Deal with your Doubt
This paper presents the work involved in preparing to preach a sermon taken from Luke 7.18-23. The structure of the paper is in three sections: The exegetical portion where I work to understand what the passage means; the homiletical portion where I work to understand how this passage best applies to the target audience of the sermon; and finally, the message outline from which I will preach.
In addition, in this introduction, the English text of the passage is presented as well as my initial thoughts on the passage prior to beginning sermon preparation.
18 John’s disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, 19 he sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”
20 When 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?’ ”
21 At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. 22 So 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. 23 Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”
Initial Thoughts on the passage
My initial thoughts about this passage are the John is questioning Jesus and his ministry. John’s view of ‘the one who is to come’ and what he has heard about Jesus probably do not line up.
! Exegetical Analysis
The passage to preach from is Luke 7.18-23. The section immediately preceding our passage is a narrative recounting Jesus’ raising a young man from the dead in the village of Nain (Luke 7.11-17). That section ends with a summary statement by the narrator suggesting the end of the section.
The section immediately following (Luke 7.24-28) our passage is a narrative recording Jesus’ interchange with the crowd regarding John and John’s ministry. Although it is related to our passage, it is a different scene. Furthermore, the teaching shifts to focus on how the crowd interacted with John’s teaching.
Although our section is linked to the broader narrative, the two scenes reflect John’s concerns and Jesus response to John’s concerns.
There is only one textual problem in this section. In verse 19, most manuscripts read ἔπεμψεν πρὸς τὸν κύριον λέγων. One manuscript instead reads ἔπεμψεν πρὸς τὸν Ἰησοῦν λέγων. Given the slight nuance to the meaning of the verse, I will retain the majority opinion.
Our passage is in the genre of Gospel, a unique combination of biography and narrative and in the sub-genre narrative with three sections of dialogue. This is not a doctrinal treatise, but is the recording of what occurred. Given the narrative nature of this and the implied time between the scenes, this could fit well with a narrative sermon. Based on that, I will add some narrative analysis to the exegetical work.
This story is told in the third person and flows chronologically. The timeline is edited to that events that take time to pass like the trip from prison to see Jesus happen immediately.
- John the Baptist’s disciples who told him of Jesus – Were they out gathering intelligence, or are thy thinking of changing from John to Jesus as their Rabbi?
- John the Baptist – John is in prison according to the Matthew account. How is he feeling? What is worse, being in prison or having doubts about Jesus?
- John’s two disciples he sent to the Lord – Why two and why these two. Does John need two witnesses to be convinced?
- Jesus – Jesus knows John; Both their mothers are related; John baptized Jesus in the Jordan.
- Those that Jesus was healing – A number of people who have just been healed are present.
- The crowd – Jesus talks to them after John’s disciples have left
- Jesus’ disciples – Implied as a part of Jesus’ entourage.
- In the jail, John’s disciples tell him of “all these things”
- The implied trip from the Prison to where Jesus is ministering
- The place of interaction between Jesus and John’s disciples
- The news about Jesus delivered to John
- John calls two disciples – either he called a different two or he spend some time pondering what to do.
- The long trip – common view was that John was imprisoned East of the Dead Sea. If this is the case and Jesus is teaching by Nain, the trip is one to two days.
- The question is asked
- The healings
- The answer is given.
- The final comment.
- “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” 7:19
- “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’ 7.20
- “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. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” 7.22-23
- John’s disciples told him about all these things. 7.18a
- Calling two of them, he sent them to the Lord to ask 7.18b – 19a
- When the men came to Jesus, they said 7.20a
- At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. 7.21
- So he replied to the messengers, 7.22a
John the Baptist is a central character in the beginning of the Gospel of Luke. One could argue that in the first section, the Gospel of Luke is primarily about John the Baptist and Jesus. The outline of the book’s first section is as follow:
Introductory Comments – Luke 1.1-4
The Birth of John the Baptist Foretold – 1.5-25
The Birth of Jesus Foretold – 1.26-38
Mary Visits Elizabeth – 1.39-45
Mary’s Song 1.46-56
The Birth of John the Baptist – 1.57-66
Zechariah’s Song 1.67-80
The Birth of Jesus 2.1-20
Jesus’ Early Days 2.21-40
Jesus, the boy, at the Temple 2.41-52
John the Baptist Prepares the Way 3.1-20
The Baptism and Genealogy of Jesus 3.21-37
We see the interweaving of stories of John and Jesus in the first section of the Gospel. At the end of the passage on John preparing the way for Jesus, John is imprisoned. The next time John the Baptist is mentioned is by the Pharisees (Luke 5.33) when they are comparing the actions of John’s and Jesus’ disciples. The next mention of John the Baptist is our target passage.
