Pastor Al Do You Really Believe in a Magic Talking Snake?
I want to start this morning with a little bit of apologetics. Last week we talked about the Fall of Man as presented in Genesis 1-3 and there’s one part of that story that keeps coming up in the secular world as a way to discredit Christians – that being the “talking snake”.
As I studied last week and went through the various pictures of Adam and Eve for last week’s PowerPoint, I saw a lot of pictures that looked really ridiculous, and I kept asking myself if I really actually believe this story or not. And it’s an important story to believe in. If the story of the Fall of Man is fictional, it affects a lot of things in Christianity.
First, if it’s fiction, then what parts of the Bible should be believed? Second, a lot of other books in the Bible reference that story as true, so can they be believed. Third, Romans 5 says that Jesus is the second Adam that didn’t fail, but did it right, and through which we find our salvation. So how can Jesus be the second Adam who did it right if there was no first who did it wrong? To discredit the story of creation and the fall in Genesis 1-3 is to dismantle much of what the theology of salvation is built on. No talking serpent, no temptation, no Eve taking the fruit, no fall… etc.
So how do I answer the question? Do I actually believe in a magic talking snake that tempted the only people on the planet to eat a forbidden fruit? Do you? Why? Well, let me tell you how I process it.
Humility Before the Word of God
The first place I start is humility before the Word of God. I remember that I don’t know everything and just because I don’t understand it doesn’t mean it’s wrong or impossible. If I told you not to worry that your OS defrags your solid state drive when you have Volume Shadow Copy turned on, would you believe me? Is it something you’ve ever worried about? Maybe you should, because automated defragging your SSD ups your writes. Worried now?
Just because you don’t understand what I’m talking about, doesn’t mean I’m wrong or trying to mislead you. And just because I don’t fully understand Genesis 1-3 doesn’t mean it’s wrong or trying to mislead me either. I decided a long time ago I was going to give the Bible the benefit of the doubt. That doesn’t mean I turn my brain off when I read or study, but it does mean that when I study, I start with the thought, “The Bible isn’t trying to lie to me, manipulate me, or hurt me. God is the author of truth, this is His book, and He’s using the Bible to teach me, guide me, and help me understand Him, myself, and the world. So whatever I’m not understanding isn’t God’s fault.”
A Story for All People
I also remember that the story in Genesis 1-3 isn’t meant to be a modern biography or scientific textbook explaining the exact details of what went on. It’s a story meant to convey important truths to different people who would live in different places and eras. That doesn’t mean it’s misleading though. It means’ it was told in a way that everyone could understand.
When Genesis was written, the concept of Satan wasn’t as fleshed out as it is by the end of Revelation, so his character is introduced in a very important way. The whole story is told in such a way that anyone who reads it, from Moses to today, will see the most foundational messages upon which all the rest of the scriptures will be built – God is eternal and good, man was created eternal and good, temptation is real, sin is terrible, and man’s choices have big consequences.
To do this, the first three chapters of the Bible use poetry, prose, imagery, repetition, and intricate word play, and to tell the story of Creation and the Fall in a way everyone can understand. Just because it was written thousands of years ago to people who weren’t interested in modern science, doesn’t make it wrong.
The Multiple Forces Argument
The third thing that helps me believe Genesis 1-3 is to remember that Satan is real, powerful, a master of deception, and capable of supernatural things. Here’s something I’ve been working on in my brain for a while, which I don’t think I’ve seen anywhere else, and it goes like this: There are four sorts of “forces” that act upon us in this world:
- Visible Personal Forces
- Visible Impersonal Forces
- Invisible Impersonal Forces
- and Invisible Personal Forces.
People have no problem with the first one, “Visible Personal Forces”, right? These are things we can see, and that make the choice to affect us. People are visible, personal forces.
People have no problem with the second one, “Visible Impersonal Forces”. Examples of this would be a rockslides, forest fires, earthquakes, tornados. We can see them affecting us, but they don’t make the choice to do so. A fire doesn’t choose what it’s burning. It just does it.
