Description / Transcription
Lord Jesus, we are, we stand in wonder of Your Word of grace and we thank You, O Lord, for the ministry that’s already been given to us through Your Word. So we ask now not merely out of tradition but out of the desire of our hearts that You would come and that You would speak to us through the power of Your Word. Come dwell with us, O Lord, and work in our hearts and our minds greater faith, greater repentance, that You might be glorified. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.
Well, we’ll be stepping out of our series on Leviticus for a week, this morning we’ll be in the Gospel of John. The title of this sermon is “How to Answer Your Doubts.”
It’s been said to me that there are two kinds of people in this world – those who can make their own sunshine and those who cannot. You might wonder or be thinking which one am I? I’m resisting the urge to get you to look to the person beside you so they can tell you which one you are.
A lot of times when we think about our doubts, we think about our temperaments. You might be a naturally self-confident person, not something you really struggle with. You might be in the introspective side and maybe you contend with doubts all the time. Maybe it’s a regular part of your life. Or I’m guessing that most of us are somewhere in between.
There’s a spectrum of uncertainty in the life of faith. I was thinking about this as the pastor of shepherding and discipleship for our congregation. I’ve been thinking about the variety of different ways that doubt and uncertainty can enter our lives.
Let me give you just a few. This is for our congregation. We have people in our congregation who have recently been diagnosed with cancer. We have people in our congregation who have recently lost a child. People in our congregation who have recently lost loved ones, lost jobs, lost relationships. We have people in our congregation with marriage difficulties, struggles in parenting, struggles in career direction and decisions. We have people in our congregation who struggle with assurance of salvation, struggling with the promises of God and even the claims of Christianity.
We are not unique among churches. We have plenty of good stories as well.
But these are all kinds of things that can lead us to doubt God’s goodness, God’s promises, God’s character. Hopefully, one thing that you’ll see in this sermon is this is not unique among the disciples of Christ.
So what I want to do this morning, what I’m going to do is not share an answer to all of those questions, or even give you a sure-fire formula to eradicate all spiritual uncertainty from your lives. I wish I could do that but I can’t. But I want to draw from the story of doubting Thomas. To think with you about how the reality of the death and resurrection of Christ not only speaks to our doubts, but gives us a foundation in seasons of uncertainty, a foundation to return to.
So here’s the goal of the sermon – finding certainty in the person and work of Christ. That’s the goal for you and for me as we look at this story of doubting Thomas.
We’ll be in John chapter 20, verses 24 through 31. We’ll look at three things. I want to look at Thomas’s doubt, Thomas’s demand, and then Thomas’s deliverance.
So we’re going pick this up midflow and the context is Christ has risen and He has appeared to all of the disciples except for Thomas.
John chapter 20, verses 24 through 31. Hear the Word of the Lord.
“Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.””
“Eight days later, His disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see My hands; and put out your hand, and place it in My side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him and said, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.””
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these things are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”
So our passage begins this morning with this character that we’ve come to known as doubting Thomas. Whether fair or not, his name has stuck. I don’t know if you’ve ever been stuck with a nickname before. I doubt Thomas would choose this one, though.
If you think about it, nicknames are usually given to us because of our personality or appearance or perhaps some event in our life, and that’s Thomas. I was thinking about nicknames and it made me think about the group the F-3 Workout Group. About half of you men in our congregation, you’re familiar with it. It stands for fitness, fellowship, and faith. It’s a group of men who get up at 5 a.m. and they go and they work out and they do things like throw tires and carry cinder blocks and things like that around. I’m not dogging on them; I have huge respect for those of you who are in in F-3 and you get up at 5 a.m. every morning.
But they gloss each other with nicknames, and I’ve been tempted just to go to one, I doubt I could even hang with the workout, but just to go to one just to see what nickname they might give me. I was thinking about what they call each other and keep in in mind these are younger guys but also guys, I’m 49, my age, here are some names that I came across. Names like Mad Dog, Ace. Who doesn’t want to be called Ace? Six-pack. Four. Thumper. And this one’s for the young people, TikTok. Just to name a few.
But I also came across two guys who were named Bacon Bits and Bisquick. I thought what did these guys do wrong? Obviously they did something wrong to get that name.
When you think about Thomas, what’d he do wrong to get his name doubting, doubting Thomas? This name has stuck. Some kind of want to take it away, but I’ll give you a different angle. I consider it a wonderful kindness from God, a providential kindness from God that He gives this to us because it makes Thomas such an inviting figure, does it not? I mean, who can’t resonate, who can’t relate with a doubting disciple?
