Home Media Sermons by Pastor Nicki Coertze Series 4. Greater than Giants . The Giant, the Gospel and Doubt

. The Giant, the Gospel and Doubt


Matthew 11:1-6 (ESV): “When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities. 2Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. 6 And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”


In John 5 from verse 30 we read that there are three witnesses under God that testify about Christ, the first one being John the Baptist, then the miracles of Christ and lastly the Word of God. Now in our understanding of those witnesses the miracles of Christ remain and the Word of God stands, but in our text before us it seems that our witness John the Baptist has feet of clay and that he is wavering, so must we remove him and where does it leave us. Look at his question in verse 2: "Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” So one of our witnesses seems to have a problem of doubt, then why should we believe?

The issue before us today is – what is going on here? A key witness of Christ doubts, and if John the Baptist doubts, what are the implications for us? Now most of the sermons and rightly so that I have heard on the text before us deal mainly with the issue of doubt and how we as Christians can overcome doubt. My aim in this sermon will be to answer some of that, but I want to challenge us to look beyond the issues of doubt all the time and to look at the central message which is contained in the question of John which I believe with Dr Martin Lloyd Jones is “the heart of the gospel”.

I believe that the question John asked is the most critical question that could be asked by any person. Is Jesus the one to come or should we be looking for someone else? In South Africa there is a movement amongst our reformed churches called the “New Reformation Movement” which was born out of the Jesus Seminar that started in 1984 in Atlanta here in the USA. The kind of questions that are asked regarding the historical Jesus and the kind of answers given literally rips out the heart out of the gospel. They have their issues.

There are those who for example question the virgin birth because it is biologically impossible; some believe that Jesus was nothing but a Fatherless figure in Galilee and that all His mention of the Father was nothing but some imaginary Father. The death of Jesus was not to atone for the sins of people, because if the Father sent Jesus to die for the sins of people it is nothing but “transcendental child abuse” and we need to then love the Son but hate the Father. They do not believe in the resurrection of Christ from the dead, because according to them the body of Jesus never even made the grave and was eaten by dogs. This then obviously nullifies His ascension and return. The reason they still embrace Christ is for no other reason than an ideology. As long as Christ is raised in our hearts and we follow His teaching and lifestyle, then we achieve what we should achieve. Following through with the argument, it makes Islam okay and Christianity and Islam are not divided as they also have an ideological figure to follow who has risen in their hearts.

These liberal scholars are asking the same question that John asked, but they miss the heart of the gospel in the question of John and the reply of Christ, and sadly they do not do what John did with his question.

I want to approach the text before us from three angles.  For this sermon we are going to look at the question John asked, then next week we will look at the answer Christ gave and lastly at the implications for us.

1. The question John asked.

I do not want to spend too much time on the reason for John’s question but a few thoughts are important as it helps us to understand what we must do when we doubt. Did John doubt?

Some believe it is doubt based on many factors. Some of these factors include things like. Here John is in prison, Jesus is healing the sick and raising the dead, now if Jesus is truly the Messiah, why does He not get John out of prison? John was not just in any prison, either.  Five miles east of the northern tip of the Dead Sea, and fifteen miles south was an old, Herodian palace that had been turned into a fortress.  Its name was Machaerus.  In the bottom of it was a pit; a dark, stifling, stuffy, hot dungeon in the middle of that bleak desert.

William Barclay may have captured some of the significance when he wrote, "John was the child of the desert.  All his life, he had lived in the wide open spaces, with the clean wind on his face and the spacious vault of the sky for his roof.  Now, he was confined within the four narrow walls of an underground dungeon.  For a man like John, who had probably never lived in a house, this must have been an agony.”

Another author JM Boice and quite a few others for example say that they believe that because John has not seen the fulfillment of all the prophecies he made about Christ like the coming wrath of Christ John is in doubt. John prophesied that Christ will come to judge and baptize with fire, and that His winnowing fork is already in His hand and the axe is already at the root of the tree. Now because he has seen nothing of it he is in doubt about the identity of Christ. John just couldn't figure it out.  Jesus was on a mission of mercy, and John's was a message of judgment, waiting for the fury and fire and flame and wrath.

By the way, this is very clearly the problem of the disciples.  They were forever fighting doubts about Jesus because they had these current expectations of the Messiah, and Jesus didn't live up to them. John did not understand that the wrath was to come after the second coming.