People have no problem with the third one either, “Invisible Impersonal Forces”. Examples of this are things like magnetism, wind, or gravity. We can’t see them and they don’t choose to affect us. They just do. We can’t take a picture of gravity, but it’s real, right?
It’s the fourth one that people get hung up on, “Invisible Personal Forces”. This is a personal being that chooses to affect our lives, but we can’t see them. But why is this one different? If the rest are true, why not this one? This is God, Angels and Demons. If we can believe in an invisible impersonal force like gravity, why not an invisible personal demon?
There are hundreds of papers written on invisible, personal forces that affect us all the time. Governments and corporations use psychological warfare to intimidate, demoralize, or persuade people to do things. They don’t have to be standing in front of you to affect you either. They can use things like propaganda, stress, bribes, language, suggestions, media, repetition, and technology to do it for them. We have no problem believing in the power of peer pressure, mob-mentality, or group think, right? But that’s not visible force, is it? No one says, “As of this moment you should go flip cop cars and smash windows”, it just sort of happens. Other examples of invisible, personal forces are things like memories of people who have died, your own personality, hypnosis, or even emotional love and physical pain. People will debate the power of the butterfly effect and talk about good or bad luck or Murphy’s Law as though they are real, but have a problem with the existence of Demons.
All I’m saying is that it is not unreasonable to believe that there are such things as Invisible Personal Forces, like God, Angels or Demons – who are real, creative, and powerful – that affect our lives every day. And the being introduced in Genesis 3 as a tempting serpent is an example of that. Just because it’s difficult to understand or strange to our ears doesn’t make it untrue.
So, I think to myself, if God is the author of the Bible, the story of Genesis 1-3 is written to tell me the truth, and there really is such a being as Satan, then why would it be impossible for this story to be true? Why couldn’t Satan use a serpent to tempt Eve? I believe what Jesus says, and He says that Satan is a master deceiver (John 8:44), capable of looking like a false messiah and even do miracles so convincing that even people who claim to be Christians will be deceived by him (Matthew 24:24). 2 Corinthians 11:14 says he can even masquerade as an angel of light.
So, is it not possible that Satan used his powers of deception to either manipulate or take on the form of a serpent? Or, if that’s too much, if invisible personal forces are real, then that would mean a form of that is demonic possession, right? Why couldn’t Satan have possessed this animal’s body and used it?
Now I sound crazy, right? I sound like I’m reaching beyond the scope of reality. But hold on. If the Bible isn’t trying to fool me, and Satan is real and powerful, then why is it impossible? It doesn’t have to be the kind of snake we think of today, does it? Genesis 3:1 says that the “serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field” and Revelation 20:2 calls Satan, “the dragon, that ancient serpent”, so this clearly wasn’t the kind of snake we see today, but perhaps a very clever animal that is long extinct. In fact, in Genesis 3:14, when God is cursing the serpent, He changes the form of the serpent to one that stands to one that slithers. There are lots of scientists who think snakes used to have legs but lost them as they evolved. And I’ve watched enough BBC nature documentaries to know that there are animals capable of some pretty incredible things, right?
We’ve all seen the amazing things trained dogs, dolphins, and chimpanzees can do, right? I saw an article that showed how humans have taught parrots, orangutans, elephants and seals to mimic the human voice. And you’ve probably heard about Koko the gorilla that was capable of understanding thousands of English words and signed back over a thousand.
So, I’m not saying I understand it all, but all I’m saying, is why not, in the history of the world, with all the species that have ever existed, couldn’t there have been a smart, serpent-like creature capable of mimicking human speech that Satan possessed and used? Just because I don’t understand it, doesn’t mean it isn’t true. But is it plausible? I believe it is. Or, if that’s too much, then maybe Satan simply used some sort of supernatural power to talk through it, the same way God did with Balaam’s Donkey.