It gives us a doorway into doubt. Doubt might seem like the opposite of faith, but God can actually use doubt in your life to grow you in faith. This tells us something.
Now in order to appreciate Thomas’s doubt, we have to back up a week, all the way back eight days before, you have to go back to Good Friday and Holy Saturday before Resurrection Sunday. You’ll remember Christ had been crucified. Though He told the disciples time and again that He must suffer and die and rise again, they didn’t get it. Most of us know why. They understood the mission of the Messiah to be geopolitical in nature, that He would restore the nation of Israel.
So to associate death on a cross with the Messiah was just utterly foreign to them. So we can imagine the dismay on Good Friday and what a blow it was to their faith. This Jesus, this man that they saw, they saw Him heal so many, they saw Him teach so profoundly, they saw Him with Lazarus, raise Lazarus from the dead. To see Him helplessly, seemingly helplessly, hanging on the cross, dying, seemingly utterly forsaken by God. Can you imagine that?
What’s going on in their minds, in their hearts? They’re trying to compute what they’ve seen previously with what they’re seeing now.
But of course we know the story. Christ appears to the disciples and though they are slow to understand things, there’s a level of joy and gladness and you can see that in the preceding verses in this chapter. Christ has appeared to them and the tension seems to be relieved except for Thomas. Curiously, he was absent. He missed out.
Now what a thing to miss out on. Hey, Thomas, you picked the wrong day to miss class. You picked the wrong time to go to the grocery store. I don’t know if you’ve heard of FOMO, you know, fear of missing out. Well, if anything would induce a lifelong case of FOMO, it would be this. You imagine the disciples in the future, Thomas is probably always with them. Hey, Thomas, you might want to come with us. You never know what’s going to happen, what you’re going to miss out on.
Curiously, the Scriptures do not tell us why he was absent. I think we could reasonably suppose that if he was present, he would have believed. But we find Thomas here and he’s stuck. It’s been a week. Think about that. It’s been a week where he’s in this suspended sort of spiritual state. All of his circumstances are aligned against the things that he once believed to be true. What makes matters worse is the disciples come to him and they say, “Thomas, we’ve seen the Lord.” Maybe Thomas is wondering, “Christ appeared to them. Why not to me? He strengthened their faith, He’s blessed them. Why not me?”
We’re looking at others, looking at their spiritual progress, and wondering why are they farther along. Why has Jesus done for them what He has not done for me? This position of doubt and he’s on the outside looking in, he’s on the outside looking in.
You think about people in a room and they’re having a party and there’s joy and there’s all these things, but to you all the doors are locked and all you can really do is peer inside the window. That is what a lack of assurance feels like. Where all has grown could and dark for him and his faith has collapsed.
It begs the question for us – What happens to you and me when we are missing the sweetness of the Christian life? What happens when it seems like the promises of God are vain or even worse, untrue? What happens in your life and my life when there’s more questions than there are answers? When delight turns into duty? What happens when faith collapses into doubt?
What do you do? What’s your impulse?
Many commentators have helpfully noted one key thing about Thomas and that is he is still in the room. Notice what Thomas does not do. He doesn’t leave. He’s actually still with the disciples. There’s something instructive for us here as we think about walking in a season of uncertainty, for whatever reason, our tendency tends to be pull away, to grow maybe more sporadic in our church attendance, to put our Bibles down, to pray less, not more. Or to withdraw from Christian community. That tends to be our tendency when we’re walking through this season of questioning, to disengage.
But Thomas stays within the people of God. Maybe he’s like Peter in John chapter 6 when many disciples desert Jesus and He says, “Are you two going to desert Me?” And Peter says, “Lord, where are we going to go? You have the words of life.”
Maybe that was what Thomas was thinking. I don’t have the answers, but if there’s ever going to be an answer, it’s not going to happen outside of this place. I know enough to know that. Maybe Thomas knew enough to press pause on his doubts in order for him to stay.
There is wisdom for that in us, to press pause on our doubts, when we’re questioning, and that is to consider that the snapshot of the moment of our lives, our present feelings or our lack of feelings, or our immediate circumstances, consider this, whatever you might be facing – they do not tell you everything about reality. We need to realize this as we’re walking through a season of uncertainty.
Thomas. He sees reality in one way in this moment, but the true reality is Christ has risen. Consider that. Thomas sees reality in one way in this moment, but what is the true reality? What has really happened? Christ is risen. He just doesn’t know it yet.
