Speaker 1: So if you are in the middle of a difficult season of your life, maybe something going on in your marriage, maybe there’s, you fear there’s something going on in your marriage, you can’t quite put your finger on it, but there’s just, it’s just an overriding concern and he or she isn’t willing to talk about it.
And it just kind of sits there with you every day, all day, every day. Maybe you just went through a tough breakup and you thought he was the one, she was the one, and then you discovered or it just, it just has fallen apart. And you’re thinking there goes again and is there ever going to be anybody for me? Maybe something to do with your job, it’s not the job you thought it was going to be, they’re not the people you thought you were working for, maybe you’re looking for a job, maybe you’re looking for a job again. Maybe it’s a medical crisis and the doctors are doing their best, but there’s just, there’s just unanswered questions and it just sits there every single day, even though you’re working and trying to function, there’s just, just the questions. And it just, you know, it just presses you down.
You feel like you’re literally under those circumstances. Maybe something to do with one of your kids and you’re not sure what it is because he or she won’t talk about it, but you know, something’s going on. Maybe it’s your inability or the inability to have children, maybe you’re lonely. Or maybe you’re dealing with depression and you’re so shocked by this because depression, that’s like for older people, depression is like for people who don’t have good circumstances and you have good circumstances, depression, you just can’t believe that’s you and you’re not sure you’re ever going to get out from underneath the weight of that and you, you know, there’s medication, but you just think, is this really me?
Is this really the life I’m living? And again, it may be something I didn’t touch on, but if you’re today, you’re just carrying that thing. In fact, it’s so big, it’s hard to even sit here and listen. You almost didn’t show up. You almost didn’t tune in because it’s just, it’s just all consuming. You’re the audience for today.
Your Heavenly Father has something for you today. And then there’s this that makes all of it worse. I think the thing that makes any of those kinds of things worse is that you look around and isn’t it true?
It seems like everybody else is doing fine. And in fact, Christians have a phrase for this. If you’re not a Christian, partners, we have our own language sometimes. And yes, it’s a little bit weird. I’ll acknowledge that. But the way we say this, it’s like, I look around, it looks like God’s just, God’s just blessing them. And you wouldn’t say this, so I’ll say it for you. And you’re thinking, I’m a better person than them.
Okay, I know I’m like a better person. Why is God blessing them? And why is God not blessing me? Why is God answering their prayers?
And I’ll say this for you too, even though you wouldn’t say this. Why is God blessing their silly prayers? I mean, those aren’t even good prayers. Like that’s not even a prayer request. I’ll tell you a good prayer request.
And their prayers are like, oh, hey, listen, I got to answer my prayer. I couldn’t find the key to my brand new car. So I just stopped and prayed and you’re thinking, hey, I have a real prayer request. My son was arrested again and we’ve been praying for months.
So I have a suggestion for what you can do with your prodigal car key, okay? And you hate the fact that you think things like that. I do too.
It’s like, I mean, we’ve all been there. You want to be happy for the happy people, but it’s just kind of hard to be happy for the happy people. When you’re not happy, you want to be happy for the blessed people, the people that God’s blessing. But when God’s not blessing you, it’s just hard sometimes to have a good attitude.
It’s hard to celebrate with people who are celebrating and rejoice with people who are rejoicing, because it’s like, hello, what about me? Where is God? And why doesn’t God answer your serious prayers?
And then insult to injury just while I’m kind of talking about us for a minute. The excuses sometimes that the Christians make for God when God doesn’t come through for you. I mean, I don’t think they ever internalize this when God doesn’t come through for them. But when God’s not coming through for you, there’s something in some of us sometimes that want to kind of back away from your pain and back away from what’s going on with you and kind of give you hallmark God. You know, there’s hallmark God, and then, you know, I got to go, you know. Everything happens for a reason.
Bye. See, I hope you figure out the reason, you know. And maybe this is true, but it’s not helpful when somebody says that. Or, you know, maybe God’s trying to teach you something.
Well, yeah, maybe he is. And I got my pen out. So if God would just make it clear, I’d like to learn this lesson and move on to something else. And maybe this is true, but that’s not helpful. And then, hey, you just got to have faith. Bye. It’s kind of offensive and it’s dismissive, right? And what I hear when I hear somebody say that about somebody else’s pain, and somebody kind of throws out one of those one-liners, here’s what I hear.
