When Faith Falters

 

            When we look out upon the spiritual condition of this country and realize the fact that it has moved away from the spiritual foundation upon which it was established it is easy for us to be discouraged.  When we look around us at the spiritual condition of our brethren who were once faithful to the precepts of Jesus Christ but now have abandoned these principles for denominational teachings, practices and whatever you want it to be religion it is easy for us to ask Why Lord?  When we look at our shrinking numbers, yes even in this congregation, and see the result of sin, discord, disagreement, and brethren we know and love putting personal preferences, personalities, and their feelings ahead of spiritual unity in Christ we want to weep.  We want to weep, if not in sorrow at least in frustration.  It would be easy for us to let down our guard; it would be easy for us to allow our faith to weaken and falter.  If we allow the troubles and trials brought upon the church by Satan to weaken our faith, should we feel as though we are alone in our troubles?  Far from it; there are a number of examples in scripture but let us briefly consider three.  First, God’s herald of his Son chosen and inspired, John the Baptizer greeted our Saviour with these words:

 

The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” John 1:29

 

But not too many days later John had a completely different outlook:

 

2Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples, 3And said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” Matthew 11:2-3

 

            John’s faith that this same Jesus whom he baptized was the promised Messiah had weaken, John was in prison, he was being persecuted and before too long would suffer the wrath of a powerful enemy.

            If we did not know this from scripture we would hardly believe that the same person is speaker on both of these occasions.  In the first, he bears witness to the unique mission of Jesus as the Saviour of men; in the second he raises the question as to whether Jesus was really the one he thought him to be. He wanted to know whether his disciples should look to another to fulfill the prophecies of the Messiah to come.

            The seeming contradiction in the passages which serve as our text has created some varied and sometimes imaginative interpretations.  But when we consider the fact that periods of strong faith and of deep and painful doubt can be found in the same individual; the most natural and understandable explanation is that even though John was chosen by God and guided by the Holy Spirit; he was still a man.  He was a person just like you and I that can be lifted up by a strong faith, yet feel the depths of despair when Satan works to shatter that faith.

 

I.                     The fact is; this is a common experience among men.

 

1.      The fact that faith sometimes falters, even in the lives of the most devout and spiritual, is a matter of common knowledge.  John is only one example.  This can be caused by a number of things:  a.) Church troubles can undermine the member’s faith.  b.) The struggle to preach the gospel in the face of error and rejection can try the souls of preachers and faithful elders.  In the early 1970’s the stand that my elders took against liberal doctrines being preached and practiced in our area made us outcasts among brethren once faithful.  Personal tragedy or loss of loved ones can weaken our faith in God.

2.      In a world full of materialism and sin a person has to be very careful to keep his mind from being diverted from God and God’s way.  We have to be careful to keep our faces turned to the heavenly way and our focus on that ultimate destination, heaven.  We have to resist turning ourselves to earthly goals that, at the moment, may appear to be more appealing, more desirable to our human minds.  This can happen to congregations as well as individuals.  Buildings can become more important than mission work; physical numbers can become more important than spiritual strength.

 

When this happens and our faith falters, our difficulties are usually just beginning.  We can see this example of Peter in Matthew 14:25-33.  In the fourth watch of the night, that darkest period just before dawn of a dark and stormy night, Jesus comes to his disciples’ ship walking on the water.  Peter had the faith to step over the side and start to walk to meet his Lord.  But what happened?

 

But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me.” Matthew 14:30

 

Which Jesus did, but at the same time chastised this future apostle with these words:

 

“…O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?” Matthew 14:31

 

3.      We have other examples of great men of God whose faith faltered:

 

Elijah in let his faith weaken:

 

I Kings 19:44But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.”

 

Simon Peter gives us yet another example:  Peter confessed Christ, firm in his faith that Jesus was the Messiah promised to Israel for so many generations.