Now, why spend so much time on this today? The reason is simply that there’s a big difference between saying we believe something and actually believing it, and that difference has consequences. There are often nagging questions in the back of our minds that cause us to doubt God’s Word, doubt our faith, doubt how serious we should take it, and wonder if all that we say we believe is actually true. It causes us to distrust God, distrust other Christians, and to live in fear. Our doubts are weapons that Satan can use to cause us to think and believe some destructive lies.
If he can use our doubts to cause us to question the existence of Adam and Eve, then why not Abraham and Jesus too? If Genesis is made up, then why not the Gospel of Matthew? If there was no Fall of Man, no first sin that corrupts all mankind, then where is the curse and what did Jesus die for? Does that mean we’re all basically good people and everyone is going to heaven? If we’re all basically good, then what’s wrong with the world? And if we’re all good, or a bunch of it is made up, then why tell anyone about Jesus at all?
Satan can use these doubts to take us apart in surprising ways. It’s the same tactic he used on Eve. “Did God actually say…?” was an attack on God’s Word and His character. If he can get us to doubt what God says, then we have permission to edit His Words, change them, or dismiss them. Then we’re in trouble. Then the foundations of our life and faith start to crumble. Then we start to doubt that God is real, that Satan is real, that invisible, personal spiritual forces are real, and it makes us an easier target.
Those niggling doubts, which so many of us suppress thinking there are no good answers, embarrassed to ask other people in case we sound crazy or stupid, undermine our faith and become a foothold in our lives for the devil and a stumbling block to those around us. That’s why we need to spend time praying, studying, talking, and sharing our doubts and questions about God. He’s not scared of us looking into it, and He’s not angry that there are things we don’t understand, so it shouldn’t prevent us from asking and searching. Sure, not every question will have the perfect answer, but I have yet to find an important question that hasn’t gotten a reasonable answer over the past couple thousand years. The real trouble comes when we refuse to find them.
Is Hell Real?
Consider the questions from the Heidelberg Catechism that we’ve been studying, especially those today. We’ve spent three weeks talking about the importance of realizing that we are sinners, right? Last week we said that sin isn’t God’s fault, but question 9 comes. It says
“But does not God do man an injustice by requiring in his law what man cannot do?”
Ursinus, in his brilliance, knew that the human heart is full of doubt and is desperate to escape blame. We hate being called sinners and want to do everything we can to push that guilt away. We want to pretend the Fall wasn’t real, that Satan isn’t real, that we’re basically good people, and anything we do that’s wrong is someone else’s fault – even God’s. But neither God nor Ursinus lets us off the hook.
The question is basically “Isn’t it unfair for God to ask us to obey a Law that He knows we can’t obey because of our sinful nature?” and the answer comes:
“No, for God so created man that he was able to do it. But man, at the instigation of the devil, in deliberate disobedience robbed himself and all his descendants of these gifts.”
As I said last week, God didn’t set Adam up for failure, but for success. He absolutely could have obeyed, but fell to temptation chose not to. And now all of us children of Adam are all living with the consequences of having a sinful nature.
Question 10 continues,
“Will God allow such disobedience and apostasy to go unpunished?”
Herein lay another area of our doubts – that God would actually punish sin. Doesn’t God love us? Won’t he let us get away with it? Isn’t He a Good Father who lets His children off the hook because he loves them so much? A kind God wouldn’t really make anyone go to Hell, would He?
People work really hard to try to deny that sinners are punished in Hell, and even harder to try to convince themselves that they themselves aren’t sinners, but neither is true. “Will God allow such disobedience and apostasy to go unpunished?” The answer in the Catechism comes:
“Certainly not. He is terribly displeased with our original sin as well as our actual sins. Therefore he will punish them by a just judgment both now and eternally, as he has declared: Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law (Gal 3:10).”
