DUNCAN/John’s doubts and Christ’s answer
Please turn in your Bibles to Matthew 11:1-6. In this passage, Jesus is going to show us several events which will establish the claims of the Lord Jesus as Messiah. In all these things, Matthew is going to show us Jesus as the Messiah. All of these events are a symbol by Matthew to testify to the fact that Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus is the focus. The majesty of the Lord Jesus as the Messiah is the theme of every event in this passage. We will see three things from this passage. First, Jesus sets the example for His disciples. Second, we are reminded here that even the most mature believers can experience serious doubts. And third, we are reminded here that saving faith is grounded in the word of God and the work of Jesus.
I. Jesus sets the example for His disciples.
The theme of this passage is the majesty of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Messiah, but the passage opens with John in prison and doubting. There are many things that we can learn from the passage before us. The first thing we see in verse one, however, is the example which the Lord Jesus set for His own disciples. There we are reminded of the centrality of preaching and teaching in the gospel ministry. Notice the words of Christ in verse 1, “When Jesus had finished giving instruction to His twelve disciples, He departed from there to teach and preach in their cities.” As Jesus is sending His disciples out to preach and to teach, He also goes out to preach and to teach. The Lord Jesus never calls on us to do something that He is not willing to do Himself.
John the Baptist is in prison. His job had been to prepare the way for the Lord. In God’s providence, mysterious as it was, John has been taken off the scene. God has now raised up twelve in John’s place to go into the villages of Judea, proclaiming the way of the Lord, preparing them to hear the message which Jesus is preaching. It would have been very tempting for those disciples to want Jesus to be physically present with them, but Jesus Himself knew that in only a short time He was not going to be physically present with them. We ourselves as believers in the time in which God has brought us into the world must learn how to live the Christian life without the Lord Jesus being physically present with us. He is present with us by the power of the Spirit. He indwells us; we are in Him, and He is in us.
II. We are reminded here that even the most mature believers can experience serious doubts.
In verses 2-3 we see John’s struggle. We can kind of appreciate the fact that John is struggling with doubt. We’re glad to see that there’s someone else, even of John’s stature, who’s wrestling with his faith in a dark time because we know that we’ve been there. You may be there right now. We learn in verses 2-3 that even the most mature believer can have serious struggles with doubt. We see in verses 2-3, “Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, ‘Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?’” The chapter begins with John, this mighty preacher that is unquestionably of the hand of God. He has proclaimed the truth, prepared the way for the Messiah, and he’s imprisoned. He’s in a gloomy prison fortress about five miles east of the Dead Sea, one of the palaces of Herod Antipas, and his ministry is cut off. He’s not able to do what God made him to do. John himself was expecting the king and the kingdom to burst on Israel with outward power. He had not anticipated that the Messiah might be a Servant King.
We can learn from this that we must not be surprised when mature believers struggle with doubt. Doubt is the enemy of faith. We should never underestimate the seriousness of doubt, but we should never be surprised when even the believer who has walked with God for many years struggles with doubt, especially in difficult circumstances, and especially when we face disappointment. We must also not miss the emphasis that John missed here. Jesus’ servanthood is not to be missed in the proclamation of the gospel. It is the warrant of faith. Jesus’ servanthood is the thing by which He draws the world to Himself. Yes, it is true that He is the Judge. Yes, it is true that He is the Messiah who will set all accounts straight. But it is the fact that He has come to serve to the point of the giving of His life for unworthy sinners that causes the heart of the world to melt before Him and be drawn to Him.
III. We are reminded here that saving faith is grounded in the word of God and the work of Jesus.
We see Jesus’s reply in verses 4-6. John’s struggle evokes this incredible reply from our Lord and Savior. We’re reminded there that the saving faith is grounded in the word of God and in the works of Christ. In verses 4-6 we read, “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Go and report to John what you hear and see: 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. And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.’” Jesus takes these disciples to two passages in Isaiah. Now it is important to understand that Jesus is not only giving John assurance here, but also him a little lesson in biblical interpretation. John wants to stress the judgment that the Messiah is going to bring. And so, Jesus takes him right to passages where the judgment of the Messiah is stressed; but He points him to the parts of those passages which stress the servanthood of the Messiah.
The Scriptures are our first stop in struggles with doubt. Though our circumstances may be the occasion of our doubt, it is the lack of grasp of the truth of Scripture which enables our doubt to get a foothold on us. The tenderness of the way Jesus deals with His struggling disciple ought to convince you of the tender way that He’s going to deal with you in your doubt. If John can struggle, you will struggle. If you’re not there now, you will be. And you need to know that in your weakness and in your doubt, you have a Savior who is so strong that He can help you, and He’s so gentle that He will embrace you and He will not let you go when you don’t have the strength to hang on.