 

Matthew 16:16And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

 

But what do we have recorded in Mark chapter 14?  While Jesus was being tried Peter denied him three times.  This man was chosen to be an apostle of Christ, given the honor of preaching the salvation of mankind from sin for the first time, both to Jews and Gentiles.  But perhaps in his fear he could see himself joining Jesus on trial and when he was asked if he was a follower of Jesus the third time:

 

But he began to curse and to swear, saying, I know not this man of whom ye speak.” Mark 14:71

 

II.                   But what caused John the Baptizer to doubt?

 

1.      John had begun his ministry as a stern, rugged reformer, someone that we today would call a hard preacher and that many of my brethren wouldn’t tolerate.  For example, we find recorded in:

 

Matthew 3:7But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”

 

But the results of his preaching were just the opposite of what man would expect.  The more he rebuked and condemned the sins of his day, the greater the crowds were that flocked to hear him, and submitted to his teaching.  The more that came to be baptized at his command to prepare for the coming of God’s kingdom.  Thousands upon thousands of people came from Jerusalem, Judea and the surrounding region of the Jordan valley and obeyed.

 

2.      He had, as directed by the Holy Spirit prophesied the coming of the Mighty One, the one who would thoroughly cleanse his people and would overcome all evil.  He would be expected to recognize Christ when he saw him as we have read in John 1:29.  But John, perhaps, had something in common with other Jews of his day, the apostles included.  They expected Jesus to raise an army or by the power of Almighty God take over David’s throne and rule God’s people from the city of Jerusalem as the kings of old had done.

 

3.      Is it little wonder that when Jesus did not do as perhaps John and others expected and overthrow the yoke of Roman rule that his and their faith faltered?  When John asked the question recorded in Matthew 11:3; he was in prison.  The evil in Herod, the Pharisees and others, was still on the march and undisturbed.  His own hopes and expectations were probably shattered like a piece of crystal dropped on a concrete floor.

 

Is it much different today?  When most of us grew up the church was strong and growing.  The word of God was being preached, men and women were being brought to Christ and the church that Jesus built was the fastest growing religious organization in this country.  But today that isn’t true.  A majority of those congregations of the Lord’s church who were once faithful have turned to questionable or false doctrines and practices and are stronger in numbers than ever.  The gospel of Christ is being ignored or misrepresented by multitudes on every hand from both within and outside of His church.  The people in this country who know not God have grown in numbers far beyond anyone’s expectations.  Things that are an abomination to God are now in high fashion among men, supported, promoted and being forced upon us as acceptable behavior that must be protected by civil law.  Even those who do profess to know God grow richer in this world’s goods and it seems that they never have to face the troubles that we do.

 

4.      Facing such as this is it any wonder that our faith would falter?.  Facing such that he had to face, sitting in prison, not knowing when his life would be brought to an end is it any wonder that John’s faith faltered?

 

III.                  But let us make a couple of observations of the nature of John’s question:

 

Matthew 11:3 “…Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?”

 

1.      When we look and reason carefully we can see that these words contain more of a question than a doubt.  There was doubt in his mind, to be sure, but it hadn’t reached the point that it had caused John to give up completely.

2.      His words, “OR LOOK WE FOR ANOTHER?” make it plain that he still had hope.  If Jesus of Nazareth was not the promised Messiah, John was willing to continue to look for him in the form of another and still expected that the Messiah would come, and soon.

3.      It is unfortunate indeed that some people cannot experience disappointment, humiliation or even failure, without giving up entirely.  In I Kings 19:4 we have already observed that Elijah was beaten, completely discouraged and was ready to die.

 

I Kings 19:4But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers.”

 

            Even though John, at this point, is questioning his God given mission, at the same time he gives us an example that we should heed.  In prison, perhaps even realizing that he would never be free again in this life, John could still hope.  Brethren, is there anything that has beset us, even in our worse experiences that we cannot have hope as John did?

 

4.      There are a number of reasons why people become disappointed in Christ, his church and his work.  Due to the constraints of time we will only consider two

 

They have been misled by wrong ideas and outright misunderstanding of the real character of Christ, his church and the work appointed for us to do.  In another lesson recently we talked about the purpose of the church, it hasn’t changed in 2000 years but men are trying to change it daily.

People too often try to see Christ and the work of His church through the needs and experiences of others rather than realizing that:

 

“Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 13For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” Philippians 2:12-13

 

Some people look at the church as represented by the local congregation and see that it or some of its members do not meet their idea of what Christians should be.  They forget that all men sin; all men fall short:

 

“FOR ALL HAVE SINNED, AND COME SHORT OF THE GLORY OF GOD;” Romans 3:23

 

And that at the day of judgment:

 

4But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. 5For every man shall bear his own burden.”

