The Doubt That Lingers

At yesterday’s baptism service at The Crossing, in a sacrament that echoes down through the millennia, Pastor Dave Cover gave a short homily on that famous text in the book of Matthew commonly referred to as “The Great Commission,” specifically chapter 28, verses 16-20:

Matthew 28:16-20 (ESV)
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

One of Dave’s points is that, as Christians, we seek to be obedient to every last word that was spoken by Jesus during His earthly ministry, and the baptism of new members has been (and is) a mark of every Bible-believing church throughout the ages. We welcome new members into the earthly community known as The Crossing, but in a very real sense we are welcoming them into the Church – with a capital “C” – that one day will be fully reconciled to Christ.

In his homily, Dave dwelt for the slightest of moments on the peculiar phrase in verse 17, namely “but some doubted.” As 21st-century believers, we might find it nearly impossible to fathom that anyone in the early church would find themselves standing right next to the God-Man in Person, the risen Savior Who only 40 days prior had shattered human history by being the only person to ever rise from death. But there it is, so honest and raw in its assessment of the hardness of the human heart: “OK, sure, I’m standing right next to this guy that I saw killed less than two months ago…but can I really believe that He is, as He says, the one and only Son of God?”

I suspect that many of us still harbor the illusion that if we had been standing right next to the Risen Lord, we would certainly have believed with all our hearts and quickly tossed everything else overboard to give our lives over to serving Christ. While I was guilty of that thinking early in my life of faith, I no longer harbor that illusion. I can easily see myself now as one of the doubters in the crowd on that particular day in Palestine.

Like all Christians, I have had to go through various seasons of doubt and unbelief. In fact, Dave’s homily served quite well to remind me that there is at least one remaining doubt that I still have not wrestled to the ground. Simply stated, it blows my mind to consider the idea that the eternal God would ever consider leaving His perfect, loving community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit to suffer and die for the likes of us. Well, the likes of me, anyway. It just doesn’t seem that what He got in exchange for His work on the cross was at all worth the price He had to pay.

The best word picture that I can think of to distill this remaining doubt down to its essence would be those promotional cards we often get in the mail, sent out by local auto dealers, that feature a very real, metal car key glued to the back. A child of six, who hasn’t yet been schooled in the ways of the world – let alone the innumerable methods by which advertisers seek to rivet our attention to their message – pulls the car key out of the mailbox and instantly assumes that his family has in fact just won a brand new car. “Dad, look, here’s the key to a brand new car right here!” That same child, so willing to accept the good news that he will soon be riding around in a brand new SUV, is blown away when one of his parents yawns, shakes their head, and tosses the car key into the trash.

In this world-weary, “seen it all” scenario, the adult in the situation knows for a fact that the odds of that key turning any ignition ever manufactured on the planet are about a zillion to one. Almost without question, it is not worth the price of the gasoline it will take to drive down to the dealership and endure some form of insufferable sales person who is standing at attention, just waiting for the suckers to line up. Price of gas, plus an agonizing 30-45 minute sales pitch? Not even close to worth it. Into the wastebasket it goes!

Early in my walk with Christ, I entertained all kinds of doubts and threw myself into the “homework” needed to answer some questions that had plagued me for all of my life. “How can Jesus be the only way to Heaven?” Knocked that one down to my own satisfaction after plenty of reading and verification. “Does the Bible stand up to the scrutiny of human history, archaeology, and science?” This one is an ongoing issue for me, but the larger questions have been thoroughly answered…again, to my own satisfaction. “How does anyone know if they belong to Christ?” On and on and on the list of questions goes, right? One of the things that I authentically love about Jesus is that He welcomes our questions whenever they are asked from a sincere desire to understand (and with an open heart).

But again, the one question that often holds me back in my worship and adoration of God is the question that pops up whenever I am granted the ability to take a really long, close look at my own heart. When I see the “spiritual trash” that is stacked in huge piles, along with the ungodly emotions and motivations that form a central place in my life, I have to wonder whether or not this Christ, this Savior of the world, just had one “put over on Him” by some guy – me, in this example – who has been relentlessly hot-gluing fake car keys to worthless pieces of cardboard. “Surely it’s only a matter of time before Someone actually tries to make this ‘key’ work on an SUV that lies idle on a parking lot somewhere in the Kingdom of God?”

When I look at what exactly the death of Jesus bought, when I consider how most of us stack up in terms of “found treasure,” it causes me to step back a bit and feel as though someone just paid $100 billion for a rusty, wrecked 1973 Pinto in a junk yard. It just doesn’t add up.

Because we worship in a church where the Word is preached faithfully week after week, I have the “right” answer for this conundrum, of course, namely that $100 billion for a hunk of junk is a spot-on word picture for the love of Christ that would reach out to rebels, enemies and God-haters. That I think for a moment that I hold a uniquely unworthy position is proof that pride – the other side of the coin, rather than thinking I don’t need God is the idea that I am “too sinful” to be salvageable – is still at work, fighting against the very foundation of my faith in Christ’s atoning work.

The fact that the price paid for one more measly rebel heart in the Kingdom of God is so scandalous is a biblical Truth that is (often) just too shocking for my rebel heart to take in. On my better days, though, I am able to read the Word through and find ample assurance that God has been buying “junk cars” for $100 billion for many, many years. He’s been doing it certainly not because we’re “worth it,” but because by doing so, His glory, His perfection, His perfect love is made gloriously manifest to us all.

Questions, questions and always more questions…I just need to shut up, park it between the white lines, and then go out looking for more wrecks.

Acts 1:6-8 (ESV)
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

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