Surviving a Crisis of Faith Luke 7:17-23

It is part of God’s process of maturing us to bring us into situations where we must either trust Him or abandon Him. None could deny that Abraham was forced into such a crisis when God told him to sacrifice his only son – the son of promise. The writer of Hebrews tells us that Abraham reasoned in his heart that God must keep his first promise and therefore must raise him from the dead (Heb 11:17-19).

It was a prolonged period of running for his life which was the young David’s long protracted crisis in which he was brought daily and perhaps moment by moment to trust in God his deliverer.

It was Daniel the prophet hearing the king’s proclamation that none could pray to any but the king or suffer the lion’s den who resolutely opened his windows towards Jerusalem and prayed to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – who then endured the terror of being thrown into a den full of lions and the thrill of God’s merciful deliverance.

Whether Jacob, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Noah, or you – the Crisis of faith is defined best by that word: Crisis.

These memories are written for our instruction and for the building up of our faith. Since there is not one of us here this morning that has not experienced some Crisis of our faith, or who will at least be certain to face such a crisis in the future; would it comfort you to witness another and to see its resolution from God’s perspective?

This week as we come back to Luke – we arrive just in time to witness a crisis of faith in the person most of us would consider the least likely to suffer such a setback: John, the cousin of Jesus, called, “the Baptist”. Please read with me from the Gospel of Luke 7:17-23.

Encountering a Crisis of Faith → When expectations and reality don’t match

As the passage opens we have to begin with the very end of the prior section, which is a summary statement. In Luke 7:17 the report about Jesus continues to spread throughout all of Judea (the south) and in all the surrounding district (north). Just as this chapter began with the notation in 7:3 that the Centurion had heard of Jesus – we continue to see that Jesus’ fame is spreading further and further. This would appear to mean that more and more people are beginning to believe in him. This spreading report sets the stage for the next major pericope (section) involving John the Baptist. So we read in verse 18 that John’s disciples – the men that he mentored, trained and taught to obey God – these came to Him with these reports about Jesus. After all wouldn’t the Baptist be interested to know what was being said concerning Jesus?

So what did they report? Verse 18 says they reported, “All these things” and verse 17 tell us that it was “this report” which was spreading. What report? The dual report of Luke 7:16:
“… ‘a great prophet has arisen among us!’ and, ‘God has visited his people!’” They also were likely to share the stories of the centurion’s servant and the widow’s son.

Remember what John had been preaching: He was preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 3:3) and he recognized himself as the one going before the messiah to announce him. He even recognized Jesus as the messiah when the Lord came to him to be baptized.   But since that time, John has been locked in prison by Herod (Luke 3:20). Now in prison he gets the report that Jesus is being called a great prophet and that God has visited his people and doubt begins to gnaw at him: is Jesus who I thought he was? Is Jesus the Messiah?And the most nagging question of them all: Could I have gotten this wrong?

When he announced the messiah he expected the axe to strike the root and cut down the false trees of false religion (Luke 3:9) He expected Jesus to grab the winnowing fork, clear the threshing floor and burn his enemies up (Luke 3:17).   But that’s not what Jesus was doing.   Stoked by the imagery from Isaiah 40:3-ff I can’t help but wonder if John had expected, like the rest of Israel that God would come thundering to earth and start throwing lightning bolts at all of His enemies. Jesus wasn’t burning up the enemies that John saw, he was healing their servants! John is brought to crisis in large part because this Jesus is not acting like the messiah I expected.

In fact, John is brought to the very crisis that the book of Luke is intended to prevent. Remember the purpose statement in Luke 1:4 – so that we will know the exact truth about the things of Jesus.

The problem is that the reports he is getting doesn’t appear to mesh with his expectations.

This is exactly what can bring about a crisis.   John preached redemption – he was in prison. John preached about the coming anointed ruler – Herod was still in charge.

John preached that God would right the wrongs in the world – the world was still all wrong and he, John, was suffering in the midst of it while Jesus – the Jesus he had proclaimed to be the lamb of God was out doing wonderful miracles in other people’s lives. Was John really wrong?

Surviving a Crisis of faith → Look to Christ!

Have you been there? Or are you there now struggling with the apparent disparity between what you expected of Jesus and what he seems to be delivering. Job is a resounding example of a crisis of faith in which a man who lost everything still held on to the Lord. At the end of the book, he still doesn’t get answers – but he does get grace wrapped in a face to face encounter with the awesome power and presence of the omnipotent God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

In his book “Disappointment with God” Philip Yancey helps put a voice to the questions expressed in a crisis of faith that many believers are afraid to ask and takes us through to the stunning conclusion that despite the appearance of things God can be trusted with the end results. He quotes a man named Douglas: “We tend to think life should be fair because God is fair. But God is not life. And if I confuse God with the physical reality of life – by expecting constant good health, for example – then I set myself up for a crushing disappointment.[1]

What are you most likely to do in the midst of a struggle like that? Sadly we have all known those who in a moment of crisis turned away rather than towards God. This is the distinction, and it is the first step in surviving a crisis of faith. Instead of letting your doubts drive you away from God, let them drive you to God. This is what John does. (Luke 7:19)

John doesn’t turn away – he seeks resolution. In response to the reports he has received John sends two specific disciples with a question for Jesus: “Are you the expected one, or do we look for someone else?” Can you hear the pain, the fear, and the turmoil of doubt?

