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If Only

If Only

by Pastor Dave Katsma on March 26, 2020

There have been times when I identified with the father in Mark 9:24, when Jesus asked him if he believed.

 

His reply was,“I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” Mark 9:24

 

Doubt is something, that if we are honest with ourselves or with each other, that we have to say, we have struggled with.   I don’t think that means we are weak in our faith or that we are somehow less a Christian. By reading the bible we would see that we would be in good company.  There were many who in the pages of scripture struggled with doubt.   John the Baptist doubted at one time in his life.  And never forget that one of the disciples of Jesus is forever branded as Doubting Thomas.

 

Here is a philosophical question.  Can doubt and faith COEXIST?

 

Famous pastor and teacher Chuck Swindoll writes on this topic.

 

“Throughout any life that is lived realistically and reflectively, we come to impossible places where we feel we cannot cope. They may not seem like it, but those are the healthiest places in life, but they are also the hardest. When the bottom drops out, when the pain seems unbearable, when some unbelievable event occurs, doubts arrive unannounced. Don't deny them; acknowledge them. Those times of doubting become schoolrooms of learning. As we work our way through them, a new kind of faith is forged. It will come slowly, and that's healthy. It's being shaped on the anvil of God's mysterious plan, some, of which you will not be able to explain. And that's okay.”  Chuck Swindoll on Faith and Doubt. 

 

 

Disbelief can be Disguised as Doubt. 

 

If doubt leads you to making a stand and saying, “I will not believe”, then we have blocked God from helping us to understand and remain faithful.

 

 

Doubt is to struggle to understand.   To struggle to understand doesn’t mean we don’t have faith in the God, it means we just move forward in our faith in the tension of not understanding, knowing that someday we may understand it. 

 

This morning we are going to take a couple of people who struggled with doubt but had unshakeable faith. Even though it seems like a contradiction, we will discover it isn’t.  Maybe that alone will be a comfort so some of you right now. 

 

And today we are going to look into a very familiar passage from John 11 with Jesus’ raising his friend Lazarus from the dead. This is probably a favorite passages for preachers to do a message on because it is so powerful.  There are so many visual aspects to it, it is emotional, there are aspects to it we can all identify with, it is filled with both tragedy and with hope, doubt and faith. This account in the life of Jesus has a great ending.

 

I encourage you to read from John 11: 1-45 (NLT).

 

One of the first things that may catch your attention is the statements from both Mary and Martha.

 

“If only you had been here.”

 

If only.  Those words betray the deep emotional loss of their brother and their total dependence on Jesus.

 

I think we can all relate to those words and to those emotions.   “If only..”  

 

How many of us, if we were really honest, would say, “I have uttered those words.”

 

 

I wonder if that created doubt in their mind as to “Why”. They couldn’t have understood.  

 

But in their lack of understanding we still see remarkable faith.

 

But in verse 27, She says “Yes, Lord, I have always believed you are the Messiah, the son of God, the one who has come into the world from God.“

 

In verse 33 is says, “When he saw here weeping and saw the other people wailer with her, a deep anger welled up within him and he was deeply troubled.” Was he angry with Martha?  Was he angry at her disbelief or her doubt?  

 

I don’t believe that Jesus was angry at her, I believe his struggle was with the effects of sin and death in this world.  And the grieving that takes place because of sin and death in this world is real and it even effected Jesus to the point where he wept as well.

 

There is a question to ponder.  Why did Jesus weep when he knew he would be raising Lazarus from the dead?

 

Most of us would expect Jesus to be the calming presence.  He knew all along that what he would do.  He knew he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead.  

 

Jesus is not unfamiliar with our AGONY

 

John Calvin writes “Christ has put on our feelings along with our flesh,” 

 

Jesus is not so distant from us that he doesn’t experience for himself the struggle and pain of death and loss.  He experiences that in his humanity, with those he loved.

 

It may be that he is facing death eye to eye in a way that foreshadows his own death in just a few weeks.

 

It says in verse 33 that he was “deeply troubled.”

 

Those are the same words in John 12:27 where Jesus had entered into Jerusalem at his triumphal entry one week before his crucifixion and he is speaking with his disciples and talking about his pending death and he says:

 

“Now my soul is deeply troubled. Should I pray, ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But this is the very reason I came! 28 Father, bring glory to your name.” John 12:27

 

 

Was Jesus troubled be the fact that in such a short time, he too would be facing the reality of death, not of a friend, but of himself?

 

Was Jesus overwhelmed by the fact that he would be facing a beating, scourging and the cross?  Was Jesus confronted with the fact that shortly to tomb would be a place where he would be laid and that his closest friends would mourn his death?

 

Jesus brings with him great VICTORYandGLORY

 

Jesus knew what was to come, not only for Lazarus but for Himself as well. 

 

The grave is not the end for Lazarus at this time nor Jesus in the future. 

 

Verse 40, “Didn’t I tell you that you would see God’s glory if you believe?”

 

And it is in that statement that Jesus calls forth Lazarus from the grave and from that many believed even more deeply.

 

The same would be true when Jesus rises from the dead in just over a week. That miracle allows many to believe.

 

Jesus knew what his friends struggled with, he knew what he was himself going to go through in the near future. Yet he waited for God to show faithful and ultimately to see God’s glory revealed.

 

His disciples showed tremendous faith even though they doubted and they didn’t fully understand their situation, but through it all they remained faithful within their doubt.

 

This is a great encouragement  and example for us.  

 

We may be facing right now some fears, we may have some doubts, we may know people who are struggling with their faith or questioning their faith as the difficulty of the unknown confront them, with grief overtakes them because of loss they experience, the sense of helplessness may cause people to wonder what God is doing?

 

But the thing I encourage you to do is to remain faithful in the struggle to believe.  Wait on God, hold on to him, call out to him.  Lay your concerns, fears and doubts at his feet.

 

Stay faithful to God for God is faithful to us and that is demonstrated in the fact that Jesus faced the unimaginable for us, so that he ultimately could reveal the glory of God to us, by showing us just how faithful and powerful to overcome, even death.

 

In this time of struggle and fear and how we will make it through this difficult time and a maybe you may have some doubt how God will provide. Be reminded today to remain faithful and allow God to be glorified in it.  He will if we are patient even when we don’t fully understand. 

 

God bless.

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