I believe in doubt: an examined faith
As humans, we doubt. Even the best of us. Let's look at time when Jesus meets someone with doubts. I invite you to turn to your Bible to John chapter 20. It’s a story of Jesus and Thomas, the disciple. Thomas has some doubts about the resurrection of Jesus. Thomas was an apostle of Christ. We learn from the gospel of Luke, that Jesus prayed all night before picking Thomas as an Apostle. We know that Thomas was a loyal follower to Jesus. We know that Thomas was the one who wanted to go back with Jesus to Judea, the place where everyone wanted to kill Jesus. All of the other disciples said, “Don’t go back, Jesus. They will kill you.” But Thomas said, “We need to go with him, so we may die with him.” Thomas was loyal to Jesus in the most practical of ways. He was a realist. Yet... he had some doubts. If Thomas, a faithful Apostle, had doubts... to be sure, some of us have doubts too. In fact, all believers have doubts. And that's OK. As we read John chapter 20, I want us to see what exactly it means that whatever those doubts are, Jesus is able to remove those doubts to bring you closer to Him.
John chapter 20, starting at verse 24...
Thomas... he didn’t make it to church! He missed out. See what happened when we don’t meet with the saints on Sunday?! We miss seeing Jesus! Jesus came to church. How many of us our doubters,though, are skeptics?: "Nah, Nahh... I need to see that for myself!" Growing up were you that kid, or are now raising that kid, who says “Prove it!" at every chance? Yeah...Thomas is "that" child of God! "I need the facts! I need my own information... I need you to prove this to me!"
So, it’s been a week. Jesus takes His time. Notice for a moment Thomas' response: "My Lord, my God." Right there is the right response! You may have been born into a believing family, but that didn't make God your personal Lord and your God. Everyone needs to proclaim it for themselves, “My Lord, My God!" Thomas has a need. And he requests that this need be meet. And Jesus is not obligated to, but because He is so very gracious, so kind, so loving, He shows up and fulfills His request. We all have needs... and if we acknowledge that Jesus is our personal Lord, we will soon see that he works personally in our lives to meet our pressing personal needs which lead us to Him. Let’s talk about Thomas… There are five lessons from Thomas:
Remember Mary? She was the first one to find Jesus alive. Why? She was at the tomb. Trying to get closure. -- Mary tried to get as close as she could get to Jesus, even though His body was dead (as though she thought). Meanwhile... the disciples get together as a group, a church, to process the pain and to grieve. Where's Thomas, old faithful? Thomas, well... he’s isolated and independent, he’s not with the group or with Mary.
... Here is the big idea: In pain, in struggles, in grief, in crisis, people process them differently. Here is what's wonderful. Who does Jesus show up to? Just Mary? Just the Church? Nope!
He shows up to all of them. Jesus meets them exactly where they are at... even Thomas. I can hear Jesus now... "I will meet them at the church. I will meet Mary at the tomb. And I will meet Thomas publicly for a private conversation." Sometimes when people are grieving and processing in a different way than we do, we go, “They are not responding well!” -- Friend, let them have their process, and trust that Jesus will meet them where they are at. Jesus does that. How many of us reading this has Jesus done that for them? You where in that season, and Jesus met you where you were. He came to you, and whether it was a hurt that He healed, a fear that He fixed, or a doubt He defeated... He took care of what was separating you from Him. So that you might be close to Him. In a healthy, loving relationship!
For the Christian, doubt should always be a longing to make our faith concrete. Thomas has gotten a bad wrap, a bad nickname... we call him “Doubting Thomas.” Whenever someone meets me, I greet them with “Hello, my name is Thomas.” Most always, if I am in Christian circles, I get the response, “Oh, Doubting Thomas? I hope your not doubting like Thomas.” -- It’s as if Thomas is disloyal to His faith in Jesus when he had his doubt! Faith is much more than the state of being away from doubt! Today, there is confusion surrounding “doubt.” More confusion than many Christian believers realize. We need to understand that to have “doubt” is to have the key to a strong faith. Why?... Sometimes we believe anything and are too inclusive about what we say is "true". When we do this, we risk falling into disbelief, because when we find out that not all we believed is true, we start disbelieving everything and anything! And yet, at other times we are too conservative... hard nosed about beliefs, un-open... to the point that we think it is a sin to question things. When we do this, our unresolved doubts leave us in guilt and despair, and sometimes this leads some to reject belief in God altogether. Not good. It breaks Jesus' heart. Here is what doubt is not: It is NOT total unbelief. And unbelief is the decision to live your life as if there is no God. It is a deliberate decision to reject Jesus Christ and all that He stands for. Doubt is something quite different. So what is doubt?...
