The Lord's Day Morning
“Are You Sure About Jesus?”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Luke chapter 7. We’re going to be looking at verses 18 to the end of the chapter, verse 35, as we continue to make our way through the gospel of Luke together. Let me show you four parts to this passage before we read it. The first part you’ll see is in verses 18 to 20. John, in this passage, sends two disciples to ask Jesus a very important question. It's important for you to know that John is in prison. To say that he was discouraged is an understatement. He had said of Jesus many months before, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who comes to take away the sins of the world.” He had announced Jesus as the Messiah — He is the one who is going to lay His righteous acts to the root of the wicked generation and fell that tree and restore righteousness in Israel and establish the kingdom of God and the servant of David was going to reign forever and ever and suddenly John finds himself in jail, put there by a petty tyrant — and a wicked one at that. If you don't understand that, you won't understand the rest of the passage. This is a great and godly man who's world is falling down around his ears, and it's falling down so hard that he is shaken to the very core of his heart and he is asking, “Jesus, was I right to be sure about You? Are You the One that we're looking for? Maybe my hope's been misplaced.” Don't think it's the doubt of a skeptic. It's not. This is a real believer, because of the circumstances of his life, struggling with deep, deep doubt. And that's what you see in verses 18 to 20.
And then the second part of the passage comes in verses 21 and 22. It's where Jesus responds to John's question. And I want you to note as we read that Jesus doesn't just respond with words. He responds by doing something and telling John's disciples not just to go back to John and say what Jesus says in response to his question, but to say first to John what Jesus has done and then to quote Scripture to him. Now there is a huge message in this for us. You see that in verses 21 to 23.
Then, after John's disciples have left, Jesus turns to the crowd who's very interested in Jesus’ relationship with John, and they have high views of John, and Jesus turns to the crowd and He says some remarkably kind and generous things about John to which the crowd as a whole responds with great, great appreciation. That's in the third part of the passage. It's in verses 24 to 28.
And then, Jesus has a word for some people in that crowd that were neither open to Him or to John — the Pharisees and religious leaders. And Jesus’ words to them and about them run from verse 29 to verse 35. So be on the lookout for these sections as we read God's Word.
Now, let's pray before we read God's Word.
Heavenly Father, some of us in this room have no idea how much we need this Word, but You do. So speak this Word into our hearts like You spoke the world into being. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
This is God's Word:
“The disciples of John reported all these things to him. (John's in prison and they’re telling him about everything that Jesus had done in the first part of the chapter.) And John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, ‘Are you the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?’ And when the men had come to Him, they said, ‘John the Baptist has sent us to You, saying, ‘Are You the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?’’ In that hour He healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind He bestowed sight. And He answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.’
When John's messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who are dressed in splendid clothing and live in luxury are in kings’ courts. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’
I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.’ (When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too, they declared God just, having been baptized with the baptism of John, but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.)
‘To what shall I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’ For John the Baptists has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at Him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by all her children.’”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write it's eternal truth upon all our hearts.
Are you sure about Jesus? Do you really believe He is who He says He is? Do you really believe you can base the whole hope of your life on Him and He will not let you down? I'm not asking you if you’re a skeptic. John wasn't a skeptic. He was a believer, but things had happened to him, and experiences had come into his life, that caused even his faith to tremble, and he wasn't so sure. He wasn't so sure about Jesus. Are you sure about Jesus, or has something happened in your world to make you wonder?
Allison was twenty five years old, bright, well educated, beautiful, and about to marry the man that she loved. And on this past Thursday night, she gave her testimony, and her testimony started out with “Why? Why my pain? Why my suffering? What are You doing in my life God? Can I be sure of Jesus?” The irony is the last half decade of her life, the whole course of her marriage, has been the hardest years of her life, and it has absolutely nothing to do with her marriage. She married the man of her dreams and he has lived up to and exceeded every hope that she ever had. But in May of her twenty seventh year of her life, two years after her marriage, she was diagnosed with a condition that made her infertile and it was devastating because she had always wanted her own family. And then, years later after she and Chad had Isaac, and her dreams came true – the Lord blessed them with a son, Isaac, whom they love – she was diagnosed with an irremediable nerve disorder of the jaw that led her from doctor to doctor and surgeon to surgeon and left her in un-relievable pain, crippling pain, debilitating pain, led her to John's Hopkins to the world's leader in a type of neuralgia that affects many people. The nickname for it is “the suicide disease” because the pain of it is so excruciating that some people can't go on. And it left Allison asking, “What are You doing in my life? Can I be sure of You Jesus? Are You who I'm supposed to put my trust in, or is there another?” And you understand in a very different way, that's exactly where John is.
