Seems Doubtful (Sermon)
Updated: May 20, 2020
It was 1983, I was in my parent’s basement to watch the National Championship game. Houston vs NCSU. One of the most talented teams in NCAA history vs the Cardiac Pack. Phi Slamma Jamma versus well, not so much. Guy Lewis, the coach of Houston, stated that the team with the most dunks would win! Nobody thought NCSU had a chance. Most said its likelihood, “seems doubtful.”
Have you ever doubted? Doubt means to think that something is unlikely or to not trust someone or something. Have you ever been there? Our doubts vary depending on our situation in life, but we all have to deal with doubt. Maybe you have said: I doubt I’ll ever get married. I doubt my marriage will last. I doubt we will ever have kids. I doubt my kids will ever leave the house! I doubt I’ll get the job. I doubt I’ll get the promotion. I doubt I’ll feel healthy again. I doubt justice will be served. I doubt the “lockdown” will ever end!
And that’s just the personal stuff! What about the God stuff? “I can’t see Him.”
“He seems absent or quiet. Where is He?!” “He didn’t do what I expected, when I expected it. Nothing seems to be working out!”
There are dangers with doubting though. Doubt seems to always drift towards the negative. Doubt seems to always come with a pessimistic perspective. But doubts always seem to come. They just drift in from time to time. What should we do with them? Is it possible to believe even though you have doubts? Can my faith survive my doubts? Is belief the opposite of doubt? If we just believe a little harder then all your dreams will come true? What if you started doubting your doubts?
Today, let’s look at a story about a guy named Thomas. It is from this story that he earns the nickname “doubting Thomas.” Maybe not fair, but it is what he has been called ever since. In fact, you can even find “doubting Thomas” in the dictionary! It means:
A person who refuses to believe something without proof.
A person who is habitually doubtful.
If you have your Bible or electronic device, meet me at John 20:24. I want to point out 3 truths about your doubt and then leave you with a strategy on how to fight your doubts successfully.
Your Doubt Doesn’t Distinguish You (vv. 24-25)
John 20:24—Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.
Thomas missed a Sunday. He is noticeably absent. As providence would have it, he was not there. Thomas’ role is important as he is described as one of the Twelve.
John 20:25—So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.
The disciples are enthusiastic and excited. This is Good News! He was dead, but now He is alive! Remember the context, this is occurring just after the crucifixion.
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—Thomas is not enthusiastic. In fact, he places conditions on his beliefs. Do you have conditions on your beliefs? Thomas comes across as skeptical, even a bit stubborn, cranky, and obstinate. Never believe—I need some proof! I will believe, but only on my terms! Notice that the disciples are immediately rejected by one of their own.
We see that doubt can be fickle. Being doubtful is not a trait that Thomas has exhibited previously. In fact, at one point, he exhorted his fellow disciples to follow Jesus even unto death!
John 11:16 (ESV)—So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
But here, Thomas demands physical evidence. He wants to see and to touch. He understands the typical result of a crucifixion. People do not typically walk around and make appearances afterwards. “See and place” is strong language. It seems typical for humans to respond by demanding proof. We often desire reliable assurance. When we do, does that display doubt and even if our demand for proof does display doubt, does that undermine our faith? Can belief and doubt coexist? Yes! One philosopher, Jamie Smith, writes: “We don’t believe instead of doubting; we believe while doubting.”[i]
What does a doubter need? They need a safe place to doubt. They need to be loved where they are, not where you wish they were! Is it safe to wrestle with matters of faith around you? Is it safe to be on the other side of you? Is it safe to wrestle with matter of faith at New Breed Church? Is it a place where an honest, maybe obstinate, doubter can come and be welcome, but not have it all sorted out yet? The first truth is that doubt does not distinguish you. We all doubt. Here’s the second truth regarding doubt.
Your Doubt Doesn't Disqualify You (vv. 26-27)
John 20:26—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.
Jesus appears again, this time Thomas is present. Just imagine the scene. The doors were locked—not expecting company…certainly not the friendly kind. Then Jesus materializes! That had to be unnerving! Disconcerting to say the least!
I can picture one fainting. One yelping. One startled that yells: “Stop doing that!” Here they are again, in a room with Jesus and Thomas is there. And then it gets awkward as Jesus turns to Thomas.