This is just me, okay? What I hear is, don’t disturb my God-in-a-box faith with your actual circumstances. See, I got God all figured out. And you sow and you reap, and you sow and you reap.
And so I sowed good things so good things are happening in my life, and good things are happening in your life. And I don’t understand why, because you seem like a good person too. But I can’t, I can’t really face all that, because I don’t have an explanation for that. And I’ve got God kind of all figured out.
So I hope it works out for you. There’s probably something going on in your life that I don’t know about that I don’t want to know about. But I’ve got God figured out.
So you do you, and I do me. Now, if you’re not a Christian, or not a person of faith, or you used to be, this dynamic that I just described, this may be part of the reason you’re not, because your mom, or your brother, or your sister had like an actual crisis, like an actual thing, you know? And a pastor or a priest responded with a platitude, you know? And you felt like, hey, wait a minute, wait, you’re the pastor, you’re the priest.
You’re supposed to walk with us through this. And you felt like they were just kind of unwilling to step into the unresolvable, because some things were unresolvable. You just felt like they were unwilling to step into the unresolvable, messy reality of your life.
And you’re like, well, if that’s what the church is, if that’s what Christianity is, no, thank you. I get that. And if that was your experience, I’m sorry. You deserved better than that. Your mom deserved better than that.
Your family deserved better than that. And whether you listen to anything else I have to say, I just want you to know this, Jesus is better than that. Today we’re wrapping up our series, the three-part series, under the circumstances, holding on to God when it appears God is no longer holding on to you. And in this series, we are exploring the question, not answering it, we’re exploring the question, what do our circumstances say about the love of God? And what do your circumstances say about the presence of God? What do your circumstances say, if anything, about the existence of God? Because we’re all tempted, all of us, me included, we’re all tempted to jump to conclusions about God based on our circumstances, both positive circumstances and negative. Our circumstances and the circumstances of other people.
You’ve jumped to conclusions, perhaps, or drawn conclusions about God based on what you’ve seen other people go through, right? And when things are up and to the right, God’s blessing. When things are up and to the right, I got God all figured out. When things are up and to the right, you know, God is good. God is good all the time, right? When things are down and to the right, where’s God?
Is there God? What am I doing wrong? Or what did I do wrong to somehow deserve this? Now, if you have to leave early or tune out early, I hope you don’t. I just want to go ahead and give you the bottom line.
This is so important. Circumstances, regardless of how negative they are, circumstances, regardless of how extreme they are, circumstances do not have to be an off ramp to faith. Jesus went out of his way to create a scenario to make that very point.
If you missed part one of this series, you need to go back and watch it. Jesus went out of his way to create a scenario to prove to us and to give us an example that the most negative circumstances imaginable do not have to be an off ramp to your faith. And today we’re going to discover that doubt and doubts don’t have to be an off ramp to our faith either. Exhibit A, John the Baptist. In fact, John the Baptist story is a reminder that actually that doubt and doubts are baked into the story of Christianity. That if you have doubts, there’s nothing wrong with you.
You were probably right where you need to be and you’re going to discover yourself in today’s story. Because like Lazarus, John the Baptist was actually one of Jesus’ favorite people. We discovered that in week one about Lazarus. John the Baptist was one of Jesus’ favorite people.
They were probably cousins. And when I say that John the Baptist, who was clearly a historical figure, other first century writers talk about John the Baptist, but when I say John the Baptist was one of Jesus’ favorite people, I mean, get this. This is something that Jesus said about John the Baptist, not when he was in the audience, like he was bragging on him.
You know, people brag on people when they’re there. Jesus is miles away from John the Baptist. And here’s what he says to an audience about cousin John. This is amazing. I say to you, Jesus said, I say to you, among those born of women, there is no one greater than John the Baptist.
Are you kidding? This is Jesus of Nazareth saying, let me tell you about the greatest person who has ever lived so far. It’s my cousin, John the Baptist. He’s the original goat. He is the original greatest of all time. This word actually is mega.
He’s like a mega man. And the fact that Jesus would say this about John the Baptist is what makes what transpired so confusing. Or maybe for you today, it’s what makes what happened to John the Baptist so encouraging.