John is in prison. He has spent his whole vocation calling Israel to repentance, calling Israel back to the Lord and preparing the way for the Messiah. What is the thanks he has gotten? What is the reward that the Lord has given him? – but to clap him in a cell, wrongly imprisoned by the wickedest man in the land, a man who he has bravely been calling into account when nobody else had the guts to do it. And very frankly he's shaken up about it. And the man that so boldly said, “This is the Lamb of God who's come to take away the sins of the world. This is the One who will restore righteousness in Israel and flood the earth with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” The Man that he had said that about, he's not so sure of that right now, not because he's a skeptic, but because he can't figure out what God's doing in his life because of the experience that he's now encountering.
Now let me say this for John — he knew the right thing to do. When you doubt Jesus, do you know where you go? You go right to Jesus. And since he couldn't leave the jail cell, he sent two people who could. “You go to Jesus and you ask Him a question and you come back and tell me what He said.” And that's exactly what these two disciples did. Don't you like it? They asked his question syllable for syllable to Jesus just like he put it to them. “John the Baptist has sent us to You and here's what he said Lord, ‘Are You the One that is to come Lord, or should we look for another?’” And I love how Jesus answers this question. He doesn't begin by talking. He doesn't begin by repeating His claims. He says, “Could you wait just a minute and stand right there and watch?” And Luke says, “In that hour, He healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits and on many who are blind, He bestowed sight.” And then He said, “Go and tell John what you saw and heard. And then, tell him this…” Do you know what Jesus starts doing? He starts quoting Isaiah 35:5 and Isaiah 61:1. Now, John knew his Bible. He was a Bible man. And Jesus knew even in quoting that little section from Isaiah 35:5, that John was going to start thinking about Isaiah 35:4-10, that whole passage. And you know what it's about? It's about what the Messiah is going to be like when He comes. And He quotes Isaiah 61:1, and He knows that John, he's a Bible man, he's going to think of not just Isaiah 61:1, but Isaiah 61:1-3 and maybe more. And you know what that passage is about? It's about what the Messiah is going to be like when He comes. And guess what? Those two passages say that when the Messiah comes, He's going to do all the things Jesus just did in front of John's disciples. Jesus doesn't just make empty claims friends. He does stuff. And then He says, “Look at the Word, and look at what the Word tells you the Messiah is going to do, and then look at what I've done.” And then He sends those two disciples back to John to tell John what they saw and heard and to quote to John the Bible that Jesus had fulfilled.
But you know when they got back to John, I have got to think that at least one thing Jesus said left John scratching his head, because Jesus didn't quote all of Isaiah 61:1. You see what He says here in Luke, He says, “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.” Isaiah 35:5 says, “The eyes of the blind shall be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.” And Isaiah 61:1 says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted.” But the last part of Isaiah 61:1 Jesus doesn't quote. Do you know what it says? “The Messiah has come to proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.” And that is exactly why John is despairing because he has been heralding the way of the Messiah and he is in jail! And there's been no liberation and there's been no jail break and he wants to know, “Lord, why am I here?” And Jesus doesn't explain that to John. Do you know why? Do you know why? Do you know why He healed blind and deaf and lame and lepers and raised the dead and preached the Gospel to the poor, but He didn't set those captives free? Because He was going to have to die to set those captives free and He hadn't done that yet. And so John had to believe what He had done in fulfillment of His Word until he could come to understand what Jesus was doing in his life. And you know what? That's exactly what you have to do too. Sometimes you have no idea what Jesus is doing in your life, but when you’re there, Jesus says, “Look at what I've already done, and look at what I've done in fulfillment of the Word, and you believe Me until you come to the day that you understand what I'm doing, because I don't just make claims, I fulfill Scripture and I will not break My promise.”