God promised punishment to Adam and Eve (Gen 2:17). He promised punishment to Moses and the Israelites (Ex 34:7). The Lord, through the prophets, promised to take vengeance on all His enemies (Nah 1:2), and we’ve already learned that sin made us an enemy of God (Eph 2:1-3). Jesus said that without Him, that many will be led to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14) and promised that there would be a final separation where some people would be sent into eternal flames and endless misery (Matt 13:30-42).
Hell, like talking about the snake, makes some people very uncomfortable. They want to hold onto their doubts. They want to deny it. They want to live in ignorance. They don’t want to ask questions lest they learn something they don’t like. They don’t want to think that some people that they love are in Hell, or that they might be as well.
But, just as changing the story of Eden changes everything, so does removing Hell. Look at question 11 of the Catechism:
“But is God not also merciful?”
It’s almost an outcry, isn’t it? But how can the concept of Hell line up with a loving God?
And the answer is this:
“God is indeed merciful, but he is also just. His justice requires that sin committed against the most high majesty of God also be punished with the most severe, that is, with everlasting, punishment of body and soul.”
Yes, God is love, and part of love is ensuring that justice is done. Consider yourself. If you were wronged – you went downtown, someone jumped you, beat you, stabbed you, and stole your belongings – it would be unloving, unjust, unkind for a judge to simply let the mugger get away with it. How much more should humanity be punished for committing such “disobedience and apostasy” against the perfection of God? He is absolute perfection, and humanity chose Satan, sin, disobedience, and betrayal – and we keep doing it over and over willfully and in ways we don’t even know. You must admit yourself to be a sinner.
But our doubts fight, don’t they? “I’m not that bad. God’s not really like that. I don’t want that to be true.” My plea for you is to allow the conviction of God to fall upon you and to allow Him to judge you guilty – because it’s only then that you’ll be willing to ask and accept forgiveness. If you doubt yourself to be a sinner you will doubt the cost of your salvation.
Let me close with this: When it comes to difficult, uncomfortable topics like Hell, do what I said before. First, stop thinking you know everything and show some humility before God and His Word of God. Second, realize the teaching about Hell isn’t there to harm you, but to tell you something that you need to know so you can make a better decision. And third, overcome your doubts by choosing to share them, study the truth, and then settle it in your mind.
Today we’re going to study Mark 7:31-8:33. At first these stories are going to seem disconnected, but as we read them, hopefully you will see a theme developing. I also want you to listen for similar phrases and events. It’s set up as a sort of sandwich where we see a couple of similar events, and then something different, and then a couple of similar events.
Top of the Sandwich: Ears to Hear
“Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’ And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.’” (Mark 7:31-37)
So there’s the first section. What did we see? Jesus goes somewhere, meets someone in need, Jesus looks to heaven to pray, heals that person with a sigh at the hard heartedness of the people and the effects of sin on humanity, and tells them to keep it quiet after performing the miracle. Let’s move on to the next event, which happens a few days later.
“In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, ‘I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.’ And his disciples answered him, ‘How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?’ And he asked them, ‘How many loaves do you have?’ They said, ‘Seven.’ And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away.” (Mark 8:1-9)
Ok, so what do we see there? Another display of power. This time Jesus goes somewhere, sees the need (rather than having the need brought to him), deals with the unbelief and sin of the disciples (I wonder if he sighed here too), prays, and works the miracle. That’s section one. Two displays of power a similar and simple theme: Jesus can work amazing miracles.
The Middle of the Sandwich: Deaf Ears and Blind Eyes
Now we move to section two, the middle of the sandwich – the bacon of the sandwich, the reason for the existence of the sandwich!
