1 Listen, O heavens, and I will speak; hear, O earth, the words of my mouth.
2 Let my teaching fall like rain and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants.
3 I will proclaim the name of the Lord. Oh, praise the greatness of our God!
4 He is the Rock, His works are perfect, and all His ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is He.
17 Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of His purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, He confirmed it with an oath. 18 God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. 19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.
1 After Jesus had finished instructing His twelve disciples, He went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee.
2 When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples 3 to ask Him, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”
4 Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 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. 6 Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”
That is such a reassuring verse. Deep inside our hearts we also know these words to be true. This is the assurance which God gives us through His Spirit, but how do we apply the truth of Romans 8:28 when everything around us just seems to be chaotic?
If we know that God loves us, and that He works everything for our ultimate good, how do we hold onto His promises when fear, weak faith and doubts crowd into our minds?
We find something similar in the opening verses of Matthew 11.
It’s a story of one man’s struggle with his life decisions, but it also speaks very clearly about our own struggles at times.
The man we’re talking about in Matthew 11 is known to us as John the Baptist.
Just to try and put this story into some kind of historical context, Jesus had just sent out the twelve disciples to do ministry on their own. This is described in the previous chapter. It was the next phase in their discipleship. They had walked with Jesus and learned from Him, and now it was time for them to go out on their own, and put into practice what they had learned.
In the meantime, John the Baptist, who was in prison at the time, sent some of his followers to Jesus, and asked Him what at first glance appears to be a rather strange question: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”
This is the same man who proclaimed about Jesus these words which we looked at last Sunday: “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
It was John who baptised Jesus and saw the Spirit descend in the form of a dove, and heard God Himself say, “This is my Son, whom I love. With Him I am well pleased.”
In John 3:30-31, John the Baptist says this of Jesus: “He must become greater; I must become less. The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all.”
When John proclaimed Jesus as the promised Messiah, there was an absolute certainty and conviction in his words. There was no doubt in his mind whatsoever.
So why does he now ask this rather odd question: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”
The main reason was that the circumstances of John’s life had changed dramatically. He’d had a run-in with King Herod’s ex sister-in-law, who was now his wife, and found himself in prison.
He had held onto the truth, but his commitment to God’s truth landed him in jail. John had done everything right but found himself suffering for doing the right thing.
John the Baptist was confused. Doubts had started creeping into his mind. This wasn’t supposed to happen. How is it that I do what is right and am punished for it? The place and circumstances he found himself in helps to make some sense of the question he now asked Jesus.
Am I wrong to believe you’re the Messiah? Remember that John believed Jesus was the Messiah. He announced His coming, he announced His presence. He even baptised Him and committed his entire life to announcing Jesus as the Messiah had come.
And now he’s in prison. He was suffering for doing what God called him to do. And so he asks the question: “Have I missed something? Have I been wrong about Jesus?”
Have you ever asked the same questions? Of course you have. One of the biggest challenges to our faith in God is this thing we call life.
Before we begin to look at how we are to face up to these doubts, we need to spend some time asking why we have them, and where they come from.
Many Christians have an incomplete understanding of the nature of Jesus. Of course, I need to qualify that statement because no-one understands Him completely. The point is that Jesus has revealed enough of Himself to us in order for us to grasp many aspects of His character, but some Christians don’t grasp even the basics, so at the first sign of trouble in their lives, their faith wobbles.
Do we really get into the Word, the Bible? Are we disciplined in our prayer lives and in our worship?
When our minds are not saturated with God's truth, we open ourselves to satan's deception.
We doubt because of worldly influence.
The Jews in Jesus’ time had their own expectations of the Messiah. To them, the first and most important task for the Messiah was to rid Palestine of Roman occupation. But Jesus didn’t do that.
Their idea about the Messiah was so distorted and ingrained that they disregarded everything about Jesus that didn't fit their thinking. They rejected Him because of their worldly influence.
Look at questions people ask today: “If God loves everyone, why would He send people to hell? If God is in control why is there so much evil in the world? Why do bad things happen to good people?”
Because God does not fit in their preconceived ideas, they doubt Him, and Christians end up being confused by these questions too.
When believers become influenced by worldly ideas and philosophies, it is very easy to move to the next stage – we question our faith and begin to doubt God and His goodness.
John the Baptist had preached powerfully about the coming Messiah, but now that he found himself staring at the four walls of a dungeon, he had his doubts.
Christians today have all kinds of plans they expect God to fulfill, and when He doesn’t fit in with their schedule, they become disillusioned.
Let me give you a topical but sensitive and thorny example. We are less than 2 months away from a general election, and Christians are quite rightly praying as we approach the election. But what are we praying? ‘Lord, please change the government? Lord, they are so corrupt, so please remove them from office? Lord, affirmative action is wrong, so please just zap them?’
We understand our Christian duty to pray for our country and its leaders, but what is at the real heart of our requests? Is it about what I want, however good and noble I might think my wants are, or am I praying that God will be glorified?
The point is that we see things in the temporal, the physical realm. But God is at work in ways which we simply cannot understand, and as hard as it is to trust Him at times, we have to learn to do just that, and to pray that He will bring glory to Himself in ways which fit in with His perfect plan, and not ours.
So in response to John the Baptist’s question, Jesus gives an interesting answer. “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 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.”
Jesus didn’t give a simple yes or no answer. He did more than that.
He answered John’s question with results – “Go and tell John what you’ve heard and seen. Everything you would expect the Messiah to do is being done. The blind can see, the crippled are walking, the diseased are cured, the deaf can hear, and even the dead are alive.
The Good News of God’s love for all people is being proclaimed, so go back and tell John what you’ve seen and heard.”
There is this mistaken idea out there that it takes a blind leap of faith to believe in and trust God, and not much else. But that simply isn’t true.
