The Sins of Unbelief and Doubt
I published the last paragraph of this sermon on Facebook, and it created a firestorm of controversy. So, I thought I would publish the entire manuscript. This was preached July, 10, 2011
What would be the reaction if I brought a body into the sanctuary and raised it from the dead? Well you know that is not going to happen, but Jesus did something very similarly to this. Jesus was entering a city called Main when a funeral processional was coming out for burial. In that day, a person was buried the day they died. Grieving was different. You would not have long to get over the shock of the death before the necessary burial.
It was a young man and his mother was grieving. What made matters worse was, this was her only son and she was widowed. In her culture, a man had to take care of her. What was she going to do?
Jesus felt compassion for her and stopped them, He commanded her, do not weep.And he touched the coffin and said, Young men, I say to you, arise and the dead man sat up and began to speak.
Luke says that fear gripped the people and they began glorifying God. The people were saying a great prophet had visited them. Others were more direct. God had visited them. Whatever they thought about the situation, even in a day without TV or Facebook or Twitter, the word spread all over Judea and even the other surrounding districts.
These kinds of events are signs that demonstrate the identity of Jesus. Only God can do these things. You would think that having seen such events, the masses would come rushing to Jesus to call him Lord and Savior. But they didn’t. Things do not work that way. Unbelief is not because of the lack of knowledge, it is an act of the will. Unbelief is a spiritual condition that refuses to accept the truth no matter how the truth is presented to them.
In his book, The Last Word, Thomas Nagel, the Harvard philosopher, penned these words: I am talking about something much deeper, namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.
Almost all atheism is about hating God, not denying his existence. The greatest form of hatred is to claim He does not exist. And they will slander you as a Christian, calling you ignorant and backward for believing in God because of their hatred for God. They do not want God to have a claim on them, to tell them what is moral and what is immoral. The sin of unbelief is about utter selfishness and self centeredness. It is the highest form of narcissism which I have labeled as one of the great national sins.
What about doubt? Doubt is like trying to straddle a barbed wire fence and you rip your britches. In fact, you get stuck in place, can’t move for fear of doing greater damage. It comes mostly from trying to live in two worlds, the world of following Christ and the lost world. Sometimes it comes because of circumstances. Things get so hard, you hurt so badly you begin to wonder about God. And so it was for John the Baptist.
John the Baptist was the most famous religious figure before the coming of Jesus. He was seen as a prophet like those of old. By the time that Jesus raises this young man from the dead, John is locked in Herod’s dungeon and was soon to die for being a prophet, for doing God’s will.
There are some folk, who by their constitution, never doubt. I am not one of them. I am very familiar with doubt. For me, doubt is one of two things. It is a means by which I learn things. It causes me to investigate. And it is a temporary means of dealing with trouble when it seems I can’t bear it much longer.
Some of John’s disciples came to him and told him about how Jesus had raised the dead young man. But, he was in a dungeon. He was changed to the walls with manacles, sitting in the stench and muck of his dark cell. I am sure he felt that God had forgotten him. He knew that Jesus was the coming Messiah, at least he thought he was. But if so, why was he in prison?
John sent two of his disciples to ask Jesus a question. It was a question fueled by doubt. “Are you the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?” But, notice how Jesus responded to him. He did not harass him or condemn him for doubting. He did not scold him. He sent word back, “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. Blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.” Other translations word it this way, blessed is he who does not fall away on account of me. John’s doubt had to do with the success of Jesus and the prison life he suffered. Is it possible that God can cause us to stumble?
All of this was taking place in public, in the midst of a crowd. When the messengers of John left, it would have been a good time to run down his competition. But no, Jesus payed him a complement. What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? A man dressed in soft clothing? No, you went to see a man’s man, a prophet. In fact he is the one spoken of by the prophets of old. Of all the men born of a woman, there are none greater than John. Now that is a complement. But Jesus is no longer interested in the decaying and dying world of men but in a new kingdom, in the Kingdom of God. In this new kingdom, even the very least will be greater than John. Wow! But that is the nature of the kingdom.
Luke says that the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected God’s purpose because they refused to be baptized by John. They deliberately disbelieved God.
Disbelief is hard work. Being an atheist is absolutely anti intellectual. It flies in the face of an overwhelming reality. I am not the smartest pastor by far but every time I read an atheist or converse with one, I am disappointed that they have no argument. The best they can do is say if there is a God then why does death and suffering exist? I cannot find a connection between the existence of God and that of human suffering, except that if there is no God, then all suffering is utterly meaningless.
But I have to admit that sometimes suffering causes me to doubt. Both my suffering and the suffering of others sometimes makes me wonder. At some point I come to understand that my suffering has a purpose and meaning. It sometimes takes me a while. John’s suffering proved that he was a prophet because all true prophets suffer and most of them were killed for their efforts. But his doubts also allowed Jesus to minister to him. Tell John what is happening. It will reassure him. Some of my suffering has given me ministry tools. Some of my suffering has humbled me and even broken my pride and self wisdom. All of my suffering caused me to fall back on God and trust him because I had no other place to go. And there is still suffering that I do not understand and it teaches me to walk by faith.
Paul called our suffering momentary light affliction in light of the eternal weight of glory that awaits us. We overcome suffering if we can. We endure suffering if we must because the eternal promises of God await us.
Jesus is the Expected One. And we base our lives on him. In him we have our hope. In him, our suffering will one day be vindicated. But if you choose unbelief, you have nothing, you are nothing. In the end, all you have is darkness and despair.