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Life of Christ (1996-1998)

On Doubt

Matthew 8:5-13, Luke 7:1-10

In this lesson we will meet two personalities: one of faith, one of doubt. The interesting thing about the pair is that they are not whom you might expect. The man of faith is a Roman centurion, not even a Jew. The man of doubt? John the Baptist.

The Centurion

Matthew 8:5-13 NASB And when Jesus entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, imploring Him, (6) and saying, "Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, fearfully tormented." (7) Jesus *said to him, "I will come and heal him." (8) But the centurion said, "Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. (9) "For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, 'Go!' and he goes, and to another, 'Come!' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this!' and he does it." (10) Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who were following, "Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel. (11) "I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; (12) but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (13) And Jesus said to the centurion, "Go; it shall be done for you as you have believed." And the servant was healed that very moment.

Luke 7:1-10 NASB When He had completed all His discourse in the hearing of the people, He went to Capernaum. (2) And a centurion's slave, who was highly regarded by him, was sick and about to die. (3) When he heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders asking Him to come and save the life of his slave. (4) When they came to Jesus, they earnestly implored Him, saying, "He is worthy for You to grant this to him; (5) for he loves our nation and it was he who built us our synagogue." (6) Now Jesus started on His way with them; and when He was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to Him, "Lord, do not trouble Yourself further, for I am not worthy for You to come under my roof; (7) for this reason I did not even consider myself worthy to come to You, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. (8) "For I also am a man placed under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, 'Go!' and he goes, and to another, 'Come!' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this!' and he does it." (9) Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled at him, and turned and said to the crowd that was following Him, "I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such great faith." (10) When those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave in good health.

It is well for us to consider the centurion. He is a military man, approximating a captain in the army we have today, for he commanded a hundred men. As such, he had a number of disadvantages with respect to faith. Indeed, one might reasonably ask how such a man could have come to so great a faith, given these facts:

  • He is not even Jewish. He is Roman, and Roman during a time when the Jewish belief was almost universally despised throughout the Roman Empire. Jews were viewed as bigots, those who claimed that only the Jew could possibly benefit from God -- all others were automatically destined to hell. Jewish dietary laws were ridiculed. Jews in general were viewed with suspicion, distrust and a sense that there was something fundamentally wrong with their minds.
  • Worse, he is a conqueror. What worse could be said -- from the point of view of the conquered? This man is the commander of the local company of the conquering army. This is a tremendous social barrier. How did this man ever acquire such a faith?

He does, however, possess certain advantages. We would do well to study these, as they overcame the barriers we listed above.

  • He is a man who knows the nature of power, and is comfortable with his place in the power structure. He is not a petty tyrant, but a man who would understand Churchill's comment that "power, rightly understood, is a blessing."
  • Politically, he is very astute. It may be that he built the synagogue for the Jews out of piety -- but the elders who spoke for him must have at least respected him and considered him worth.
  • Most important, he is a seeker after God. That a Roman could be said to "love our nation" could only arise from this search for the true God.

The centurion, like any good soldier, is a man of action. The novelist will tell you that character is not so much described as portrayed. What can we learn from his actions?

  • He acknowledges his place. He does not consider himself important enough to disturb the prophet (I doubt he knew much more than that) or teacher, but also he knows that he need not. He therefore balances his own lack of importance with his need -- and sends those whom he considers will be heard more readily. Only as Jesus approaches does he speak directly -- and then only to indicate that it is not necessary that Jesus come.
  • He intercedes. He does not do this for himself but for his slave. In that, he imitates the prophets, priests and kings of the Old Testament. He puts himself, humbly, in between God and man.
  • He does so on behalf of a slave. Please note the expression that the slave is "highly valued." A slave in the Roman Empire is nothing more than a living tool; the slave master could legally have him killed at a whim. And to what trouble does our centurion go?

Jesus comments on none of this. He commends the man for his faith (and grants his request). But it would seem that one who knows his own place and then intercedes for others, no matter how lowly, may be an example of great faith.

We must now go over to the other side, and see doubt -- and how Christ handles it.

John the Baptist

Matthew 11:2-15 NASB Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples (3) and said to Him, "Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?" (4) Jesus answered and said to them, "Go and report to John what you hear and see: (5) the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM. (6) "And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me." (7) As these men were going away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, "What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? (8) "But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who wear soft clothing are in kings' palaces! (9) "But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and one who is more than a prophet. (10) "This is the one about whom it is written, 'BEHOLD, I SEND MY MESSENGER AHEAD OF YOU, WHO WILL PREPARE YOUR WAY BEFORE YOU.' (11) "Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. (12) "From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force. (13) "For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. (14) "And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come. (15) "He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

Luke 7:18-30 NASB The disciples of John reported to him about all these things. (19) Summoning two of his disciples, John sent them to the Lord, saying, "Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?" (20) When the men came to Him, they said, "John the Baptist has sent us to You, to ask, 'Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?'" (21) At that very time He cured many people of diseases and afflictions and evil spirits; and He gave sight to many who were blind. (22) And He answered and said to them, "Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM. (23) "Blessed is he who does not take offense at Me." (24) When the messengers of John had left, He began to speak to the crowds about John, "What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? (25) "But what did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Those who are splendidly clothed and live in luxury are found in royal palaces! (26) "But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and one who is more than a prophet. (27) "This is the one about whom it is written, 'BEHOLD, I SEND MY MESSENGER AHEAD OF YOU, WHO WILL PREPARE YOUR WAY BEFORE YOU.' (28) "I say to you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he." (29) When all the people and the tax collectors heard this, they acknowledged God's justice, having been baptized with the baptism of John. (30) But the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God's purpose for themselves, not having been baptized by John.

