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The Prison Experiences Of The Bible

Sermon #3

 

Matthew 11:1-22

THE PRISON OF HIS PERSUASIONS

Intro:  As we continue to think about the prison experiences found in the Bible, I want to draw our attention to the experience of John the Baptist as he languished in his prison.  By way of introduction, let’s find out why he was here and what he was facing.

      John was cast into this prison because of his preaching.  It seems that Herod, who was king of a fourth part of the Roman province of Palestine, had taken his brother’s wife, a woman by the name of Herodias, and had married her.  John had preached publicly against this vile and unlawful relationship and he had been arrested and thrown into prison by the king, Luke 3:19-20; Matt. 14:3-4.  In fact, Herod would have executed John, Matt. 14:5, but he feared the public backlash, because all the people accepted John the Baptist as a prophet sent from the Lord.

      While in this prison, John began to have some doubts and concerns about Who Jesus was and what He was doing.  John’s doubts worked against his faith and caused him to question the person and work of Jesus.  I want to join John in this prison, because I believe that many of God’s children pass through it as well. 

      There are times when we all experience doubts and fears.  There are times when we wonder about our salvation and about our faith.  During those times of doubt and fear, we ask ourselves some pretty deep questions.  “Am I really saved?  Am I really secure?  What if I made a mistake?  What if Jesus isn’t really the way to Heaven?  What if the Muslims, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Mormons, the whoever’s are right and I am wrong?  What if the Bible is not really the Word of God?  What if God can’t really take care of meet and meet my needs?”

      Now, most of us wouldn’t admit it out loud, but we have found ourselves assaulted by questions like these.  We have wondered about our faith, haven’t we?  When we have allowed the questions to rise in our hearts, we probably found ourselves locked in the same prison in which John found himself.  Let’s join him there today and consider what he did and what he experienced in The Prison Of His Persuasions. 

      That’s where John was, and Jesus sent John just what he needed to persuade him of the truth.  That may be where you are today.  If so, or if you happen to find yourself in this prison in the future, the truths taught in these verses should serve to help you find your way out.  Let’s notice those truths today as I try to preach about The Prison Of His Persuasions.

  I.  v. 2-3             THE DECEPTIONS OF THIS PRISON

A.  What John Doubted In This Prison – “are thou He that should come, or do we look for another?” – In his prison, John had come to doubt the very person of Jesus.  This is the same John who was so bold in his preaching concerning Jesus.  Notice these verses: Matt. 3:11-15; John 1:27-36; John 3:25-36.  There was a time when there was no doubt in John’s mind, but when he was thrown into the prison, he began to doubt.

B.  What John Discovered In This Prison – He discovered that absence does not make the heart grow fonder.  Verse 2 says, “Now when John had heard in the prison the works of Christ…”  John is locked up and he can no longer see the Lord Jesus as He heals and ministers.  He can no longer hear the Lord’s voice as He preaches and teaches.  John is removed from the sights and sounds of the ministry of Jesus and his heart has become clouded with doubts and questions.

C.  What John Did In This Prison – When doubts arose in John’s heart, he did the right thing, he turned to Jesus for the answers he needed.  Instead of wondering and worrying there in that prison, John turned his efforts toward getting an answer from the Lord.  That is where help will be found in a time of doubt!

 

      (Note:  Why did John find himself locked in this prison of doubt?  I think there are many reasons, but there are three that I want to share with you today.

1.  Discouragement – John was a man used to the wide open spaces of the desert; now he finds himself locked away in a dungeon.  John was used to his liberty, now he finds himself bound in chains and fetters.  This confinement in a situation he could not change caused him to entertain doubts that normally would not have received a welcome in his mind.

 

      (Note:  How many times have we found ourselves here?  We find ourselves in a situation we cannot change.  We find ourselves with a problem we cannot solve.  We find ourselves in a prison from which we cannot escape.  When that happens, we sometimes begin to doubt too.  Beware of discouragement; it can devastate your life.  Discouragement can cause you to doubt everything you know and believe!)

