Dungeon Of Doubt
Today we deal with a difficult topic - persecution and doubt. This topic is so challenging that most preachers punt. They don't talk about it. To hear most preachers in our culture today, the Christian faith leads to prosperity and popularity. Christianity becomes a faith of health and wealth. The Bible becomes our “how to live well” guidebook.
This "Christianity" is not Christ's Christianity. It's not how Jesus taught us. Jesus couldn't get 8 sentences into his first big Sermon on the Mount before he said,
"Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 5:10
Persecuted because of righteousness? Persecuted? Christianity is a faith of persecution? That doesn't sound very prosperous or popular! Because of righteousness? Jesus, you're telling us that if we become Christians and then live the right way... because of that we will be persecuted? This is not exactly what we would call a sales pitch!
#1 - Christians in this life may be ___PERSECUTED___.
"Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, for John had been saying to him: 'It is not lawful for you to have her.'" Matthew 14:3-4
John called the king out. When Herod became king (and not his brother Philip), Herodias (who was married to Philip) seduced Herod into an extra-marital affair. She then convinced Herod to divorce his own wife, and to approve the divorce of Philip and Herodias, so that Herod and Herodias could marry one another. This was the talk of Jerusalem. Everyone knew it. Everyone talked about it. But not too loudly. And certainly not in the presence of Herod and Herodias!
Not John the Baptist. He pounced on Herod like a desert scorpion, denouncing the marriage for what it was - adultery. For that he was thrown into prison and eventually killed. Why? For righteousness!
This is John the Baptist! The man who introduced Jesus and his ministry to the world. Jesus’ cousin. The man who baptized Jesus. The man who said he wasn't worthy to untie Jesus' sandals. He is imprisoned and then murdered. And it doesn't seem like Jesus is doing anything about it. Just going about ministry as usual. So John has his doubts.
#2 - When we are persecuted it's normal to ___DOUBT___.
"When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, 'Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?" Matthew 11:2-3
Note what motivated John's question. It was not just the dungeon or even death. It was the problem of unmet expectations - the fact that John was in deep trouble and Jesus was conducting business as usual. Is this was Jesus was supposed to do? Shouldn't Jesus be calling down his army of angels to save John? So John asks, "Are you the one?"
Surely this is evidence of the truth of Scripture. Because the most holy of books about the most holy of leaders and the most holy of followers shows that doubt is ok. The Bible is not good PR. Never good to show that one of the cabinet members has doubts about the president. This doesn't show a unified front. This is where we are reminded that the Bible is not authored by a PR firm but by an eternal God who knew that every believer would sometimes exist in the dungeon of doubt.
*Anytime the faithful suffer the consequences of the faithless.
*Anytime a person takes a step in the right direction, only to have her feet knocked out from under her.
*Anytime a person does a good deed but suffers evil results.
*Anytime a person takes a stand, only to end up flat on his face.
Questions (doubts) arise:
"If God is so good, why do I hurt so bad?"
"If God is really there, why am I here?"
"What did I do to deserve this?"
"Did God slip up this time?"
"Why are the righteous persecuted?"
Perhaps this morning, you might even be suffering. Perhaps you are only hearing the silence of God. Perhaps you feel as if you've been left alone in your own dungeon of doubt. I am here to remind you of Jesus' promise:
"You are blessed if you are persecuted for your righteousness. Yours is the kingdom of heaven."
What does that mean?
This is essentially what Jesus says to John. "Go back and report what you hear and see." Matthew 11:4
In other words, tell John that everything is going as planned. The kingdom is being inaugurated. So what about this kingdom of heaven? What is it that we need to know about heaven when we are suffering in the dungeon of doubt?
3 Kingdom Newsflashes
Kingdom Newsflash #1: The Rejected Are Received
"The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear." Matthew 11:5a
Who were the most shunned in the culture of Jesus' day? The blind, the lame, the lepers, and the deaf. They had no place. No values. They were the canker sores on the culture. Excess baggage on the side of the road. Usually put out of sight. Unsightly trash! But those whom the culture called trash, Jesus called treasures.
This is the difference between logic and love. Logic says if someone has lost their use to society, then they have lost their value. But Jesus says we are valuable not because of our function but because of our Maker. In a society that ranks the value of a human by the figures of his salary, or the shape of her legs, or by their ability to perform great athletics, Jesus’ kingdom plan is a reason of great joy for most of us! A new kingdom is to come where people have value not because of what they do, but because of Whose they are!!!
