LIVING THE RESURRECTION — WITH DOUBT
by Pastor Mike Fortune
June 4, 2011
BlueFish Vid: Does God Hear Me?
- Apathy is more dangerous than doubt [John 20:24-26; John 11:16]
- Jesus hears our doubts [John 20:27; John 6:5-7; 14:8-11]
- Believing brings blessings [John 20:29; 1 Peter 1:8-9]
I don’t know about you, but I resonate with what the Michael in our video clip says. I too long to see and hear Jesus in a more meaningful way. So did a guy named Norman Shirk who wrote the following poem while in seminary. “Let me meet you on the mountain, Lord, just once. You wouldn't have to burn a whole bush. Just a few smoking branches and I would surely be...your Moses. Let me meet you on the water, Lord, just once. It wouldn't have to be on Galilee. Just on a puddle after the rain and I would surely be...your Peter. Let me meet you on the road, Lord, just once. You wouldn't have to blind me on the highway. Just a few bright lights on the way to chapel and I would surely be...your Paul. Let me meet you, Lord, just once. Anywhere. Anytime. Just meeting you in the Word is so hard sometimes. Must I always be...your Thomas?” (Norman Shirk, April 10, 1981 Dallas Seminary).
Whether we like it or not, all of us live resurrected lives with doubt like Michael and Norman and as our passage today reveals like Thomas. Even John the Baptist doubted according to Matthew 11:2-6 as did Mother Teresa in her famous memoir. Which makes me wonder: What if living with doubt is simply part of living by faith? Because that’s just the way it is? But sometimes, we get too churchy. Like Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, we quip, “Give me the benefit of your convictions, if you have any; but keep your doubts to yourself, for I have enough of my own.”
But failing to share our doubts makes us theologically immodest and rigid. Sometimes we even assume those who lack faith or do not share our version of it must be ignorant or stupid or rebellious. Of course we’re too kind to say it that way to their face, but by ignoring them because their questions or conclusions make us uncomfortable, they still get one of those messages loud and clear. But in my experience, most people with doubts are not ignorant, stupid, or rebellious. Most are genuinely curious, hurt, or still searching.
So what if we started sharing the scary little things in addition to some of the awesome little things in our lives? If we did both, maybe we wouldn’t so quickly forget that apathy is more dangerous than doubt, that Jesus always hears our grandiose professions of faith as well as our whimpers of doubt, and that in spite of our them, God is drawing us toward the blessings of believing. Hopefully, you’ll see these truths in our passage this morning as we continue our series from John 20 and 21 entitled Living the Resurrection.
John 20:24-29, "24One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), was not with the others when Jesus came. 25They told him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he replied, "I won't believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side." 26Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. "Peace be with you," he said.27 Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don't be faithless any longer. Believe!" 28"My Lord and my God!" Thomas exclaimed. 29Then Jesus told him, "You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me."
Scripture says Thomas wasn’t present when Jesus showed up the first time. What it does say in the parallel account of Luke 24:33 is that Cleopas and another unnamed disciple was. They had quickly returned from Emmaus to Jerusalem late Sunday evening “within the hour” after dinner began with the resurrected Jesus. Luke 24:21 says these two doubting disciples “had hoped” that Jesus was the Messiah as they were trudging home obviously implying they didn’t think He was anymore but Luke 24:32 says their hope was renewed and their hearts burned within them before they realized the Bread of Life was blessing the bread on their table. Rightly understood, just like Mary learned when Jesus said her name, the take away is God’s Word is as good as his touch.
So these two disciples run back to Jerusalem in the dark to tell the other eleven disciples all about it. But even though Thomas has now heard grandiose professions of faith from John [cf. John 20:8], Mary [cf. John 20:18, Peter [Luke 24:34], Cleopas, and that other unnamed disciple [Luke 24:35-37], he still doesn’t believe. Thomas’ broken hearted response found in John 20:25 is among the most emphatic statements recorded in scripture, “I won't believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”
For an entire week Thomas stewed about this. Why did Jesus show up to them and not me? But at least he was stewing! Eight days later, Thomas is still hanging around Jesus people. He didn’t give up. Pack it in. Or stop searching. He didn’t become theologically immodest like the Pharisees so sure of what they know and unwilling to admit what they don’t. Thomas at least admits what he doesn’t know. Maybe, like the Saducees, he’s always wondered if there is a resurrection. He is not unwilling to believe, he just doesn’t yet and nobody could convince him otherwise.
Which leads us to point number one: Apathy is more dangerous than doubt. William Barclay says it this way: “There is more faith in a person who insists on being sure than in someone who glibly repeats what he or she has never thought out” [cited in The Abundant Life Bible Amplifier: John by John Paulien p.272].Don’t forget: It takes courage to choose to trust God and have faith in Jesus. And Thomas had more of that than some will ever have. Thomas was the only disciple willing to go to Jerusalem to die with Jesus. He said in John 11:16, “Thomas, nicknamed the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, 'Let's go, too—and die with Jesus.’” In some respect, He’s wrongfully labeled doubting as we’ll see in our next point. But for now I think we should all decide, like Thomas, not to become theologically immodest. Because apathy is more dangerous than doubt. Here’s what I mean by that.