Galatians 6:4-5

 

Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour.” I Corinthians 3:8

 

2.      People become disappointed in Christ because they do not find in Christ all He is able to provide them.  But when you analyze their situation you will frequently find that the reason this is true is that they have not entered into the Christian life completely.  They have not committed themselves to Christ in full, without reservation.  They are not doing their full duty, they are not seeking their full responsibility; in fact we might even say that they are not yet completely converted to Christ.  Paul wrote this to the Ephesian brethren:

 

Read Ephesians 3:14-19

 

If we seek the fullness of God, if we take his Word into our lives fully; make God first (Matthew 6:33) in our lives then we can expect to receive all of the blessing that being a child of His can offer but not until.

 

IV.               Let us also observe that in spite of John’s doubt, our Lord still held a very high opinion of John.  In his preaching to the multitudes he told them this about John:

 

But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. 10For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. 11Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” Matthew 11:9-11

 

1.      The Bible plainly teaches us that God has used imperfect human beings to accomplish his purposes; used them to even accomplish great things.  It is also certain that he uses imperfect people today to accomplish his purposes, to achieve the tasks needed to bring the greatness of his kingdom to mankind, because there just isn’t any other kind.  But what kind of imperfect people does God use?

 

Those with the hardheaded dedication of a Saul; he told Ananias “…GO THY WAY: FOR HE IS A CHOSEN VESSEL UNTO ME, TO BEAR MY NAME BEFORE THE GENTILES…” Acts 9:15; the boldness of a Stephen Acts 6 and 7; the wisdom of James Acts 15:13; and the vast majority of us that are just ordinary people doing what we can like Dorcas, Acts 9:36

Who will work at doing those things that God has commanded his children to do?

 

God even uses those whose faith has faltered somewhere along the way like Elijah in I Kings 19, but he can’t use us when we are too weak to do his work.  This is why Elijah was fed both physically and spiritually (I Kings 19:5-8) before God sent him on his way to do the tasks that He needed him to do.

 

2.      So what answer did Jesus give the disciples of John when they came to him in doubt?

 

Matthew 11:4-6Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and show John again those things which ye do hear and see: 5The 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. 6And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.”

 

            What further proof could we seek then or today?  What further proof could John ask for to convince him that Jesus was indeed the Christ, our Lord?  What more proof would we want to take Christ into our hearts, his teaching into our lives and become living citizens of God’s kingdom; God’s children?   But the great trouble with many is that they are unwilling to receive that proof and put it to the test.

            Maybe we are just a little bit afraid…afraid that we will appear fanatical if we take the teaching of Christ seriously and put it into practice in our daily lives.  Perhaps we just don’t want to be different that those folks all around us.  But what does Peter tells us?

 

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: I Peter 2:9

 

            We are what?  We are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people; we’re supposed to be what?  Oh, we have a problem with that!  We don’t have any trouble with the first two; perhaps we don’t even have much problem with the third admonition to be holy; but peculiar?  We don’t really want to be that different, do we?  We look at folks who are different with a jaundiced eye.  We whisper among ourselves; “he or she is strange”.  We shy away from making those kinds of people our friends.  As we begin to close out this lesson I challenge you to look at your life and think about these words.

 

V.                 What do we do when our Faith falters?

 

1.      When faith falters meditate on Paul’s words:

 

13Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, 14I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13-14

 

2.      When faith falters and we walk the darkness of this world in fear, follow the light of the world:

 

Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”  John 8:12

 

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin”. I John 1:7

 

3.      When our faith falters and we need the strength of our God:

 

Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. 7And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 4:6-7

 

4.      When faith falters remember the words of the Hebrew writer and look to our Saviour:

 

Read Hebrews 12:1-6

 

            Has your faith faltered?  Have you stumbled in the way and in need to come to God in confession and repentance?  Do you need to go to God in prayer publicly for sin?

            Are you a child of God?  Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God? (Mark 16:15-16), are you willing to repent of all of your past sins (Luke 13:3, 5); are you willing to confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God before men (Matthew 10:32); are you willing to be baptized to wash away all of your sins (Acts 22:16) and become one of those that God adds to His church (Acts 2:47)?

            Now, this moment, is the only time God has promised us, if you need to come to him; do that now!