Doubt grows within the seedbed of faith! It is a hopeful longing to be sure of the things that we have trust in. Consider the below quote...
In scripture, we are given a realistic yet healthy view of doubt. We are told that doubt is definitely serious but not terminal. It’s not like a fatal sickness that ends in death. In the book of Ecclesiastes, most everything in life is doubted by the man the writer calls "Preacher". The book records the "preacher's" extreme skepticism, extreme doubt, a belief that life is meaningless. But the "preacher" of Ecclesiastes used his doubts to debunk all that IS NOT God. The "preacher" ends up telling us how God is the most realist thing ever to be had in this life.
What does this mean? -- It means that doubt is a process that should lead us to faith. Well, what is faith?... Faith is a confidence of our hope. Faith is our hope that becomes solid thing, something very real to us. In view of this, doubt is longing to make our faith concrete.
You know what is "second-hand smoke"? Yeah, well... some of us have weak faith because be have a "second-hand faith". Meaning, just because someone said they believe this one thing about Jesus, we just believe it too with no questions asked. But some of us are like Thomas. Some of us stand in the place of the doubter. You're a skeptic, a doubter, a thinker, a little more critical than most. What I would say is that when it comes to Jesus...historically, theologically, and doctrinal-ly... you have to trust somebody. Right? We go to school... we read books about history, people, and events. Why? Because you were not there, so you need to trust somebody! So my question is: Who do we trust when it comes to Jesus? You have to trust someone. Well... Thomas, he is a doubter. He goes in your place! He is a person who most likely been let down by people and expectations. He has been disappointed. He has seen people emotionally excitable. Now he is a skeptic. He is careful in what he chooses to believe in. He is a man who is compelled to investigate, to ask questions, because he wanted his profession to be absolutely honest and authentic. Thomas, he did not ask for something different than what the other disciples had been given. He did not ask for Jesus to do something new hat He had not done before. My point is... What I appreciate about Thomas is that he didn’t just believe because of someone’s belief, experience, or understanding. He didn’t read a book about the Bible, and believe that the books said about the Bible. He didn’t go to Catholic mass, where there are no Bibles but a "man of the cloth" to impart his understanding of the Bible. He didn’t read a book about Jesus and then just believed what the book said to believe about Jesus. NOPE. Thomas went straight to the source. Jesus, himself! And what I love, is that Thomas gets resolve in the thing that he needs. The truth that Jesus has been raised. That Jesus defeated death. Jesus is now my God. Thomas trusted Jesus with his doubt.
Say it to yourself out-loud: "Trust Jesus with your Doubt."
If we only believe what others say about Jesus, when we doubt their beliefs, it will always lead to misbelief. Right? Because our faith is misplaced, and...
Jesus isn’t real based on what His people do or doesn’t do. I have known many of my peers to say, “Well, the church isn't very Godlike--loving. They are hypocrites, so I don’t associate with the church their Jesus." -- I had a friend in college, Mark (pseudonym). He was our dormitory assistant who had been given the task of taking care of the men spiritually on his floor. I found out recently that he has rejected Christianity. What when wrong? He was disappointed in many people who proclaimed themselves "Christian". Heck, I am disappointed in many people who proclaimed themselves "Christian"! The issue is that Mark believed in beliefs about Jesus... beliefs which others believed Jesus to be… beliefs like, "Jesus is a drinking buddy", or "God is a father that doesn’t discipline"... and when Mark’s world turned upside down, he didn’t doubt the real Jesus, no... he just doubted and then rejected the "paper" Jesus he adopted. Sad. Unfortunate. I have hope that Mark can still find the real Jesus. That's my prayer.
The point: When our doubt is not entrusted to Jesus, we become unbelievers. If your belief is solely in people and what they said about Jesus, you have misplaced doubt. Believe me... If you believe in anything and everything, you will disbelieve because of anything. Don’t have a second-hand faith. Trust Jesus with your doubts. Firm Faith is Firsthand faith!
Question: Was Thomas there when Jesus preached His sermons? Yes. But was he there when Jesus did His miracles? Yes or no? ... Absolutely! -- Thomas had a privilege seat in the history of the world to witness the person and work, the words and the deeds, of Jesus. You see, you can have all the miracles of Jesus and have all the experiences of Jesus, but that doesn’t mean you will believe and accept Jesus as the Risen Savior. For crying out loud, Thomas had seen three dead people come to life during the ministry of Jesus. He had seen the child of Jairus after being resurrection. He had seen the son of the widow of Nain, lying dead upon the coffin, carried out to burial, and then raised to life. On top of this, Thomas saw Lazarus raised to life after three days in the grave. But here is Thomas, “Unless I see it again, I won’t believe!” - Thomas saw miracles, yet he still lacked faith.