Now, as you probably know, if you’ve been around church, John the Baptist took on the role of a prophet, which meant there was no nuance. Everything was good or it was bad. There’s no in between. There’s no gray.
There’s no compromise. He called it as he saw it. He was not shy. He was not capable of compromise. So when King Herod Antipas decided to, let me tell you who he is first of all, King Herod Antipas was the son of Herod the Great. Herod the Great was the Herod who had the babies in Bethlehem slaughtered. And then he had several sons. He had a huge family. And this was one of his sons who actually, he wasn’t a literal king, but he was a ruler. Sometimes he was referred to as King Herod Antipas. So anyway, when King Herod Antipas decided to marry his brother’s wife, John decided, okay, I got to talk about that. And I got to talk about it publicly because that was against the law. You couldn’t marry your brother’s wife, even if they were divorced. And not only that, he’s the king.
And as the king goes, you know, so goes society. And besides that, this relationship between Herod Antipas and his brother’s wife started as an affair in far away Rome. Then they show up together back in Judea. And it’s like, she says, honey, I’m leaving you for your brother.
And to make it even more complicated, you’re going to have to follow this. Herod’s brother’s wife, Herod’s brother’s wife, Herodias, everybody was named after Herod the Great. Herod’s brother’s wife, Herodias was his sister’s daughter. Follow that.
Herod Antipas married his niece. I know. It’s like, even now that’s a thing, right?
Okay, back then that was like a thing thing. He didn’t marry your niece, right? And again, John the Baptist speaks up because it’s like, no, this is against Torah. It’s against the law. It’s gross. And it’s, you know, it’s not good for society.
And as the king goes, so goes society. So John the Baptist would talk about this in public. I mean, maybe, you know, their carton and Herodias or Herod Antipas through the, you know, through the streets on one of those things they would carry on slaves, shoulders of slaves. That’s how they traveled because they were above the ground and the dirt was muddy and didn’t get your feet muddy. That’s what they did. And they had little shades pulled.
And, you know, they’re going through this town and they hear John the Baptist, adulterous, adulterous, adulterous. I mean, he just, it’s like, he just called him out and he’s in his mind. He’s doing the right thing. I mean, he’s speaking truth to power, right? This is what he would say. Literally, we were told in the text, this is amazing.
Mark tells us and Mark was, Mark got all of his information from Peter who was there for all this. It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife. I mean, it’s not just your committee, committed adultery. It’s not lawful for you. You are breaking Torah. You are violating God’s standards.
You were unceremonially unclean. It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife. So, as you might imagine, Herodias, the new wife, nursed a grudge against John and wanted to kill him. Of course he did, but there was a problem. But she was not able to do so because Herod feared John. And one of the reasons he feared John is because John was the most popular person in Judea pretty much at the time. That when John the Baptist began baptizing in the Jordan River, the text tells us that all of Judea and all of Jerusalem went out to hear John preach. Now, that was hyperbole, but if only 10% of the population or 15% of the population showed up to hear John preach and teach, thousands, tens of thousands, everybody knew who John was and Herod’s like, okay, we’re not touching this guy.
If we touch this guy, there’s going to be trouble in the land. He was not able because he feared John and he protected him specifically from Herodias, right? Knowing him to be a righteous and holy man. I mean, Herod, the antipas knows, okay, what I did was not cool at all. It did violate God’s law.
I know what I would think about somebody else doing this. So he knew he was guilty. So when Herod heard John, this is amazing, when Herod heard John because he loved to hear him speak, he was greatly puzzled. And yet he liked to listen to him. So we don’t know if he stood in the back of the crowd or if he disguised himself because rulers would do that from time to time to find out what’s going on with the people. But he would listen to John and he knew he was a holy righteous man.
He’s the most popular guy in Judea. And he didn’t understand everything John taught, but he knew there was something to this guy, right? Well, eventually Herodias has her way and she at least convinces her husband to have John the Baptist arrested. So John the Baptist gets arrested by Herod’s men and Herod wisely does not imprison him in Jerusalem where Herodias could get to him. He imprisons John the Baptist in a desert dungeon down in the Jordan River Valley far away from the city of Jerusalem.
