The following message was delivered on Sunday, November 16, 2008 at Sovereign Grace Bible Church:
Unlike other three Gospel writers, Matthew intends his readers to be convinced that Jesus indeed is Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, as it was prophesied in the Old Testament. So far in the first ten chapters of Matthew we have witnessed many convincing proofs. For instance:
·In Chapter 1 Matthew clearly wants his readers to know that Jesus was no ordinary man, since his genealogy goes back to David, to Moses, and to Abraham. In fact all those patriarchs prophesied of the coming Messiah.
·In Chapter 2 Matthew intends to show that Jesus had no ordinary birth, for he was born of virgin, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit.
·Chapter 3 shows that Jesus had no ordinary predecessor, since John the Baptist was no ordinary Baptist.
·Chapter 4 shows Jesus triumphs over three severe temptations by the devil, which clearly demonstrates that Jesus was no ordinary man.
·Chapters 5 to 7 record one of the famous sermons of Jesus. What is significant about this sermon is not only what he said, but also how he said it, which distinguished him from all other religious teachers and leaders. In fact, at the end of Chapter 7, Matthew wrote, “When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.”
·Chapters 8 and 9 clearly demonstrate the awesome power of Jesus. A narrative after narrative in those two chapters reveals Jesus’ power over disease, death, and demons. Again, all that is to say, Jesus was no ordinary man.
·And in Chapter 10, Matthew records who Jesus is, by what would happen to his own disciples and others who follow him.
Now, in next two chapters, namely 11 and 12, Matthew further demonstrates who Jesus is, by the type of oppositions he received. That is to say, the type of oppositions often reveals the type of person you are. For example, if you are regularly attacked for speaking and standing for biblical truths, this likely reveals that you are a person who tries to live according to Scripture. Also if you generally get accused for not having open-minded worldviews, this likely reveals that you generally live by set of absolutes, as opposed to pluralistic and relativistic worldviews.
For Jesus, he was often accused for blasphemy, because he often equated himself to God. For instance, you recall back in Matthew 9:2 Jesus said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven,” which begs the question, who can forgive sins other than God, or who can grant forgiveness other than God? And you recall immediately in verse 3, Matthew records that “And some of the scribes said to themselves, ‘This fellow blasphemes.’” This is also true in John 5:18, “For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill Him, because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal to God.” All this is to say, the type of attacks Jesus received has to do with undermining or questioning of his authority. Hence next two chapters, Matthew 11 and 12 further reveal who Jesus is by the type of oppositions he received, namely questioning of his authority.
And you are surprised to find out that the one who first questions the authority of Jesus comes not from the enemy camp, but from the very person that was called to serve Jesus, namely John the Baptist. With that in mind, I would like to approach this message with two dramatic scenes, first with John’s doubt and then with the Lord’s response.
I. John’s Doubt (vv. 1-3)
Please note that in Greek text this chapter begins with a conjunction word “and.” But unfortunately, most of the translations, except for KJV and NAS, have not included this word in the text. The reason why it is important to note the conjunction here at the beginning of this chapter is to show that this chapter does not stand in its own, but that it is continuous from the previous chapter.
In the previous chapter Jesus just explained to his disciples that they will receive various oppositions. Now, at the onset of Chapter 11, Jesus is about to receive a subtle form of opposition, namely a doubt concerning him, which is another way to say, questioning the ability and authority of Jesus. Again such question did not come from the enemies of Jesus, but by the one who was ordained to serve him, namely John the Baptist. Using his own disciples, John the Baptist questioned Jesus in verse 3 “Are you the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?”
Before you are quick to jump on John the Baptist, please understand the dilemma he is in. Imagine you have been serving a man whom you thought was going to start an earthshaking religious and political revolution that would change everything for good, but now you are locked up in prison and there is a possibility that you may even die. All you have done so far is to be faithful to the calling, namely preparing the way of the Lord by preaching the message of repentance and the coming kingdom. And you thought that the messiah you expected would hurry about bringing or starting such kingdom but you haven’t seen much evidence of such kingdom. Moreover, you are wondering when the messiah would come and rescue you out of the prison. You wonder whether he even cares whether you are in prison. So what seemed like a believable promise now seems grim. What seemed like a reality now seems unrealistic. That is why John the Baptist found himself questioning whether Jesus is indeed the Expected One.