“And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha. The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, ‘Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.’ And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side.” (Mark 8:10-13)
So here, Jesus goes somewhere and comes across a group with hard hearts and no faith. This group of Pharisees likely wasn’t around for the previous miracles, but they had heard of Jesus’ reputation and came to “argue” with, and request miracles from Jesus. “Show us! Let us see with our own eyes” they demand. Now, with that in our minds, let’s read the next section:
“Now they [that is, the disciples] had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he cautioned them, saying, ‘Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.’ And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread. And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, ‘Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?’ They said to him, ‘Twelve.’ ‘And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?’ And they said to him, ‘Seven.’ And he said to them, ‘Do you not yet understand?’” (Mark 8:14-21)
Do you see similarities? Jesus goes somewhere, but this time the group that has hard hearts and low faith are his disciples. Unlike the Pharisees, they had witnessed the miracles, and yet still didn’t understand the truth about Jesus. Our Key Verse for this whole section is found in verses 17-18, and they shine light on the rest of the whole section: “Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?” Do you not see? Do you not hear? Do you not understand? Hopefully you’re seeing the connection. If not, you will after we read the next section.
The Bottom of the Sandwich: Jesus Gives Sight
“And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, ‘Do you see anything?’ And he looked up and said, ‘I see people, but they look like trees, walking.’ Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. And he sent him to his home, saying, ‘Do not even enter the village.’” (Mark 8:22-26)
Jesus performs another miracle where he takes someone who has a blockage of perception – before it was hearing, now it’s sight – and performs a miracle so they can see. And He goes through a similar pattern as with the deaf/mute, though this time it takes two steps.
Now, from the context, we’re beginning to see that Jesus healing the deaf and the blind is about far deeper than merely restoring earing and eyesight. This blind man is a picture of what Jesus wants to do for His disciples, and for all of us. He wants His followers to see – but, like the man, though they have been touched by Jesus, at first, they are only seeing dimly… blurrily… a little bit of light, but not enough to understand what’s really going on.
And how do we know that? Because of the final section:
“And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that I am?’ And they told him, ‘John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.’ And he asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Christ.’ And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him. And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.’” (Mark 8:27-33)
Peter is our great example here. Peter was like the blind man, unable to see. Then He met Jesus, and began to see something… that Jesus was the Christ… but Peter wasn’t seeing clearly yet. How do we know? Because of what Peter did next – he rebukes Jesus for talking about his crucifixion! “You’re the Christ, Jesus! You’ll never suffer! You’ll conquer!”
Like the blind man, Peter saw a little light about Jesus, but his spiritual vision was still blurry. He needed more from Jesus in order to understand the rest of the truth about Jesus. And that would come after the Crucifixion and Resurrection, on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples and they finally understood all that Jesus said.
Two Blind Groups
Hopefully I’ve explained well enough the connections throughout this section. Deaf and Blind people meeting Jesus and needing healing. But it’s more than physical blindness and deafness that Jesus has come to heal – it’s spiritual blindness and deafness. Jesus shows He has the supernatural power to overcome any kind of perception problem, and goes even farther to show He can provide food out of thin air for thousands of people.
But then, in the middle of these stories of healing, we see two groups that are both presented with Jesus’ claims and evidence of His power — but who react very differently to them: The Disciples and the Pharisees.
The Disciples saw miracle after miracle, had heard message after message, and had seen bread come out of nowhere to feed thousands – and yet, as they sat in the boat, when Jesus began to teach them in a parable saying, “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” They completely missed it. They thought they were in trouble for forgetting to bring lunch. They thought Jesus was hungry and wanted food. They showed their complete lack of ability to perceive spiritual things – they were stuck in the physical realm.
Jesus rebukes them:
“Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?” (Mark 8:17-18)
“Guys! I just miraculously provided thousands of people with bread, and you were left with baskets and baskets of it! Do you really think that I’m mad at you for not bringing enough lunch? Do you really think I’m telling you to beware of the actual, physical bread that the Pharisees make?!?!”
They’d seen so much, but they’d forgotten and couldn’t see the truth about Jesus. Were they really unwilling to believe that Jesus would provide bread to them? Their shortsighted, small minded, easily forgetful ways, showed they were like the deaf man – unable to hear what Jesus was saying. They were just like the blind man – unable to see what was happening right before their eyes. At least the deaf man knew he was deaf and needed Jesus to help him hear.
