Friday, January 25, 2019

Devotional: Even Prophets Have Doubts, Matthew 11:1-19

Chapter 11 begins with Jesus' response to a delegation from John the Baptist, who is doubting the meaning of his own mission and the identity of Jesus, asking if he really is the Messiah. Jesus responds graciously and without condemnation, understanding that John is in prison and he is not doing exactly what John expected. He quotes from Isaiah 35 to assure John that Jesus is the promised one and that John’s ministry was valid and important. He then calls John the greatest in God's kingdom because he was the one who introduced God's greatest revelation, Jesus, and John had stood faithfully in the face of suffering and persecution. We carry an even fuller message of Jesus than John did and thus, should be better able to deal with opposition. The opposition often comes from those who refuse God's message no matter how it is packaged. They listen only to come up with arguments against what God is saying. Jesus, and John, minister to the one who recognizes his need, not the arrogant person, often religious, who thinks they have it all figured out. Jesus is a LORD, but He is a humble one who wants to serve His people. We benefit as we humbly receive and then humbly, but boldly and confidently, serve as Jesus does.

Matthew records John’s struggle with doubt (11:1-6) to encourage us that doubts are normal when our faith is tested and gives his disciples advice to counter the doubts, so that we won’t “fall away” or give up when we face them. He compares John to Elijah, one of the greatest Old Testament prophets, who doubted his mission in the face of Jezebel’s persecution. In one way the doubts are unexpected. John had seen the Spirit descend on Jesus like a dove and heard the voice of the Father identifying Jesus as the Messiah. But now John was in prison, his message had been rejected by those in power and Jesus wasn’t doing exactly what he had expected. Jesus does not condemn John’s doubts. Instead he reassures him that God does not always work in the ways we expect. John was right that final judgment was coming, but wrong about the timing. Next, Jesus points John back to scripture for the answers to his questions. Jesus was doing exactly what Isaiah had predicted that the Messiah would do. This should always be our response to doubt. Like Elijah our doubts are overcome as we focus on God, recognize his “still, small voice,” and listen to his voice in scripture. God is neither surprised nor overcome by our doubts. He stays with us and his work in us will continue through them.

Instead of condemning John for his doubts, Jesus praises him for his faithful ministry.(11:7-15) He praises John as “greater” than all the Old Testament prophets. He refused to evaluate John by the world’s standards. John was a great prophet because he lived the same type of self-sacrificial life that Jesus calls his disciples to live. John was not great because the powers of the world, like Herod, accepted him. He was great because he was the “messenger” who heralded the coming of Jesus the Messiah and prepared the way for him. He was the prophet who bridged the gap between the old and new covenants. John was a “spiritual warrior” who fought with kingdom weapons to contend for God’s kingdom. Jesus then says that his disciples will be even greater than John, not because they are better people than John, but because they have the full message of who Jesus is to bring to the world. How much more then should we live self-sacrificial lives that humbly, confidently, and boldly contend for the truth of the gracious message of the gospel and actively follow Jesus’ example.

Finally, Jesus makes the point that John was not the problem. The problem was with the audience. They refused to listen, were offended and rejected God’s message that he, and Jesus, brought. Jesus compares them with spoiled children who pout when they don’t get their way. Sometimes we doubt our mission because we think our inadequacy caused the bad response. Jesus says that may not be the problem. John and Jesus came to the people in a completely different way and yet both were rejected by the majority. Jesus identified with the culture and people while John stood outside and criticized it. The problem was not how the message came. It was the hard hearts of the people that had rejected God.

In the end, wise people know that it is God’s opinion that counts; not what the world thinks, not the immediate “results” of ministry, or even what we think about ourselves. We will all have doubts, but we can be certain that Jesus will evaluate us just as graciously as he evaluated John. Jesus understands how hard it is to stand in the midst of difficulty. He will stay right with us, love us, and empower us through the doubts. That we can be sure of.

No comments: