In the Dungeon of Doubt (2): The Cure
Intro – Last week we left John disillusioned after several months in prison. He had challenged King Herod for stealing his brother’s wife and Herod jailed him. His reward for doing right? – a dungeon! Furthermore, Jesus was doing miracles everywhere, but none for John. He began to doubt. He felt like his pockets were being picked by the very One he sought to serve. So he sent an inquiry: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Lu 7:19). Doubt! Despite seeing the Trinity on display at Jesus’ baptism. Despite seeing Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” He’d been so sure – and now he’s not so sure. Personal adversity has sparked doubt. Perhaps you’re there right now? You’re in good company.
But while doubt happens, it is not where we want to live. John MacArthur says, “Honest doubt is not a bad starting point, but it is a bad finishing point.” Doubt will come, but if we harbor it for long, it will kill us. Doubt is a prime weapon of our enemy and left untended, it will destroy us. Wm. Lane Craig says, “Doubt is not just a matter of academic debate or disinterested intellectual discussion; it involves a battle for your very soul, and if Satan can use doubt to destroy you, then he will.” We must hit this issue head-on.
I. The Cause of John’s Doubt
Doubt is triggered by a preconceived notion of what God should do, or when He should do it, or how He should do it. It results from us ascending God’s throne and saying, “I wouldn’t do it that way; I’d do it this way. I wouldn’t leave John in prison; I’d get him out.” Doubt stems from us taking God’s role! As president, JFK once blocked a hike in steel prices. A prominent businessman called expressing concern about the economy. JFK responded, “Things look great to me. If I wasn’t president, I’d be buying stock myself.” The man replied, “Yes, and if you weren’t president, so would I!” JFK did things differently so the man harbored doubts. That’s how doubt looks at God. “You’re not operating as I would, so I have doubts.” But that’s our enemy at work. Listen – we may have to stay in the dungeon, but we don’t have to stay in doubt. John stayed in the dungeon. But he didn’t stay in doubt. It doesn’t take a miracle to win over doubt. But, we have to let God be God.
II. The Cure for John’s Doubt
A. Summon the Person of God in Christ
I love John’s approach. He doesn’t convene a meeting of the disgruntled; he doesn’t lie quiet in hopeless despair; he doesn’t throw in the towel; he does not renounce his faith to go live out his days in comfort. He goes straight to the source. He challenges Jesus – “Are you the one?” (Lu 7:20). John didn’t debate it with others or call an advisor. He just asked. “Are you the one? Doubt is clouding my heart. I need to know. Are you the one?” He went to Jesus. That’s the best thing you can ever do.
Talk to friends, seek advice, sure. But the best thing you can ever do is take doubt to God, first, last and always. Open your heart. He can take it. He’s heard it before. And if your heart is pure and your inquiry honest, He will answer. This was a constant cycle for David. He’d have a victory and life was good, but then another threat and he’d wonder – was it coincidence last time? Is this the time that God will not be there? Am I about to go under? Is He real? In Psa 43:2 he challenges God, “Why have you rejected me?” Do you hear the doubt? But move to Psa 43:4-5, “Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God. 5) Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” David recovered his equilibrium in the presence of God, just like we will.
Asaph had a similar problem. He got focused on all the fat cats around him who mocked God and got away with it. Doubt filled his soul. He says in Psa 73:2-3, “But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped. 3 For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” He concludes in Psa 73:13, “All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence.” Doubt had him in a death grip. Psa 73:16-17, “16 But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, 17 until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.” When did Asaph recover his faith? When he confronted God face to face. And note! Nothing changed in the circumstances, just in his perception. Like John, he didn’t get out of the dungeon, just out of doubt!
See, we can’t see reality until we are see life from God’s perspective. And we have wandering eyes. Yes, we do! We’re locked in one moment and gone the next. Remember Matt 14:28-31? Jesus comes walking across the water to his disciples one night. 28 “And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus (doing great – focused on the Lord where reality resides). 30 But when he saw the wind (wandering eyes!), he was afraid (doubt moving in), and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Take your eyes off Christ for a second and doubt strikes, right? Like a rattler! But Peter called Jesus and rejoined reality. Go to God, first, fast, fervently.