But it is a miserable, miserable, miserable place to be. And perhaps I think he put him there to protect him from his new wife. And this is when the story goes completely off the rails. This is when the story gets extraordinarily confusing or perhaps extraordinarily encouraging. Are you ready for this? Now, when Jesus heard that John, cousin John, now when Jesus heard that John, the most popular man in Judea, a righteous man, everybody knows he’s a good guy. When Jesus heard that John had been taken into custody, what do you think Jesus did for the goat, for the greatest man of all time? John actually leveraged his own popularity to launch Jesus’ ministry. Remember John the Baptist has thousands and thousands and thousands of people coming to hear him and preach and teach and baptize in the Jordan River Valley. And one day he’s doing his thing and he looks up and he says, okay, the Son of God who has come to take away the sin of the world is here. The Lamb of God who comes to take away the sin of the world.
And he says about Jesus of Nazareth, his cousin. Look, you guys think I’m great? You think I’ve drawn a big crowd? Let me tell you, I’m not worthy to even lace this guy’s sandals. I am nothing in comparison. It’s time for me to shrink.
It’s time for him to become great. And at that moment, many, many, many of John the Baptist’s disciples left John to follow Jesus and Jesus was off to the races in terms of his public ministry. So John the Baptist, I mean, he’s the forerunner. He’s the warm-up act for Jesus. And of course, Jesus is extraordinarily grateful for John the Baptist. So when John is arrested and taken into custody, what do you think he did? I mean, spring him, bust him out, send an angel to bust him out, send some friends, you know, bake some brownies and visit him at least, loaves and fish, you know, or turn Herodias into a loaf and feed her to the fish. I mean, there’s all kinds of things, you know, Jesus could have done.
This is so strange. And Matthew, who’s there for all this, Matthew was a tax collector who had people who worked for him scribes who scribed everything down. That’s why Matthew’s Gospel account is so full of detail. Listen to how Matthew explains what happened. Now, when Jesus heard that John had been taken into custody, he withdrew.
If we had a map, it would illustrate just how much he withdrew. He withdrew to Galilee, leaving Nazareth. He went and lived, not visited, not vacationed.
He went and lived in Capernaum. If you had a map of the Holy Land, Judea and Jerusalem is in the south. Jesus left the south, left Judea, went all the way to Galilee, and went as far north into Galilee as he possibly could. He gets to the Sea of Galilee, and he goes all the way up to the very tip top of the lake. He’s by walking distance, he’s close to 200 miles away or more from John the Baptist. And he wasn’t already there when he heard.
This is what’s amazing. When he heard of what happened to John, Matthew sandwiches these two ideas together almost in a single sentence. Jesus automatically and immediately withdrew to Galilee and get this.
He settles in Capernaum, which is a beautiful, beautiful fishing village on the north end of the Sea of Galilee. John the Baptist is arrested, put in a dungeon. Jesus went to the lake, and he didn’t just go for the weekend. He went and he lived there with his guys. The opposite direction while John is sweating it out in a desert dungeon. Now here’s the question.
This is so important. This is why, I don’t know what you’re talking about, the reliability of the Gospels. I’m telling you, this is why you can believe with confidence that the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, they are reliable accounts of actual events. Why in the world would Matthew tell us this? Why doesn’t he just say, oh, John the Baptist was arrested? Meanwhile, let me tell you what Jesus did.
He wants us to know that Jesus’ response to his cousin’s arrest is that he went in the opposite direction he actually withdrew. This is horrible. This is terrible.
This is embarrassing. This is how you know it happens. In literature, one of the ways that you know literature is authentic is whenever anything makes the hero look bad, you know they didn’t make that up. Because you don’t make up a story that makes your hero look bad. If you’re trying to convince somebody to believe something about a person, you leave out the bad stuff.
We do it all the time. Why in the world would Matthew include it? Two reasons, number one, it happened.
Number two, because when Matthew wrote this, he had the insight to know why Jesus did what he did and he believed as I believe that he did this for you. It’s horrible. It was intentional.
Here’s what I mean by that. Do you ever feel like God is a million miles away? That in your moment of greatest need, you’ve never felt more distance from God? I know you have felt that. When things are up and to the right, you just feel like the presence of God. You know, you sing these songs with, you know, so much enthusiasm. And then circumstances turn and it’s like, where is God?
Do you ever feel like God’s a million miles away? You get kicked back at the lake while you’re sweating it out. You are not the first.