Others believe that his doubt is real but that it is circumstantially driven, if his circumstances were different he would not have doubted. John is just down because he is in prison for almost a year and is checking up on the claims he made about Christ.

Other’s like Martin Lloyd Jones believes it is purely depression, based on his mental state due to the hardship in prison and the momentum towards his death that was building up.

Others again feel that he was purely perplexed or puzzled.  He was not out there to see what was going on and was dependant on reports coming from his disciples as you will see in different parts of Matthew and that this was the best way for him to check up on things.  We see quite a few verses in the gospels that indicate that they were around Christ watching him carefully and reporting back to John in prison. In Luke 7 you see a similar occurrence as they are around Jesus watching Him perform all these miracles and then we see in Luke 7:18 (ESV) "The disciples of John reported all these things to him.”

Then there are others that believe that John had no issue, you see a saint of God does not doubt and does not get depressed and does not question the authenticity of Christ even when perplexed, so therefore he is asking the question purely for the sake of his disciples who were maybe doubting as they see John still sitting in prison.

Whatever big deal we are going to make of this is going to require much reading of a man’s mind who sat in prison 2000 years ago. Let’s just says John was a man who was perplexed and ended up doubting in the midst of his depression. Whatever? I think in a real sense it is plain and simple. John had doubts and those doubts were driven by his circumstances. Dr John Mac Arthur says: “You might even call it perplexity or confusion, but doubt says it better than those terms, I think.”

There is however a much more important issue here and that is his question which is at the heart of the gospel: “are you the one who is to come or shall we look for another” You know what I like about John. It is his humility, because in humility he acknowledges that he has a question and furthermore he is willing to express his doubt, depression, perplexity of whatever to his disciples and he deals with it.

There are too many believers today who will not acknowledge doubt because that shows them as weak and they just cannot be. We understand everything, right, so we have no questions about anything. I have many questions about eschatology, lots of things I don’t understand about the end times, but with John my confidence is not in my understanding of eschatology, but my relationship with the eschatos, ‘the last one’ Jesus Christ. I have many questions about life, trials, the unfairness of so many circumstances etc. I love the song that was written by Scott Wesley Brown that says: “when answers aren’t enough there is Jesus, He is more than just an answer to your prayers”.

So here is the forerunner of Christ, the one who said in John 1:29 “behold the lamb who takes away the sins of the world.” Here we have the one who baptized Jesus with the witness of the Father as the dove descended on Christ and the Father spoke from heaven and said: “this is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased”. Here we have the one who announced Christ as the bridegroom and was clear that he had to decrease in his function so that Christ can increase.

And he has a question and he sends two disciples who were close to him with a question to Jesus. So whatever we call it that John went through the question is critical. "Are you the one who is to come or shall we look for another?" Let’s break up this question into a few sections:

1.1 Are you the one who is to come?

That sounds like such a vague question.  Who was he talking about?  That's only because the English text doesn't really say what the Greek text says.  The Greek text says, "Are you erchomai," {er'-khom-ahee}. It is a present, middle, participle, meaning 'the coming one.'  And it should be that way: "Are you the coming one?"

Now what does the coming one mean? The Coming One is a title for the Messiah.  It is a Messianic title, like The Branch, The Seed of David, the King of Kings, the Prince of Peace, the Coming One.  In fact, it is one of the most common titles for the Messiah.  In one form or another, it is used in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, the epistles.  It was first introduced in Psalm 40:7 and 118:26.  The Messiah is called 'The Coming One.'

John says in Matthew 3:11 (ESV) “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming (or the Coming One) after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” So John’s question is obvious. Are you the promised one, are you the Christ, are you the Messiah? Are you the one of whom all the Old Testament prophets were speaking; are you the hope of Israel?

If we go back one verse it will also clarify that John has the Messiahship of Christ in mind. Matthew 11:2 (ESV) ”Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples” The word that is used here is Xristos

Now why is this significant? Al Moller tells the story how he was in a debate in Washington DC on the future of evangelicalism when a lay theologian said to him, that he does not want any more theology, he is tired of doctrine, all he wants is Jesus Christ. Al Moller’s response was that “he must be suffering under the illusion that somewhere in Judea there was a mailbox that said Jesus Christ as if Christ was His last name. To say ‘Jesus Christ’ is to say that Jesus is the anointed one, Jesus is the Messiah. If he doesn’t want any theology, and just wants Jesus Christ, then he must have just accidently committed a theological act, inadvertently it obviously appears.”

