There will be times in every Christian’s life when they experience the darkness of doubt. We may doubt our conversion. We may doubt our calling. We may even doubt God’s character. Such thoughts can lead to dark thoughts about any meaning to our lives. In some cases, some begin to punish themselves and even contemplate taking their life. Sometimes our doubts come as a result of our sin. But doubt is not always the direct result of sin. Sometimes it comes from our lack of understanding of a situation, and sometimes we aren’t entirely sure why we doubt. We will go through times of darkness that lead to doubt. During these times we can’t make sense of things and we might even begin to despair. The feeling is heavy. It gets us down and we can become confused.
In John Bunyan’s famous allegory, Pilgrim’s Progress, the main character Christian and his companion Hopeful were on their journey to the Celestial City. After some time, the pathway they were on became rough causing their feet to become sore. They wished for a smoother path. Ahead they saw a pleasant looking way down By-Path Meadow. After a few events, they tried to get back to the true path leading to the Celestial City, but a storm set in and they were forced to find a place of shelter overnight. It turns out they were sleeping on the grounds of Doubting Castle. The owner of this castle was Giant Despair. When he found Christian and Hopeful on his grounds he locked them up in a dark, nasty, and smelly dungeon. Giant Despair’s wife, Distrust, advised him to beat them without mercy – which he did the next day. This was a horrible beating that left them on the cold stone floor unable to get up. Knowing they were still alive, Distrust told Giant Despair to tell them to take their own lives. Hungry, scared, and in pain, Christian began to contemplate taking his life, but Hopeful encouraged him to have patience.
Christian and Hopeful were held hostage in Doubting Castle. Doubt is real and it is discouraging. It is just like being locked up in Doubting Castle. But it is important to know that there is a difference between doubt and disbelief. Doubt is to be uncertain, whereas disbelief is to refuse to believe something is true. Perhaps you feel like you are caught in Doubting Castle, and your situation is helpless. The passage that we are going to consider will speak into this situation.
In this passage (Luke 7:18-35) we will learn about Jesus’ response to the doubt experienced by John the Baptist and also His response to the disbelief of the people.
1. JESUS’ RESPONSE TO THE DOUBTING PROPHET (7:18-30)
John the Baptist had a very influential ministry. His mission and message was clear. He was preparing the way for the long-awaited Messiah. John warned the people of the coming judgment, he called them to repent, and he baptised those who repented. Later on he courageously confronted king Herod over the king’s sinfulness. This resulted in John being imprisoned. Now that he is in prison, he is no longer able to minister in the way that he had. In-fact, very soon he will be beheaded. It is during this very difficult season he becomes confused and then begins to experience doubt. We must not underestimate how hard John’s situation was. Prison life would have been harsh and horrible. These doubts came from the fact that he saw the great things Jesus was doing in terms of healing, but what about the promised judgment of the enemies (cf. Luke 3:16-17)? Though he experienced a time of difficulty, John did the right thing in sending some of his disciples to ask Jesus if He is the One or if they should look for another (7:19). Hendricksen notes, “John made a very wise decision when, instead of keeping his difficulty regarding Jesus to himself, or talking it over with others … he took it to Jesus” (Hendricksen, Luke, New Testament Commentary, p. 393).
So these men come to Jesus and ask Him John’s questions. Notice the perfect timing of these men’s arrival. Luke writes, “In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight” (7:21). These displays of the power of Christ over sickness, spirits, and sight are the evidence that He is the Messiah. How does Jesus respond to the doubting prophet? Jesus said, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them” (7:22). Jesus doesn’t rebuke John; He simply points John to the rock solid security of Scripture. The answer Jesus gives has the language of predictions and prophecies concerning the Messiah (cf. Isaiah 35:5-6; 61:1), and John would have understood this. The point is, that as John looks at what Jesus is doing, then compares that with the promises and prophecies in the Scriptures, he will then be assured that Jesus is the promised Messiah. The key in Jesus’ reply to John’s doubt is look to that which is certain. Look at the evidence and compare it with what Scripture says. This is the solid ground of certainty. This also teaches us that we will not always understand the timing of God’s ways. The prophecies of the Messiah spoke about His healing, preaching, and final judgment, but it was the sovereign plan of God that there would be a huge gap between His First Coming and Second Coming. The First Coming was about the gospel message, and the Second Coming will be about judgment. Even now, we will not always understand the reason why things are happening around us, but we are to take comfort in the fact that God is unfolding His perfect plan. And we are to trust Him. Jesus adds, “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (7:23). This is a reminder that there is blessing to be had for those who aren’t disappointed by a different outcome. God will work in ways that are different to what we expect. But we are to find rest in knowing that the Lord is in complete control. There is blessing in that rest.
