Verse of the Day

Monday, March 5, 2007

Pastor's Sermon Notes - March 4, 2007

Surprised by the Unexpected!
(The Gospel of the Doubters)


What frame of mind do we find ourselves in, how is our faith:
When God breaks out of the box we have put Him in!
When God shakes our world to its core!
When God turns our world upside down!

There are three examples of this happening in the Gospels.

In each of these three examples there is a common thread.

The common thread is that they were "Surprised by the Unexpected!"

What happened to each of these three men may be experienced by you and I.

Let us not for one moment think that we are above them and their experiences!

These accounts are recorded in Scripture for good reason - by God - for us!

There may be "good news" for us when we question the Lord, when we deny Him, or when we refuse to believe in Him. Perhaps we may refer to this is "the Gospel of the Doubters!"

I. The Questions of John the Baptist - Mt. 11:2
II. The Denials of Peter - Mk. 14:68-71
III. The Refusals of Thomas - Jn. 20:25

In each case we will consider the nature of the doubt expressed, and what it implies for us.
Then we will examine Christ’s response to the doubter, and what we can learn from that response.

The Right Must Win [footnote 1]
by Frederick William Faber (1814-63)

OH, it is hard to work for God,
To rise and take his part
Upon this battle-field of earth,
And not sometimes lose heart!

He hides himself so wondrously,
As though there were no God;
He is least seen when all the powers
Of ill are most abroad.

Or he deserts us at the hour
The fight is all but lost;
And seems to leave us to ourselves
Just when we need him most.

Ill masters good; good seems to change
To ill with greatest ease;
And, worst of all, the good with good
Is at cross-purposes.

Ah! God is other than we think;
His ways are far above,
Far beyond reason's height, and reach'd
Only by childlike love.

Workman of God! Oh, lose not heart,
But learn what God is like;
And in the darkest battle-field
Thou shalt know where to strike.

Thrice bless'd is he to whom is given
The instinct that can tell
That God is on the field when he
Is most invisible.

Bless'd, too, is he who can divine
Where real right doth lie,
And dares to take the side that seems
Wrong to man's blindfold eye.

For right is right, since God is God;
And right the day must win;
To doubt would be disloyalty,
To falter would be sin.

I. The Questions of John the Baptist - Mt. 11:3

Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?

Context: Mt. 11:2-19; Lk. 7:18-35

Consider also what we know about John the Baptist from the early chapters of the Gospels as to his character, and the type of man that he was!

1. A Consideration of John the Baptist’s Questions

What was Jesus doing during His life and ministry here on this earth?
If He is who He says He is, and who I thought He is, then why isn’t He...?

The Mighty Baptist becomes the Deathrow Questioner! [footnote 2]

1) We Question Who He Is!

2) We Doubt God’s Hand In Events Based On Our Preconceptions Of What He Should Be Doing!

What effect does it have on us:
When God breaks out of the box we have put Him in?
When God shakes our world to its core?
When God turns our world upside down?

2. An Examination of Christ’s Response to John the Baptist’s Questions

Mt. 11:4-6 - Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: [5] The blind receive their sight, 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. [6] And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me. [footnote 3]

1) A Reminder From the Lord - Scripture!

Is. 35:5-6 - Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. [6] Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert.

Isaiah 61:1-3 - The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; [2] To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; [3] To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.

This was no simple answer. But it was the Scripture answer!

2) The Testimony of the Lord - His works!

and the significance of John the Baptist!

Mt. 11:7-19; Lk. 7:24-35

"As the strongest faith may be shaken, so the weakest, where truth is, is so far rooted that it will prevail. Weakness with watchfulness will stand, when strength with too much confidence fails. Weakness, with acknowledgement of it, is the fittest seat and subject for God to perfect His strength in; for consciousness of our infirmities drives us out of ourselves to Him in whom our strength lies."
—Richard Sibbes

Take your doubts and your questions to Jesus! Look to Him for answers!