And then He sends these two disciples away. It blows my mind. Because what does He do in verses 24 to 28? He begins to brag on John, but John, as far as we know, never hears of it. Can you imagine? John never hears what we get to hear Jesus say here. He sends John's disciples back to him before He turns to the crowd and says, “What exactly was it that you were going out to see in the wilderness – something flimsy like a reed shaken in the wind? Oh no, that's not John. A man wearing smooth, fine clothing? Oh no, not John. You want that, you've got to go into the king's court. A prophet? You don't know the half of it. He is the greatest prophet that ever lived. Moses is not a prophet as great as he is, because He is the One that Isaiah and Malachi and Moses and all the other prophets said would prepare the way for the visitation of the Lord God Himself to Israel.” And Luke tells us the reaction of the crowd to it. They love what Jesus says about John because they respect John. Do you see how kind it is what Jesus is doing? Here is His servant John and His servant John's faith is weak. This is not John's finest hour. And you know what Jesus turns around and does to this multitude? He turns around and He brags on John. “Let me tell you about my cousin John, my servant John. There has never been a man that walked the face of this earth greater than my cousin, my friend, my servant, my forerunner, John.” And the crowd cries out, “God is just! Yes, that is the John that we know, that is the John that we respect! For Jesus to make that kind of a judgment is right because John is a great man. He is a man of integrity, he's fearless, he's bold, he tells us what we need to hear not what we want to hear, he opposes tyrants. This man clearly is God's man and what Jesus has said about him is right.”
And you know my friends, that's a picture of the Judgment Day for everybody who believes in Jesus Christ. That's what the Lord Jesus is going to do for you on Judgment Day. Do you understand that? You are going to stand before billions upon billions of people and the Lord Jesus is going to stand up before that great white judgment throne and He's going to say to the whole of the gathered world, “Let me tell you about My servant.” And you are going to be embarrassed down to your socks. “No Lord, I don't deserve this!” “Let Me tell you about My servant.” You see this is a picture of the final vindication of everyone who believes on the Lord Jesus Christ. It's not that our faith is great; it's that our Savior is great, and He is kinder to us than we deserve. And John never knew this rendering of his Savior on him as far as we know in this life, but I would have loved to have been there when he opened his eyes in glory and an angel said to him, “Do you know what Jesus just said about you?” That's going to be the experience of everyone who trusts on the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ on the Judgment Day. That Day of wrath and calamity, that Day of judgment and awe, is going to be a Day of vindication for the people of God. It's not going to be about our goodness and greatness. It's going to be about His goodness and His greatness and His grace, and He's going to be kinder to us than we deserve if we trust in Him.
You see, Jesus, in verses 24 to 28, is vindicating John. John may be in prison, but it's Herod who deserves to be in prison. John may be despised by the religious leaders of the day, but John ought to be the religious leader of Israel. And Jesus vindicates him. How kind the Savior is to weak, struggling, doubting believers. You know, doubting believer, there's one thing sure — that whatever it is that He's doing in your life, He's going to be kinder, more merciful, more gracious to you than you dared dream. In your worst nightmare, He's going to be more kind, and merciful, and gracious than you dared dream. You have no idea how He's going to show you grace upon grace.
But then, Jesus turns to the religious leaders — the Pharisees and scribes, the biblical lawyers and the righteous teachers of the day — and He said, “You know what? You don't like John or Me. John came fasting, John came with a Nazarite vow — not drinking, never let alcohol cross his lips — and you know what you said about him? You said he was demon possessed. I on the other hand, came eating and drinking and I’ll eat with sinners and tax collectors. And you know what you say about Me? You say I'm a glutton and a drunkard. Nothing pleases you.” And you know Luke tells us why nothing pleases them. He tells you right in verses 29 and 30. Look at it. Why is it that the crowd so responds to John and to what Jesus says about John? Luke tells you in verse 29 — “When all the people heard this, and the tax collectors too (and you can read parenthetically, ‘For crying out loud!’), they declared God just.” Why? — “Having been baptized with the baptism of John.” Is it because they had gone through some external, formalistic ritual that they had, view of Jesus that they had and of John that they had? No, that's not the point. The point is that John's baptism was a baptism of repentance. And these people had seen that they were the problem, that they needed to repent, and they publically repented of their sins, and so the message of John and Jesus was sweet to them.