There are at least 5 levels of knowledge out there each with it’s own capacities for faith and doubt according to Dr. Fritz Guy professor of religion at La Sierra University. At the bottom of the ladder there is my knowledge or what you know. But there’s an unbridgeable gap to the next rung of accessible knowledge with what you could know in principle if you chose to study and search and learn nonstop 24/7 the rest of your life. That’s accessible knowledge. After that, there’s another unbridgeable gap to the next rung on the knowledge ladder to actual human knowledge which represents what all human beings know collectively from the pyramids to Einstein to space shuttles. After that, there’s an unbridgeable gap to the possible human knowledge representing what the human mind could in principle know under ideal conditions such as no sin and infinite time. Google helps us here but not even Wikepedia will ever be able to update all the knowledge out there. And after that, the largest unbridgeable gap to the top rung of the ladder is to infinite knowledge or what God knows.
Do you see why famous theologians like Karl Barth humbly say the angels laugh when they read his theology? And why Paul Tillich says our theology needs to be justified by faith as much as our lives do? Are you beginning to see why living by faith must simultaneously include living with doubt? Because there are simply way too many unbridgeable gaps between our knowledge and God’s. And God knows this even though some of his followers don’t. That’s why Jesus is so compassionate with doubters. He doesn’t argue with them. He patiently listens to both our grandiose declarations of faith as well as our whimpers of doubt.
So take heart doubters. There are inescapable reasons for theological modesty. And doubt. Moving on, John 20:27 proves that Jesus hears our doubts. Which is point number two. “The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. ‘Peace be with you,’ he said. Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don't be faithless any longer. Believe!’” Notice that Jesus’ sympathetic words in verse 27 are verbatim the empathic words Thomas declared in verse 25. Thomas knew that none of his friends had seen Jesus for a week so nobody had told Jesus of his doubt. And though his faith demands were unreasonable bordering on petulant, He realizes Jesus still loves him like crazy. And his heart breaks in a thousand pieces on the floor. He doesn’t need to actually put his fingers into the nail wounds in his hands or place his hands into the wound on his side. Thomas could not doubt Jesus to his face. But Philip could. More than once. Which is why it’s probably not fair to call Thomas “doubting Thomas” when Philip doubted more. Remember what Philip said to Jesus in John 6:5-7?
The Bible says "Jesus soon saw a huge crowd of people coming to look for him. Turning to Philip, he asked, 'Where can we buy bread to feed all these people?' He was testing Philip, for he already knew what he was going to do. Philip replied, 'Even if we worked for months, we wouldn't have enough money to feed them!'" No way, no how! But the one that probably hurt Jesus the most was in John 14:8-11, "Philip said, 'Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied. Jesus replied, 'Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and yet you still don't know who I am? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father! So why are you asking me to show him to you? Don't you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I speak are not my own, but my Father who lives in me does his work through me. Just believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Or at least believe because of the work you have seen me do.'”
Philip doubted Jesus to his face twice. Thomas did not. But still Thomas is the one we identify as doubting Thomas. But what their stories teach us is that Jesus hears all our praise and compassionately, even our doubts. To him, as Amy Grant sings on KLove, they’re better than a hallelujah sometimes. But notice, point number three, believing brings blessings. And He really wants us to believe. “Don't be faithless any longer. Believe!”, he told Thomas. "You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me."
Think about it. There’s a reason Jesus gently chastises Thomas for his unbelief. Doubt is only a virtue if it leads to faith. Jesus is basically saying you should have believed the testimony of John. Or Mary. Or Peter. Or Cleopas. That other guy. Or your eleven closest friends. But even believing is not enough because James 2:19 says the devils believe. Really, doubt is not a virtue unless it leads you to theological modesty and the personal surrender of your entire life flaws and all to the only One who knows everything about you but loves you like crazy anyway.
Jesus is dead serious about this because He knows if all of us required Thomas’ kind of faith, nobody would ever be saved. Because Jesus isn’t making himself available like that to people today. What we’ve got today instead is his Word not his touch. And like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, our hearts can burn within us when we read it.
John the Baptist was reminded of this in prison of all places. Matthew 11:2-6 says, “John the Baptist, who was in prison, heard about all the things the Messiah was doing. So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, ‘Are you the Messiah we've been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?‘ Jesus told them, ‘Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen—the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor. And tell him, 'God blesses those who do not turn away because of me.’”
Whether we like it or not, all of us live resurrected lives with doubt like Michael and Norman and Thomas and John the Baptist and Mother Teresa. It is an inescapable reality. But what made their doubts a virtue was it led them to a full surrender of their lives to Jesus. What I hear God’s word saying is you do not have to allow inescapable realities to prevent you from running to the tomb with what you do know. You need not ignore the testimony of your faithful friends. You can choose by faith to trust Jesus and to live by faith in Him whether you ever understand everything you wish you did.
And if you do, Jesus is waiting to bless you with more of His joy [cf. John 20:20]. With more of His peace [cf. John 20:19,21,26]. And with His eternal life. 1 Peter 1:8-9 says it this way in closing. "You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls." Is there anyone here who wants to make that decision today?