The name Charles Bradley Templeton (1915-2001) might not ring a bell to some of us but all of us are familiar with the International Christian Movement known as “Youth for Christ.” Templeton was its co-founder. According to The Christian Post–in the year 1957, after a struggle with doubts, Templeton rejected Christianity and became an atheist.
Doubting is one of the many weapons in Satan’s arsenal. This is why I chose to preach about our doubts today. The Bible has many examples but I selected John the Baptist (Luke 7:17-23).
1. We doubt because of Circumstances
The events recorded in this passage occurred shortly after Jesus raised a widow’s son (Luke 7:11-16). At this time John the Baptist was in prison and learned about the miracle through his disciples.
The Bible says John leaped in his mother’s womb in the presence of Mary who was just pregnant with Jesus (Luke 1:41). He was the first to recognize that Jesus was the Christ (John 1:29). When he baptized Jesus, he witnessed as the Father spoke from heaven and identified Jesus as his son (Matthew 3:17). Yet in Luke 7:20 he is seen sending his disciples to Jesus to inquire whether or not Jesus is really the Messiah.
Why did John the Baptist doubt? In Isaiah 61:1 it was predicted that when Jesus comes he will put bandages on wounded people, and will proclaim freedom for the prisoners. Perhaps John felt that Jesus wasn’t doing this because John himself was in prison and there is no release for him from his imprisonment. John’s dilemma was caused by his circumstances.
The other characters in the New Testament are proof of this. Zechariah (father of John the Baptist) doubted God’s messenger because he and his wife were old, (Luke 1:18). Thomas doubted the resurrection because they were being hunted like animals, (John 20:24-25).
In the ancient world prisons were usually underground dungeons, empty cisterns, wells, or pits in the ground. John was probably held in an underground dungeon. These were dark, disease-ridden, and overcrowded places. It was common for prisoners to die in custody from disease, starvation, brutal torture, execution, or suicide. Imprisonment is commonly described by ancient authors as a fate worse than death; even the thought of it was appalling.
Understandably all that John was able to see with his natural eyes were the misery of his own and his fellow prisoners. He could not see what God was doing outside his prison cell. We also doubt because circumstances cloud our vision. In such times we must prayerfully ask God to open our spiritual eyes so that we will know we are not alone in our circumstances (2 Kings 6:17). The Bible calls it faith (Hebrews 11:1).
2. Doubts must be eliminated Swiftly
John probably had to go to great lengths to contact his disciples and vice versa. It’s hard to imagine visits from friends and family were allowed in ancient prisons. But somehow he found a way. He had bigger problems than Jesus’ identity to worry about. But he did not procrastinate because he was well aware of the importance of eliminating his doubts while they were still budding.
Previously I said we are able to see the presence of God even in our circumstances if we have faith. Does this mean John the Baptist did not have faith? Certainly not. John questioned because he was a man of informed faith (opposite of blind faith).
The dictionary defines blind faith as “belief without true understanding, perception, or discrimination.” This is not the type of faith God wants us to have. Doubts must be eliminated at their grassroots level. It’s dangerous to allow them to grow. There are two ways to do this. We can refer to the Bible (Psalm 119:105) or our Spiritual Leaders. The Church in Corinth often sought the counsel of Paul the Apostle (1 Corinthians 7:1-40; 8:1-13).
John the Baptist sent his disciples to nobody else but Jesus. When in doubt we must always seek clarification from our Spiritual Leaders. Unfortunately for us in the 21st century, the search begins with Google and ends with Google. The internet is a great resource and helpful to a certain degree.
However, if you need brain surgery, will you download a ‘Do It Yourself Manual’ from the internet or consult a Neurosurgeon? Likewise, technology cannot substitute for the wise counsel of our Spiritual Leaders. It cannot replace the Shepherds God has appointed to look after us.
3. Jesus doesn’t condemn us for Doubting
A blogger once wrote John’s dilemma was a very awkward moment in the Gospels. Did Jesus think this was awkward? He certainly didn’t. But he performed more miracles to assure John that he is on the right path (Luke 7:21-22). Jesus wasn’t rebuking John the Baptist when he said “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Luke 7:23). He was gently urging John to continue to believe despite the circumstances. In fact, Jesus was impressed by John’s behavior because being the greatest Prophet ever, John did not attempt to figure out anything on his own but lowered himself to the point of asking Jesus for an explanation (Luke 7:24-28).
Jesus often rebuked the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law for their arrogance of unbelief (Matthew 12:38-39). But he never condemned people whose doubts were sincere. We know this because he appeared to Thomas to prove the resurrection was real so that Thomas will not ultimately end up in unbelief (John 20:26-28), He restored Peter (John 21:15-19). Jesus is still the same. He doesn’t hold our doubts against us. In fact, Jude 1:22 advises us to follow this example of Jesus. Let us remember Jesus’ words to Thomas every time doubts overshadow our faith. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)
Today the Christian World remembers John the Baptist as a Martyr, not as a doubter. Although John died a violent death, I am absolutely certain he died with a great sense of joy and peace, knowing his death will not be in vain, because Jesus had already blown away the shadows of doubt that clouded his faith.
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