It is surprising to some that John the Baptist is here portrayed as being in doubt as to who Jesus is. Indeed, some commentators indicate that John did this only to strengthen his disciples. This seems unlikely to me. So we must ask ourselves what happened? Like the centurion, John had his disadvantages and advantages:

  • John is in jail. This is a most depressing place, far worse than the brightly lit and sanitary prisons of our day. You must remember that only in the late 19th century did anyone consider that a jail should have anything but the worst possible conditions. The objective was to make the cell as miserable as possible, so as to reduce the man in it to the most pitiful state as soon as possible. We are all creatures of our circumstance.
  • He is in jail for opening his big mouth. He has challenged Herod's marriage to Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. There is always the thought in such circumstances that "perhaps I should have been a bit more diplomatic." For most of us, we tend to see suffering as sometimes the punishment of God (and sometimes it is); I suspect John was wondering if this whole thing wasn't a mistake.
  • In short, John's focus is on John, not on others. He needs help, and sends to get it.

As for his advantages, they are listed in the Scripture above. It is interesting that Jesus does not condemn John's doubt; rather, He pronounces what might be taken as his eulogy. We may learn something from John's predicament. It is interesting too that his is not the only case of doubt among the heroes: you might also consider

  • Job (Job 30:20-21)
  • David (Psalm 22:2, which is prophetic as well of Jesus)
  • Moses (Exodus 4:10) , a man who was sure God had picked the wrong man.
  • Elijah (1 Kings 19:13-18) calls fire down from heaven -- and then runs from Jezebel. The complaint is interesting.
  • Jeremiah (Jeremiah 15:18) wants to know if God lied to him.
  • Abraham (Genesis 12:12-13) tries to pass of his wife as his sister to keep from being killed.
  • Peter can't seem to stay above water (Matthew 14:29-31)

Why are we like this?

  • Often, as with Elijah, our emotions triumph over our reason. We tend to think of faith as being an emotional thing ("I feel it in my heart") but forget that the Scripture portrays it as entirely rational.
  • Our lack of faith is usually a reflection of ourselves. We ourselves know that no one is completely trustworthy; all are sinners -- and therefore we put our complete trust in no one. This is accurate -- until we paste that mental image of untrustworthiness onto God.
  • Sin itself can be a barrier. The process is complex, but I may simplify it with a quotation from a brother-in-law who is now a true brother. "I wanted to sleep with ...., therefore there is no God."

Cure for Doubt

There are many things we can use as "cure for doubt." Here are some suggested by the evidence given here:

  • Unlike John, we should stay in the community of believers. We are social animals, and we are affected by the attitudes around us. It is harder to stay faithful when you're in solitary confinement. It is also hard to stay faithful when your only contact with your fellow Christians is on Sunday.
  • We need to focus on the problems of others, not on our own needs. If God is using us to deal with the troubles of others, we will have no thought to spare to create problems of our own.
  • We may indeed use Jesus own defense: look at the evidence. Remember that faith is not an emotion but a rational response to the facts. It is well that we do so.
  • Like the centurion, we need to seek God -- not to seek his absence. This involves obedience and care for others, but starts in the human heart as a quest: who is this God?

There is one other cure for doubt. You probably have not thought of it in the context of doubt versus faith, but I submit that these two episodes are next to each other for a reason: that you may see that curing doubt is not an injection but a lifestyle: a lifestyle which turns not on the self but on others. John inquired for himself; the centurion interceded for the lowest of the low.

Intercession

The opposite of doubt is faith; faith without works is dead; and I submit the highest of works is to intercede for others. This is shown in the fact that intercession is nothing less than boldness based on faith. In intercession, the Christian takes his courage in his hand and steps up to the throne of grace to ask the king of kings and Lord of Lords for a favor -- for someone else.

Does this seem too much for you? After all, the first principle of intercession is this: by definition, the strong intercede for the weak, not the other way around. Indeed, in the Scripture we are assured that such intercession is made for us

  • by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26-27)
  • by Christ Himself, as our High Priest (Hebrews 7:5)

In the Old Testament, intercession was the function of prophets, priests and kings. Clearly, then, we see intercession as something the mighty do for the weak.

But we also see that intercession is commanded to the Christian!

  • First, for our brothers in Christ (1 John 5:16)
  • But also, for all those in authority over us! (1 Timothy 2:12)

Imagine that! We, the strong and mighty, are commanded to pray for Bill Clinton, the weak. And not for him only, but for all in authority. We are the strong, interceding for the weak who run this world.

How can this be? The answer (as always) is found in the Scripture:

(Gal 3:26-27 NIV) You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, {27} for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

Think of it this way: we, the disciples of Christ, were clothed with Christ at baptism. We are indwelt with the Holy Spirit. How then, does God the Father view our prayers when we are in His will? He looks down and sees the face of His Son Jesus. No longer the weak and puny I but the mighty one, the King of Kings, now intercedes at the throne of heaven. Who on earth stands with more power before that throne? No wonder I am commanded!

Therefore, throw away the doubt which comes from looking at yourself as nothing but man -- and take up the faith and confidence of one who is clothed with Christ.

(Heb 4:16 KJV) Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

Faith is not accomplished by half measures.

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