 

2.  Disappointment – Surely John imagined that Jesus would come and set him at liberty.  After all, Jesus was the Messiah!  He possessed scepter of David.  Jesus could do anything; surely He could have set John free.  When Jesus didn’t rescue John, perhaps he became discouraged and began to doubt.  After all, wasn’t that one of the ministries of the Messiah? - Ill. Isa. 61:1; Luke 4:18

 

      (Note: Again, we probably wouldn’t admit it, but when the Lord does not do what we think He will do, or what we ask Him to do, there is a tendency for us to become disappointed with Him.  Have you ever entertained this thought: “The Lord did this for so and so; I don’t understand why He won’t do it for me!”? This disappointment can lead us to doubt Him, if we are not careful.)

 

3.  Disillusionment – John “heard…the works of Christ”.  As the reports filtered into the prison of the miracles and the preaching of Jesus, John was waiting for the big news.  He was waiting for the day when one would come and say, “John, Jesus is the Messiah!  He not only heals the sick, raises the dead and causes the blind to see, but now He is about to attack Rome and set us free!”  That is the news John and all Israel were waiting for. (Ill. Matt. 3:12; Mal. 3:2; 4:1)

 

            Hear me well today, John found himself locked in this prison of doubt because he listened to his own doubts and fears.  When you listen to what you think; what you feel; what you see; or to what your heart tells you, you are in trouble!

            You cannot trust your eyes; they don’t see everything.  You cannot trust what you feel; because we are called to walk by faith not by feelings.  You certainly cannot trust your heart; it is a liar, Jer. 17:9.

            We must come to the place where we simply trust the Lord, even when we cannot trace what He is doing.  Often, during the trials of our lives, we will not see the Lord do the things we think He should be doing. 

            Our problem is similar to John’s; we fail to see the big picture.  John did not understand that Jesus had to die and rise again and that at least 2,000 years would elapse before He would establish His kingdom.

      Often, we do not see everything that God is doing.  He knows more than we ever will about the situation, we must trust Him, or disillusionment will occur.)

 

(Note: I praise the Lord that God does not sugar coat the lives of His saints.  I am thankful that He lets us see them, warts and all.  In fact, there are many instances of doubt in the lives of the people of God. 

Ø      Think of Abram who had left everything he had known and loved to follow God to live as a pilgrim in a strange land, going down to Egypt and fearing that the Egyptians would take his life, Gen. 12:11-13.  

Ø      Think of Elijah who had stood alone on Mt. Carmel, faced down a king, a false god and a nation and, who had prayed down fire from Heaven; crawling under that Juniper and asking God to let him die, 1 Kings 19:4. 

Ø      Think of Thomas who had been prepared to die with Jesus, John 11:16, but who would not believe that Jesus had risen from the dead, John 20:24-25.

      No, when doubts arise, you are not alone my friend!  In fact, you are in good company.  However, that is not an excuse to allow the doubts to continue.  They must be addressed and they must be eliminated, or you will find yourself in a horrible prison of doubt.)

 

(Note: Have you ever found yourself in the prison of doubt?  Are you there now?  Is Satan or the flesh attempting to turn your heart away from what the Lord had told you or promised to you?  If that is your situation, then let me encourage you to do what John did.  Don’t close the door to Jesus, but run to Him and take your doubts with you.  He is not afraid of your doubts, but He is more than willing to hear them, answer them and deliver you from them.  Here is the Lord’s challenge for you: Phil. 4:6-7.)

 

 II.  v. 4-6        THE DEMONSTRATIONS OF THIS PRISON

A.  v. 4  How Jesus Answered John – When Jesus hears the disciples of John and their questions; He does not send back a stinging word of rebuke.  Jesus could have said, “Who does John think He is to question me?  He saw the Spirit descending on Me.  He knows that I am the Savior.  He knows and he has preached it!  He has no right or room to doubt me!  Go back and tell John to get his heart right with God!”

