 NIV).Peter recognized a miracle when he saw one. And he knew that he was not worthy to even be near this man named Jesus. His heart was a sinner’s heart. Surely Jesus had made some mistake. Surely Jesus would ask him to row back to shore so He could leave this sinner for good.
But Jesus just look at Peter and said,
“…Don’t be afraid; from now you will catch men” (Luke 5:10 NIV).Jesus didn’t want to leave Peter. He wanted Peter to be part of his group of followers. One of his preachers even.
Jesus had come for the doubters. For the mistake makers. For the grudge keepers. For the castaways. Jesus came for the sinful, to make them His own people by washing their sins away by His self-sacrifice. And the best kind of person to bring the message of sins forgiven to sinners, is a sinner who has been forgiven, just like Peter.
Our sermon reading for today is about doubt. The devil wants our doubts to shake our faith. He tells us, “Look! You doubt God every time you sin, and that makes you unacceptable to God!” But the reality is, our sin and doubt merely prove that we are sinful humans. Going to Jesus with our sin and doubt proves that we are His people. We are sinners made saints through our faith in God’s Savior.
Before we read our sermon text we need to lay out the background for this reading.
John the Baptist began his ministry in the countryside by the Jordan River. John’s message was simple, but bold. He told the people to get ready, because the Savior was about to appear. He told them to turn away from their sins and trust in God’s promised Savior who as about to arrive.
When Jesus appeared, John baptized Him. Not because Jesus had any sins to wash away, but simply because baptism was the mark of God’s people, and Jesus would have Himself grouped with God’s people, not with the Pharisees and others who rejected John’s baptism and God’s message.
After Jesus’ baptism, John continued his ministry, but added this: He pointed everyone to Jesus as THE ONE God had sent. The Christ. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Now, at some point John got himself in trouble with king Herod. He pointed out that it was not right for Herod to take his brother’s wife as his own. And for this, Herod had John thrown in prison.
Now, John was no wimp. He had grown up in the wilderness eating locusts and wild honey. Part of his mark as God’s prophet was that he didn’t ever take a drink of wine or beer. Even his clothes were rough. The Bible describes him as wearing clothes made of camel’s hair with a leather belt. His ministry was mostly one of rebuke and correction, and there were plenty of times when he clashed with the self-righteous religious elite of his time. John was no stranger to adversity.
But now, in the dark prison of Herod, something seemed out of place. Something seemed wrong. Things weren’t panning out the way that John thought they would.
And so, when some of John’s disciples visited him and gave him an update on all that Jesus was saying and doing, John sent them back to Jesus with a question. We read…
Luke 7:18-23 (NIV)
18John’s disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, 19he sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”
20When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’”
21At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. 22So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. 23Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”
It seems unbelievable that John could doubt that Jesus was the Christ. God Himself had told John that the man whom he saw the Holy Spirit descend on in the form of a dove would be the Christ. John had seen that sign when Jesus was baptized.
When John’s disciples were later concerned that everyone was flocking to Jesus now instead of to John, John himself told them…
“28You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.’ 29The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:28-30 NIV).▬
But John had also told the people that the Christ would not only gather up the wheat, he would also burn the chaff with an unquenchable fire. In other words, the Christ would come to gather, but also to judge.
But when the disciples of John told him about all that Jesus had been doing since he had been thrown in prison, there wasn’t any burning of the chaff going on. Jesus was healing. Jesus was preaching. But the evil “powers that be” were still safe and sound. John himself was wasting away in the prison of one such wicked man.
Perhaps John was looking for a little more fire and brimstone in the Messiah’s ministry.
And that would be part of Jesus’ overall ministry. When He returns on Judgment Day with all the angels of heaven in tow, Jesus will indeed separate the sheep from the goats, the followers of God from those who want to no part in a life with God. But that was not now. In John’s time Jesus came to SAVE the world, not to judge it.
Jesus’ response to John inquiry is simple. Verse 21 says…
“21At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. 22So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. 23Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me” (John 7:21-23 NIV).The things that Jesus was doing matched what the Old Testament prophet Isaiah had said the Christ would do. Miracles of healing and a message of forgiveness for sinners. It wasn’t just the fact that Jesus was doing miracles that proved He was the Christ, it was the fact that He was doing the miracles that God’s prophets had foretold He would do. And the core of His ministry on earth was the offering of forgiveness, not judgment.
Essentially, Jesus tells John to be patient and strong. Jesus is the Savior foretold. And the plan of salvation and final judgment would unfold on God’s time table, not John’s.
Now, you and I might look around today and think the same thing John did. Jesus, why aren’t you doing something about all the wicked? Why are they flourishing? Why are your people poor and picked on? Should we expect someone else to come and set things right?
When faced with doubts of any kind, Jesus would direct us, like he directed John, back to the word of God. In 2 Peter 3 it says…
“8But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:8-9 NIV).Painful and confusing times remind us that we live in a broken world. This is not our final home.
Inner doubts remind us that we are sinners at heart, who need the patient compassion of God of forgiveness.
When doubts rise in our minds, let’s be like John. Let’s take those doubts to Jesus.
You know, some scholars have looked at this story about John sending questioners to Jesus and said, “John must have sent these men to teach THEM a lesson, not because HE had any uncertainties.” I think they interpret this way because John’s whole life is a model of strength and courage to this point. And they think that a story of real doubt would be inconsistent with such a strong prophet of God.
But how many great men of God have had their own doubts? How about Moses and all his excuses – send someone else God, I really can’t do it. How about king David, called a man after God’s own heart – who stumbled into adultery and murder and covered it all up? How about Elijah, bold prophet of God who retired to hide a cave in the wilderness of Mt. Horeb where he told God that he was certainly the last of God’s followers? How about John’s own father Zechariah, who stood before the angel Gabriel in the Temple itself and said, “How can I be sure that I’ll have a son like you say I will?
Doubt is part of the human condition. Our doubts remind us we are sinful. It is when we take our doubts to Jesus in prayer, that He reminds us we are saints. His people, cleansed by His blood and made whole.
That’s what John did. Sure, this story shows John’s doubt, but more than that, it shows his faith because he brought his doubts to JESUS.
You see, Jesus had come for the doubters. For the mistake makers. For the grudge keepers. For the castaways. Jesus came for the sinful, to make them His own people by washing their sins away by His own self-sacrifice.
Prayer: Father in heaven, we believe, help our unbelief. When Satan tries to rattle us with sin and doubt, let His needling only drive us back to you. Back to your Son’s cross. Back to the land of peace and forgiveness. No matter what crosses we might have to bear in this life, remind us that the cross of our Sin was taken by your Son. Shelter us in the shadow of that cross. And give us patience and strength to wait on your promised and final deliverance. Amen.