"All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus' words, acknowledged that God's way was right.... But the Pharisees and the experts in the law rejected God's purpose for themselves."- Luke 7:29-30
A cocky young science professor began teaching at a small
To the professor’s surprise, a farm boy sitting in the back row spoke up. “Professor, there’s still one question: Who gives us the cloud?”
The cocky professor hadn’t figured on that simple piece of evidence, and my guess is he wasn’t thrilled to have a student come along and poke a big hole in his argument. Did he take this new element into account? My guess is no—the professor had a big case of unbelief, and he would be in no hurry to part with it. On the other hand, many a committed Christian deals with doubt—even one as fervent and devoted as John the Baptist.
When John the Baptist had his moment of doubt while in prison and sent a message to Jesus, we read in Luke 7 that John’s disciples returned to John with Jesus’ answer. That reply showed that Jesus was a clear fulfillment of at least three different Old Testament prophesies. After John received that message, all indications are that he persevered in his faith. From his prison cell, John served Jesus faithfully until his dying day.
And for people who believed the truth about John the Baptist—that he was the promised prophet and the forerunner to the coming Christ—it was natural for them to believe the truth about Jesus. Even the tax collectors who had been baptized by John acknowledged that John was the promised forerunner to the Christ, and that Jesus himself was the promised Christ (Luke 7:29). But as we read on in verse 30, “the Pharisees and experts in the law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.”
In other words, the religious leaders who didn’t believe in John rejected John’s call to repent and be baptized in preparation for the coming Messiah. And since they rejected his call to get ready for Jesus’ coming, it shouldn’t surprise us that they weren’t willing to believe in Jesus when he came. God had great plans for the Jewish religious leaders, but when they rejected John the Baptist, they rejected God’s plans for them. And once they started down the path of unbelief, they wouldn’t stop until Jesus was dead with his blood on their hands.
In verses 31-32, Jesus compared the religious leaders to a bunch of brats throwing a tantrum because the other kids aren’t playing by their rules. “For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and ‘sinners.’” No matter what John the Baptist or Jesus did, it wasn’t good enough for the Pharisees. So, they did what virtually every unbeliever has done over the past 2,000 years: They attempted to rationalize their unbelief by criticizing and even slandering God’s chosen leaders with accusations pulled out of thin air.
Bottom line: The religious leaders’ hateful criticism of John and Jesus stemmed from their stubborn unbelief. And their unbelief was literally insane. Their refusal to accept the clear, observable facts about John and Jesus was insane. Their slanderous accusations were insane. And their jealous, vengeful drive to murder Jesus was especially insane. They refused to see the clear truth that John was the forerunner, and Jesus was the Christ. God had made sure that there was plenty of evidence to substantiate these two facts. As Jesus said in verse 35, “Wisdom is proved right by all her children.”
In Luke 7:18-23, John the Baptist struggled with doubt. In verses 7:24-35, Jesus talks about the religious leaders who were plagued by unbelief. And there’s a big difference between the two. Doubt is a matter of the MIND, but unbelief is a matter of the WILL. It’s one thing to doubt God’s goodness and plans because we can’t wrap our minds around it. It’s quite another thing to stubbornly refuse to believe His word and obey His word when the evidence is right in front of our faces.
Doubt is often nourished by physical and emotional strain, such as John’s when he was in prison, but unbelief is nourished by a stubborn heart that refuses to accept the evidence. Unbelief puts our circumstance between us and God, but faith—even doubting faith—puts God between us and our circumstance. May we always put God between us and our trials.
Dane Davis is the Pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville. For more information, visit www.YourVictorvilleChurch.com and join us for worship Sundays at 10 am.