And I believe many of us would have done the same, if not something worse. Hence this should be a good lesson to all of us that sometimes even the best of us can have a momentary lapse. And it is from this lesson of John the Baptist that we see three factors that lead to doubt, which are no different for today’s Christians than John the Baptist in his day.
1. Inconvenient conditions
We face the temptation to doubt when we are under a severe or difficult condition. John the Baptist has been faithful in preaching the message of repentance in order to pave the way for Jesus’ arrival. And now he is in prison due to his faithfulness to the message and ministry in which God ordained. Many people would think they would be rewarded for being faithful, not being locked up in prison. And no doubt, under this type of pressure John the Baptist is perhaps thinking, “I did not sign-up for this.”
Matthew 14 tells us that the reason John the Baptist is imprisoned is due to confronting the sin of Herod, who was having immoral relationship with his brother’s wife, Herodias. Hence John was thrown into prison for courageously speaking and standing for God’s truth. I’m not sure whether John the Baptist had wisdom to be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves when dealing with an unbeliever. But what is certain is that he is in prison and possibly would be killed for his moral uprightness, and hence under this pressure he is questioning whether Jesus is indeed the Expected One.
Like John the Baptist when we are under a severe pressure or difficult circumstance, we too are prone to question God. We may be tempted to say, “I did not sign-up for this!” I didn’t know being a Christian means this! If that’s the case, then I don’t want to have anything to do with Christ, or with this church! I’m going to rather find a church that is more opened-minded, and would cater to my beliefs, my wants and my needs.
2. Insufficient knowledge
Although John the Baptist was called to prepare the way for Christ’s arrival, his knowledge about Jesus was insufficient. This is obvious by the question he directed at Jesus – “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?”
Like John the Baptist when you have insufficient knowledge about the essential truths, it is easy to succumb to the temptation to doubt. You may think that you have the truth, but does the truth have you? There is a difference between acknowledging that you know the truth, because you have heard it or read it, and actually having such truth possessing you. In other words, there is a huge difference between a mere recognition and possession. One is a mere intellectual or mental assent, while the other is transformation of life. That is why I often say, theology is who you are. And this is why it is imperative that you be grounded to sound doctrine. As the saying goes, sound doctrine leads to sound life.
It is one thing to think that you know who God is, but your theology test comes during difficult times. And the hardest question in your theology test is to answer whether God is truly loving, powerful, faithful, good, merciful, and sovereign.
It is no wonder that during difficult times, people who generally fail the tests are people with insufficient knowledge. Many of these people include individuals who are religious and even those who have gone to church almost all their life. Sufficient theological knowledge does not necessary come from quantity of church attendance, but quality of church. A case in point – just listen to some of the testimonies of our own dear members.
All this is to say, when you have inadequate knowledge or understanding of God’s Word, you will fail the test every time by questioning God’s holy and transcendent character. And to question God’s character is never justifiable or excusable, especially from professing Christians, the people who supposedly know God.
3. Invalid expectations
This is another factor that can lead someone to question or doubt. And this can happen with some of the best of us, like John the Baptist. Again this is obvious from his question in verse 3, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?”
When you have combination of insufficient knowledge and are in inconvenient situation, you are guaranteed to have invalid expectations. At the time of Jesus the Jewish people thought the coming Messiah would eliminate all sufferings and pains. Moreover, the coming Messiah would surely overthrow the pagan occupation in their land and establish his righteous kingdom. And they had also anticipated overflowing wealth.
So when people witnessed Jesus talking repeatedly about his kingdom and healing of the diseased and casting out of demons, it was no wonder that people thought of him as the Messiah that they had envisioned. In other words, Jesus matched their messianic profile and met their criteria. But the problem was their expected messiah was according to their own interpretations. They were looking for a military messiah, a political messiah, a financial messiah, and so on. This is not to say that the true Messiah cannot do those things, but their version of messiah was far from true, biblical and spiritual standards. Hence when Jesus did not manifest himself according to their expectations, they lost interest in him though it was a superficial interest in the first place. And they began to undermine him, his teaching, his ministry, and his authority.
It is no surprising to see those things in churches. People come with their own expectations of what a church should be, who God is, and so on, and when their expectations are not met, they go and look for a church that would meet their unbiblical and ungodly notions. But unfortunately, we live in a day where people would often find many churches that would give them what they want. Never mind the importance of sound theology, but now people want therapeutic ego strokes. Never mind the importance of substance, but now people are more caught up with styles that are cool. Never mind the importance of equipping the saints, but now entertaining the sinners.