So it’s this suspended place of faith. We have to remember only God sees the whole of time, only He sees all of reality. There are times where we have to trust that there’s a redemptive purpose even when we do not see it and we’re walking through this season.
Tim Keller helps us so much. Here’s what he says when we enter into this time where it doesn’t make sense. Tim Keller says we must learn, we must learn to doubt our doubts. Isn’t that good? We must learn to doubt our doubts.
Thomas, in other words, Thomas does not allow his doubts to drive him away. No, he’s there.
Which brings us to the next point, and it gets to the core of Thomas’s doubt, and that’s his demand.
So let’s look at Thomas’s demand. Verse 25. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord,” but he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails and place my finger into the mark of the nails and place my hand into His side, I will never believe.”
On the surface, we might think what kind of statement is this? It seems like a statement that’s defiant. I will never believe. He’s got the kind of unbelief that you find when you get the telemarketer who calls with the extended warranty thing. Y’all get that? I still don’t know what that is. I just know my vehicle has an extended warranty that’s expired. But you get a call from a telemarketer and what do they say? Something like, “This is your lucky day.” And what do you do? Click. Conversation over.
It begs the question, what is the posture though of Thomas’s demand? Is he merely skeptical? [“no no” from audience] Some of you might be, thank you very, amen! [laughter] I could pray and close right now.
Well, I say some of you are here this morning and you’re visiting and you’re kind of on the fringes of Christianity and you’re thinking to yourself, “I don’t blame Thomas if he is skeptical. I mean, you Christians, you talk about the resurrection of Jesus. I’m right with Thomas. I need more compelling evidence than what you’ve presented to me already.”
There are good reasons to want evidence, but here’s my question to you. You need to ask yourself, “What is behind your demand?” What is behind your demand for more evidence? Are you demanding more evidence because you are open or because you’re closed? That’s a critical question.
Tim Keller tells a story about a number of college students. They were coming home and he noticed they were coming in his office and they all seemed to be having these intellectual questions and they were doubting their faith, and as he began to probe their doubts, what he uncovered is that nearly all of them were struggling with some kind of sexual sin. He put his finger on it. What he began to see is their doubts weren’t so much intellectual but they were moral. The true issue is their will was conflicting with God’s will.
So what often masquerades as intellectual curiosities or questions in our culture is actual resistance to God’s will. We need to be honest. Why are we demanding more evidence?
Now it doesn’t mean that all intellectual struggles we have are disqualified or don’t need answers, but there’s a kind of doubt that’s rooted in a stubborn refusal – I will never believe.
Now most commentators agree that this is not where Thomas is coming from. Kevin spoke about this several years ago and he helpfully pointed out what’s behind Thomas’s doubt is not defiance actually, it’s disappointment. It’s disappointment.
Context would tell us that. Thomas loved Christ. He trusted Christ. If there’s any Christian who’s ever walked through an experience and they understand what it means to be disappointed in God, it would be Thomas. So he says I’ll never believe. You might think was he thinking I don’t want to be duped? Was there a temptation that he had to say, “I’m not going to play the fool again. I’ll believe it when I see it.”
It’s some great disappointment that usually, or many times, can collapse our faith. Maybe you’re walking through that this morning. It made me think of this story of C.S. Lewis. He was raised in a nominally Christian home, he had a happy childhood. He went to church, he prayed, he did all of those things, and he was especially close to his mother. He tells the story that when he was 8 years old his mom got sick and Lewis would get on his knees at night and he would pray fervently, night after night after night, Lord, heal my mom, heal my mom. And he believed that if he was sincere enough that God would hear his prayer and that He would heal his mother, but in spite of his fervent prayer, she died. And he said about her death, “With my mother’s death, all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life. There was to be much fun, many pleasures, many stabs of joy, but no more of the old security. It was sea and islands now. The great continent had sunk like Atlantis.”
Perhaps the most heartbreaking part of the story as a few nights or a few weeks later, remember he’s 8 years old, 8-year-old boy, he wakes up in the middle of the night and he had a toothache. He instinctively cried for his mom only to realize that she was dead. He prayed so fervently, but Lewis said about prayer, “The thing had not worked,” and he collapsed into atheism.
Disappointment can debilitate us.
One wonders why Thomas is rejecting the witness of the disciples, and perhaps it’s to protect himself. But what does Thomas do? He makes this demand. He lays out a condition for his belief. He says I want to see, I want to touch, I want to feel. It’s as if he says I want to know for certain that it is Him. I want to place my hands in His wounds.