You won’t be the last. Matthew’s like, I want to make sure you see the connection between these two big ideas. Isn’t that amazing? So John’s in prison for a year. Let me tell you about prisons back then. They did not have a cafeteria. They didn’t have a lunch line. You didn’t get some time out, you know, to stretch your legs.
Okay, nothing like that. You’re in a hole in the ground or you’re in a, you know, basically a brick building that you let out from time to time. There’s no food. The only way you’re going to eat is if you have friends and family. If you don’t have friends and family that visit you, bring you food. You may starve to death. You may just die of malnutrition or a thirst.
Because there’s not a food program. So John the Baptist is people coming and going and taking care of him. So a year goes by, never hears from Jesus. Six months goes by, never hears from Jesus. And the greatest man born of women, according to Jesus, begins to doubt. Because what was true of us is true of John. It changed the scenery. Rocked his serenity. Things are up and to the right.
God is good. Things take a turn for the worse. You get that call.
You get that call from one of your kids. It’s like, oh no, where is God? And John the Baptist begins to wonder if maybe he had Jesus all wrong. And there we are once again right in the middle of the story.
But there’s more insult to injury. John receives regular updates on all the amazing things Jesus is doing for other people. His disciples actually are coming and going. John’s disciples are coming and going. And they’re keeping John updated. It’s like, John, you’re not going to believe what your cousin did this time. Okay, you ready for this? He’s on his way. He preached this amazing sermon.
We don’t understand what most of it meant. But anyway, right afterwards, he comes down into the town in a centurion. A centurion comes up to your cousin and says, hey, my servant is at home sick. And your cousin, the rabbi Jesus, said to a centurion, he’d never met before. I’ll go to your house and heal your servant that I’ve never met before. And then on their way he stops and he heals the servant from four blocks away. Your cousin works remotely, it’s amazing. He can say words and people are healed.
And John is thinking exactly what we would be thinking. Well then why not me? Why not me?
Why doesn’t he just say the word? Whatever happened to the part about, I’ve come to set the captives free. I’m an actual captive and you know my name. What about me?
And once again there we are in the story. I want to be happy for all the happy people. I want to be happy for all the healthy people. You want to be happy for all the people who had children and grandchildren. You want to be happy for the people whose marriage made it and the counseling worked. And they overcame the thing they overcame and their husband overcame it.
You want to be happy for them. Congratulations on your promotion. Congratulations on your scholarship. I’m still waiting to see if I got in anywhere, right? Oh, and that’s so cool. Your sore throat went away right before your presentation.
I’m so happy for you. Do you have any real problems? Because I do.
And I want to be happy for you. John the Baptist, the greatest man who ever lived according to Jesus, right? Isn’t God good to you? Why is it that God comes through for everybody?
But you, why is it that God seems to be coming through for everybody right now? But you, that’s John the Baptist, one of Jesus’ favorite people. Well, finally John, he’s had enough because he’s human, like us. And so the text says when John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him.
So it’s like, okay, I keep hearing all this stuff, but I’ve got some questions. This isn’t making any sense. You’re doing all this amazing stuff. Meanwhile, you’re letting me rot in a prison and I didn’t do anything wrong. In fact, I did something right. I did the bold thing, the powerful thing, the courageous thing. And now I’m suffering for doing the right thing. Meanwhile, you’re doing all these favors for people who’ve not done perhaps anything right.
In fact, in some cases, they seem to be the enemies of Rome. I hear you have a tax gatherer as part of your posse, right? So how about delivering me from our sick king? So when John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him. Here’s the question he sent to Jesus. Here we are again in the story. Are you the one? Was I mistaken? Have I been believing a fairy tale?
Have I been believing a lie? Are you the one who is to come? I mean, this is John the Baptist who announced Jesus is the one who is to come. But all the Lamb of God who comes to take this into the world.
But I don’t know anymore because this doesn’t make any sense to me. You’re not doing what I think the Lamb of God should do for his friends. Are you the one who is to come?
Or should we expect someone else? Is this even real? Is there anything to this? Am I just a victim of wishful thinking? Am I just believing because my parents taught me to believe this stuff? Is this magic? Is it a fairy tale? Is the sky father, right?
Is this something that we teach just to keep the kids in line? John the Baptist. You see, I’m convinced and I could be wrong. I’m convinced that Jesus let Lazarus die for our benefit. And I think Jesus let John stew in a prison cell for our benefit as well. Did Jesus love these men?
