Matthew 11:2-11


1. General
Every now and again—on the TV, in the newspaper, and elsewhere—an item is advertised of a list of the most respected occupations (and otherwise) in our society. And it makes some very interesting reading. Of course, there are a range of occupations at the top—people who society holds in the highest esteem. But at the bottom . . . Well, it seems that there are always the same few. And car salesmen and politicians seem to be at the bottom every time.

What’s more interesting however, is the amount of publicity given to the different groups on the list. The ones at the top hardly get a mention. However, the ones at the bottom . . . Well, the details are dragged up time after time. Indeed, we’re reminded that people don’t consider used car salesmen to be honest, trustworthy, or even to be able to sell a car in good working order and at a fair price. And politicians? Well, we’re reminded, that they seem more concerned about self-interest, and self-preservation, than actually doing what they have promised.

Of course, whether all this is true, or not, is a matter of opinion. Because in any group of people there are bound to be both good and bad. However, what the surveys, or rather the responses and publicity to them indicate, is that perhaps we are a nation of cynics. And that we’d far rather grumble about our pet hates, than pat people on the back for a job well done.

And as I thought about that, I couldn’t help thinking, ‘If I’d been surveyed, what would I have put on the list?’ And to my surprise the very first occupations I thought of were not occupations at the top of the list, but were those that were somewhere down the bottom of the list too. And for me, that would include delivery men and repair men. The people that when you arrange to be at home—even take time out of your schedule to be there—just don’t turn up when they say they will. And, what’s more, they don’t even bother to tell you that they have been delayed or are not coming.

Cynicism and doubt . . . It seems to be part of day-to-day living. It’s certainly well entrenched in our culture. Because most of us have pet hates, and most of us have a lack of faith in something or someone.

2. Faith
Is it any wonder, then, that being negative, being sceptical, and living with doubt are also features when it comes to the issue of faith?

Because it’s no secret that many people struggle with God, putting him low on their list of priorities and placing more tangible things above. And many people go through the nightmare of questioning their beliefs: ‘Can God be real? Is this faith thing really true?’ And often finding it all too hard. And, as a consequence, finding it hard to be committed at all.

However, if that’s you . . . If you can identify in some way as being a cynic, a sceptic, or a doubter regarding your faith; and if at times you find it hard to commit yourself to the faith—and to the church—then let me give you what may seem to be some very helpful words of advice.


1. We Are in Good Company
Because, the first word of advice I would give you, is to reassure you that you are not alone. Indeed, even in the Bible we have an impressive list of sceptics and doubters:

Abraham, at one hundred years old, and on being told by God that he would have a son, laughed at God (Genesis 17:17). Sarah, his wife, at age ninety, overhearing a second conversation between Abraham and God, where Abraham was reassured that they would have a son, also laughed (Genesis 18:12). Both Abraham and Sarah believed they were too old to have children. And both were sceptical that even God could give them what they desired the most.

Moses, when he was called by God to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, doubted his ability to be a leader. And he came up with every excuse under the sun why he wouldn’t be able to do it. He was a nobody (Exodus 3:11); he wasn’t a leader, and he wasn’t a speaker (Exodus 4:10). He did not have any confidence in his own abilities, and he didn’t have any faith that God could help him either.

Gideon too, one of the judges, had a similar problem. He told God he couldn’t be a leader. He was a nobody, and he didn’t trust God to help him either (Judges 6:15).

The prophet Elijah—perhaps one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament—having run away from Jezebel for fear of his life . . . Well, even after being visited by God—who gave him a sign of his strength and power—continued to trust in his own abilities (or lack of them), and hid in a cave for safety (1 Kings 19:14).

John the Baptist, in prison, in a moment of doubt, sent his disciples to double check who Jesus really was (Matthew 11:2-3).

Peter, one of the disciples, crossing a lake in a boat, saw Jesus walking on the water. Yes, in a moment of faith, he got out of the boat and began walking towards him. However, a moment later, he took his eyes of Jesus, lost faith, and began to sink (Matthew 14:30).

And, of course, the most well-known doubter of all: Thomas, one of the disciples, who after the resurrection—when everyone else had seen the risen Christ—said that he wouldn’t believe that Jesus had risen from the dead, unless he was face to face with Jesus and he could feel the marks in his hands and his side (John 20:25). Indeed, no matter what all the other followers had seen, unless he saw the risen Lord, himself, he wouldn’t believe.

You see, being a sceptic, being cynical, and being a doubter is very common—even among the most faithful of believers. All the great men and women of the Bible—people who have been noted for their great faith—have all had their moments of being negative, moments of scepticism and doubt. Doubting not only what God had done and was able to do, but doubting their abilities that God was calling them to use.

So, when we have one of those moments—when we realise that we are emphasising the negative rather than the positive—we can be assured that we are in good company. Some of the greats of the Bible have had their negative moments too.

2. We are Meant to Question and Think
The second thing that we can do, however, is to understand that a bit of healthy scepticism and doubt is part and parcel of the Christian faith. In other words, we are meant to question and to think through issues, particularly when it comes to the faith.

Now many religions and philosophies are not like that. There are even some that encourage learning by rote or by indoctrination. (And I have to say that there have been times, sadly, when that has been a method used for teaching the Christian faith too.) However, the Christian faith is not like that. Rather it is a faith which encourages the issues to be examined closely. And it encourages people to come to their own conclusions in regard to matters of faith.

Jesus, himself, challenged many people to count the cost, before committing themselves to be his disciples. And he told parables about counting the cost to illustrate his point (Luke 14:28-32). In other words, he encouraged people to think, question, analyse, weigh up—whatever term you want to use—to think through the different issues before committing to a life of commitment, to a life of discipleship.