There’s some thought that perhaps the disciples had seen a ghost, and that would not suffice for Thomas. No, he wanted to know this One whom you claim is risen is the same Jesus who I walked with in the streets.
Thomas’s demand, if you just read it, on the surface it seems a little strange, a little odd, I want to touch His wounds. But actually, Thomas’s demand functions as a testimony to John 1:14, which says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelled among us.” It’s as if John is saying to his readers, to you and to me, you need to know this is no ghost appearance. This Jesus who appeared to Thomas is the some Jesus who walked in the streets with Him, fully human.
We see what’s behind Thomas’s demand is actually God is the one driving the story.
This leads us to our third point, and that is Thomas’s deliverance.
What finally delivers Thomas? What delivers you and me when we’re walking through these seasons of doubt and uncertainty?
You might say, “Well, Derek, it seems obvious what delivers him. Christ appeared.” In a real sense that is the point of this text. It’s a climactic account, eyewitness account that Christ did in fact rise from the dead. And Paul appeals to this as compelling evidence in 1 Corinthians 15. We read it earlier. All over the New Testament it’s littered with eyewitnesses that Christ did indeed rise from the dead.
Keeping that in mind, let’s look at how Christ deals, though, with this doubting disciple. So we have the risen Christ and we have a doubting disciple. What’s their interaction going to be? How does Christ deal with Thomas? How might Jesus deal with you and me?
I want us to note two things, and that is Christ’s patience in the face of Thomas’s doubts, and Christ’s exhortation to Thomas in the face of his doubts.
Christ’s patience in the face of Thomas’s doubt. Verse 26 says that Christ enters into the room with a greeting. He says, “Peace be with you.” As Jesus enters into this room, it should stand out to us what He does not do, He does not rebuke Thomas. Thomas says unless I touch, unless I see, I’ll never believe. He doesn’t, Jesus does not rebuke Thomas; rather, He speaks peace to him.
He gives him this Gospel proclamation. He approaches Thomas with gentleness. He doesn’t say, “Thomas, how dare you doubt Me.” No, we seen in Christ’s approach that He is patient with him.
Christ embodies what Jude tells us and that is that we should be merciful with those who doubt. Why does that speak to us? If we’re in the season of certainty, whether that uncertainty be about our soul or some circumstance, this valley that we’re walking through, because it goes back to our impulse. Our impulse is to do what? It’s to walk away. We might suppose if we run to Jesus with our doubts, if we tell Him all about our doubts and uncertainties, what we’re going to get him from is contempt when Thomas actually gets the opposite thing – he gets compassion.
So this tells us that we should run to Christ. We see the patience of Christ with Thomas, the graciousness of Christ with Thomas.
But notice this. It’s not the kind of patience that leaves him in a state of uncertainty. Look at what Jesus says to Thomas. We see Christ’s exhortation. Knowing Thomas’s complaint, knowing his demand, He speaks directly to it, directly to it. He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see My hands and put out your hand and place it in My side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”
Now here’s what I want you to see. Notice that He tells Thomas to do something. So apply it to ourselves, He tells Thomas to do something. Jesus doesn’t merely allow Thomas to wallow in his questions and his uncertainties. He doesn’t take a therapeutic approach to Thomas and sit down beside him and say, “Thomas, you know, I just want to identify with you and your doubts and can we just sit here and can we sympathize.” No, Jesus knows that Thomas needs more than a sympathizer; he needs a Savior.
So Jesus comes to him as his Savior, as the one who is to deliver him. He doesn’t give Thomas a new feeling, a new experience or new circumstances, although those things change in time. No, Christ presents Himself to Thomas as the One who died for him, as the One who rose for him. He presents Himself before Thomas and He says, “Thomas, this is real.”
I like what D.A. Carson says about this moment. He says in this moment, Christ takes away all possible grounds for unbelief. He just removes all possible grounds for unbelief and Christ says to Thomas, He says, “Do not disbelieve, but believe.”
Notice what Jesus does there. He challenges Thomas’s unbelief. He responded to the witness of the disciples, Thomas did, by disbelieving. The language here is to be unpersuaded, to be unconvinced, to kind of be on the precipice where you’re not quite sure. Jesus in effect says, “Thomas, what more do you need?”
It’s almost as if the only way for Thomas to remain where he was would be to choose to be unresponsive, to choose unbelief.
But what do we see here? We see that Thomas actually responds to the Word of the Gospel, to the Word of Christ in obedience.