Jesus kept His disciples around, showing them miracle after miracle, sharing teaching after teaching, giving them example after example, answering question after question… training them to have faith in Him. They wrestled with unbelief for years as they walked with Jesus… but eventually, after they had walked with Him for a while, witnessed His Resurrection, and were touched by His Holy Spirit, they became men of strong faith.
The other group, however, didn’t. The other group that we see in the bacon of these stories is the Pharisees. Like the Disciples, they are also deaf and blind – but they don’t know it. They’re bumbling around, unable to see spiritual truths, hurting themselves and others in their ignorance. Like a deaf person, they shout out unintelligible nonsense that sounds right to them, but is just noise. They are presented with the same evidences, the same Jesus, the same claims, and are given the same opportunity to follow.
The Pharisees had heard of Jesus’ reputation, and may have even witnessed some miracles – at the very least they knew of Jesus’ reputation from many witnesses – but they didn’t come to seek light and truth or to ask questions and listen to Jesus. Why did they come? 8:11 says, “The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him.”
The difference is their attitude. No matter what Jesus would have said, they hadn’t come to listen, they came to talk. They were deaf. No matter what Jesus would have shown them, they wouldn’t have seen it, because they had their blinders on.
It reminds me of when the Deacon Stephen was martyred by this same group of people. These are the last words of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, and they are addressed to the Sanhedrin:
“‘You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.’”
[Now look at their reaction.]
“Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. And he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him.” (Acts 7:51-58)
They, like the Pharisees who had come to Jesus that day, weren’t there to listen, but to argue, make demands, condemn and test. They put themselves above Jesus, as His judges. He needed to prove Himself to them! They were the experts. They were the holy ones. They were the ones who knew God – and they expected Jesus to toe the line.
How to Deal with Unbelief
We all struggle with doubts and unbelief at times – some more than others. Even the most faithful Christian has moments when they wonder about what God is doing. We all ask questions like, “God, do you still love me? Are you in control of this? Will you help me? Do you hate me? Is this in your plan? Where are you? Can I trust you with this difficult thing? Are you worthy of putting my faith in, or will you let me down? ” We all have moments of doubt.
The question is how we respond. The difference between the Disciples and the Pharisees, though they both struggled with blindness and deafness, was that one group had a relationship with Jesus and the other didn’t. One had been chosen by Jesus and was willing to stick with Him. They kept walking with Him, paying attention to Him, seeking after Him, waiting for Him, asking Him questions, talking to Him. And their wiliness to do that meant they continued to see miracles, hear from Jesus, and were mightily used by God.
The Pharisees didn’t walk with Jesus. They came to argue with and test Jesus. They wanted Him to submit to them. They wanted God to bend to them – and therefore, even after meeting Jesus, they still walked away blind.
I guess the key word that describes that attitude is humility. Both groups were messed up. Both were blind. Both didn’t understand what Jesus was doing. But only one of the groups were willing to humbly walk with Jesus as their Lord. The disciples didn’t demand Jesus prove Himself, they just walked with Jesus wherever He went and saw Him in action. They got the proof, but not on their terms.
The Pharisees came at their own convenience, ordered Jesus to do things for them, and when He didn’t, they walked away. One group showed humble discipleship, the other arrogant presumption.
Sometimes we hear people say things like, “If God is real, why doesn’t He just show Himself! If God wants me to believe in Him, then He can just write it in the sky. Just one little miracle and I’ll believe Him. If God wants me to follow Him, then He’ll do this one thing for me. God, I’ll make a deal with you, I’ll start praying if you work this miracle.”
God wouldn’t be much of a god, if He performed like a trained seal and submitted to the whims of His creation, would He? God doesn’t operate like that. He shows Himself to people who come to Him in humble faith, in need, who desire truth, and who are willing to submit to Him as their God! God doesn’t submit to people who come demanding a performance.
