Christmas 2016 – Christmas Q & A
3. A Question For Jesus
Matthew 11: 3
If you could have any gift you wanted for Christmas, what would you ask for? That’s not an easy question to answer if you start to think about it. Some of us would ask for things. A new car. A new house. A nice blouse. A necklace. A train set. A new bike. A new computer. Some of us would ask for health. Perhaps you’ve been struggling all year with various physical ailments, and all you want for Christmas is to feel better. Perhaps a loved one is suffering from a serious illness, and your Christmas wish would be for them to get better.
You might ask for better relationships. Christmas has a way of bringing all the relational fractures out into the open. Perhaps you’re estranged from friends or family members. Maybe you’ve said or done things you regret, and you’d like to heal the breach if possible.
Some of us would like to have our questions answered. I know lots of people whose deepest desire is to have the answer to one simple question: “Lord, what do you want me to do?” Many people seek guidance and would be perfectly happy this Christmas if the Lord would answer that question for them. Your question might be more basic: “Lord, why did this happen? Why me? Why now? Why this?” John the Baptist had a question that goes right to the heart of Christmas.
Matthew 11: 1 - 6 sets the scene:
While he was in prison, John sent his disciples to Jesus with a penetrating question: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” Amazing as it may seem, John the Baptist had his doubts. It’s hard to reconcile John’s doubts with his previous confession of faith. After all, he was one who called Jesus “the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1: 29). When he baptized Jesus, he saw the dove (signifying the Holy Spirit) descending from heaven to rest on Jesus, and he heard the voice of God say, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3: 17). How could a man who knew so much somehow begin to doubt the truth?
1. How Could He Doubt?
A. Consider his circumstances
John is in prison, put there by a King Herod, a wicked, corrupt, licentious man. Although John does not know it, soon he will be beheaded. Certainly he had no hope of ever being released. Prison does strange things to people. It sucks the life and hope out of even the best of men. Though he was a good and strong man, John was not immune to bouts of discouragement and depression.
B. Consider his outlook
John had burst on the scene like a meteor streaking across the sky. Out of nowhere he had galvanized the nation with his strange apparel, his ascetic appearance, and his call for radical repentance. He preached that the corrupt rulers of the nation must get right with God. He spoke of laying the axe at the root of the tree and of a baptism of fire. John believed that the Messiah, whose coming he announced, would turn the world upside down. But that’s not what happened when Jesus began his ministry. So John grew impatient. He expected the Messiah to publicly challenge the corrupt leadership in Jerusalem and ultimately break the Roman hold on Israel. Neither of those two things seemed to be happening, or at least they weren’t happening fast enough to suit John. So in prison, suffering in gloomy, hopeless circumstances, he begins to wonder, “Was I wrong about Jesus? What if he’s not the one we were expecting?”
His question has a very modern ring to it. Change it slightly and it looks like this: If Christ has really been born, why is the world so messed up? Why aren’t things better by now? He came to save the world. Why is the world largely unsaved? 2000 years have come and gone. Why aren’t things better?
John’s question is honest. He’s basically saying, “Things haven’t worked as I expected. So maybe I was wrong.” He is struggling with one of the oldest questions—the problem of evil. Why is there evil in the world? Why does God allow it?
Evil is a problem for all of us because evil is not only loose in the world, evil often seems to rule the world. Where is God in midst of so much pain, sickness, sin and suffering? It’s a fair question, and one that most believers wonder about. That’s what is happening to John. Though he knows intellectually who Jesus is, the realities of his situation and his misplaced expectations have caused him to doubt what he otherwise knows to be true.
2. Doubt Isn’t a Sin
“Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith.” Doubt can be a stimulus to great spiritual growth. If you never doubt at all, how will your faith ever be put to the test? If it is never tested, how do you know it is genuine? John’s problem is the same as our problem today: God doesn’t do what we think He should do. God routinely does things we wouldn’t do if we were God, and he seems to neglect things that we would do if we were in his place.
John had heard that Christ had been going from village to village throughout Galilee, healing and teaching and pointing people to God. That’s not what John expected the Messiah to do. He thought the Messiah would overthrow worldly government, upset the corrupt applecart, and usher in the Kingdom. That wasn’t happening, or at least it wasn’t happening very fast. Meanwhile, John is in prison. What if Jesus wasn’t the Messiah? What if John had somehow got it all wrong? What if Jesus was a true prophet of God, but not the Messiah sent from heaven? That would be a huge mistake. If you trace it back to the source, John was disappointed because Jesus wasn’t moving fast enough. We all feel that way from time to time. In our desperation or our fear or our anger or our confusion, we may feel that God is moving too slow. Impatience leads to doubt and sometimes to despair.
