Legend has it that when John Lennon was in kindergarten, the teacher asked the class what they wanted to be when they grew up. Each kid stood up and stated their dream. “I want to be a doctor!” “I want to be a teacher!” “I want to be an engineer!” And so on.
When it came to Lennon’s turn, he stood up and said, “I want to be happy!” The teacher said, “John, that’s not my question. What do you want to be when you grow up?” Lennon said, “I want to be happy!” The teacher said, “John, you don’t understand my question.” Lennon said, “Yes, but you don’t understand my answer.”
Out of the mouth of the babe, came the words wisdom.
God wants you to be happy to the fullest. Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11). He came to teach us how to be full of joy. We sing “Joy to the World” to celebrate his birth because joy is what he came to give us. Today is also the third Sunday of Advent when we light the candle of joy.
Mark Twain said, “Against the assault of Laughter nothing can stand.” Joy is a powerful weapon to defeat the negativity of this fallen world. That’s why Paul said repeatedly, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” Don’t let anything kill your joy but always protect your mind by prayer and thanksgiving.
One of the most crippling mental condition is doubt. Doubt can cripple your hope and, without hope, there’s no joy. Doubt can be both internal and external.
Internal doubt is known as self-doubt. Self-doubt makes us question our ability to overcome obstacles and achieve success. It can keep us from trying God-sized dreams and settle for less. It produces a failure of nerve.
External doubt is the doubt about other people, friends, government, or even God. We doubt our friends will come through. We doubt our government will ever lead us to security and prosperity. We doubt God will fulfill God’s promises.
Today’s scripture lesson deals with a serious doubt from an unlikely man, John the Baptist. He is the last person in the world you would expect any doubt coming out of. He was the forerunner of Jesus Christ and paved the way for him to come. He even jumped for joy in his mother’s womb when Mary visited his mother Elizabeth during their pregnancy. He had no doubt that Jesus was the Christ, the Savior, the Messiah.
Now he is unjustly imprisoned by King Herod. He knew, sooner or later, that he would be sentenced to death. He was later beheaded, but at this point, he began to doubt whether Jesus was really the Messiah. The Bible says,
“When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’” (Mat 11:2-3).
Can you imagine he said that? All along he had been telling the whole world that Jesus was the Messiah and now he is asking Jesus, “Are you really the one?” You wonder what made him doubt his own conviction. Will you doubt in his situation? I might, especially when I’m on death roll, but I never thought John the Baptist would.
John prophesied that Jesus would come soon, and he would baptize the world with the Holy Spirit and fire. What it means is that Jesus would bring justice to this world, by lifting up good people and burning the evil ones. He said, “You guys must bear fruit worthy of repentance, or you will be burned in the unquenchable fire like an unfruitful tree.”
John’s prophecy was wrong—actually, only partially correct. He is wrong about Jesus judging the evil immediately. Now, the evil people like King Herod and his minions are still thriving. Instead of them being punished, good people are getting punished and imprisoned unjustly. So, if Jesus is the Messiah, why is injustice still ruling this world?
People often asked me, if there is a God, why there are so much suffering in this world? Look at the Holocaust, look at the ethnic cleansing and injustice still going on today somewhere in this world. Look at our government, still controlled by corrupt leaders. How about natural disasters? Where is justice and where is God?
This is exactly what John was struggling with. It’s why he sent his disciples to Jesus and expressed his doubt. “If you are the Messiah, why am I in prison, why is injustice still rampant?” Obviously, John was brokenhearted. His doubt has overcome him.
Now, Jesus taught him and us how to defeat doubts. I put it together in an acrostic SOAR. How to SOAR from doubt.
1. See What God has Done
Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” (v. 4-5).
Jesus is telling John that if he wanted to defeat his doubt, he must change the focus. He must look at what God has done, rather than what God has not done.
One of the reasons we are overcome by doubt is we look at the negative and forget the positive. Jesus is saying, “Look at these signs—the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” These are the signs of the Messiah according to the prophecy.
In other words, if you want to defeat doubts, count your blessings and not your curses. That’s why Paul said that we must pray with thanksgiving. When you try to give thanks, you end up counting your blessings. That’s how your doubt is defeated and your joy restored.
2. Obey God’s Timing
Jesus then said, “And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” (v. 6). What does that mean? Jesus knew what John wanted. John wanted justice and he expects Jesus to fulfill it now. However, Jesus had a better plan. Jesus is postponing justice to give evil a chance to repent. He said he would let the wheat and tars grow together until the harvest time.
So, Jesus is saying, “Please don’t take offense for my choice. I know it sounds unfair from the human perspective, but I am God and I know what’s best for this world. I want to turn evil into good with my irresistible grace. I want to show my love on the cross and give them a second chance.”
If you want to get this wisdom, read Job. It’s the greatest book in the wisdom literature and the oldest book in the Bible. If you get Job, you will be among the wisest people in the world. I am not kidding. At the end of Job, he said,
“I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you.” (Job 42:5).
If you want to see God with your own eyes, get the wisdom of Job. Don’t skip that book in the Bible. I know it’s painful to read the book of Job, but it’s worth reading it several times. The wisdom he gets at the end is that the human sense of justice is too menial because we don’t see the big picture. Human justice is more like revenge, but God’s justice is wise, graceful, and transformative.
So, let God be God. Don’t force God to conform to your justice system but obey and observe his timing and decision. It’s a matter of trust. Trust will cast out doubt and restore joy. When in doubt, sing the old hymn, Trust and Obey.
3. Adhere to my Message
We can imagine that everyone in the audience is shocked and sad at this moment, seeing the fate and injustice John the Baptist is going through. Jesus said that John is a great man and that he is more than a prophet, and he adheres to his message. He said,
“This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’” (Mat 11:10).
John’s job on earth has been long prophesized in history. He was supposed to be the messenger ahead of Jesus, and he faithfully delivered the message. However, his job does not include seeing the fulfillment of God’s justice. Remember Moses was called to bring the Israelites out of Egypt, but he didn’t get to enter the Promised Land.
In God’s grand scheme of things, we may be here to fulfill only a small part. You are here on earth to deliver a unique message. Your job is a messenger, not the Messiah. Your job is to be the ambassador for Christ, delivering the message of the Judge, but you are not the judge. This mindset will take away your stress and get the message across.
Adhering to your message will remind you of God’s greater plan and cast away the doubts.
4. Relinquish your Ego
Lastly, it is our ego that likes to take control of everything that makes us doubt because it’s beyond our capacity to control everything. When we relinquish our ego, our doubts go away. It’s the childlike humility Jesus taught us to have. Even though John was a great man, he did not have the ego. He was selfless. Jesus said,
“Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Mat 11:11).
He said no human being was greater than John the Baptist, but his ego is less than the least in the kingdom of heaven. We know that through John’s famous line, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30).
Children don’t have doubts. They trust their parents unconditionally. We develop doubts as we grow up, and our egos become inflated. That’s why Jesus said we must be like children or we can’t enter the kingdom. And he taught us to pray, “Thy will be done,” that is opposed to “my will be done.” Relinquish your ego and your doubts will retreat.
There you have it. SOAR from doubt.
- See What God has Done
- Obey God’s Timing
- Adhere to My Message
- Relinquish My Ego
Let us all SOAR high above our doubts and live a fruitful life. Amen!