After John’s disciples leave, Jesus goes on to affirm the ministry of John the Baptist. But it is important to notice that He doesn’t do this based on John’s personality. He again points to the rock solid security of Scripture. He asks the crowd,
“What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet” (7:24-26).
John was the prophet of promise. Jesus went on to say that John is the one of whom the prophet Malachi wrote of over 400 years earlier. He wrote, “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me” (Mal. 3:1, cf. Luke 7:27). Then Jesus adds, “I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (7:28). So Jesus validates His ministry and John’s ministry by showing that they both fulfill Scripture.
The lesson here for us is that when we experience doubt in our Christian life, we are to go back to the one place that is certain, and that is God’s Word. After the crowd heard Jesus say these things about John, many were glad that they responded to the message of John, and “declared God just”. But the religious leaders rejected the message of John and Jesus (7:29-30). It is this group that takes up the focus of my second point.
2. JESUS’ RESPONSE TO THE DISBELIEVING PEOPLE (7:31-35)
John and Jesus were very different men with very different ministries, but they had the same message. Yet the religious leaders rejected their message. Unlike John who doubted, these leaders were disbelieving. Jesus responds by rebuking them. How does Jesus respond? Jesus gives a parable that likens that generation of those in disbelief as spoiled brats. He said, “They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep’” (7:32). The point of this “parable of the brats” is that the religious leaders rejected both Jesus and John. Despite their knowledge of prophetic writings, they failed to apply these truths to what was happening around them. John the Baptist lived a lifestyle separate from the people and he was accused of having a demon (7:33). Jesus lived a life among the people and He was accused of being a glutton, a drunkard, and a friend of sinners (7:34). It didn’t matter that the people heard the same message from two very different men. Nothing pleased them and they rejected them both. Their problem was not doubt, but rather outright disbelief. They were just like bratty children that were not happy with anything.
Jesus concludes by saying, “Yet wisdom is justified by all her children” (7:35). The message of John and Jesus was wise. The results of their message is seen in the life changing power it brings to those who repent of their sin and believe. In the end, truth wins.
There is a big difference between doubt and disbelief. The difference comes back to whether you have found salvation in Christ or not. John doubted but did not refuse to believe. This passage teaches us that there is a way for God’s people who doubt, to find comfort, rest, and blessing. The Lord told John, to look at what Christ is doing and to find security in the fact that the promises of God’s Word are unfolding and coming to pass.
At the start of this message I told you the story of Christian and Hopeful and the time they were held hostage in Doubting Castle. But I didn’t finish the story. Christian was ready to take his life. With more harshness about to happen from the hand of Giant Despair, Hopeful prayed all night. Just before the sunrise, Christian passionately shared with Hopeful, “What a fool I am to lie in a stinking dungeon when I might instead walk at liberty! I have a key in my bosom called Promise that I believe will open any lock in Doubting Castle!” And it did and they escaped and got back on the pathway that led to the Celestial City.
If you know Christ as your Lord, I want you to know that no matter what situation you are in, no matter what doubts are filling your minds. If you look inside your pocket (“I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” Psalm 119:11) you will find the promises of God! These promises are found in His Word. This is why we must read the Scripture. Memorise the Scripture. Sing the Scripture. And live the Scripture. Jesus told John to use that key, and we are to do the same.