      That is not what Jesus does!  When he hears the doubts that have gripped John’s heart, Jesus responds with patience, grace and love.  Look at His response: “Go and show John again…”  Jesus is willing to help John as he works through his problem.  Many would have reacted in anger; Jesus reacted in love.

(Note:  I wish we never doubted, but sometimes we do! Have you ever found yourself in a place of discouragement and depression like Elijah?  Have you ever come to the place where you are depressed, defeated, discouraged and disillusioned?  We all have!  Notice how tenderly and with what grace the Lord ministered to Elijah, 1 Kings 19:1-16. 

Ø      The Lord did not rebuke Elijah; He ministered to him, v. 5-8! 

Ø      God did not write him off; He reaffirmed his call, v. 9, 13. 

Ø      God did not yell at him; He spoke tenderly to him, v. 5, 7, 9, 12. 

Ø      God did not give his ministry to another; He gave him a fresh assignment, v. 15-17. 

Ø      God did not allow his doubts to continue; He set the record straight with a pointed word of encouragement, v. 18.

      What is the point?  He will demonstrate that same tenderness to us when we find ourselves locked in the prison of perplexity. 

Ø      He will come to us and minister to us there, Heb. 13:5; Matt. 20:28.

Ø      He will dispense grace in sufficient measure for our need, 2 Cor. 12:9.

Ø      He will stand by us and enable us to go on for His glory, Rom. 8:27; 2 Cor. 2:14; 1 Cor .15:57.

Ø      He will speak peace to our troubles hearts, John 14:27; Phil. 4:7.

Ø      He will deal with our doubts in His time and in His way.  Thank God that we serve a patient God of love, mercy and grace!

 

B.  v. 4-5  How Jesus Assured John – Jesus merely pointed John back to the Word of God!  Jesus reported all the things He was doing and seemed to be saying, “Just go back and tell John to read his Bible and he will understand.”  Here are some of the verses Jesus may have had in mind: Isa. 35:3-6; Isa. 61:1-2.  Jesus seems to be saying, “Tell John that I am the Messiah.  I am doing everything the prophets said I would do.  I am fulfilling the Word of my Father in part now; I will fulfill the rest when the appointed time comes.  Tell John to study the Book and he will see.”

 

(Note: The Bible is the absolute cure for our doubts!  If we can but read the Word and take on faith that God will do everything He has promised, and that He will stand by His Word no matter what, we can see our doubts fall apart before our eyes.

      Folks, you can count on the Word of God!  He will stand by it, Psa. 138:2; Matt. 5:18; 24:35; 2 Cor. 1:20.  Everything He has promised, He will do!  Let the Bible put your doubts to death!  Bring your questions, lay them against the Word of God, and watch Him give you the answers you seek.)

 

C.  v. 6 How Jesus Admonished John – This is the same admonition Jesus gave to Thomas when he questioned the resurrection, John 20:27.  The Lord wants John to know that he does not have to have all the answers.  He wants John to believe in spite of the mysteries of life.  He wants John’s faith to be in Jesus in spite of what the eyes see, the heart feels, or the mind thinks.  He wants John to believe in Him and to simply trust Him by faith.

 

      (Note: That is what Jesus wants from us as well!  I realize this world is filled with many mysteries. 

Ø      Why do good people suffer? 

Ø      Why do babies get sick, suffer and die?

Ø      Why do good people seem to have more than their share of problems and trials? 

Ø      Why does it seem like serving God doesn’t always pay off in this world. 

Ø      Why is this world filled with sickness, suffering, sorrow and death?       

            We will never have the answers to all those questions.  If we allow our hearts and minds to dwell on them, we can find out faith shipwrecked on the jagged rocks of doubt.  We may become like Asaph did in Psalm 73.

            We must come to the place where we simply cast our doubts aside and trust God for the things we cannot see, feel or understand.  We must come to the place of obedient faith in Him, His power and His purposes for our lives.  Let me remind you of two important truths:

Ø      Our God is a God of Power – Isa. 40:12; Ex. 3:14; Luke 1:37; Job 42:2.