We Experience Jesus in Different Ways
That being said, God is amazingly willing to meet us where we’re at and perform miracles for we who don’t deserve it. Like in the scriptures we’ve read today, different people meet Him in different ways, and God does some amazing things for them. But there’s a common theme behind all of these folks that met Jesus.
Jesus said as much in Matthew 13:44-46 where He said:
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
You see, we don’t create our own treasure, God does — and we all come across it a little differently. Some people are like the man who stumbles across it. The somehow come across Jesus – maybe through their parents, or a friend, or a vision, or another way they didn’t go looking for – and Jesus opens their eyes, their ears and frees their tongue to worship Him.
Other people are like the man searching for pearls – they look all their life for that one, great treasure, and when they meet Jesus they completely sell out to Him. They’ve searched and now they’ve found.
The deaf man and the blind man were brought to Jesus to be healed. They didn’t get there by themselves. The treasure was found by others. And all of the 4000 people that Jesus fed that day didn’t ask for it, Jesus just had compassion on them and fed them. We meet and experience Jesus in different ways.
Their healing was unique too. Many people had been brought to Jesus, but these are the only ones we read about where Jesus uses spit – and in the Gospel of John we read that he made mud from the spit – and used it to heal the person. No one seems to know why Jesus did that, but we can take away from it that – for whatever reason – Jesus uses different methods to meet different people’s needs.
Jesus healed the leper by laying on hands. The Centurion’s servant and the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter was healed form a distance. We don’t know why, but Jesus uses different methods on different people.
That’s part of the lesson of humility too, isn’t it? We come to Jesus, like the blind man, the deaf man, the disciples – humbly following and hoping for something – and then we allow Jesus to do it however He wants. Or, we try to come to Jesus like the Pharisees, demanding Jesus do it our way, in our time, using our methods. Jesus doesn’t respond to that. He responds to humility.
Sometimes Jesus chooses to heal immediately and fully. I just heard someone tell me this week about an addiction they had that God cured like that. Boom! One minute they couldn’t put it down, the next they couldn’t pick it up.
Sometimes God uses a little spit and mud to get it done. We need to take the medicine, go through training, work through the suffering, get dirty, face the temptation every day, exist in that situation for a while.
Sometimes, as we learned from the blind man, Jesus heals in stages. What we might call – progressive healing. We know that’s true spiritually. It’s something we call “progressive sanctification” the process of living our lives in such a way that we get closer to God and more like Jesus every day. 1 Corinthians 13:12 says, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” In this world we don’t really understand everything. Christians experience and understand many things we didn’t before we met Jesus, but we don’t know it all yet – which is why we struggle with doubt sometime. But we’re only in the first stage of healing.
Sometimes Jesus heals us in stages too. Sometimes we need to bear the burden for a little while, see dimly, and only get – what we see as – part of the miracle. The question is: Are you willing to humbly submit to following Jesus where He wants to go, do what He wants to do, in His timing, healing you as He sees fit, in the way He sees fit? Because that’s how we experience the presence of Jesus.
Let me conclude with these thoughts. We’re all deaf and blind sometimes, and we know people who are deaf and blind to the things of God – but Jesus has the power to break through that blindness and give us light. He can break through the deafness so we can hear His voice. He can unbridle our tongue so we can speak the truth.
Jesus is the only one who can break through spiritual blindness and deafness. We can’t demand it of Him, but we can ask. God’s hand of grace moves when we humble ourselves before Him. If we want God to prove Himself, trade miracles for faith, and submit Himself to our wills, we will be sorely disappointed. He doesn’t play that game. He’s God, we’re not. Satan does play that game, however. He’s happy to give you enough rope to let you hang yourself. God doesn’t want that. He wants the best for you, and He wants you to realize that He knows what is best – and He gives you the ability to choose whether you will trust Him.
