Preached @ Anchor Community Church on January 25th, 2015
“All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful.” Flannery O’Connor
What do you expect out of God? Our expectations and assumptions shape our experience with relationships, especially our relationship with God. We go in to marriages “Expecting” one thing and getting another; therefore, we often struggle in our marriages because our partners have not “Come through” for us. Many of us struggle with God, because we expected God to be something different or do something different for us. Maybe it was a misunderstanding or just bad theology, but it’s all you know is God isn’t measuring up. “You just knew that God would heal your __________” becomes the reason you are struggling in doubt, and your faith is waning.
Big Picture: God is not bound by our Demands, Desires and Expectations
We are going to look at Three Areas of Doubt from our passage today that is often a thorn in our own flesh.
From the Head…
The Anatomy of Doubt (Matthew 11:1-6)
The question for our passage is did John doubt? The Patristic fathers (Except Tertullian) said no. Solid theologians like Calvin have seconded that. Most likely they do so to either defend John or scripture, since he previously said that Jesus was “The Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world (Matthew 3:14 cf. John 1:29); Now? Not so sure.
Many modern Commentaries however believe that John certainly has real doubts here. From his question, to Jesus’ answer directly to John (v. 4), it seems apparent that this is an episode of depression and doubt. If not a doubt of Jesus’ mission, certainly a doubt in the way Jesus was handling His mission.
The problem for John was that the Prophets prophesied a Jubilee (See Isaiah 61:1-3); a freeing of Israel from Tyranny, and a judgment on those that have cursed Israel. John was a very righteous man (According to Jesus in our passage, the most righteous of men among women), and Jesus on the other hand was chilling with “Gluttons and sinners (See Matthew 11:19 cf. Deuteronomy 21:20). John expected Jesus to do one thin g, but He seemed to be doing another.
Was John judging his cousin? Was he possibly disgruntled with His cousin for not acting properly? Not handling business, as He should? Did He not meet up with John’s expectations of the Messiah?
Too often we place biblical characters up on a pedestal of perfection, and don’t realize that they had their idols and their problems with doubt just like we do. This is an act of doubt for sure. We doubt in times of distress. It is our prison experiences that shape our understanding of God. John extolled Jesus’ virtues when he was a free man, working his ministry, but he struggled when he was sent to prison for being bold in the face of King Herod’s sin, when Jesus, who was supposed to be the Messiah, was not judging those in the way the prophets predicted He would. We are like that. Our doubts occur when God doesn’t act the way we believe He should be acting. When He doesn’t do what we believe He should be doing, or He doesn’t act on our time frame.
How does Jesus answer John? With scripture (Especially Isaiah 35:4-6a cf. Isaiah 61:1-3 cf. Luke 4:18ff). His basic answer is “Yes I am coming to judge, but first, I am saving my people!” I will fulfill all of these prophecies which are in the context of judgment, on my time, not your time, but I am also fulfilling a certain aspect of those prophecies right now, I am healing people and saving them.
Jesus reflected a balanced understanding of the gospel. Both the grace and love and the holiness and justice are part of God’s plan, and He is working His plan according to His purpose and will (See Ephesians 1:11).
The Human Default of Doubt (Matthew 11:7-15)
At this point, Jesus turns to the doubting crowds, showing them who John really is. What we see in our passage is humanity’s default mechanism; doubt. When things don’t go to our expectations, we doubt. Jesus started out with the crowds following Him, and ended with a small group of rag-tag followers. As soon as people realized that Jesus wasn’t going to give them what they wanted, and then He started talking this crazy talk about loving Him more than mom and dad and your kids, and taking up your cross, etc. they bailed. We don’t want that, we want Jesus to be __________, fill in the blank. Jesus wasn’t going to play that game, and gave them clear reasons to believe He was who He said He is. He names John as the prophet that came in the “Spirit and power of Elijah” as promised (Malachi 3:1; 4:5 cf. Luke 1:17) to prepare the way for His ministry as promised (Isaiah 40:3). John wasn’t Elijah the prophet as he made that clear in John 1:21, but He was metaphorically and in the spirit of Elijah. John came as that prophet to pave the way, calling all humanity to repentance, while Jesus preached grace. It wasn’t the antithesis of John’s preaching, it was in concert with John’s preaching. The grace of God is made clear through repentance, but repentance is something human nature rebels against. As writer Flannery O’Connor says, “All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and the change is painful.” We struggle with repentance because we don’t see ourselves as that bad, and we struggle with grace because we want to save ourselves. Both sides of the salvation coin in Christ are an anathema to those perishing. We don’t want to admit our sin, and we don’t want someone else stealing our glory.
The Reason of Doubt (Matthew 11:16-19)
The reason of doubt is simple. When we want to believe something our faulty reasoning paves the way. Jesus is using reason and the facts of prophecy to make His point, but He is still being rejected, because when people want to believe something, their own reason mysteriously takes them where they want to go. To this, writer George Bernard Shaw wrote, “The moment we want to believe something, we suddenly see all the arguments for it, and become blind to the arguments against it” Jesus uses a strange but clear story to illustrate His point. He uses childish games, illustrating how selfish, self-centered children act when they are playing. They get upset when no one plays the game the way they want to play. The first was the Wedding Game, which would call for a flute and everyone would dance, while the Funeral Game played a sad “Dirge” where everyone was supposed to morn; but the problem is, the children didn’t always do what the leader children wanted, and they got upset. It is in this same way, that Jesus calls out this generation, who wants God to play their games their way, but God isn’t falling for it, and that angers the skeptic. Thus skeptics often take either side of an argument, as long as it fits their worldview. I have heard skeptics demand that the US is a “Christian Nation” when they want to put down how horrible our nation has been, but when you try to use the Christian nation card to interpret law, etc. the same people claim it was never influenced by Christians. Or they will argue that killing is wrong, and then support abortion. They use their “Reason” that is convenient for their outcome. Their experiments amazingly support their hypotheses.’
John and Jesus won’t play Humanity’s game and we’re upset! God can’t win with a skeptic, and our passage is no different. When John comes as the fundamentalist fire and brimstone guy, he is said to have a “Demon,” and is rejected, when Jesus comes partying with the boys, and loving people, He is said to be a “Glutton and a Drunkard” (See Deuteronomy 21:20). No matter what; when repentance or grace is preached, it is rejected by those that do not desire to bow down to God and morn their sins. Their reasoning allows them off the hook, and instead of doubting like John, who took his doubt to Jesus, the skeptic non-believer takes their doubt to their own reason, and it wins every time. Doubt is not wrong, but it is when we feel we have the right to be God’s judge. That is a doubt beyond reason!
…to the Heart
What expectations do you have for God? How are those expectations hurting your relationship with God at this time? What agendas are you putting forth to God? Do you trust His will and His purposes, or is your theology minimizing God’s providential sovereignty in this world, while elevating your own?Do you need to take your doubt to the cross of Jesus where perfect justice and love met? If so, it’s time to repent of your mistrust, and receive His grace and love that was clearly displayed in God’s purposed plan for this world.
Questions To Ponder
- Why is it important to realize that John was sent by God?
- Why do you suppose Jesus was called a “Drunkard and a Glutton?”
- Why is the concept of the Kingdom of God so hated?
- Why was John and Jesus killed? What does that matter?
For Further Reading
A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, Craig S. Keener
The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, Michael J. Wilkins
The Gospel According to Matthew, Leon Morris
Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament 1A, ed. Manlio Simonetti
Sermon On the Mount; Sinclair Ferguson