John does not hear of the works of ‘Jesus’ but of ‘the Christ’. What is interesting is that this is the only place in Matthew where the word ‘Christ’ stands alone with reference to Jesus. Don’t miss this title when you think of the heart of the gospel. There is another part to this question.

1.2 Shall we look for another?

Well, obviously the second question must be understood in the light of the first. This is all wrapped up in the Messianic expectation of the Jews. This seems to indicate major doubt, but I believe we need to soften it a bit. John could be saying to put it in another way. "Should I continue to believe what I believe, or should I believe something else?"

It could be said in another way: "I believe that You're the Messiah; am I wrong in believing that?" The very fact that he asks for the answer from Jesus Himself is an indication for me that he had not lost faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. If he lost faith in Christ the easier route would have been to go the Scribes and ask them to check up according to the Scriptures if Jesus is the Messiah.

One of the interesting things the Jews believe, and it comes up in Matthew 16, is that when the Messiah came, before He arrived, there would be a long succession of other guys who would come and the Messiah would be the final one.  That's why, in Matthew 16, Jesus said to the disciples, "Who do men say that I am?" They said, "Well, some say You're Elijah, some say You're Jeremiah, some say You're one of the prophets." He asked, "Who do you say that I am?" and Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

What did that reflect?  It reflected the current Jewish thinking that there would be a long string of people coming; first would be Elijah, then Jeremiah, then a bunch of prophets, then that prophet of Deuteronomy 18, and finally, the Messiah would come.  When Jesus did not do what John thought He should be doing, John began thinking, "Maybe He's back up a few guys, and someone else."  So he says, "Are you him, or do we look for someone else?  Where are you in the line?"  So he was even affected by that misinformation.  The Jews expected the Messiah to be a certain thing, and it wasn't turning out that way, so there was confusion.

1.3 What John did with the question? (Who shall you go to?)

Well, John has this question. But what he does with it is important. I mentioned earlier that I respect John for being humble and honest with the issue that he faces.

Now John does not keep it to himself or simply talk to others about it and neither does he drag them down in his doubt, no John deals with it and he goes straight to Jesus. His faith was tested just like ours is many times, but he went straight to Jesus. We must also not expect John to know and understand everything. Remember John, was the last of the Old Testament prophets, and you know what Peter teaches us regarding them.  1 Peter 1:10-11 (ESV) “10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.”

In other words, the prophets studied their own writings to figure out what they were saying because they couldn't figure out the exact person, or the exact time.  That was John's problem.  He wanted to be sure it was the right person at the right time, so he sent two disciples. Now if we do believe that John was suffering of doubt for whatever reasons even though the word is not used in the text, then it is interesting to see some of the meaning attached to the term doubt.

In Luke 12:29 (ESV) Jesus says: " And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried.” Now in the ESV the word used is worried, but when you turn to the Greek the word that is used is  (meteorizo) and is translated is some translations as “doubtful minded”. Now if you look at the word you will see where our word meteor comes from. So the meaning is this. Anybody who doubts is hanging in mid-air and needs to get his feet on solid ground. John did this by sending his disciples straight to Jesus.

The same word in the Greek text of the Old Testament is used in Obadiah 4 with reference to eagles flying in the air. So John knew, when answers aren’t enough there is Jesus, and he sends his disciples straight to Jesus. The implication of John’s question is this, either Jesus is the Messiah or He is just a mere human being. If He is just human then John must look for a different kind of person.


Are you experiencing doubt today? Then you need to apply the same rule to Jesus as we apply to one another. If I have doubts about my wife’s love to me, I need to sort out that doubts and get myself on solid ground. Speaking to others is not going to resolve the issue, unless I am just looking for sympathy. No, I go straight to her, and I deal with my doubt. So do you doubt Jesus?

You might say yes, then you need to go to Jesus, study the gospels, listen to Him, look at His miracles and put your trust in Him, because only the Logos, the creator of the universe could perform the miracles He did.

You might say no, then go home and enjoy a lekker braaivleis, because if your relationship with Christ is right, you can sleep peacefully.

You might say maybe, and you Christian behaviour and commitment might indicate that you are someone who doubts, therefore you are not as committed as you ought to be. Then I want to encourage you, don’t be a meteorite, find solid ground, come for counselling, and talk and sort out those doubts.

No matter on which level you are, Christ remains the answer, so if you have any questions, run to Jesus, not away from Jesus.


Logos Community Church:- 26 August 2012