Here’s what I would tell you we need to see. There’s an obedient to faith. Thomas responds and we don’t know whether he actually touched Christ’s hands or sides, but we do know he believed because he says, “My Lord and my God.” In this dramatic statement, Thomas call Jesus of Nazareth his Lord, his God, Yahweh, Jesus, fully divine, unmistakable. Again, God is driving the story.
Thomas demands. His demands are a witness to the humanity of Christ. Thomas’s confession is a witness to the divinity of Christ. What the prologue, the Gospel of John says, in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God and the Word became flesh and dwelt among men. We have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Here we have the eyewitness account of that, before you and before me.
That brings us to the conclusion. Jesus has one more statement. It’s not about Thomas. It’s not about the other disciples. It’s about you and it’s about me. What does He say? He says, “Thomas, have you believed because you’ve seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed.”
He pronounces this blessing on those who believe without seeing and highlights probably a tension for you and me and that’s the tension between living by faith on the one hand and living by sight on the other. Thomas needed to see. He needed to feel. He needed to touch Christ and that is precisely the thing that you and I cannot do today.
So how do we believe if we can’t see? How does Christ minister to our doubts, where we are, when He’s not showing up in the room?
I remember struggling with this in seminary and this would work better on a communion Sunday, but I’m just going to roll with it. I’ll close with this. It was around the Lord’s Supper. I was struggling with the meaning of the Lord’s Supper. I was questioning the Reformed view of the Lord’s Supper. I was coming from more of a Baptist background. The Reformed view of the real presence, the real spiritual presence of Christ. We believe that Christ is really spiritually present and that there’s a special communion of fellowship with Him in the meal of the Lord’s Supper.
I was thinking to myself, what is the significance of this spiritual fellowship? I mean, if Christ is not physically present, then what’s the significance of saying He’s spiritually present? How is it anything more than just a memorial?
And I asked one my seminary professors a question like that, and he said this to me about the presence of God. He said, “Derek,” he said, “You must remember that the spiritual is just as real as the physical.”
So what does that say to us and where we are today? It says that even though Christ is not physically present, He is spiritually present, with us in the Holy Spirit who is the Spirit of Christ.
So it is in the Spirit of Christ who speaks to us when the Gospel is proclaimed, “Look at My wounds.” It is the Spirit of Christ who speaks to us in the sacrament and says, “This is My body broken for you. This is My blood shed for you. Touch. Taste. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”
You see, Thomas had to see in order that he might believe, but for us it’s just the opposite. We must believe in order that we might see.
By believing, believing is not just conjuring up some feeling or just some blind leap of faith, into the dark. No, believing, believing is simply acting on and responding to the good news, the Gospel news, of the risen Christ in faith and repentance. That’s what belief is. It’s response.
So John tells us at the end these things are written that you might believe and by believing you might have life in His name. So of course this is a call to unbelievers. If you are here, this is written, this account is here that you might believe and by believing you might have life in His name, you might have salvation in His name. It’s a call for you to respond, but it’s also an ongoing reminder and call to all believers, to you and to me, of where we find assurance and peace.
What we find is when we go through trials of faith, of doubt and uncertainty, is that the Christian life, where do we go? Here’s what I will tell you – the Christian life is one of, and we learn this over the years, the Christian life is one of repeatedly returning to and resting upon the person and work of Christ. That is the foundation for assurance. That is the foundation for peace.
Spurgeon has this great example of trials of faith being like the ocean and the waves just sort of wash you up on the shore. What is the shore that God uses trials and faith to wash us up on? It is the person and work of Christ. This happens as we repeatedly come back to Him and ground our faith in Him.
I’ll leave you with this quote from John Newton. Here’s what he says about this life of discipleship. He says assurance grows by repeated conflict, by our repeated experiential proof of the Lord’s power and goodness to save. When we have been brought very low and helped, when we’ve been sorely wounded and healed, when we’ve been cast down and raised again, and have given up all hope and been suddenly snatched from danger and placed in safety, and when these things have been repeated to us and in us a thousand times over, we begin to learn to trust simply to the word and power of God beyond and against all circumstances, and this trust, when habitual and strong, bears the name of assurance.
May the Lord continue to lead us there, back to Christ, who is our foundation for assurance.
Let’s pray. Father in heaven, we do pray that You would take this story and this word and that You would lead those, perhaps for the first time, or perhaps many times over, back to the foundation of Your blessed Son, of His person and His work. O Lord, I pray that we would continue to run to the Gospel and be renewed, revived, and strengthened in our faith. We pray that in Christ’s name. Amen.