Are you kidding? Do you remember the story of Lazarus? When the servant comes to tell Jesus that Lazarus is sick. Remember this part? The servant says to Jesus, Jesus, the one you love is sick.
Didn’t even have to use Lazarus’ name. Did Jesus love these men? Yes.
Does Jesus love you? Yes. Does this make sense? In a way yes, in a way no. But did Jesus love these men? Yes. Does Jesus love you?
Yes. So they come to Jesus and they say, hey, they finally find Jesus. He’s with a crowd again. And they’re like, hey, Rabbi, cousin John has some questions for you. He wants to know, and this is a little bit embarrassing. Please don’t judge him too harshly, but it’s been a year and a half. Cousin John wants to know, are you who he told everyone you are? Because he has his doubts.
And to be honest, we’re wondering ourself. And here’s what Jesus said. Matthew again, who recorded all this. Jesus said to John’s disciples, go back and report to John what you hear and see. To which they thought, okay, that’s not like really encouraging. We want to let you know.
We’ve been doing that all along. He’s not encouraged by all the things you’re doing for everybody else that you never met until they asked. And John, Jesus is like, no, no, I want you to go back and tell him what you hear then see. And I want you to tell him this specifically. Tell cousin John, tell the prophet. Tell him that the blind received their sight. This is unheard of.
This is remarkable. And tell him that men and women who’ve never walked before are walking and those who had leprosy or cleanse in the deaf hear and the dead are raised. And they say, okay, we’ll tell him.
They write it down, remember it, and they leave. And then, this is the best part. Then Jesus says something for us. He addresses the crowd, but he doesn’t say this for the crowd. He says this for me, he says this for us. For those of us who wonder if God knows and wonder if God really cares. To those of us who are disheartened by his inattention, his lack of attention, or his seeming lack of attention and lack of care. He says something for those of us who feel like we’re waiting in the dungeon. And we don’t have a court date.
In fact, we don’t have any representation. It looks like he’s just gonna go on and on and on and on. And there’s no end in sight. And we’re starting to doubt and it’s wearing away on our faith and our confidence in God. And Jesus looks at that audience, but he says this for you and he says this for me. He says this for us. And this is amazing.
I’m gonna read to you, but I gotta say one more time. Nobody would make this up. Nobody in the first century could make this up.
Jesus looks at them and speaks to us and he says this. It’s amazing. Happy or blessed is anyone of any generation. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me. Jesus anticipated your confusion in mine. Jesus anticipated our doubts. Jesus anticipated as we sit back and try to make this a formula. And I thought if I did, God must. And if I promised and God will, I thought there was some kind of formula, some kind of code. And God’s not acting like I think God should act. And Jesus isn’t responding like I think Jesus should respond. And Jesus is saying, blessed is the person, blessed is the person that does not get tripped up when I don’t act like they think I ought to act. Blessed are the followers who don’t quit following.
When their heavenly father doesn’t do what they think their heavenly father ought to do. He anticipated our confusion. His response or non-response may trip us up. His response or non-response may cause us to doubt. It might tempt us to walk away. And that’s unnecessary. And I wanna say this to some of you today cause you’re right on the edge of that.
You’re reaching for the door knob to go. Okay, the reason Jesus said this is this. He knows, and some of you’ve experienced this, that when you lose faith, you opt for something to substitute for your faith. When you decide God’s not it, Jesus is not it, Christianity’s not it, you will opt for something else. You will choose something else.
And that something else usually makes things worse, not better. I love what Philippians he says. I don’t even remember which book this was from but I just hang on to this. He says, the only thing worse, the only thing worse than disappointment with God is trying to navigate disappointment without God. The only thing worse than disappointment with God, God’s not acting the way I think God should act, is facing disappointment once you’ve put God in the rear view mirror.
Because in that moment, you have no hope of ever making sense of things and you have no hope that things will ever make sense. And Jesus says, this is amazing. He says, I understand. I understand how my behavior, I understand how the inactivity of the Heavenly Father, I understand how unanswered prayer may trip you up. Blessed is the one who doesn’t allow themselves to be tripped up. Happy, happy is the one who does not confuse my silence for my absence. Happy is the follower who follows anyway. Happy is the believer who continues to believe anyway. And then John’s disciples leave to go tell John the good news. Jesus makes the comment I just read. And this is when he says to the audience, because they’re confused. Like, why don’t you go with them?