Kingdom Newsflash #2: The Grave Has No Power.
"... the dead are raised,..." Matthew 11:5b
The dead have life! Jesus wasn't oblivious to John's imprisonment. He wasn't blind to John's captivity. But he was dealing with a greater dungeon than Herod's; he was dealing with the dungeon of death!
This is the human condition. Mortality. From the moment we are born, we are dying. Every second of life brings us one second closer to death. We know this even as youngsters, but we are so much more tuned into this truth the older we become. Our entire life is lived in anticipation of death!
What a game changer that the grave has no power. Jesus' resurrection was not just consequential because death was defeated once. Jesus' resurrection is consequential because death was defeated first. With many more to come. This is why Paul could so confidently write:
"Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where O death is your victory? Where O death is your sting? Thanks be to God! He gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." 1 Corinthians 15:54-55, 57
Death now is only a transition from one life to the next. Now there is hope for life everlasting. Hope for family reunions. Hope to be restored to a new and more powerful body. Hope for the pain of this life to give way to the joy of the next!
Kingdom Newsflash #3: A Kingdom For The Poor
"The good news is preached to the poor." Matthew 11:5c
All other religions and societal systems demand the right performance, the right sacrifice, the right ritual, the right experience, the right words, the right agreements. Live a certain way and receive certain results. Fail to live a certain way and receive the deserved consequences.
The result of this way of living? Either arrogance or fear. Arrogance if you think you've achieved it, fear if you think you haven't. But even if you think you've achieved it, how do you know for sure?
The kingdom that Jesus fought for is just the opposite. It is a kingdom for the poor. A kingdom where membership is granted, not purchased. You are placed in God's kingdom. You are "adopted." And this occurs not when you do enough, but when you admit you can't do enough! You don't earn it. You simply accept it.
As a result you serve, not from arrogance or fear, but out of gratitude. The good news of the kingdom of heaven is that we don't work in order to go to heaven, we work because we are going to heaven. Arrogance and fear are replaced with gratitude and joy.
This is the kingdom of heaven that Jesus works toward, even in our doubts: a kingdom of acceptance, eternal life and forgiveness. It's more than we can possibly fathom in our wildest imaginations!
#3 - When we doubt we don't ___ASK THE BEST QUESTIONS___.
So back to John in the dungeon facing the executioner. Can we understand his doubt? Absolutely! Would we have doubt too? Probably. Does God understand? Unquestionably. Do we lose our faith, when we doubt? NO! We never lose our faith when it is provided and sustained by God Himself! Who are we pitiable poor humans, who could take away the adoption of love by the Most High?
Maybe what we need is a shift in focus? Let's play out the rest of the story. Because for Jesus, the end of the story of Jesus' life is torture and death upon a horrible cross. Do you remember Jesus' question? Do you remember Jesus' prayers?
"If possible let this cup pass from me!" "My God why have you forsaken me?"
Was it right? No. Was it fair? No. Was it love? Yes!
Jesus had one more response to John's doubts. And it speaks to all of us. Do you remember?
"Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me."
How do we stumble on account of Jesus? By our unmet expectations of Jesus. We think to ourselves, if I were Jesus and I saw this suffering and I really loved the one suffering, I would do something about it.
We have two huge challenges with this.
(1) The first is that we have no idea at all what it is like to be God. To know and to love everyone. To want the best for each. To have already figured out a plan to make the best happen for me even when I can't see it yet. My mind (and yours) is simply not big enough. I can't think as God thinks. I can't know as God knows. I can't do as God does.
(2) The second challenge is that I have no idea of what God has already done for me and is doing for me - even in the midst of my persecution. The truth is that even John the Baptist wasn't asking too much; he was asking too little. He was asking the Father to resolve the temporary, all the while Jesus is busy resolving the eternal. John was asking for immediate favor, while Jesus was orchestrating the eternal solution!
That's worth remembering the next time you hear the silence of God. Don't stumble because of unmet expectations. If you've asked for a mate, but are still sleeping alone... if you've asked for a child, but your womb remains empty... if you've asked for healing, but you are still hurting. Don't think God isn't listening. He is. Maybe He's just answering requests that you don't even know yet to make. Perhaps we aren't asking for too much. Maybe we're just asking for too little.