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Thursday
Nov172016

Doubts & Fear

Matthew 27:45-51; Psalm 22:21-24.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on November 13, 2016.

We have been looking at the many ways in which our society is under siege by Satan and his cohorts, and we could continue.  But I want to stop and deal with the issue of doubt.  One of the reasons the enemy attacks from so many different angles and vantage points is in order to overcome our faith in Jesus.  He does so by making it increasingly difficult to stick with Jesus.  This can happen in several ways.  The first is the seductive attack.  When I am following Jesus, I am missing out on all those “pleasures” that Christ is taking me away from.  Satan clearly tempts and pulls on us to go his way rather than the Lord’s way.  The second attack is in-your-face intimidation.  When I am following Jesus, this bad thing and that bad thing happens to me.  Satan clearly persecutes those who want to follow Jesus and he generally does so through willing human accomplices.

Now when something impacts your life it is normal to ask questions.  Any honest question in a difficult situation will stir up doubts.  Whether you are talking about a career choice, marriage, large purchase, etc… everyone has felt those moments of buyer’s remorse after the fact (many times even when we know that we made the right choice).  So it is important for us to look to Jesus himself and recognize that he knows what it feels like to doubt.  In Hebrews 4:15 it says, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.”  Let’s look at the moments leading up to the death of Jesus on the cross in Matthew 27:45-51.

Doubts are dredged up by our emotions

Of the things that Jesus said while he was on the cross, the statement, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” would seem to be the most troubling to Christianity.  It appears that Jesus is confessing that he was wrong and that God has abandoned him.  Yet, this seems strange in light of the fact that Jesus told his disciples that this not only would happen, but had to happen.  So there is something deeper going on.  Now traditionally, it has been explained that because Jesus was taking all of the sins of the world upon himself in that moment, God could not look upon him.  Thus the quote is a pointing out the breaking of that eternal communion that they have shared (something Jesus would have never felt before).  I think there is merit to this as a starting point.  However, I think there is more to see here.

It is interesting how our emotions toy with us in the middle of difficult and important times.  When Jesus is dying on the cross, he is not only paying for our sins.  He is also fulfilling what Old Testament prophecies said must happen.  The reason I say this is because everything that Jesus is experiencing is exactly what the Scriptures foretold, and exactly what Jesus said would happen. Normally when things go exactly as planned our faith is encouraged.  But Jesus appears to have doubts.  Now it is important to point out that Jesus is actually quoting from Psalm 22:1.  Whether or not people at the time recognized this is not important.  Eventually the disciples recognized this quote and were amazed by what they saw when they read Psalm 22.  It is normally treated as David complaining to God about his persecutions at the hands of Saul and his men.  But it is shocking how well it describes what happened to Jesus on the cross.  In fact we are told by the Apostle Paul that David was a prophet and many of his Psalms were prophecies about the Messiah (Acts 2:29 and following).  Now here is the main point I want to make about this.  If it is true, and it is, that Jesus is fulfilling prophecy and everything is going as planned then it must not be the facts of the situation that cause this doubt.  The doubt here comes specifically from his emotions.  Please know this: emotions will often mislead us in the face of all evidence to the contrary.  Have you ever done something you absolutely knew was right and yet were dogged by doubts because of your emotions?  The core of what Jesus taught is never more vindicated than in this exact moment, as the religious leaders reject him and execute him.  But it is not reason and facts that plague his mind.  In reality it is emotion and imagination that are the real enemies of our faith.  Here is an example.  The Bible says that in the last days people will become lovers of themselves and scoff at those who believe God.  This is clearly proven true.  Yet, the facts themselves don’t always encourage our faith.  Why not?  They often fail because of the power of our emotions at being rejected and scoffed at.

We need to recognize as we are going through life that our emotions and moods change with our experience.  Jesus is letting us know that he is not just acting out a charade.  He is letting us know how he actually felt in that moment of fulfilling all the Old Testament was pointing to.  He is letting us know, he is letting you know that he understands your doubts and your fears.  He understands how even in the very moment of God’s Word proving true, our emotions can rise up and rebel against it.  “I don’t want to keep following you, even though everything you said is coming true.”  Bill Bright in his famous tract, “The Four Spiritual Laws,” has a part in the back in which he deals with the subject of emotions.  He uses the image of a train and makes the point that emotions should never be the engine, but rather the caboose.  The caboose only follows the train wherever it goes.  Thus even when our emotions rebel and want to go a different direction than with Jesus, Christians refuse to let emotions direct them.  C.S. Lewis, a Christian writer, put it this way in his book Mere Christianity.

“Now faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.  For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes.  I know that by experience.  Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable.  This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway.  That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods “where they get off,” you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of digestion.  Consequently one must train the habit of Faith.”

The truth is that God will never forsake you, but your mood is that He actually has.  This is what Jesus was feeling.  He knew that He was fulfilling the Father’s plan and that this would lead to great joy for Him and the Father.  But, he still felt like God had abandoned him.  He did not protect himself from the pain of the nails, nor the emotional pain of the injustice while God is silent.  The disciples that had reasoned in their minds that Jesus must be the messiah, allowed their faith to be temporarily derailed on the day of the crucifixion of Jesus.  In fact it was important for this to happen.  We, as much as them, need to recognize that our salvation is not based upon how great our following of Jesus is.  It is not based upon what others do to us.  It is based upon the fact that Jesus loved you so much that he was willing to die on your behalf.  It is also based upon the fact that the resurrection (which was witnessed by over 500 people) is proof that God the Father accepted the death of Jesus on our behalf.  This is what sustained those early disciples when their every emotion screamed, “Just give in, it’s not worth it!”  Even in the face of death, they kept their faith in Christ because their emotions could not change the facts.