The Apostle Paul, concerned about false teaching in the church at Thessalonica told the people there to “Test everything and hold fast to what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

Peter, in his second letter, advised his readers, that one of the purposes of his letters was to “Stimulate your sincere mind” (2 Peter 3:1).

And the Apostle Paul, this time writing to the church at Philippi, stated that: “If there is anything that is virtuous or praiseworthy—anything that is true, honourable, just, pure, pleasing, or of good repute—consider these things.” (Philippians 4:8).

So, in regard to the Christian faith, it’s not sinful to be sceptical or to question things. Indeed, Jesus, and the Apostles Peter and Paul encouraged it. So it can actually be a very healthy thing. It’s only when we get stuck, when we can’t progress forward, that it becomes a real problem.

The Christian faith, then, encourages us to think through the issues—to question and doubt things, and then, to decide for ourselves what we should think.

3. Resolving the Scepticism and Doubt
But how do we progress past the negative? How do we get beyond the scepticism and doubt?

Well, how we progress forward, brings us to the third word of advice. Because we can ask God for guidance. We can ask other Christians for help (and that’s one of the primary reasons we meet together). And even in in the sanctity of our own homes, we can examine the evidence for ourselves: the evidence of the salvation plan of God; the evidence that Jesus is the Son of God; and the evidence of our place within God’s plan.

And the evidence?

a). The Old Testament Prophecies
Well, there are the Old Testament prophecies:

There are Isaiah’s words spoken to king Ahaz, about 735BC: prophesying of a virgin giving birth to a son and calling him Immanuel (God is with us) (Isaiah 7:14).

There’s God’s message to Isaiah: the prophecy that the Messiah would be a descendant of King David; that he would be filled with the Spirit of the Lord; and that he would be filled with great wisdom and knowledge (Isaiah 11:2-3a).

There are the words of God to the prophet Micah, probably just a few years later: prophesying that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem; and that in many ways he would have his origins in ancient times (Micah 5:2).

There are the words that God spoke to Jeremiah, a century later (about 600 BC): prophesying, again, that a descendant of King David would return to the throne; that he would be a great man of God; that he would be instrumental in the salvation of God’s people; and that he would be identified with God himself (Jeremiah 23:5-6).

All prophecies, that by the time of Jesus were well known and were accepted by the people. Indeed, the crowd in Jerusalem faced with Jesus said, ‘Doesn’t the scripture say that the Messiah is to come from the seed of David and from Bethlehem, the village from which David came?’ (John 7:42).

b). Life of Jesus/Miracles
And in addition to the prophecies, there is the life of Jesus himself: his birth, and his ministry. And for our purpose today, we probably need to go no further than this passage from Matthew’s gospel. Because what we have is the story of John the Baptist sending his disciples to Jesus, to double check just who Jesus really was.

And what was Jesus’s reply? But ‘Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, leapers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor are given the Good News.’ (Matthew 11:4-5).

c). Jesus’s Death and Resurrection
And if all that wasn’t enough, then there is the evidence of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Particularly with the empty tomb and Jesus appearing on separate occasions: to Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, who were first to see Jesus alive (Mathew 28:1-10); to the two disciples on the Emmaus road, as they despondently walked along (Luke 24:13-35); to ten disciples as they gathered together in a locked room for fear of the Jews (John 20:19-23); to Thomas, who hadn’t been there at the previous meeting, and had since declared himself a doubter (John 20:24-31); and according to Paul, separately to Peter, James, and himself, and at one time to five hundred people (1 Cor 15:5-8). And the list is not exhaustive.

d). Our Place
And the evidence of our place in God’s scheme . . .

Well, in very first book of the bible we’re told that we were made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). Two chapters later we are told that Adam and Eve mucked it all up (Genesis 3:1-24). And the rest of the bible tells and illustrates, that we all fall short of God’s standards (Romans 3:23). In others we need God’s plan. We desperately need God’s plan.

However, the other side to our place in God’s scheme is the need for God to have foot soldiers to tell God’s plan to the world. Jesus called people to him to be disciples (Matthew 4:18-22). And after his resurrection he called his disciples to make more disciples (Matthew 28:19)—us. So we in turn, like all those who have gone before, have the responsibility to go out and make more disciples too.


Is that scary? Of course it is. But think for a minute . . .

Are we alone in our scepticism and doubt? No! Would we be happier if God sent someone else? Yes! Yet, as we read in the pages of the bible, God has been able to do wonders using people who were negative, full of scepticism and doubt.

And if he could use people like that—people like Moses and Gideon who denied their abilities, people like Elijah who hid in a cave—imagine the difference that we could do, if only we could get beyond our scepticism and doubt and be willing to be used by God too.


So today, do you feel more on the negative side than on the positive? Does doubt and scepticism describe your feelings, rather than faith and hope?

Well, if we were talking about this world—and about the list of respected occupations (and otherwise)—I could well understand. But what about in regard to the matter of faith?

Well, if that’s true of our faith, then I suggest remembering the three words of advice: firstly, we can take comfort in fact that we are not alone—and that we are in some very impressive company. Secondly, we can be assured that as Christians we are meant to question and to think. Christianity is a thinking religion, and we are actually encouraged to think through the issues for ourselves. And that may mean the need for a healthy dose of scepticism from time to time. And, thirdly, we have been given the tools to move on, and we should be encouraged to use them.

And I’m certain that if we each took those three steps, then we would not only be much stronger because of it, but we would be more willing to offer our services to God (and his church) as well.

Posted: 1st July 2022
© 2022, Brian A Curtis