After our target passage and the subsequent teaching about John and his ministry, he is mentioned a few more times in the Gospel, but the intensity that started the book dissipates dramatically.
It is interesting that one whose story is intertwined with Jesus asks him a question like “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” v20
The links in the Old Testament to John the Baptist show up as prophecy. These linkages are made explicit by John himself (John 1.23 quoting Isaiah 40.3); and Jesus (recorded in Matt 11.9 and Luke 7.27 links John to Malachi 3.1).
The broader sense of the question “Are you the one who was to come?” is throughout the Old Testament. A key passage on this theme is Isaiah 61.18-19 which Jesus quotes in Luke 4.18-19.
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
As we compare this passage to Jesus’ answer in Luke 7.22, we see the following:
The Isaiah passage listed five things the anointed one was to do. The Luke 7.22 response has five items as well. The Isaiah passage also includes two details about who and how the anointed one was sent – “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me and has anointed me to …” and “He has sent me to …”. Two of the tasks are matching between the two passages. The other three tasks are not matches, but they reflect the same tone.
By not declaring to John’s disciples that “Yes I am the one”, Jesus uses an inductive method here to suggest that since he was doing the things that Isaiah foretold, he must be the ‘anointed one’. Notice that Jesus does not repeat Isaiah’s line about “proclaiming freedom for the prisoners”. Would this have been too much for John while he sat in prison?
John the Baptist shows up in each of the four Gospels. In particular, the account we see in the target passage also shows up in Matt 11.2-6. The differences are slight but do shed some light on the account.
|Luke 7.18-23||Matt 11.2-6||Key differences|
|John’s disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, he sent them to the Lord to ask,||When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him||L) Two disciples sentM)John is in prison|
|Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?||Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?|
|When the men came to Jesus, they said, “John the Baptist sent us to you to ask,||L) Repetitive style|
|Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?||L) Repetitive style|
|At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind.||L) Context setting for answer|
|So he replied to the messengers,||Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see:||Style differences|
|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.||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.|
|Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”||Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”|
In John’s gospel account, it appears that some of John’s disciples cross over to become Jesus’ disciples (John 1.35-42). Is this hard for John? Is it hard for John later when he doubts Jesus and he knows his disciples went him based on his statement “Look, the Lamb of God”?
Other New Testament
Although John the Baptist is not mentioned in the rest of the New Testament, some of John’s disciples are mentioned: Apollos Acts 18.24 and other disciples Acts 19.1-4. It is interesting the John’s disciples are encountered in Ephesus suggesting something of the wide impact of John’s ministry.
- Opening phrase of the section – “John’s disciples told him about all these things.” The antecedents of “these” are the previous accounts of healing the Centurion’s slave and raising the widow’s son to life.
- John’s response to hearing about ‘these things’
- Calling two of them,
- he sent them to the Lord to ask,
- The questions - “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”
- John’s disciples respond to John’s request
- Travel to where Jesus is – “When the men came to Jesus”
- Address Jesus – “they said”
- Introductions and credibility – “John the Baptist sent us to ask you”
- The question - “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”
- Interlude to explain ministries that happened - Jesus cured many
- Temporal clause – At that very time
- Object – who had
iii. Evil spirits
iv. Gave sight to many who were blind
- Transition back to dialogue – So he replied to the messengers
- Instruction 1 – “Go back”
- Instruction 2 – “And report to John”
i. “What you have seen”
ii. “And heard:”
1. Blind receive sight
2. the lame walk
3. those who have leprosy are cured
4. the deaf hear
5. the dead are raised
6. and the good news is preached to the poor.
