By Dave Jansen
Thirteen people. That’s it. Just thirteen attendees at our church’s seventh preview service. I think we had more people on the stage at one point than we did in the audience. It seemed like everything was going in the wrong direction. We were shrinking, not growing, and losing momentum, not gaining it—and we were a mere three months from launch. Nothing was going the way I expected it to go. And to make matters worse, I had to give a report to the synod on our progress. I was embarrassed and fully expected them to pull their support, doubting I was the man for the job, or whether God was in this work at all.
I had been so sure of our call to this work, so excited to see Christ build his church through us. But now, I began to question everything. The sadness and frustration of unmet expectations made me doubt myself, God, and even his promises.
These are the doubts I believe ran through the mind of John the Baptist as he languished in prison. He was sure that Jesus was the Messiah, so excited to prepare the way for him. He boldly pointed to Jesus saying, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” (John 1:29). People from all over Israel came to him at the Jordan, receiving his baptism and responding to his message. But now everything had gone wrong. As he sat in prison, doubts crept in. Now in place of declarations came questions. “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” (v. 2).
The same happens to us when we encounter unexpected troubles. We begin to wonder if God is real, if he cares about us, and if we’ve been fools to put our faith in him. The answers we were once so sure of suddenly become questions again.
So what should we do? John didn’t start asking around to see what others thought of Jesus, he didn’t poll the religious experts of his day, nor did he just decide in his own mind what was true. No, he went straight to the source. He went to Jesus and asked his questions. And Jesus’ response shows that he isn’t asking for blind faith from us—but rather for faith in line with reason. He basically says, “Examine the evidence for yourself. What do you see and hear in me? Does it match up with who the Messiah is to be? The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the gospel is preached to those living in poverty. If that’s what the Messiah is supposed to do, then rejoice! You’ve got no reason to doubt.”
The Advent lesson is this: if things haven’t gone as expected and frustrations have raised questions in your mind, then go to Jesus with your doubts. Hear him out. Consider the ways he’s healed you. Consider his fulfillment of Scripture. His actions speak for themselves. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, just be sure you look to him for the answer. For even though things may go painfully wrong, he is still your Savior, healer, and friend. All evidence points to him as the fulfillment of God’s promises to you. You may be stuck in some sort of prison, but you can rejoice knowing that Jesus is still Jesus—the Savior of the world and healer of your heart.
Prayer: God, we come to you with our questions. To whom else could we turn, for you have the words of life? Help us hear. Help us trust.
Dave Jansen is pastor of CenterPoint Church in Lewis Center, Ohio. The 2016 Advent devotions were written by RCA church planters and parent churches.