Stop Stumbling!

Luke 7:18-28

Rev. Bryn MacPhail

This passage should shock us. This passage should shock us because in this passage we see the great John the Baptist engaged in a faith struggle. John is in prison; he is hearing reports about the ministry of Jesus, and he wants to know what is going on.

John is so concerned about what he is hearing that he summons two of his disciples and sends them to Jesus to ask Him, "Are You the Expected One or do we look for someone else? "(v.19, 20). This question should surprise us, not simply because we know John to be a godly man but, because John had previously professed Jesus to be the Messiah.

In the apostle John's gospel, chapter 1, we read about John the Baptist's reaction to Jesus coming to him for baptism, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! "(v.29). A few verses later, John the Baptist says, "I have seen, and have born witness that this is the Son of God "(v.34).

There was a day when John the Baptist had confidence that Jesus was indeed "the Expected One ". But here, in Luke 7, we see that John's confidence has waned. He is no longer certain that Jesus is the Son of God, and so he sends a couple of his disciples to ask Jesus, "Are You the Expected One or do we look for someone else? ".

We can just imagine the reaction of John's disciples: 'You want us to ask Him what?! John, you have been preaching for years about the coming of the Messiah, then you tell us that this Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and now you want us to ask Him if this is all true?!'.

How are we to understand John the Baptist's lapse in his faith? To understand why John was experiencing these doubts, it will be helpful for us to examine the context. Do you remember John's message? "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee the wrath to come? "(3:7). Quite a striking introduction to an evangelistic sermon, wouldn't you say? John's message is a severe message. It is an urgent message, "the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire "(3:9).

The context behind John's question is a ministry of preaching that spoke of imminent wrath and judgment. John the Baptist expected the Messiah to set the world straight in a very definitive manner. John expected wrath and judgment. The only kind of judgment John could see, however, was the poor judgment of Herod that landed him in prison! The unrighteous were not being judged, John was being judged!

A key verse to unlocking our passage today is verse 18, "the disciples of John reported to him about all these things ". What are "all these things "? This, of course, refers to what Jesus had been doing in His ministry. Jesus had not been traveling from town to town pronouncing judgment. Rather, we read that Jesus has healed a leper(5:13). We read that Jesus has healed a paralytic(5:25). He has called a despised tax-collector to follow Him(5:27). He has healed a Roman officer's slave(7:10). He has brought a dead man back to life(7:15).

John the Baptist heard these reports and realized that Jesus' miracles did not match up with the content of his own preaching. John's message of wrath and judgment was not even remotely close to what Jesus was presently doing in His ministry. John expected the Messiah to bring everything under control. But, from John's perspective-in prison, everything was not under control.

Luke prepares us for Jesus' response when he explains further all that Jesus was doing, "At that very time He cured many people of diseases and afflictions and evil spirits; and He granted sight to many who were blind. And (Jesus) answered and said to (John's disciples), 'Go and report 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. And blessed is he who keeps from stumbling over Me "(v.21-23).

In a nutshell, Jesus' response to John's disciples was, 'Look around you . . . I've got everything under control. Tell John what you see; the blind receive sight, the lame walk. Tell John that I most certainly have everything under control. And please, tell him one more thing: Blessed is he who keeps from stumbling over Me'.

John had certain expectations about what he expected the Messiah to be like, but Jesus did not perfectly meet these expectations. Perhaps this describes us from time to time. It is easy to trust in Christ when things are going our way, but how well do we depend on Him when things begin to come apart for us?

When you are struggling with an illness, struggling with grief, struggling with anxiety, or struggling with a failing relationship, does it challenge your faith in Christ? If it does, you should know that you are not alone. When John was preaching, he was confidently proclaiming Jesus as "Son of God "; but when John was suffering in prison, he was asking Jesus, "Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else? ".

I suspect that all of us, at one time or another, struggle with doubt. It is normal to experience doubt. You are not some oddity that does not belong with 'real Christians' if you struggle with doubt from time to time. Jesus said of John the Baptist that "among those born of women, there is no one greater than John "(v.28), yet, John doubted whether Jesus was the Christ. C.S. Lewis once said that 'In order to believe with certainty . . . one has to begin with doubting'.

When adversity causes us to doubt either the existence or the reliability of God, we should recognize that this is normal. Yet, at the same time, lengthy battles with doubt are not appropriate for the Christian. Listen to how Jesus concludes His response to John, "Blessed is he who keeps from stumbling over Me ". John is doubting; he is stumbling in his faith. What is Jesus' response? 'John, stop stumbling!'.

We are facing trials and tribulations and we begin to doubt the faithfulness of Christ. What is His message to us? 'Stop stumbling!'-"Blessed is he who keeps from stumbling over Me ".

Things may not look right. Christ may not be governing things according to your expectations. Yet, you must know this for certain: Christ has everything under control. Everything is unfolding according to His divine and perfect plan. Our problem is that we look at the speed bumps and we think, 'How can this be God's will?'. We look at everything that clearly is not right, and we ask, 'How can this be what Christ wants?'.

Our problem is that we are looking at the speed bumps, rather than at the finish line. Our problem is that we are near-sighted. We do not see the big picture. More precisely, we fail to see things as God sees them. God, in His infinite power and wisdom, is working all things for our good(Rom. 8:28).

Examining this passage helps us to see that struggling with one's faith is normal, for we see even John the Baptist struggling with his faith. Yet, at the same time, we see that faith struggles are clearly inappropriate. Just because faith struggles are normal, does not mean that we shrug our shoulders and accept them. Jesus could not be any more clear on this: "Blessed is he who keeps from stumbling over Me ".

If faith struggles then, are not appropriate for the Christian, what should we do when we find ourselves doubting? We should do exactly what John the Baptist did: We should investigate. John may have struggled with doubt, but one thing he did not struggle with was apathy! John wanted to know for certain whether Jesus was the Christ and so he sent his disciples on a mission to find the answer.

Do you have questions that require an answer? Do you wonder how an all-powerful God could allow evil into the world? Then investigate. Do you wonder why a loving God would condemn unrepentant sinners to hell? Then investigate. Do you doubt the claim the Christ is the only way to eternal life? Do you doubt that the world was created in a literal 6 days? Do you have questions about the biblical miracles? Do you have questions about the doctrine of predestination? Then I urge you--investigate, investigate, investigate!

It is not wrong to doubt. It is not wrong to have questions. John the Baptist had doubts. John the Baptist had questions for Jesus to answer. What is tragic, however, is when we settle for apathy. John the Baptist did not settle for apathy. John was a godly man who had an insatiable appetite for the truth.

If we are eager to identify with John because of his doubt, let us be equally eager to identify with John because of his desire to know the truth about Jesus Christ.

No, we can't go to Jesus in person with our questions, but we can go to the Bible. All that we need to know for salvation and godliness is to be found in the pages of Scripture. It is better to approach the Bible with your doubts than it is to avoid reading the Bible because of your apathy.

"Blessed is he who keeps from stumbling over Me ". Jesus calls us to stop our stumbling. Jesus calls us to stop being tripped up. He has also given us a map. The Bible leaves us without excuse. If you want to know Christ; if you want to honour Christ; you must study the Scriptures. You must investigate. Doubting should only last for a season. Investigating the Scriptures should transform your doubt into faith.

"Blessed is he who keeps from stumbling over Me ".