B. Survey the Power of God
John sends his plea from the dungeon, v. 20, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’ Note Jesus’ reaction: Lu 7:21, “In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight.” Fascinating. Jesus gets the question, “Are you the one?” In response He begins to heal people right and left, cast out demons, heal the blind. John has a sight problem too – a wandering eye! It needs healing. But before anything, Jesus establishes His credentials. He’s got complete power over things physical; He’s got complete power over things spiritual (the demons); and He’s got power over blindness. Step 2 overcoming doubt – review the power of God and realize that there are no limitations. He may not do all you would like right now – just like He was not going to release John from prison – but not for lack of ability. His power is limitless.
Remember how Jesus addressed His disciples just prior to His ascension? Matt 28:18-20, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” The instruction is in the middle. But He book-ends orders with 2 critical facts. First, He informs them He has all authority in heaven and earth. No limitations. Nothing He can’t do. He’s omnipotent. Second, He wants them to know “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” I’ll never leave you nor forsake you. He’s omni-present. Jesus was keen that they know those two things. Why? Because they are doubt-killers, and these men were going to have plenty of reason to doubt. They didn’t know it yet, but severe persecution was headed their way. All but one would die for their faith. They got no life-preserving miracle – but not because Jesus couldn’t or didn’t care. But He had a greater plan for the spread of the gospel.
The hidden message in Jesus’ rash of healings upon hearing John’s question was, “I got you covered John. It may not all happen the way you want, but I am your personal guarantee.” God doesn’t owe us explanations! He never explained why to Job. He just pointed him to His limitless power and invited Job to rest in that. He’s doing the same with John.
A few years ago Patty fostered an addiction. Got me hooked on 24! Heart-pounding action beginning to end as Jack Bauer saved the world. Every episode a cliffhanger. How is Jack going to get out of this one? I’d be awake at 2:00 figuring out how. Then one episode they killed Jack. I said, "What?" How are they going to work this out?” Then the credits rolled. I’d never watched those before. And when I saw the credits, Kiefer Sutherland was the executive producer. That’s Jack Bauer. When I saw that, I went right to sleep. I figure as long as Kiefer is exec producer, he’s not going to kill off his own character, right? Dear friends, in this final chapter of God’s masterpiece called time – don’t ever get it twisted – don’t stay up wondering how it ends. I have good news from the executive producer. We win! God’s power guarantees it.
C. Soak in the Promises of God
After His awesome display of power, Jesus finally turned to John’s disciples and said in Lu 7:22-23, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.” With His display of power, Jesus is reminding John He’s fully in charge. With His comments, He’s saying, “Remind John of the Word.” Jesus quotes from 2 OT passages. First Isa 35: 5) Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6) then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.” Second is Isa 61:1) “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” Jesus is saying, “John, not only do I have unlimited power, but I am doing exactly what Scripture says Messiah will do. Trust me. Everything’s right on schedule.” He’s reminding John we don’t get to pick and choose what we want of the Bible. It’s all or nothing – and the timing is in God’s omnipotent and compassionate hands. Augustine said, “If you believe what you like in the gospel and reject what you don’t like; it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself.” Trust in yourself and you’ll soon be racked with doubt.
John had the very same problem as the two disciples Jesus encountered on the road to Emmaus the day He was resurrected. Remember? Total dejection! Jesus joins them; they don’t recognize Him. He asks, “Why the long faces?” And they reply, “What – are you the only one in Jerusalem that doesn’t know. We thought Jesus of Nazareth was Messiah, but our own rulers crucified Him. Now it even appears that the tomb has been robbed. What an end to the story.” Jesus rebukes gently in Luke 24:25 “And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” What was their problem? That they didn’t know the Word? No – it was that they believed the part they liked and tossed the rest! And because they didn’t want to accept it all, they almost missed Wonderful and Amazing and Certainty. A life saturated in the Word reeks of hope. We’ve got wandering eyes that have to be constantly pulled back to Him. And He does that through the Word. It may not get us out of the dungeon, but it will get us out of the doubt!