Therefore we see three factors that have caused John the Baptist to doubt and question Christ. As I mentioned already those three factors are not unique only to John but to all of us, namely when we are 1) in inconvenient conditions, 2) have insufficient knowledge, and 3) have invalid expectations.
II. The Responses of Jesus
There are twofold responses of Jesus in verses 4 to 6: 1) incredible evidences and 2) insuring promise.
1. Incredible evidence
Now, Jesus responds to the doubt of John the Baptist in verses 4 to 6 this way, namely with his incredible evidences. And let me make a few observations. First, what Jesus says in verse 4 is similar to that of how one of his disciples, Philip, answered Nathanael’s skepticism in John 1. In John 1:45-46, Scripture says, “Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’ Nathanael said to him, ‘Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’” In essence, isn’t this what Jesus said to the disciples of John the Baptist in verse 4? The truth of the matter is it wasn’t Jesus who copied how to answer a skeptic from Philip; rather, it was Philip who learned from Jesus.
And I would like for you to see something very important here. It is here we find an extremely important lesson in how Jesus’ response to doubt. In fact, it is here we find how to combat against the temptation to question God’s character, doubt, and unbelief. So what is the answer? According to Jesus, hear and see what God has done! The key to combat against the temptation to question God’s character, doubt, and unbelief is to constantly meditate on the works that God has done and is doing in your life. Moreover, not only to look at your own life, but look at what God has done and is doing in the lives of countless people in the redeemed community presently and in the past history. Furthermore, see beyond yourself and the redeemed community, and ponder on the complex galaxies that God has created. Isn’t that what David said in Psalm 19? The heavens are telling of the glory of God!
The reason why we are tempted to question God, his character, doubt his word, and fail to believe, is because we have failed to ponder and mediate on the glory of God! When we regularly fail to see God as God, all-powerful, and as the Sovereign Creator and Savior, of course, we would question God, his character, doubt his word, and fail to believe. And when we fail to ponder and meditate on the glory of God, it always affects how we worship, when we worship, and where we worship. That generally means people care less about the substance in worship, the priority of giving the first day of the week completely unto the Lord, and Lord’s day worship with God’s people. It’s like whatever happened to doctrine concerning regulative principles of worship? And whatever happened to keeping the Lord’s day (the whole day) holy, not Lord’s hour holy? I beg of you, meditate on the greatness of God regularly! Do so for your own sake and the people around you.
The greatness of God or the glory of God is revealed through his works, namely through his creation and redemption (re-creation). Ponder on the glorious gospel. Ponder on the finished work of Jesus on the cross. Also ponder on the perfect life that Jesus lived and how that related to your salvation.
It’s unfortunate that people tend to only think about the death of Jesus in relation to salvation, but that is not the whole truth in relation to the gospel. If salvation was simply dependent on the death of Jesus, then he would have simply come down to earth on Friday and went up on Sunday. But why did he come down and live for almost 33 years? Did you ever think about that in relation to the gospel and salvation? It took about 33 years for Jesus to fulfill every Law in regards to atonement and he did so perfectly without any sin, so that his perfect life, meaning, his righteousness would be imputed to all of his elect in God’s redemptive history. In theology, this is what imputation means. And this is what justification means. And that is the central theme in the books of Romans and Galatians.
2. Insuring promise
The second part of Christ’s response is found in verse 6 with his insuring promise – “And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.” Jesus has been saying repeatedly thus far that persecutions or oppositions are a given fact when you speak and stand for what is right. And this is especially true of those who follow him. Hence what Jesus is implying is that no matter what circumstance or condition you are in as a result of testimony to Christ, endure and persevere with joy, for the glory of God. Jesus uses the same word “blessed” here as he did back in the Beatitudes. This word, which means happy, refers to “the joy that comes from the presence and approval of God.” That definition by Leon Morris clearly implies that either you’ll have happiness by the presence and approval of God, or happiness on your own that is outside of God’s approval. Hence the choice is yours. Do you want to have insuring promise of positive consequence with obedience or insuring promise of negative consequence with disobedience? Obviously, this was a direct response to John the Baptist, well as to all who follow Christ.