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To doubt is to be human — even John the Baptist succumbed to it

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Emmett Murphy

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By Emmett Murphy
Columnist

Saturday, July 14, 2018

“Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me. — Matthew 11:6 (The Bible, New International Version)

Many people know about the great beatitudes found in Matthew 5. Quoted above in Matthew 11 is a short beatitude, sandwiched between longer verses, a quote we are in danger of passing up totally. It concerns John and Jesus.

John the Baptist was in prison. That rugged, ascetic, Elijah-like prophet of the New Testament was certainly out of place in a damp, dark dungeon. John was blue, and one day his feelings hit a record low. He sent a delegation to Jesus to ask, “Are you He that should come, or do we look for another?” That was a serious doubt for John the Baptist. The very thing he had preached like a living exclamation point had become a question mark to the preacher himself. Was Jesus the one? Note that this was not the first, or the last, time that a preacher's affirmation had become, in a dungeon, a preacher's interrogation.

But Jesus did not reprimand John when he received his question. Isn't it interesting that two of the strongest characters in the Bible, John and Elijah, had something like a nervous breakdown? Elijah, in the Old Testament had collapsed under the juniper tree, and God had to feed and rest him. More than one Christian, exhausted, with nerves on edge, has imagined that he is the last survivor of the saints. And usually he does not need rebuke, but only rest.

Here is John the Baptist. John had the camel's hair vestments and food of locusts and wild honey, a man who could rebuke kings and call religious leaders sons of snakes. Here is John the Baptist down in the dumps, just like you and me. It is one thing to stand on the Jordan and give it, but it's another thing to stay in jail and take it.

What did Jesus do? Did He rebuke the troubled prophet? Did He say, “I'm ashamed of you, disappointed in you. What will people think!” No. He didn't even send John a tweet on #HowtoBeHappyinJail. On the day that John made his poorest remark about Jesus, Jesus said the best thing about John. He said, “I say to you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet he who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” (Luke 7:28.)

This is a day of dungeons and despair, and many saints are in the clutches of giant despair. There is comfort here for us to find. The husky lion-hearted John the Baptist succumbed to faint and doubt, “... do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you.” (I Peter 4:12.) Your temptation is common to man, and there is a way of escape.

We complain that we prayed and did not get an answer. We gave our tithe but now we are in need. We were faithful in our worship and service but have landed in a hospital. We prayed for our children, but they become worldly. Across the street is an ungodly family that has suffered no loss, while our dearest was taken.

All such grumbling means that we have not learned the forgotten beatitude. (Matthew 11:6.) Anybody can believe during fair and sunny weather. The Old Testament prophet Habakkuk started his book pouting and ended it praising. And blessed is the man who can say, “Though I don't get what I want; though I may sow much and reap little; though others get the plums and I get the crust; I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation.”

There is much that is baffling to us. If we can't understand it, by grace we can stand under it. God did not explain suffering to Job. He gave His revelation, which was better than explanation. Let us then take our stand on His word and hide it in our hearts, for “Those who love Your law have great peace, and nothing causes them to stumble.” (Psalm 119:165.)

Emmett Murphy is minister of Journey Christian Church.

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