In Psalm 22, the psalmist complains that God doesn’t hear his cry (vs. 2).  He goes on to complain that God hear others, but not him.  “I am a worm,” he says (vs. 6).  He goes on to describe how he is being put to death and God does nothing.  This is how he felt.  But God had not forsaken him.  This complaint completely changes in verse 21.  Let’s look at Psalm 22:21-24.

God always hears the honest cry

I actually think the phrase “You have answered me,” should stand by itself.  Something happens between “Save me from the horns of the wild oxen,” and “You have answered me.”  We are not told what it is.  There is a period of time between the complaint that God isn’t listening and the answer.  For Jesus that time was 3 days.  It is not the length of time that is important.  It is the reality that the disciples spent 3 days with their hopes shattered thinking God had forsaken them all.  But then came Resurrection Day.  So when Jesus is on the cross he is not just dying.  He is demonstrating that God always answers the cry of the afflicted, even when it looks like He doesn’t.

It is interesting how the mind of the psalmist felt like there was something different about him.  God helped others, but he felt like a worm because God wasn’t “doing anything.”  Listen, everything within our flesh rebels against having to endure difficulty, suffering, or injustice.  We don’t even like suffering the effects of our own choices that we know we deserve.  So we sometimes say to ourselves, “It works for others, but not for me.”  What, like Jesus is a car that you jumped in and it wouldn’t start?  Or every time you turned the wheel it didn’t drive where you wanted it?  There is a world of misunderstanding in those words, “didn’t work,” because in them we see that the problem was that we were trying to control things and get them to go in the direction we wanted.  Remember, Jesus is the Lord.  We are following Him.  He is the one that not only saves us, but leads us to the Father.  He will not settle for being a paint job on your car while you drive all over town doing what you want to do.  So in this regard, there is nothing different about you.  Your flesh doesn’t like where God takes us as much as anyone else.  Faith in Jesus is not an emotional decision.  It is a rational choice that is going to be challenged by your emotions many times on the road ahead.  Satan has worked hard through the many different facets of our society to dismantle the reasons for your faith.  He manipulates our emotions to get us to drop Jesus, to quit believing.  Let me tell you a secret.  All the godly people of the past felt like “it didn’t work for them.”  When you read all the great people of faith in the Bible, you find that they had all kinds of doubts and fears.  And yet, they held on to God, and He revealed more and more to them until we received the full revelation in Jesus Christ.  Through the Bible they are saying to you that they felt like quitting as well.  But, hang in there.  God isn’t finished yet.

In fact the difficulties we face do several good things within us.  They test our commitment to God and make us more like Jesus.  They change us for the good if we keep our faith in Christ.  Let me give an example.  The Bible teaches that our ultimate inheritance is not in this life, but in the life to come.  It is simple enough on the face of it.  However, this is easier to believe when you have something in this life.  But what about the person in Aleppo, Syria who has lost everything and whose life is being hunted by evil men?  Sometimes when people are in great grief the above promise may seem hollow.  And, yet it is still true none the less.  In fact, such a person has nothing to lose.  Why not trust Jesus? 

Psalm 22 highlights this problem.  The person writing the psalm points out in verse 24 that God has not hidden His face from the afflicted.  The whole psalm is the problem between the afflicted as a class of people in life and the afflictors or persecutors as a class.  Since the serpent afflicted Adam and Eve and brought death into their lives, or Cain went after his brother Abel and killed him, there has always been those who simply wanted to serve God and yet suffered because of it.  In those moments there is a part of us that gets angry and wants to throw the white, good-guy hat into the mud and put on the black, bad-guy hat (if you remember the old westerns).  This division within humanity shows that people make a decision in their life if they will follow the way of Jesus or of Satan, the way of the afflicted or of the oppressor.  Satan and his hordes are the oppressors of humanity.  Many humans throughout history have joined with them because they see it as the winning side.  Yet, the psalmist declares that God has not forsaken the afflicted.  You see Jesus could have stayed in heaven and simply destroyed the oppressors.  However, he chooses to come down and take his place among us as one of the afflicted.  If the God of heaven took on the badge of affliction and did not despise it, how much more ought we to hang in there and trust him?  When Jesus is crucified, he is not just saving us.  He is also condemning all wicked people and all wicked spirits of the heavens who have chosen the path of Satan.  The cross shows us the truth that Satan could care less about you.  He only wants God’s place.  So what will you choose?  Your mind and heart know that the right thing is to choose to suffer with the righteous.  But your emotions and imagination stir up all manner of fears and doubts.  This life is your test and your proving grounds.  Will you wait for the answer from the Lord, even if it comes after your death?  Or, will you grow tired of waiting and join the other side?  Choose this day whom you will serve. 

Let me also remind you of the man Moses in the Bible.  Moses was born to parents who were Israelite slaves in Egypt.  However, by the help of God he was adopted and raised by Pharaoh’s daughter.  In Hebrews 11:24-26 we are told, “By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt, for he looked to the reward.”  So too you have a difficult choice to make.  Should I do all I can to enjoy the temporary pleasures of this life by joining the oppressors, or should I go for the greater riches and reward that God offers to all who will follow Jesus?  Don’t be tricked into identifying with Satan, the Pharaoh of this world, and rejecting your true identity.  God created you to become like Jesus and take your place among the Sons of God in the world to come.

Thus Psalm 22 ends with the psalmist rejoicing in the testimony of the afflicted.  It starts out dark and ghastly, but ends with rejoicing and exhortations to praise God.  I know that when you look at the world, or at your life, at times both will seem dark and headed towards no good.  But God has made a promise to those mankind and those who will follow Jesus.  He has promised that this story will end in great rejoicing for those who trust Him.  But those who trust in Satan and the path of self-will, self-strength, will only find suffering and punishment.

Doubts & Fears audio