II. The Denials of Peter - Mk. 14:68-71

But he denied, saying, I know not,
neither understand I what thou sayest....
And he denied it again....
But he began to curse and to swear, saying,
I know not this man of whom ye speak.

Context: Mt. 26:57-75; Mk. 14:53-72; Lk. 22:54-62; Jn. 18:13-27

Compare also the prophecy concerning Peter's denials in Mt. 26:30-35; Mk. 14:26-31; Lk. 22:31-34; Jn. 13:36-38

1. A Consideration of Peter’s Denials

What was Jesus doing allowing Himself to be arrested and abused at the hands of these politicians and religious hypocrites?
Why would He...?

The Great Apostle becomes the Sorrowful Denier!

1) We Deny Our Relationship to the Lord!

2) We Fail to Respond to the World (or, Accusers) Based on our Union with Christ!

2. An Examination of Christ’s Response to Peter’s Denials

The Prayer and the Command - Lk. 22:31-32 - And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: [32] But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.

The Look - Lk. 22:61 - And the Lord turned, and looked upon Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said unto him, Before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice.

The Visit - 1 Cor. 15:5 - And that he was seen of Cephas

The 3-fold reversal of the denials on the shoreline - Jn. 21:1-19 - [17] He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep. [18] Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. [19] This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.

1) A Restoration By The Lord

2) The Tenderness of the Lord

What effect does it have on us:
When God breaks out of the box we have put Him in?
When God shakes our world to its core?
When God turns our world upside down?

"How many, alas, of the precious saints of God must we shut out from being believers, if there is no faith but what amounts to assurance.... shall we say their faith went away in the departure of their assurance? How oft then in a year may a believer be no believer? even as often as God withdraws and leaves the creature in the dark. Assurance is like the sun-flower, which opens with the day and shuts with the night. It follows the motion of God's face; if that looks smilingly on the soul, it lives; if that frowns or hides itself, it dies. But faith is a plant that can grow in the shade, a grace that can find the way to heaven in a dark night. It can "walk in darkness, and yet trust in the name of the Lord."
—William Gurnall

III. The Refusals of Thomas - Jn. 20:25

Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails,
and put my finger into the print of the nails,
and thrust my hand into his side,
I will not believe

Context: Jn. 20:24-29

1. A Consideration of Thomas’ Refusals

What was Jesus doing lying there in that tomb?
Out of the Tomb? He can’t do that!
Where is He?

The Awol Apostle becomes the Insistent Skeptic!

1) We Question The Completeness Of His Victory!

2) We Refuse To Accept The Eyewitness Testimony He Provides!

What effect does it have on us:
When God breaks out of the box we have put Him in?
When God shakes our world to its core?
When God turns our world upside down?

"Despite our best effort to keep him out, God intrudes.
The life of Jesus is bracketed by two impossibilities:
a virgin’s womb and an empty tomb.
Jesus entered through a door marked "No entrance"
and left through a door marked "No exit."
–Peter Larson, Prism (Jan./Feb. 2001)

2. An Examination of Christ’s Response to Thomas’ Refusals

John 20:26-29 - And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you. [27] Then saith he to Thomas, reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing. [28] And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God. [29] Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

1) A Response From The Lord

2) The Touch Of The Lord

"Reality, in fact, is always something you couldn't have guessed.
That's one of the reasons I believe Christianity.
It's a religion you couldn't have guessed."
–C. S. Lewis, The Case for Christianity

"Where reason cannot wade there faith may swim. "
—Thomas Watson

"It is the nature of faith to believe God upon His bare word....
It will not be, saith sense;
it cannot be, saith reason;
it both can and will be, saith faith, for I have a promise."
—John Trapp

"We walk by faith, and not by sight;
And, blessed saint, like thee,
We sometimes doubt if faith tells right,
Because we cannot see.
Upon the promise we would lean
Thy doubting heart received;
Blessed are they that have not seen,
And that have yet believed."
– John M. Neale, "We Have Not Seen, We Cannot See",
in Hymns for Children, third series (1846)


The Gospel of the Doubters is that you are wrong - and, YES, God CAN do that!