- Conclusion and encouragement for John and his disciples – Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.
!! Literary Analysis
The framing of the question, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”, is interesting in that the form is exactly the same in both cases. Repetition is important to Luke or he probably would have chosen Matthews approach and only stated the question once. Despite the exact wording of the question, he does not receive a response in kind.
Word Study Analysis
- Word as it appears: 7.19 προσδοκῶμεν Verb, third person, singular, aorist, passive, subjunctive
Lemma: προσδοκάω, προσδοκία
Definition Summary: to wait, expect
Undertone of eschatology in the waiting as it is often associated with God or God’s salvation.
- Word as it appears: 7.23 σκανδαλισθῇ
Verb, third person, singular, aorist, passive, subjunctive
Lemma: σκάνδαλον, σκανδαλίζω
Definition Summary: to put a snare (in the way), hence to cause to stumble; Sense of falling away; Assumes that you were once there to fall away. See also 1 Cor 1.23. “…but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles …” See usage in Matt 13.21 “But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away.” This is a also a passive verb. Similar in concept to a stumbling block – we do not understand and so we stumble.
- In looking at the parallel passage in Matt 11.2 the word translated as prison is interesting:
Word as it appears: Matt 11.2 δεσμωτηρίῳ
Suggests being put in bonds as opposed to just confinement or being put under guard. 
Social, Cultural, and Historical Analysis
The concept of master-disciple came from Greek culture more than it did from Old Testament Judaism. The depth of the relationship was more than teacher-pupil and pupils often continued in the teacher’s ways after the teacher had died. Switching masters seems to have been rare.
Secondary Source Analysis
Two disciples – two witnesses to Jesus’ answer or moral support?
It must have been difficult for this man, accustomed to a wilderness life, to be confined in a prison. The physical and emotional strain were no doubt great, and the long days of waiting did not make it easier.
If He came to set the prisoners free (Luke 4:18), then John the Baptist was a candidate!
Perhaps John is troubled that Jesus exposes himself to potential ritual uncleanness (e.g., with Gentiles and corpses) for the sake of healings. Then again, perhaps Jesus’ words simply do not fit John’s picture of the coming one he had proclaimed in 3:15–17, although John has no doubt that Jesus is at least a prophet who will tell him the truth.
Two significant theological points can be gathered from this short section:
1) Doubts can be a part of the life of a Christian, even for the mature. Jesus is not surprised by John’s question. He even complements John after his question. I may need to develop a theology of doubt.
2) Jesus is the cause for some of our doubts. He understands that he can be the reason that some fall away.
Exegetical Big Idea
Subject: How does a respected leader deal with doubts of the faith?
Object: … by wrestling with your doubts, voicing your doubt, and listening as Jesus’ responds to your doubts, even if the doubts are about Jesus himself.
Initial Thoughts on Target Audience (TA)
- TA are fellow students in the seminary
- All of the class intends to be involved pastoral ministry
- How will doubts affect the TA?
- When will the doubts come in their ministry?
- Doubts are not something we easily talk about. We tend to hide them deep within.
- If we are in a leadership position, this is doubly so.
- If I approach this head on, I think the listeners will be able to tune it out easily.
- If I explore this, I have more of a chance of connecting.
- If I tell a story, I think I have the best chance of connecting and getting us all to look at the monster of doubt head on.
- Story telling is riskier but could be much higher results.
- Nice quote for near the end. Doubt isn't the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith. -- Paul Tillich, German theologian
Developing the Homiletical Big Idea
- I like the elements of the EBI, but am having struggles getting this into a pithy, tight saying.
- As I try to get everything into one tight saying, I keep blanking.
- The EBI asks the question of how. Instead of dealing with the how, maybe I should focus on the motivational factor only.
Homiletical Big Idea
Deal with your doubt!