The opening verses of Psalm 19 say “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.”
The evidence of the existence of God is all around us. Look at how He has transformed the lives of people throughout human history.
What about your own life? Perfection is something we simply will not reach in this life, but look back over your life and you will see clear evidence of how Jesus has changed you.
Of course there are times when you have not lived for Him. We all give glory to ourselves instead of God at times. That’s the struggle of the sinner, and it’s a struggle we all face.
But somewhere deep within your soul God has put His mark on you. I love the way Hebrews 6:19 puts it: “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”
Our prayers need to echo the words of the disciples to Jesus in Luke 17:5: “Increase our faith!”
Jesus spells out the reward for remaining faithful to Him in Matthew 11:6 – “Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”
In the original language, this verse is more accurately translated as “Don’t let all of this be a stumbling block.”
“All of this” is the circumstances John found himself in, his imprisonment. Jesus tells John’s followers to go and tell John not to let what’s happening to him cause him to stumble.
Now these might be mere words, but we must remember this anchor for our souls. Jesus really is the rock of our salvation, and it is He on whom we base our faith, not on how well or how bad things might be in our lives right now.
You may have had a wonderful week, and if you did, I’m glad you did. I’m glad you were blessed. But for a lot of people, including many of you here this morning, last week was not good. Things did not go well.
Some of you here today have faced hurt, confusion, sadness and anger. Unfortunately, life is like that at times.
Evil can and does turn our world, and even our lives upside down.
And whether your week was good or bad, we’re all familiar with weeks like that. Those times when nothing goes right, and everything just seems to be falling apart around us, and nothing that we do seems to make any difference.
There are times when we know exactly how John must have felt. Some of you might be there right now.
I serve Jesus the best I can, I try to live the best life I can to bring Him glory and praise, but things still get out of control.
Life is hard, people we love and trust let us down, and it feels like we have nowhere to turn. This was where John the Baptist found himself.
He had done everything just as God told had him. He had given his whole life to pointing to Jesus as God’s chosen One, and all he had to show for his efforts was a jail cell. And things were about to get worse. He would eventually be executed for his faith.
The circumstances confused him and he had some doubt about the whole thing. Does all of this sound familiar?
Why is this happening to me? Why do bad things happen to good people? I decided to trust and believe in Jesus, but things seem to be worse, not better.
We’re all in that place sometimes, and some of us are there today.
So what do we do? What do we do when we find ourselves in that place? We cry out to Jesus. There is a wonderful story in Mark 9 where Jesus heals the demon-possessed son of a man who says to Jesus, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
Jesus then replies, “If you can? Everything is possible for him who believes.”
The boy’s father then puts into words the struggle which we all face: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
That’s the tension we find ourselves in. I believe, but I have unbelief in my heart.
But how do we deal with that unbelief? It really is quite simple. Do what Jesus told John the Baptist to do: Look around, examine the evidence, and see what God has done.
Look at what Jesus has done in your life.
He’s given you hope. He’s given you eternal life. He’s changed you and there’s no way to deny it. Look at what He’s already done in your life.
Some of the changes could not possibly have come from you. There are things in your heart which cannot be changed, unless if God Himself stepped in and changed you.
So allow these things, these transformations you have seen in your own life to confirm that He is who He says He is.
When God shows up in the most unmistakable way in your life, remember those moments. You’ll need to look back on those times, because there will be other times when you might feel like He’s forgotten about you, so remember them.
Belief in God is a choice – it is not something which just happens.
Choose to believe Him. Choose to put your trust in Jesus Christ as the Rock of your salvation. Then ask Him daily, “Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief.”
Many times, even daily for some, the circumstances of our lives can be completely overwhelming, and we reach the point of questioning God, His goodness, and maybe even His very existence. These doubts and confusions are real, but they have to be faced up to and dealt with, or your faith will eventually erode completely.
If you ever find yourself there, or if you’re there now, you can make a choice. You can choose not to let your circumstances control your heart.
You can choose that, despite all that’s going on, you are going to trust Jesus.
Hebrews 12:1-3 says, “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
It really is a choice which each of us has to make. If you are going to rely on how you feel, then I can guarantee you that your faith will fail you. This is about God and His faithfulness to us. You can make the choice right now, no matter what is swirling around you, to choose to believe.
Choose to believe that Jesus is who He says He is. Choose to believe that Jesus has done what He said He would do.
Choose to believe, no matter what, that you will trust Him, with all that you are.
He is everything He says He is. He has done everything He said He would do.
He loves you more than you will ever know, and He cares about you more than you could possibly know.
Homegroup Study Notes
John the Baptist had a reputation for being a fiery and fearless preacher. He boldly proclaimed Jesus as the promised Messiah and the Lamb of God.
He even had the privilege of baptising Jesus, but here we find him in prison and questioning the authenticity of Jesus.
Read his question in verse 3 again.
How are you able to identify with John’s doubts?
In which ways have you felt yourself doubting the goodness and faithfulness or even the very existence of God?
How did this make you feel?
In which ways did God answer your questions?
Read verses 4-6 of Matthew 11.
Jesus doesn’t give a simple yes or no answer. Instead, He says to John “Look around you. Examine the evidence and draw your conclusions based on what you see.”
What evidence have you seen of the work of God in your own life and in the life of your family?
Read the account of Jesus healing the demon-possessed boy in Mark 9:14-24.
Focus on the father’s words in verse 24.
How do these words sum up the tension you face when it comes to wanting to believe in and trust God, but the circumstances in your life cause you to doubt?
Describe a time in your life when you experienced the unmistakable presence of God. How did this affect your faith in Him?
Close by praying that God would remind you of these times of assurance of His goodness and faithfulness.