Why don’t you do something? We love John the Baptist. I mean, John the Baptist is a legend.
Why don’t you do something? And Jesus assures them. He says, I get it.
I understand how my behavior is so confusing to you. So let me just assure you, this is when he says it. I say to you, among those born of women, there is no one greater than John the Baptist. He’s the best.
He’s one of my favorites. But I’m not gonna rescue him. And he didn’t. And he may not rescue you either.
But you don’t have to stumble away from Jesus, your Savior. God may answer your prayer. He may answer it in a way you don’t expect. He may answer your prayer and timing. That’s not your timing.
I get all that. But there may be a no. There may be a no rescue. And does that mean God doesn’t care? Does that mean God is silent? Does that mean God isn’t up to something?
Absolutely not. Jesus arranged these scenarios, these narratives, these actual historical incidents for our benefit. Happier those who face adversity, trust anyway, follow anyway and don’t stumble away from God their Father. Now, I know some of you are thinking, I would be thinking, yeah, it’s easy for you to say, Andy, easy for you to say, you don’t know my story and I don’t know your story. I’m telling you, if I was not confident of this, I would not stand up here and say it. And if it was that other kind of preacher, I would get up here and say, no, if you trust in God, it’s all gonna work out, you’re gonna get a bow. And then over time, we just chase off all the people who don’t have a bow. We just have a big church full of people with bows and everybody, they look around, everything’s working out.
We must have more faith than everybody else. That is not Christianity. That is not the gospel.
You do not find that in the teaching of Jesus. What you find is two of his favorite men. He let suffer and yet he was as active as he has ever been.
And here we are talking about him 2,000 years later. But I wouldn’t get up here and say it if I wasn’t confident. On Sundays, I get here early, as you might imagine, and one of my things I like to do is just walk around the auditorium and meet people. And I’m always looking for people who are sitting by themselves because I hate it when somebody sits by themselves. I always think, oh, do you have a friend? I want you to connect here. So I sit down with people. And is this your first time?
And you buy yourself, sometimes you’re just waiting for the husband or wife or girlfriend to come sit with them. So in one of my journeys, about a year ago, I met a woman named Mary Ann Jones. Mary Ann is 86 years old. And so every Sunday, she stands up because she has something she wants me to do and we’re kind of arguing about it. We’ve been arguing for a year.
I’m not gonna tell you what that is. But anyway, so when she sees me coming, she stands up and she’s waiting for me. So every Sunday, Mary Ann and I have a friendly conversation. So at some point, I wanted to ask her a question. I got her cell phone number. And so then she had my cell phone number. And then every Sunday, every Sunday, she sends me a text and rates the sermon.
Every Sunday. Not making this up. She’s gonna rate today’s.
I guarantee you, I’ll get a text. And I usually get an eight, nine, or sometimes a 10. Few weeks ago, I got a 100.
I’m like, whoa, did you change the scale or was it really that good? So one Sunday, I said, Mary Ann, I wanna know your whole story. You’re 86 years old. And she said, okay, so I invited her to my office. She came, we spent two hours together.
That’s the start from the very beginning. She told me her whole story. Very, very difficult childhood.
Just needed to escape the home. Met her husband, got married, fast forwarded, had three beautiful daughters. And then their youngest daughter, Karen, when she was 21, was hit by a drunk driver, a 19-year-old drunk driver. He killed instantly along with a friend.
Now, Mary Ann was Christian and she and Tom had their faith and their personal faith and want with God. But this was, of course, devastating, just completely devastating. Just erected them in every single kind of way. And where’s God and why God? And we did all the right things, all the things we would say and all the questions that we would ask. She kinda clawed her way back to developing a faith and was able to pray again and trust God again. About six months after that, their church had a special guest speaker who came in during the week, on a weeknight, to do a lecture on the topic of why bad things happen to good people. And Mary Ann’s husband didn’t wanna go, but Mary Ann said, I wanna go.
So she went. And so this lecturer, this pastor, got up and there’s about 150 people there and he talked for about 30, 45 minutes about why bad things happen to good people. Then he said, are there any questions? And Mary Ann said, I raised my hand and he said, yes, and I stood up and I said, so, pastor, why do bad things happen to good people?