If you want to experience the power of God, then come to Him in humility and faith, trusting He knows what is better, with confidence in His love, His sovereignty, His compassion and His power. Remember who you are talking to.
And Remember what He has said. He said to the disciples, “Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember?”
Let us be the ones who remember!
We ask, “God do you love me?”
He responds, “Of course! Don’t you remember that I sent my son to die for you?”
We ask “Are you in control?”
He responds, “Yes, I’ve shown my faithfulness to you already, and I’ve proven that my thoughts are higher than your thoughts, my ways are higher than your ways. (Isaiah 55:8-9) Remember that I know what I’m doing.”
We ask, “Will you help me?”
He responds, “Yes, and I already have. Remember that I’m with you. I’ve given you every breath you’ve ever taken, and the strength for every step you’ve ever made. I’ve promised never to leave you. I’ve promised to give you all you need to do everything you need to do. Just follow me and I’ll lead you where you need to be.”
“Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart:
How to Know for Sure You Are Saved”
Broadman and Holman
“…many are headed into eternal judgment under the delusion of going to heaven.” (Pg 6)
“Don’t try to find assurance from a prayer you prayed in the past; find assurance by resting in the present on what Jesus did in the past.” (Pg 47)
These two quotes clarify why this book was written and why we all need to read it. Sadly, all over the world there are unsaved people who falsely believe they are saved, sitting beside faithful Christians who spend every day wondering if they truly are. This book is written for them and for us who need the tools to help them. Within are answers to critical questions each believer must settle in their heart before they can live in confident faith.
Greear also brings new life to words like belief, faith, repentance, and grace which have become so commonplace in churches that they have been nearly stripped of their true meaning and significance.
This topic hits home for me because I know what it’s like to struggle with doubt and have seen it in the churches that I serve. Assurance of salvation might be the most frustrating battle that gospel preachers face. Each week we look out at the people who we pastor and wonder, “Are these people confident in their salvation?” “How can I combat needless doubting and convince believers that they are secure in Jesus?” “How can I teach against false assurance?” “How many of these people know they are saved, beyond any doubt?”
J.D. Greear knows this heartache all too well and writes from a place of pain, passion and elation as he takes us on the journey that helped him discover the true gospel of peace. His style is a wonderful combination of grace and sensitivity for those who struggle with doubt, while pulling no punches with any who would use fear and doubt to control people. There is no “easy-believism” to be found in this book. It is full of hard truths told by a man with a soft heart.
He gives simple, applicable, and convincing scriptural insight coupled with well thought out explanations and applications – without being wordy or using unnecessary jargon. He has a great teacher with a remarkable strength for answering unasked questions (like “What if I have no ‘moment of salvation’”?). He treads carefully through difficult and controversial topics (like free-will), discussing them biblically and illustratively, but isn’t afraid to admit his limitations and allow the mysterious parts of salvation to remain a mystery. Though unafraid to address controversies, he doesn’t get swept up in endless debate or plant his head firmly in the cement, but keeps the main thing the main thing by rising above the fray to teach us about what is most important – our salvation.
My favourite parts of this book are Greear’s evangelistic outbursts. It’s as though he’s writing along, helping us understand an important topic, and can’t help but start preaching the gospel. This book comes from a very authentic place.
There are a lot of quotables in this book that belong on a poster or the wallpaper on my computer. I found myself saying “Amen!” aloud quite often. His explanation of progressive sanctification was so wonderful and powerfully simple that it gave me a deeper love for my Saviour – a great gift.
This book isn’t just for new believers who need assurance, but for any Christian who struggles with doubt, hopelessness, feelings of condemnation, or habitual sin. As I read it I found that it was uncovering some chinks in my spiritual armour like unrepentance and sins that I had grown comfortable with which were keeping me from God. I am indebted to this author who helped me move from a scholastic reading of his book to penitent and thankful prayer before my loving Lord. It is my prayer that everyone would read this book and be assured of their place before Jesus and at peace with God.