When the men get to Jesus they recite the question perfectly: “John the Baptist has sent us to You, to ask, ‘Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?’ ”

This is the simple answer to a complex problem. When you encounter a crisis of faith, you can either look to yourself or look to Christ. Look to Christ!

Thriving in a Crisis of Faith → Trust the word!

On some level it just sounds counter-intuitive to say that when you’re struggling with faith you have to have faith. But it is accurate. In particular when you are struggling with a crisis of faith the answer is not more bellybutton gazing self-reflection but deeper and broader exposure to the word of God. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17, NASB95)

Look at what happens when John’s question reaches Jesus’ ear. It is hidden from most Christians today because most Christians are woefully slim on their old testament knowledge but there is a very distinct set of answers given in this text.

Being a man of faith and obedience to God, John the Baptist would have been raised by his parents an in the midst of his culture to have his mind literally permeated with scripture. Based on John’s allusions to the Messiah taken out of Isaiah, we can be certain above all things that he was familiar with the messianic descriptions from that book. Among them, passages like: Isaiah 35:5–6, 26:19, 29:18–19, 61:1. Listen to these texts as if you were John the Baptist waiting for Messiah…

Then the eyes of the blind will be opened And the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, And the tongue of the mute will shout for joy. For waters will break forth in the wilderness And streams in the Arabah.” (Isaiah 35:5–6, NASB95)

Your dead will live; Their corpses will rise. You who lie in the dust, awake and shout for joy, For your dew is as the dew of the dawn, And the earth will give birth to the departed spirits.” (Isaiah 26:19, NASB95)

On that day the deaf will hear words of a book, And out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind will see. The afflicted also will increase their gladness in the Lord , And the needy of mankind will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.” (Isaiah 29:18–19, NASB95)

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, Because the Lord has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives And freedom to prisoners;” (Isaiah 61:1, NASB95)

What does Jesus do? First of all, notice that he does NOT berate John’s lack of faith. But look at what he does! He doesn’t just say he’s the messiah, he shows he’s the messiah. He takes John’s knowledge of scripture and illuminates his mind with its application and reality.

In answer to the question Jesus turns around and starts curing people left and right while John’s disciples watch – no doubt with awe at the sudden outpouring of divine power. Could they possibly not recognize the glory of God dancing through the beleaguered crowd with healing in his hands?

Then he turns back to them and says, “…Go and report to John 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 .” (Luke 7:22, NASB95)

This is no obscure answer – it is deliberate and to the point and the Lord of creation fulfills one prophecy after another in front of John’s disciples because knows that this is the language that John will understand. JESUS. IS. The. Messiah!

The final answer Jesus gives is equally gracious: ““Blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.”” (Luke 7:23, NASB95)

But what does Jesus mean by that? The verb, “Take offense” is σκανδαλι ́ ζω (Skandalizo) we get our word, “scandal” from it. Jesus is saying, happy are those who are not scandalized by me, happy are those who are not repelled because of me. Or to put it another way more clearly I think: Just because I’m not doing what YOU think I should be doing, does not mean I’m not the messiah. Happy are those who don’t get shoved away by who Jesus is.

Ultimately, Jesus’ identity as the son of God is not dependent upon us calling him that. He IS the son of God whether you or I or anyone else recognizes it. Happy – blessed – are those who don’t stumble over their own expectations of who Jesus is in light of what Jesus is doing.

A crisis in faith does not change who God is, nor what his word is saying. In fact when the ship of your life is lurching on the open seas of doubt, it is CHRIST who is the anchor. He doesn’t change, He doesn’t waver, and He is the Almighty God in the flesh. He has fulfilled hundreds of prophecies to prove it and nothing we fear or experience is going to change that.

In the midst of Jesus’ answer please notice how he responds to John in a way that he in particular will understand. God speaks our language, just as he spoke John’s. It is comforting to know that God knows exactly what you need to survive the crisis.

If we will call upon Him, and even trust Him through our moments of struggle he will bring us out on the other side by giving us exactly what we need.

So here’s the recipe when you encounter a crisis of faith, look to Jesus and immerse your mind in the Bible. This morning, I want to invite you to come and pray during this final song. Whether or not you’ve been experiencing some crisis in your faith.

I have been there, I have sat in fear and trembling even hating the questions in my mind thinking them to be unspiritual, and fearing them to be some secret proof that my faith was either not real in the first place or at least not as strong as it ought to be. Worst of all, I have feared that it was only me – and that no-one else has ever encountered a crisis of faith. That is a lie. The Bible’s pages and history’s record of saints is filled with men and women who struggled with faith but who found victory when they took their struggles to Jesus and immersed themselves in His word.

Blessed are those who don’t take offense in who they find out Jesus really is.

[1]Yancey, Philip. Disappointment with God. P183)