Title: Deal with Your Doubt
Today I am going to take us to a different place. I am going to tell you a story. Now I know that you have work to do. You are supposed to be providing a detailed assessment of my efforts today. Despite that, I give you permission to get comfortable, close your eyes, and listen to a story. We will figure something out for the feedback later.
We join our story in dark, dingy prison cell that contains a prisoner by the name of John. Looking at him at sitting on the floor in chains, one would not suspect that he was anything special. But looks can be deceiving. For this is John the Baptist.
John had an amazing ministry up until this point. He was preaching in the desert, east of Jerusalem. When he started preaching repentance, people listened. Some even were baptized. The more he preached, the more came to listen. The more that came to listen, the more that were baptized. It was an amazing time. He knew God was leading him.
Soon, crowds of people were coming from Jerusalem – even Pharisees and Sadducees. John kept on preaching, and people repented and were baptized. Then one day it happened – Jesus came to be baptized. John said to him
“I can’t baptize you – you should be baptizing me”
But Jesus insisted.
After John baptized Jesus, John knew that this was the one they had been waiting for. He was so sure of it, that the next day, when he saw Jesus again, he told his disciples, “This is the Lamb of God”. Some of his disciples even left John to join Jesus.
That all seemed so long ago.
- Wrestling with Doubt
Sitting in Herod’s prison.
Illustration: Sometimes I feel like that. Like God has brought me in for a pit-stop while everyone else is still on the track. I feel like life is passing me by. Do you ever feel like that? That must have been a little of how John felt.
But that was not the worst of it.
The scripture just says “John’s disciples told him about all these things.” It sounds so simple.
If Jesus was the one to come, if this is the anointed one, why was he not restoring Israel?
Why were the Romans still occupying Israel?
But he must be the Messiah – he had seen the dove. But now, how could he be.
He was wrestling with his doubts?
Do you ever wrestle with your doubts? Do you ever second guess yourself?
Illustration: Pastor friend Bill got fired – sitting in his virtual prison – wrestling with the God he thought had called him to ministry. I thought I was called?
John the Baptist – Godly man and his doubts – If it can happen to John …
- Voicing your Doubt
So what does John do?
Bury it or deal with it. Stifle it and let it fester or clean it out
Just asking the question is challenging Jesus
Illustration: I used to have a habit of letting things fester, put a big strong emotionless lid on it and hide my fears deep down. But the infection kept oozing out the cracks. John was smarter than that.
He decides to ask the question and voice his doubt.
Calling two of them, he sent them to the Lord to ask, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”
How would you like to be one of John’s disciples?
2 days journey - trudging
- Jesus responds to the Doubt
John’s disciples arrive to a mob scene.
It looks like the emergency ward on a long weekend
At the centre of the mass of humanity is Jesus – healing people.
They ask the question.
“John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’ ”
Silence – tension you could cut with a knife. – High point of tension
Are you the real deal?
Do you ever ask God if he is the real deal? Maybe not in that many words.
Jesus and John’s disciples survey the crowd.
At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind.
John’s disciples were feeling totally exposed
How does Jesus answer this challenge?
“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.
Link back to Isaiah 61
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
Disciples relieved, About to go
Then “Before you go …
Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”
He knew it all along.
Jesus was the stumbling block.
Do we ever stumble over Jesus?
Do we put him in a box so that when he appears somewhere else, we just know it can’t be him?
Despite that possibility -
We see that John wrestled with his doubts
We see that John voiced his doubts
We see the Jesus, responded to the questions, even when it was the root of the doubt
HBI: Deal with your Doubt
Kittel, Gerhard, Gerhard Friedrich, eds., Theological dictionary of the New Testament. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1985
Marvin Richardson Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, 1:iii-470 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2002).
Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt., Lk 7:11 (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1996, c1989).
Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, "An exposition of the New Testament comprising the entire 'BE' series"--Jkt., Lk 7:11 (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1996, c1989).
Craig S. Keener and InterVarsity Press, The IVP Bible Background Commentary : New Testament, Lk 7:18 (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1993).