“Our doubts can always be conquered by learning to know Christ himself” Advent 3 2023

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17. December 2023
Advent 3
Matthew 11:2-10

And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples and said to Him, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?”

Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: The blind see 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 is not offended because of Me.”

In the holy Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Doubts may be of many kinds. As long as we are sinner-saints, doubts will come. Sometimes, they signify that we do not wish to believe in Christ. Half unconsciously, we sometimes think like the men in the Parable of the Ten Minas—we do not wish this man to have dominion over us. You remember that in the story, Jesus entrusts His money to servants to use and “do business” until He returns. Some servants carry on, doing as He commanded. But others said on His return, “For I feared you, because you are an austere man.” Rather than live in faith according to the Word, they fell back on their doubts and joined their fellow citizens who said, “We will not have this man to reign over us” (Luke 19:11-27)

There are always reasons to be found for doubts. In the verses following our Gospel, Jesus pictured this kind of doubt when He likened His generation to petulant children sitting in the marketplace, dissatisfied with everything proposed to them in games. Doubts can be the seed of unbelief and rejection. When left alone, internalized, or undisputed, these doubts take root and confusion ensues. “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is justified by her children” (Mt 11:18-20).

So, John The Baptist came to them—stern and ascetic—and they said he was crazy. Christ came with freedom and the Gospel—healing and resurrecting and redeeming. Many did not receive this, too, because he was indiscriminate in His grace and mercy. He was too radical in His choice of companions—tax collectors, adulterers, idolaters—and His actions—seeking and saving all the lost

Behind our doubts lies a desire to avoid the issues, a refusal to come to grips with the things that must be done away with if Jesus is to be followed. “Behold, I come to make all things new!” Things must become different. Jesus comes to change your life today and always. The Word that made all things in the beginning, sustains all things now, and also comes to renew, restore, and resurrect you now. Faith receives this life-changing Word, but doubts lead to unbelief, rejection, and death. 

You know the most famous confession of the Good News of Jesus, maybe even by heart: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” Delightful, joyous, good news! Gaudete!

Do you remember the next verses? “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God” (Jn 3:16-21) 

This kind of doubt is the worst. Some avoid Jesus because they hate this new life He promises. They don’t want to give up on their rebellion against His good gifts, to have sins forgiven in His name. It seems incredible, but does not everyone have little pet vices, white lies, character foibles, or secret fears, loves, and trusts? Jesus exposes the darkness within and brings them to light by His Word. He is not content to let you muck about in the pollution of this world. He drags you out of the pit and cleanses you with His bloody forgiveness. 

But there can be doubts even among the regular churchgoers. There are the doubts of the disciple. John the Baptist himself began to wonder if Jesus was the one who was to come. We can argue if it was rhetorical (as almost all the Church Fathers, ancient and modern, have) or whether John was truly confused. But John’s directing his disciples to Jesus is precisely right. Jesus is the only one who can answer doubts. 

Also, when the disciples heard that Jesus had risen from the tomb, they thought it was only idle chatter. Thomas would not believe it, even though all the others tried to convince him. The Gospels show us clearly how the disciples, step by step, were led to the conviction that Jesus truly was the Messiah, God’s Son. It did not and cannot come naturally through arguments and apologies. It is encouraging to us to read about their misunderstanding, their foolish questions, and their mistaken judgments. When the Gospels so artlessly reveal all this, it is meant to show us that the disciples were ordinary people with ordinary doubts and questions. But what to do with these doubts.

Our doubts can always be conquered, but not through rational thought. That Jesus Christ is God’s Son—our savior and redeemer—will never be made clear through our speculations or through experience. Our doubts concerning Christ are overcome only by learning to know Christ himself. When the disciples lived with Him, listened to and walked with Him, and accompanied him, they received their faith in Him. This is what it means to be a disciple, literally a follower. Jesus is always listening to your doubts, whether breathlessly uttered in prayer, confessed to the pastor, or asked in catechesis. And Jesus is always answering them, “Go tell Sherman Center what you hear and see!”

If any of you feel far removed from Christ and doubt the Lord’s Word of promise, then do as did John the Baptist in prison. John sent a message to Jesus and laid bare all his doubts. And Jesus answered by pointing them to the things that were taking place. “Go back and tell John what you hear and see.” The Gospel of forgiveness of sins proclaimed is exactly the same proclamation from Christ. Here in this place, Jesus comes to us and points us to what we too can hear and see “…but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and that believing you may have life in his name.”

The Psalter, too, teaches us that we should not be silent about our doubts before God. Go read Psalm 10, 22, 77, or 88. You might be surprised what God’s Word gives us to say and confess. We don’t have to always speak forth pious, faithful, and grateful thoughts and sentiments to God. We can give to the Lord all our doubts, worries, despair, and even unbelief. Listen to the Psalmist in Psalm 142:

“I cry out to the Lord with my voice; With my voice to the Lord I make my supplication.

2 I pour out my complaint before Him; I declare before Him my trouble.

3 When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, Then You knew my path. In the way in which I walk They have secretly set a snare for me.

4 Look on my right hand and see, For there is no one who acknowledges me; Refuge has failed me; No one cares for my soul.

5 I cried out to You, O Lord: I said, “You are my refuge, My portion in the land of the living.

6 Attend to my cry, For I am brought very low; Deliver me from my persecutors, For they are stronger than I.

7 Bring my soul out of prison, That I may praise Your name; The righteous shall surround me, For You shall deal bountifully with me.”

And don’t forget what Jesus says about the doubting John. He was more than a prophet, the greatest among those born into the world. Amid our doubts, we can thus be surrounded by the grace of God and used as a tool in the hand of God. Just as John sent his friends to Jesus for answers to their doubt, may God use us to bring all those He would call to Himself, with doubts answered and sins forgiven. Amen.

Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin