An an­swer for your doubt

The Covington News - - RELIGION -

Do you ever feel that be­ing a child of God isn’t pay­ing out like you thought it should? The child­like con­fi­dence that Je­sus will make ev­ery­thing bet­ter doesn’t al­ways seem to play out — when the wound doesn’t heal, the need isn’t met, the hurt doesn’t go away. For us grown-ups, re­al­ity tends to set in and tar­nishes some of that un­bri­dled op­ti­mism.

Our text to­day is Matthew 11:2-11, where we see John the Bap­tist deal­ing with some doubt. Now re­mem­ber, this is John the Bap­tist, the one who leapt in his mother’s womb be­cause he rec­og­nized his Sav­ior’s pres­ence — the one who so pow­er­fully pro­claimed, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” This was the same guy who guar­an­teed that Je­sus would be “bring­ing the fire”, “clear­ing the thresh­ing floor, burn­ing up the chaff.” The Mes­siah was on the scene and he would make it all right.

If any­one spoke con­fi­dently about the Mes­siah, it was this guy. But now look. Here he is in prison be­cause he had done what God told him to do — speak the truth boldly. Can you un­der­stand why John might have been hav­ing some sec­ond thoughts?

So he sends his friends to ask: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we ex­pect some­one else?” Re­al­ize what was hap­pen­ing. John said Je­sus was the one who would “come with vengeance, with di­vine retri­bu­tion he will come to save you” (Isa­iah 35:4). But John was still wait­ing for things to be made right for him. King Herod needed to be pun­ished. It didn’t seem like what John ex­pected was hap­pen­ing.

Of course, Satan wants us to do the same thing – to jump to con­clu­sions when those doubts crop up. When sick­ness comes, it must be be­cause God is mad at you. When your busi­ness fails, it must be be­cause you did some­thing wrong. When the re­la­tion­ship fal­ters, God prob­a­bly has for­got­ten about you and your hap­pi­ness. Je­sus makes it clear that couldn’t be far­ther from the truth, but you know as well as I do that that’s what crosses your mind when it looks like God isn’t keep­ing his prom­ises.

It’s like that email thread that has been go­ing around:

Did Je­sus fail to grant your wishes when you rubbed the lan­tern?

Then per­haps Je­sus is not a ge­nie.

Did Je­sus fail to pun­ish your en­e­mies?

Then per­haps Je­sus is not your per­sonal ex­e­cu­tioner.

Did Je­sus fail to make ev­ery­thing run smoothly?

Then per­haps Je­sus is not a me­chanic.

Do you see the point? Our doubts don’t get an­swered un­til we see who Je­sus re­ally is, not what we want to make him. So let’s look at how Je­sus gives John and us an an­swer for doubt.

And ac­tu­ally, Je­sus doesn’t even di­rectly an­swer John’s ques­tion. He could have said, “Of course I’m the one, John”. But he doesn’t. He says, “Go back and re­port to John what you hear and see: The blind re­ceive sight, the lame walk, those who have lep­rosy are cured...” Do you see what he’s do­ing? He’s show­ing John that the prom­ises were kept. He’s go­ing right through the list of what the prophet Isa­iah had proph­e­sied (Isa­iah 35). But no­tice, he skipped the first part of that Isa­iah prophecy – where Isa­iah called him the one who “will come with vengeance, with di­vine retri­bu­tion he will come to save you.” That might have been the prob­lem for John. He knew the prophe­cies, and to him, di­vine retri­bu­tion should be quicker. Herod should have been dealt with al­ready.

Have you ever done that? Have you ever ques­tioned God’s al­low­ing some­one to seem­ingly get away with some­thing? A good God wouldn’t let the rapist do his work, right? A good God wouldn’t let the crook es­cape pun­ish­ment. A good God wouldn’t let the dis­hon­est rise to a po­si­tion of wealth and power. We want to see the wicked pun­ished.

But here’s the prob­lem: It’s self-con­demn­ing. It for­gets about the fact that we need the same pa­tience God is show­ing to some­one else. Be­cause, re­ally, where is the line? Which sins should God pun­ish right away, and which ones is it OK that he for­gives? Usu­ally the an­swer in our heads is that he should pun­ish the other peo­ple but un­der­stand that our sins aren’t re­ally that bad, right?

Praise God for what we see when Je­sus’ an­swer shows us the promised one, the one who makes that whole list hap­pen, “the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” Do you no­tice how the im­por­tance of those mir­a­cles es­ca­lates — from phys­i­cal heal­ings, to rais­ing the dead and then the cli­max — the good news preached to the poor. To those who re­al­ize that the one com­ing with vengeance should be a big prob­lem for me — not for any­one else – for me — be­cause of my fail­ures, to me — good news is preached.

Re­al­ize, Je­sus did not prom­ise that we would be god and things would go how we think they should. He promised some­thing much bet­ter. He promised that He would be God and would do ex­actly what we needed. You see, be­fore he came to judge with vengeance, he came to save. And praise God for that, be­cause oth­er­wise we’d have fallen prey to that judg­ment. Je­sus lived and died and lives again for us, so our joy is not that we get our way here on earth, but that we get eter­nity in heaven.

The Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pas­tor of Abid­ing Grace Lutheran Church in Cov­ing­ton. Wor­ship ev­ery Sun­day is at 8 & 10:30 a.m. Full ser­mons and more in­for­ma­tion can be found at www.abid­ing­grace.com.

If you are a book­keeper, you un­der­stand the im­por­tance of or­ga­nized fil­ing and record-keep­ing. You are the ones we turn to in or­der to find a proof of a check, an im­por­tant doc­u­ment or pol­icy, etc.

When it comes to keep­ing the books, God is the best. The Bi­ble de­clares that in the end of time, God will have His books brought forth for a care­ful ex­am­i­na­tion of their con­tents.

What books is God keep­ing? The book of life (His fam­ily al­bum) and the book of debt (a record of sin for the unre­deemed). “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand­ing be­fore God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged ac­cord­ing to their works, by the things which were writ­ten in the books” (Rev­e­la­tions 20:12) .

Th­ese are the very books re­vealed to Daniel (Daniel 7:10, 12:1). There are some that hope all judg­ment will be ac­cord­ing to God’s books, but they think far more fa­vor­ably than God does about the con­tents of God’s books. They hope when they stand be­fore God He will open a book of “good and bad,” and that their good out­weighs their bad, earn­ing them fa­vor with God and ac­cess to heaven. There is only one prob­lem with that hope; how God views our best ef­forts per­formed in our own strength. “…all our right­eous acts are like filthy rags” (Isa­iah 64:6); “We can­not hope in any works we can do” (Eph­e­sians 2:8,9).

If this is true, what hope does any­one have? Our only hope is in Je­sus, who is the way, the truth and the life, and the only way to get into God’s fam­ily al­bum (John 14:6) The good news, for those found in the “Book of life,” “ev­ery­one whose name is found writ­ten in the book — will be de­liv­ered (Daniel 12:1).

Dr. Wil­liam Burn­ham is pas­tor of Point of Grace Church in Cov­ing­ton. He can be reached at burn­hamw@char­ter.net.

JONATHAN SCHARF

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