Remember what Jesus said to Peter: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Why did Peter doubt? Listen carefully now. Because He trusted his wandering eye that saw the waves more than he trusted the Word of Jesus: “Come.” Do you see? It was as simple as that. He trusted what he saw rather than what God said. He was about to soak in the waves because he was not soaking in the Word. We must be people of the Book. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said it this way: “Come to the Word of God. Stop asking questions. Start with the promises in their right order. Say: ‘I want the truth whatever it costs me.’ Bind yourself to it, submit yourself to it, come in utter submission as a little child. We are not meant to be left in a state of doubt and misgiving, or uncertainty and unhappiness.” Trust the Word.
D. Submit to the Providence of God
Jesus does a subtle but fascinating thing that most people miss. He points John to Scripture – Isa 35 and 61. But, he stops mid-sentence when quoting Isa 61. Look at Isa 61:1) The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted.” Jesus went that far, reminding John that the best thing that was happening – far above any miracles – was that the good news was being preached. See, this was the time for good news, for compassion, for an exhibition of God’s patience, for mercy – to show God’s love – to bind up the brokenhearted. The focus of the 1st coming!
But Jesus does not quote the remainder of the Isa 61:1: “to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.” That is a fascinating omission. Jesus knows John knows the passage. The hidden message in John’s question is, “Let’s get on with the kingdom! It’s time to open his prison door!” He can’t know, the time is wrong. Spiritual prison doors are being opened, but it is not yet time for the physical prison doors. In omitting this phrase Jesus is telling John, “John, I’m doing what is meant for now. There is more to come, but it is not yet. Trust me. Trust the Word and trust me. Your prison door is not going to open. Your mission isn’t what you think. You will remain in prison – but you need not remain in doubt. It’s not going according to your plan, but the Father’s plan is right on time!” Then He finishes in Lu 7:23, “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” Don’t stumble over me, John. Trust me. It’s all under control! Peter said later in I Peter 2: 7-8) “So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” 8) and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.” Disobedience causes doubt!
Conc – How did John overcome doubt? Same way we can – Summon God; Survey His Power; Saturate yourself in His Word and Submit to His providence. Good for 1st century Palestine. Good for 21st century Eaton, CO.
Dr. Helen Roseveare was a brilliant young woman who became a believer while attending medical school at Cambridge U in 1945. She surrendered her skills to God no matter the cost and He sent her to the Belgian Congo. She spent years building clinics and serving the physical and spiritual needs of the people. In the mid-1960s she found herself in the midst of a horribly violent uprising in the nation. Many people, including dozens of missionaries, were brutalized and murdered. The medical missionaries were right in the eye of the storm and one night Helen was torn from her bed and taken captive along with several colleagues. It was a night of terror and unbelievable horror.
Before her eyes, some of her colleagues were shot through the temple and dropped into an open grave. She and other young women were brutalized repeatedly at the hands of rebel troops. The story is told in Dr. Roseveare’s tremendous book, Give Me This Mountain, which also details her release as a result of persistent prayer by people in the US who knew no details, but were fervently in prayer for her at the very time she was eventually released without explanation. She continued to serve for many years.
Pastor Alistair Begg tells of meeting Helen and later receiving a letter from her in which she said this: "The phrase God gave me years ago, during the 1964 rebellion in Congo, in the night of my own greatest need, was this: ‘Can you thank Me for trusting you with this experience, even if I never tell you why?’" Oh – that’s a challenging question, isn’t it? Even if I never tell you why! Dr. Roseveare was able to say yes to that question. She was in the dungeon, but she did not remain in doubt. “Honest doubt is not a bad starting point, but it is a bad finishing point.” Don’t stay there. Blessed people are not scandalized by Jesus. They trust Him. Let’s pray.