The lesson: Miracles Don’t Sustain faith I have seen two miracles while in located ministry. One major accident that should have ended with death... really ending with healing and complete restoration. A woman who was practically dead for 45 minutes... was revived but placed on life-support and then taken off of support... now she lives with little brain damage. The doctors said it was impossible. I remember praying over a gentleman who had lung cancer... three weeks later, the tests came back negative. God showed up! If you look throughout the scriptures we see the Psalmist among other writers, reflect on times when God showed up for Israel and preformed mighty wonders in Egypt. And in the desert, while suffering, the Psalmist says, “If God did it then, He will do it again, even though I can’t see Him now.” Samuel, of the Bible, took a stone and had it set up as a memorial of God's help to the Israelites in their victory over the Philistines at Mizpah (1 Samuel 7:12). He called it a Ebenezer, saying, “The Lord has helped us thus far”... so that whenever the Israelites doubted God’s power and love, they would look to the Ebenezer and remember when God showed up... they then could place faith in God. When God intervenes and helps us, we need to set up Ebenezers too for the same principle reason: "God helped me so far in my life, surely He will help me today." Write it in a journal! Pray it! Praise Him daily for it! Put a physical rock in your garden. Craft a faith plaque of all the things that God has done for your family and place it on the wall of your house for all to see and remember. This defeats our doubts and secures our faith! Miracles or Ebenezers help us exercise our doubts in a healthy way... but we must remember them if they are to help us in our pursuit of faith.
Thomas, at the beginning, is in pity and odder grief. He knew perfectly well that Jesus is dead. I believe that he watched the crucifixion of Jesus at a distance or examined the body of Jesus after. Out of a broken heart and out of a concern of false hopes, Thomas said, “Unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” Then we have Thomas meeting with the church the following Sunday. And Christ appears and presents Himself to Thomas. Thomas gives one of the most greatest faith statements, “My Lord, My God.” Once Thomas saw Jesus back from the dead and that he was alive, he was most likely hit with all the facts in the life and ministry of Jesus which had been said and done before the resurrection. In that moment all the promises Jesus made, was fulfilled. Everything made sense to Thomas right then and there. “My Lord, My God”
Thomas doesn’t stop at saying, “My Jesus", “My Rabbi" or My teacher"... He continues, “My God,” or “My Creator and my Judge!”. Thomas is recognizing Christ’s authority in his life, Christ’s power to conquer death and doubt. And Thomas goes from pity-filled to shout-filled. Amen! When we truly encounter Jesus and are filled with the firm faith we long for, we naturally go from despair... to relief. We go from pity-filled... to shout-filled! God is so gracious, so caring, to meet us where we live, to give us what we need. And not only to sacrifice and resurrect on our behalf, but give us life and have it fully. If you truly believe this, right now... I have to say, “Please notify your face!” Perhaps this is why so many look at the church with such suspicion. Slumped over Christians, frowns and dragging feet. -- Let’s smile! Let’s rejoice! Let’s shout! Let's dance! The Lord is Good! The Lord cares for you! And knows all about our struggles! If you can not do this, it is a sign, a red flag, that you have some unresolved doubt in your life, or perhaps you are possessed, "owned", by a different "Jesus". you have created or adopted from another. Beware. Make your faith your own. If we are truly convicted, our belief moves us from pity-filled to shout-filled!
"Because you have seen Jesus, you have believed"... That’s Thomas. "Blessed are those ho have not seen and yet have believed"... Well, who’s that? -- That’s us, friend! We weren’t there! They were. They got to see Him. We haven’t! And yet, here is the good news.... there is a specific blessing that rests on you if you believe in Jesus.
Just think about it. If you are a baptized believer with the faith that is obedience... there will be one day when you get to see Jesus! He is going to call your name, and you are going to rise from your grave to get a glorified resurrected body like what Jesus has now. The Bible promises that you will see Him face to face, and that you will fully know Him as He fully knows you now.
That future is promised, and it's certain. One day you will see it, but until then... you trust it. That’s faith. -- How many of us our blessed? If you have a relationship with Jesus... you have been blessed by Him! Your sins have been forgiven. You have been given the Holy Spirit. But none of us have seen Him yet! And just imagine when you do get to see Him! That’s going to be the best day of all times!