John the Baptist is a great Christian. He is foretold by the Old Testament prophets and introduced by a heavenly angel. He is then miraculously provided to a very aged couple. John is affected by the Holy Spirit even before exiting the womb. He is then brought up by very godly parents. John matures to be one not intoxicated by popularity or materialism. He is one who has taken the Nazarite vow for life, not for weeks or months like most others. As a worshiper and minister, John has no interest in the spiritual games played by the religious elite in Jerusalem. He also has no interest in self-preservation; he is more than willing to confront anyone and everyone with their debauchery — including the king and queen. John the Baptist is a prophet inspired by the Holy Spirit, and he does not seem to be overly interested in his own ministry momentum and press. He is more than willing to “decrease” as long as Jesus Christ “increases.” John is a man of God with one sacred passion — presenting God’s truth with words and water and pointing men to Jesus. Yes, John is a hero. He is a man’s man. He is the Lord’s man. He is a tireless worker, a great theologian, a lover of Jesus, and one beloved by the Savior. John the Baptist is indeed great. This is the unanimous verdict of Old Testament writers, heavenly angels, people throughout Judea, and Jesus Christ. As a matter of fact, prior to Jesus’ coming, no greater saint had ever lived; this is the pronouncement of God’s Son.*
John is wounded by the sin of others. Faithfully he has called Herod and Herodias to repent. However, instead of falling on their knees before a holy God and calling upon Christ to wash them of their sin, they have chosen to imprison the minister. They do not appreciate his message or manner of delivery, and they determine to put him in his place. According to the Josephus, John is imprisoned in what is called the Black Fortress of Machaerus. He is housed in a prison in the midst of a hot and stifling desert, fifteen miles southeast of the Dead Sea.
John is wounded by the hard providence of God. Though being faithful to God in pointing out sin and pointing men to Christ, John finds himself isolated from his Savior. This has been his condition for over a year. God sees this happening. He could have or can intervene. However, according to his sovereign will, God allows his inspired prophet to languish in horrible circumstances.
John is wounded by his own sin. Spiritually he is struggling. This great man of God is troubled. He is perplexed with questions and doubts. His faith is weak.
The disciples of John reported all these things to him. And John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And when the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” (Luke 7:18-20)
John is suffering due to the sins of others, and he wonders, “Is Jesus the real deal?”
John is suffering due to the sovereign providence of God, and he wonders, “Is Jesus the real deal?”
John is suffering due to his own sin. His interpretation and application of Scripture is faulty. His mind is confused. His emotions are whirling. Things are not going as he imagined or desired; his questions are numerous:
- Where is the kingdom?
- Where is Christ’s domination; why does he sit on his hands?
- When is Jesus going to look like the victorious Son of David?
- When is the church going to be revived?
- When is Jerusalem going to be reclaimed?
- When is Rome going to pay?
- Where is the winnowing fork?
- Why are the corrupt allowed to prosper?
- Why am I still languishing in Herod’s time out?
John is not so sure of that which he was so formerly sure of. He is wondering, “Could I possibly have been wrong; is Jesus the real deal?”
Jesus does not disown his doubting friend. Later in the text, in both Matthew and Luke, Jesus encourages his troubled brother. Jesus points to the Old Testament text. He then points to his own miracles. Verbally, Jesus honors John and increases his faith even though he changes not John’s predicament. Therefore, even when John is faithless, Jesus is faithful. Jesus will not deny his friend.**
Friends, don’t we see ourselves in John? Are not we friends of Jesus who struggle with faith due to the sins of others, the hard providence of God, and our own sins? Are we not like Abraham who doubted God’s provision through Sarah? Are we not like Moses who doubted God’s might over Pharaoh? Are we not like Israel’s spies who doubted God’s power over Canaan’s giants? Are we not like Elijah who battle depression in the midst of God’s foes? Are we not like Jesus’ disciples who were continually admonished for their weak faith?
- We doubt Christ’s full atonement; we think we must participate in paying for our sin.
- We doubt Christ’s full affection; we think it comes and goes.
- We doubt Christ’s wisdom; we are not so sure all the Scripture is equally true.
- We doubt Christ’s Spirit; we wonder if we can perform the task to which he calls us.
- We doubt Christ’s Spirit; we doubt he can break the hard-hearted neighbor.
- We doubt Christ’s means of grace; we distrust the Word, prayer, and proper worship.
- We doubt Christ’s sovereignty; we cannot believe he ordains our current situation.
So what ought we to do — we who have struggling faith? Let us not deny our confusion, doubts, and questions. Let us bring our questions to true friends and fellow disciples. Most importably, let us bring our struggling faith to Jesus. Let us go to Christ for help. Let us pray, “Lord, our faith is weak, please increase our faith.” Let us cry out, “Lord I believe; help my unbelief.”*** Then let us watch as we are wonderfully loved, corrected, and encouraged by Jesus and our friends. Jesus is not pleased with our doubts, but these are sins for which he died. And Jesus does not leave us alone in our struggle. When men and women call out to him for help, Jesus sends his Spirit to the rescue. To those who pray for wisdom, Jesus gives it liberally, and there is no greater wisdom than trusting in Jesus Christ.
Friends, come join the crowd of worshipers who struggle to have faith. Quit pretending you have an unwavering commitment to Jesus Christ. John did not. Your pastor and elders do not. This author certainly struggles in this regard. But let us not turn apostate and deny Jesus. Let us bring our faithlessness to the Faithful Son of God. Let us bring our faithlessness to his congregation. Let us bring our faithlessness to the Scriptures. Let us wait until he answers, and he will, and in that day let us rejoice with our increased faith.
* Matthew 11:11:11; Luke 7:28
** 2 Timothy 2:13
*** Mark 9:24