But look at verse 30 — “The Pharisees and lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves.” Is that not one of the most terrifying sentences you have ever read in the English language? I can't even begin to think about all that it means. Why? Not having been baptized by him. Is this about ritual? No, it's about repentance. They hadn't repented. They hadn't seen that they were the problem; they hadn't seen that it was their sin that needed to be judged. It wasn't the dirty Gentiles that needed to be judged, it was them. And so they hated what Jesus and John had to say because it embarrassed them and it humiliated them. They had a different plan for covering their sin. They were going to pretend like everyone else was the problem and they were going to cover up their sin and that was their plan for dealing with their sin. And so they didn't like it when Jesus and John put their finger on their hearts.
You know I've shared with you this summer, about 2:00 a.m. on July the 30th, a Thursday, walking around on a deck at Perdido Key, the Lord liberated me from an attitude, a heart attitude, an attitudinal, relational sin, that has dominated me for fifteen years. And many of you have said how encouraging that was for you, but I want you to understand that for the hour and fifteen minutes before that 2 a.m. instantaneous and immediate liberation from that sin, you know what I was talking with God about? I was asking myself, “How in the world have I gotten here? How in the world have I lived this way for so long? How can my heart be so shriveled and bitter?” And there were no audible voices and there were no visible manifestations, but as I rehearsed the course of my life over the last fifteen years and thought about Scripture and prayed to God, it was as if my heavenly Father was in a conversation with me, and for one hour and fifteen minutes, do you know what He made me look at? He made me look at my heart, and it was ugly. And over that one hour and fifteen minutes you know what He kept coming back and bringing to my mind over and over and over again? “You have been blaming this on everybody else, you have been pointing the finger away from yourself and you've been pointing the finger at Me.” And sometime, moments before 2:00 a.m., it was as if a voice said to me, “Who does this sin belong to?” And I said, “It's mine! It's not somebody else's, it's mine!” And then, in less than a nanosecond, it was as if He reached out His hand and He said, “No longer child.” But do you know where I had to get to before that happened? I had to own it. You see, it's not your fault God, it's not anybody else's fault. It's me. I'm the problem.
And that is what the Pharisees and religious leaders were not willing to do. My friend, do not reject Him. Do not ignore Him. Do not be indifferent with His dealings with your heart, because He is not the problem, and John is not the problem, and they are not the problem, and someone else is not the problem. The problem is here. And if you will repent, you will find Him more gracious than you could possibly imagine. John did. Can you imagine having the gall to go back to Jesus and say, “Are You the One?” To Jesus, and ask Him that question! What right does anyone have to ask that question of Jesus? And you know what? Jesus answered the question! And what's more, He didn't just answer the question, He said, “Wait a second. Just look for a while and listen for a while, just watch for a while and hear for a while what I do, and let me quote you some Scripture.” Do you see what Jesus is doing? He's humbling Himself in the dust like a servant to help the assurance of a disciple of His who's weak in faith. Jesus does that kind of stuff for you all the time. Would you just open your eyes? He's more gracious than you could possibly imagine. And you see what Jesus does? He takes you right back to the Word and He takes you right back to what He's already done, and He says, “This is what I've done for you. You can trust Me in what I'm doing.”
But you’re still wondering about Allison, aren't you? Allison has asked God for years, “Why are You doing this? Why are You doing this at this time?” And the answer that she's bounced around in her head a lot is this, “Lord, I think that maybe one reason my health fell apart when I was twenty seven years old is because You knew that I couldn't do this alone. I needed Chad. And if he had known me at twenty seven instead of twenty five, I'm not sure he would have married this basket case of health problems.” But on Thursday night of this week, Allison realized that as wonderful as her husband is, and I wish you could read her testimony to her husband who has held her in his arms at night when she was in excruciating pain and could not sleep and he stayed up with her — on Thursday night of this week, she realized that is not what God is doing in my life. On Thursday night of this week, it dawned on her for the first time that in March of her twenty seventh year of life, she and Chad had become members of CapitolHillBaptistChurch in Washington, D.C., where our friend Mark Dever is the pastor, and in May she was diagnosed with infertility. And then a month after the birth of Isaac, in the midst of her excruciating pain, Thursday night she remembered it's always Fridays and Mondays when the pain is the worst — the two business days closest to Sunday, the day where she is under the Word of God with her brothers and sisters in the church at Capitol Hill Baptist, and it hit her like a freight train on Thursday night. “Lord, this happened to me once I was under the teaching of Your Word and it is Your Word that has sustained me. It's not my husband, as wonderful as he is, it's Your Word.”
Are you sure about Jesus? Go to His Word. Go to what He's done. He will not fail you.