About 8 years ago I was attending a church in another state for about 4 months. During that time, the pastor of the church was caught in a scandal and subsequently left town. I remember having conversations with different people about the details behind the incident, and I as not too surprised by the events that transpired, but I remember saying, “His sermons leading up to this big mess were really good!” After I said that, someone else spoke up and said, “It’s interesting that the sermons get better the closer they hit home for the pastor.”
It’s true, you know. As a preacher, I often find that when I preach on things I am going through (while not abusing the pulpit by using it as a place of personal confession, and not revealing personal information) my sermons seem to have more of an impact.
[Disclaimer: I am fully aware that I am just a tool God uses to communicate His truth, so I am not trying to take credit for anything good that comes from what I preach.]
Recently, I have been obsessed with the Gospel of Mark. In particular, I am most interested in how Mark portrays the disciples. In Mark chapter 4, Jesus seems to set up a distinction between people who are “on the inside,” to which the secrets of the Kingdom of God are given, and those who are “outside,” who do not understand God’s Kingdom nor Jesus’ parables. However, in at least 20 instances throughout Mark’s Gospel, the disciples are the only ones who either a) don’t understand something Jesus says, b) appear clueless as to who Jesus is, c) don’t believe Jesus can do what he says he can do, or d) outright deny things that Jesus says will happen.
Only once does a disciple say something right: Peter’s confession of the Christ. But immediately after that, Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan!” because Peter refused to accept that Jesus was going to suffer.
In contrast, everyone else Jesus encounters throughout Mark’s Gospel either a) have faith that he can heal/forgive, b) believe he is the Son of God, or c) react completely opposite to how the disciples react to Jesus’ teachings. Characters such as the Samaritan woman, Blind Bartimaeus, and even the centurion at the foot of the cross exhibit more faith and understanding than the 12 disciples who spent every day with Jesus over the course of 3 years!
I still have a hard time wrapping my head around this, because it doesn’t make any sense at all! How is it that people who barely know Jesus exhibit more understanding than someone who has daily conversations with the man, listens to his sermons, and watches him perform miracles? And how is it that those ‘on the outside’ seem to know more about God and His Son than those who are ‘on the inside’?
In truth, I have often found myself in the shoes of the disciples. I have been a Christian ever since I can remember, and there was never a time when I did not know who Jesus was. Yet, I frequently wonder who in the world this man is. I am confronted with the question: ‘Who is the Christ?’ more often than I care to admit, because the more I reflect on it the more I notice how little I know of Jesus. I read the Bible, and the more I do so the more contradicted I feel because how God acts and speaks simply does not make sense to me.
Maybe it seems strange that a pastor would admit that, for him, having faith is difficult. Sometimes I struggle to know what God’s plan is for my life (or even if he has a plan for me life. Maybe He just wants me to pursue whatever is in front of me…), or whether or not He is who the Bible makes Him out to be. And much like the father in Mark 9, I find myself repeating this prayer in my head: “I do believe, but help my unbelief!” Referring back to what I said earlier, it seems that the power of the content of my preaching has changed a bit since I began writing sermons on this very topic.
During my second year of my undergraduate studies, when I was confronting many challenging questions about my beliefs, I was having a conversation with my mom where I admitted that there are many questions I am hesitant to ask because I have no idea how to answer them. It was then that I began feeling like the blind man whom Jesus healed in John 9 who said, “[Who he is] I do not know. One thing I do know. I as blind, but not I see!” Sometimes that is the only thing I can confidently affirm.
Surely God exists and has been active in my life, because I have seen evidence of that fact. Surely His Son lived, died, rose again, and His spirit dwells inside of me because I have felt the power of that truth. Beyond that, I have many questions and even some doubts. But, I think that is okay. If Jesus’ disciples had such a hard time figuring out who Jesus was when they literally walked with him every day, then certainly Jesus can use me even if I haven’t a clue what is going on.
I am sure many of us have found ourselves in similar situations, or perhaps we are currently in that place of doubt. While it is easy to doubt, perhaps our seasons of doubt help to strengthen our Faith in the end.