After he just spent 40 minutes answering the question. And so she said, she sat down and she said, he kinda reviewed the whole message again and asked, are there any more questions? She said, I stood back up and said, pastor, so why do bad things happen to good people? She asked the question three times and he explained slower the third time, but he just kept saying the same thing. And after she asked him for the third time in front of all these people, he kinda lost it and he said, I don’t know why. She said, I smiled and I said, that’s right.
We don’t know why. And then she sat down. In 2009, her oldest daughter was diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer. Six months later, 2010, she passed away. That same year, later that same year in 2010, she and Tom were with some friends in the neighborhood and the friends invited them to visit what they called the Rock and Roll Church. And so, Mary Ann and Tom came to North Point for the first time and they’ve been coming ever since. In March of 2020, Tom passed away in the middle of COVID.
They celebrated his life in their garage. Mary Ann volunteers as a restore mentor at North Point Community Church. And what she does as a restore mentor is she meets people who are under the circumstances and she helps them restore their faith. And she reminds them from her own life and her own story, she reminds them, you don’t have to explain the unexplainable to follow Jesus.
And you don’t have to find a reason. You don’t have to find a reason for all the randomness in life in order to follow Jesus. She reminds them that doubt and questions are just part of the journey. And that you bring your doubts with you and you bring your questions with you. And some of your questions will get answered and some of your questions won’t ever get answered.
And that’s okay. You can continue to trust and to follow and to believe. And she reminds them, you’re not the first person.
As we’ve all been reminded today, you’re not the first person. We won’t be the last people to struggle to make sense out of the randomness of life, but it doesn’t mean that God has lost control. It doesn’t mean that God is not still at work. It doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love you and doesn’t have a purpose for your life.
You’re not the first to have doubts or the last doubt. This is what’s amazing about the story of Lazarus. This is what’s amazing about the story of John the Baptist and their other stories scattered through the Gospels. Doubt is baked into the story of our faith.
You’re in the story. It is common, it’s normal, it’s acceptable. It is not offensive to your heavenly Father because even Jesus acknowledged, you may stumble over the truth. He said, if Jesus favorites weren’t immune, I’m not immune either.
And neither are you, He loves them and He loves you and He invites you. In fact, He said, all the weary and heavy laden, I want you to come to me. And some of you weary and heavy laden. I’m gonna lift the burden for others of you. You’re gonna endure the burden and I’m gonna give you the strength to endure the burden. And even if you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I am with you. My rod and my staff will comfort you and you do not need to be afraid because I am with you.
And I’m offering you hope that touches down in this life because I’m offering hope that extends into the life to come because Jesus promised and illustrated eternal life. The bookends aren’t here. The bookends are eternity. And so you can trust and you can obey and you can follow and you can bring your doubts and your questions with you. You don’t have to stumble away because God doesn’t act the way you think.
God should act. Now this time, usually in our messages, I pray and dismiss you. But I talked Mary Ann Jones into coming to pray for you today to close the service.
She’s written a prayer specifically for all of you who feel buried under the circumstances. So Mary Ann, would you come on up here with me? Would you please welcome sweet Mary Ann Jones. I ask Mary Ann to just write a prayer and to read it to you. And she says she would be happy to do it even though she’s not a public speaker. Mary Ann.
Speaker 2: I can’t believe I allowed Andy to talk me into doing this. But here is what I know. I gotta put my glasses on. Time and trust have shown me how amazing God truly is. I so believe Jesus will turn your brokenness into joy if you let him. It’s a wow when it happens.
It brings joyful tears to my eyes just thinking about it. I would like to pray for you now. Heavenly Father, thank you for giving me a chance to share a little of my story through Andy.
We give you praise and thank you for this day. Help us through our anger, blaming you when we feel totally broken. Help us see with open eyes that you did not cause our anger, our brokenness. Help us to see the love you are surrounding us with coming through other people. Help us also see the mission you want us to accomplish through our brokenness. Help us see how we can change our anger into the gifts you are sending us. Help us remember that we are not the owners of our lives, but we are the stewards of our time here on earth. In Jesus’ name, amen. Thank you.
Speaker 1: You stay up here with me. Thank you for that. Thank you.