Ø      Our God is a God of Purpose – Rom. 8:28; Isa. 46:10; Eph. 1:11.

            We can trust Him, and that is the truth He wants us to understand when we enter the prison of His persuasions!

 

 

 

III.  v.7-11          THE DECLARATIONS OF THIS PRISON

A.  v. 7  Some Things Helped John In His Prison – When the disciples of John left Jesus, they returned to John and told him what they had seen and heard.  Evidently, these things helped John overcome his doubts and fears.  We never hear of him expressing doubt again.  Also, consider the fact that John went to his death, a willing martyr for the glory of the Lord, Matt. 14:6-12.

 

      (Note: We can be sure that when we are allowed to enter the prison of doubt, the Lord will have a word of hope, encouragement and blessing.  He will have exactly what we need, when we need it, to get us through that prison.  Again, let me appeal to you to look into His Word for the help you need.  Instead of walking in worry, fear and doubt, you can walk in peace, confidence and joy if you can but learn to take the Lord at His Word.)

 

B.  Some Things Were Hidden From John In This Prison – After John’s disciples leave Jesus begins to talk about the greatness of John.  Notice how Jesus describes John the Baptist.

Ø      v. 7 - He was not a “reed shaken by the wind” – John was not blown about by the changing winds of political and religious favor.  He was not like a flimsy reed; he was as steady as a rock.

Ø      v. 8 - He was not “a man clothed in soft raiment” – John was looking for an easy time.  He did not come to rule, but he came as a servant.  He came as one who prepares the way for the coming King, Matt. 3:3-4.

Ø      v. 9-10 – He was “a prophet” and he was even more than that; he was the literal fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, Mal. 3:1.

Ø      v. 11 – He was the “greatest” of those “born of women”.  This refers to the greatness of his character and of his privileges.  He was a true man of God; the last of the Old Testament prophets; and the forerunner of the Lord Jesus Christ.  He was somebody real special.

 

(Note: The statement “notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”  This does not refer to character.  Many Christians have a character that is nowhere near that which possessed by John.  But, our privileges far exceed his!  He was merely among “the friends of the Bridegroom”, John 3:29.  We are the “Bride” of Christ, 2 Cor. 11:2.  Those who are part of the church are in a greater state of privilege.)

(Note: Why did Jesus wait until the disciples of John were gone before He talked about the greatness of John?  Perhaps Jesus did not want to add the temptation of pride to the burdens already born by John.)

 

(Note: Here is what I want you to get from this last thought: Heaven has some secrets it doesn’t feel the need to share with us.  Like John, we often find ourselves in a place of doubt and fear.  During those times, we have no idea what Heaven is doing.  God has a plan and a purpose that you and I can never fathom, Isa. 55:8-9.

      Sometimes God conceals His plans from us, but He still desires that we trust Him anyway.  You see, like John, you never know what Heaven has planned for your life.  God may be about to use you in a powerful, wonderful way.  But, before He can use you for that purpose, He may just have to keep a few secrets from you.  Are you willing to trust Him anyway?

      In fact, you might live your entire life and still never know what the Lord is doing in your life.  Are you willing to trust Him anyway?

      While you are in that prison of doubt and perplexity, you may wonder what the Lord is doing in your life.  Heaven may not tell; but if the Lord sees fit to allow you to go into that prison, He does so because He sees in your character the kind of metal that can endure the furnace of doubt and be purified.

      When we want to say good things about people, we say them to their faces so that they will think good of us.  We save the bad things for behind their backs.  Heaven is not that way!  Jesus says His best things about us behind our backs.)

 

Conc:  Heaven may seem to be hiding some things from you today.  Your heart and your mind may be filled with doubts and fears.  Let me encourage you to bring those doubts, fears and problems to the throne of grace.  The Lord may just give you the answers you need today.  On the other hand, He may dispense grace in abundant measure for you today.

      If there are needs, this altar is open.  If you are lost, you can be saved.  If you are backslidden, you can come home.  If you are filled with doubt and fear, you can find peace.  Just do as He would have you to do.

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