Lord, my weak thought in vain would climb
To search the starry vault profound;
In vain would wing her flight sublime
To find creation’s utmost bound.

But weaker yet that thought must prove
To search Thy great eternal plan,
Thy sovereign counsels, born of love
Long ages ere the world began.

When my dim reason would demand
Why that, or this, Thou dost ordain,
By some vast deep I seem to stand,
Whose secrets I must ask in vain.

When doubts disturb my troubled breast,
And all is dark as night to me,
Here, as on solid rock,
I rest—That so it seemeth good to Thee.

Be this my joy, that evermore
Thou rulest all things at Thy will;
Thy sovereign wisdom I adore,
And calmly, sweetly, trust Thee still.

–Ray Palmer, 1888

Footnote 1:
Edmund Clarence Stedman, ed. A Victorian Anthology, 1837-1895
(Cambridge: Riverside Press, 1895; New York:, 2001,

Footnote 2:
In this I am agreeing with Tertullian, Edersheim, and Hendricksen, et al. and disagreeing with Hilary, Chrysostom, Theophylact, Augustine, and Ryle, et al., that the questions were indeed those of John the Baptist, and not just asked on behalf of some doubting disciples of his. For the opposing viewpoint see John Charles Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, n.d.), Vol. 2: Luke 1-10, pp. 214-219. However, I would especially direct attention to the following from Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, One-volume ed. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., n.d.), III:666-668 -

"We are in the spirit by the mount of God, and about to witness the breaking of a terrible storm. It is one that uproots the great trees and rends the rocks; and we shall watch it solemnly, earnestly, as with bared head - or, like Elijah, with face wrapt in mantle....Strange as it may seem, it was, perhaps, better for the Baptist when he was alone. Much as his disciples honoured and loved him, and truly zealous and jealous for him as they were, it was best when they were absent. There are times when affection only pains, by forcing on our notice inability to understand, and adding to our sorrow that of feeling our inmost being a stranger to those nearest, and who love us must [sic]. Then, indeed, is a man alone. It was so with the Baptist....And yet further and more terrible questions rose in that dark dungeon. Like serpents that crept out of its walls, they would uncoil and raise their heads with horrible hissing. What if, after all, there had been some terrible mistake on his part? At any rate the logic of events was against him....It must have been a terrible hour, and the power of darkness. At the end of one's life, and that of such self-denial and suffering, and with a conscience so alive to God, which had - when a youth - driven him burning with holy zeal into the wilderness, to have such a question meeting him as: Art Thou He; or do we wait for another? Am I right, or in error and leading others into error? must have been truly awful....Let no one dare to say that the faith of John failed, at least till the dark waters have rolled up to his own soul. For mostly all and each of us must pass through some like experience; and only our own hearts and God know, how death-bitter are the doubts, whether of head or of heart, when question after question raises, as with devilish hissing, its head, and earth and heaven alike seem silent to us....Nor yet could the record, which gives us this insight into the weakness of the strong man and the doubts of the great Testimony-bearer, be a cunningly-devised fable. We cannot imagine the record of such a failure, if the narrative were an invention....In that terrible hour John overcame, as we all must overcome. His very despair opened the door of hope. The helpless doubt, which none could solve but One, he brought to Him around Whom it had gathered. Even in this there is evidence for Christ, as the unalterably True One. When John asked the question: Do we wait for another? light was already struggling through darkness. It was incipient victory even in defeat. When he sent his disciples with this question straight to Christ, he had already conquered; for such a question addressed to a possibly false Messiah has no meaning. And so must it ever be with us. Doubt is the offspring of our disease, diseased as is its paternity. And yet it cannot be cast aside. It may be the outcome of the worst, or the problems of the best souls. The twilight may fade into outer night, or it may usher in the day. The answer lies in this: whether doubt will lead us to Christ, or from Christ."

Footnote 3:
"Raising the dead is not the climax. There is something even greater, namely, "the poor are having good news preached to them." That is the greatest work of all." William Hendricksen, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Gospel According to Luke (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978), pg. 394.

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