How apt we are to allow our own distresses to taint our view of God. In times of trouble or discouragement or weakness, we may begin to think that God isn’t there or doesn’t care or has somehow forgotten about us. We may even conclude that he has turned against us. Hard times make us doubt what once was clear to us. When those times come, and come they do to all believers sooner or later, we must recall that God’s ways and our ways are two different ways. He is not bound by our expectations. “But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases” (Psalm 115: 3)
3. He Came to Christ With His Doubts
Let’s take a closer look at John the Baptist for a moment. Consider the man who doubted Jesus. He was . . . A prophet, A good man, A godly man, A righteous man, A wise man, A courageous man, A privileged man. Yet despite all this, still he doubted. So do not be so hard on yourself if you doubt from time to time. It happens to the best and strongest believers. Don’t be afraid to admit that you have doubts. Don’t keep them to yourself. Share your struggles with a friend who can help you. Most of all, come to Christ and seek his help.
John asked a very straightforward question: “Are you the one?” Jesus does not answer yes or no. He doesn’t put John down or make him look bad. He doesn’t mention all the Old Testament prophecies of his birth. He doesn’t say, “You baptized me. You ought to know the answer.” Instead he challenges John to look again at the very things that have caused him to doubt. “Go back and tell John what you have seen and heard.” Look again!
4. The Seed of Faith
My whole message comes down to the next sentence. If you struggle with doubt, this sentence could save your life. Here it is: In your doubt is the seed of faith! Doubt and faith are allies, not enemies. Go back and study what caused your doubt and soon you will begin to believe. John’s mind needs enlarging. His thinking must get bigger in order for his faith to get stronger. John’s problem - he had a narrow view of who Jesus is and why he came to the earth. And that’s why he doubted in the moment of personal crisis.
If we look at Jesus rightly, we will believe more fervently. Seen properly, stumbling blocks become steppingstones. Jesus’ answer shows that what Christ does is the best answer to who he is. Changed lives - The blind see. The lame walk. The lepers are healed. The deaf hear. The dead are raised. The poor have the gospel preached to them.
5. A Fight on Your Hands
The passage comes to a powerful conclusion with the beatitude in v. 6: “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” Some Christians may read that and wonder, “Who would ever be offended by Jesus?” It helps to remember that he said some very unusual things. He called himself the Son of Man. He claimed to be in heaven while on the earth. He said he was one with the Father, and called himself the ransom for the sins of the world. He told his followers to eat his body and drink his blood. He called his disciples to take up their cross and follow him. He said he would dwell in them and they in him. He even promised to raise them to eternal life. No wonder some people stumbled over Jesus. He did say some incredible things.
What is it about Christianity that bothers people today? It is the exclusivity of its claims. Tell someone that you believe in Jesus, and they will smile with approval. Say that you believe he is the Son of God, and they will say, “That’s wonderful.” Tell them that you believe he was born in Bethlehem and almost everyone will agree. Say that you are born again, and you aren’t likely to start a fight. But try saying that Jesus is the only way to heaven. Tell people there is no hope of heaven outside of Christ. You’ll have a fight on your hands soon enough. Millions stumble over John 14: 6 because they don’t believe that Jesus is the only way to God.
6. Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus
Blessed are they who do not stumble over Jesus. The way past our doubts is to get a better glimpse of the Saviour. Rest your eyes on him and all will be well.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in his wonderful face.
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of his glory and grace.
What did John the Baptist call Jesus? The Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. When God looks at me by myself, all he sees is my sin. And what I call righteousness, he calls filthy rags. I have nothing in myself that will pass for righteousness in his eyes. But when I place my trust in Jesus Christ—the great Lamb of God—then when God looks down from heaven, he sees "the Lamb over me" and declares me righteous in his eyes. How do these great blessings come to me? By faith! Not by works. Not by the law! Not by anything I could ever do, but simply and only by faith in the crucified Lamb of God. All that I wanted but could never have, I find when I come to Jesus Christ. All that I wanted but could never achieve is provided for me by faith in the Son of God. What I lacked, he provided. What I wanted most, he supplied. What I needed, he freely gave. This is our only hope of heaven. And God now offers the Lamb to the whole world. His blood can wash away all your sin.
John the Baptist asked Jesus, “Are you the one?” He asked the right question. He asked the right person. He got the right answer.
William C. Dix was a successful insurance salesman in Glasgow, Scotland. Born in 1837, He was stricken with a sudden serious illness in his late 20s. Confined to bed for an extended period, he suffered deep depression until he called out to God and "met Him in a new and real way." Out of his personal experience of suffering came many songs and hymns, including a beloved Christmas carol written in 1865 that asks a question the awe-struck shepherds must have asked. Here is the answer to John the Baptist’s question:
What Child is this who, laid to rest On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet, While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King, Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud, The Babe, the Son of Mary.
God grant us faith to rejoice in Christ and to believe in him. May that be your experience during this Christmas season. Amen.