John 20:27—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 probably never expected his demand for proof to be met. More like wishful thinking. Thomas’ demand turns into Jesus’ command. Notice that Jesus was gentle and gracious, but challenged Thomas to change. Do not disbelieve, but believe—cease unbelieving, literally— “stop unbelieving and believe” Stop being faithless? Is it that easy? Jesus has given him what he has asked for, the proof he desired. So, is seeing believing? Is that enough for Thomas? Is that enough for you?
What if this isn’t an issue of doubt? What if this is an issue of rebellion? What if this is an issue of refusing to relate to God on His terms? What if Thomas was not rejecting the witness of his fellow disciples, but rejecting God?
What does a doubter need? A doubter needs patience extended to them. Being patient means allowing another to move at their pace, not your pace for them! It will involve restraint, persistence, and endurance. Doubters need space to figure things out. They need love and encouragement. Not relentless judgmental pressure to hurry up and get it right!
I have learned that patience must be given in three directions.
Towards God—Perhaps He is not moving at your pace! Perhaps He doesn’t have you at what you perceive to be the right place!
Towards others—well, because they are (weird) not doing it the way you would!
Towards yourself—maybe you are struggling with doubt. Maybe you are not in the place or moving at the pace you expected.
God has been kind, gracious, and patient with you, perhaps you could be kind, gracious, and patient with yourself! Adversity can lead to impatience and rob us of our joy. But it does not have to. Adversity can lead to patience and endurance! It can slow us down so we can evaluate our lives and hear from God. Seasons of doubt can result in spiritual growth and greater joy and confidence in God. Be patient in the doubt.
One more word on patience. It is necessary to bridge gaps of difference. Regarding closing the gap of difference between people, professor John Inazu writes:
“Many will need patience to get to know one another across our differences, to stumble toward dialogue across the awkward distance that separates us. Sometimes we will need patience to endure differences that will not be overcome. Patience also encourages efforts to listen, understand, and perhaps even to empathize.”[ii]
My friend Tim and I have known each other for about 10 years. We have worked together closely the last four. We are not alike. In fact, we are extreme opposites in a lot of ways. He is loud and outgoing. I am quiet and reserved. He reacts and makes decisions quickly. I tend to think it through and look for options. Our common connection was Jesus. Once we were convinced that we would be better together, we knew we had to fight for the relationship and we knew that would require patience and humility. Some things are worth sacrificing for!
Let’s be kind, gracious, and patient with each other as we strive to grow to be more like Jesus. Your doubt doesn’t distinguish you. Your doubt doesn’t disqualify you. There is a third truth regarding doubt.
Your Doubt Doesn’t Disrupt God’s Plan (vv. 28-31)
John 20:28—Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!
For Thomas, seeing is believing. He no longer needs to touch. He is overcome with awe and reverence. He makes a great confession of faith. His understanding and acknowledgement of who Jesus is, leads to worship! Thomas not only acknowledges the identity of Jesus but also his personal relationship to Him. Have you experienced God in a real and personal way? What would it take for you to believe?
John 20:29—Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.
Jesus has provided Thomas with what He had already provided for the other disciples. So, yes, a bit unfair to call him “doubting” Thomas. Now Jesus points forward beyond Thomas, beyond the disciples, to world of church, to us. Jesus makes a call into the future, for believers not based on sight or touch, but on the message of the witness.
Romans 10:17 (ESV)--So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
What do doubters need? Doubters need a voice of hope! Believers have a message of hope, and what is that message? The GOSPEL, the “Good News” that God in the flesh appeared to seek and save us from ourselves!
John 20:30—Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book.
The purpose of the signs was to give evidence and assurance so that…
John 20:31—but these 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.
We are given a twofold call to believe.
The person of Jesus Christ—Who He is: The Son of the Living God.
The work of Jesus Christ: Pathway to life—eternal life!
At the end of the day, we don’t believe instead of doubting; we believe while doubting. It is important to remember; the best thing has already happened and the worst possible thing cannot occur! Jesus has defeated sin and death and you can never be separated from God!
Doubting doesn’t make you different. Doubting is normal. Doubting doesn’t mean definite. God is powerful and can overcome our doubts and difficulties. Our doubts don’t have to define us, because…
IT IS NOT THE AMOUNT OF YOUR FAITH, BUT THE OBJECT OF YOUR FAITH THAT MAKES THE DIFFERENCE.
In what have you placed your faith? Are you struggling? Does your faith seem shaky? Let me give a strategy, three tips, to fight your doubts.
1) Focus on the right object.
I would commend to you that the object of your faith needs to be Jesus Christ—Son of the living God!
Romans 10:9-11 (ESV)—because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”
Romans 10:13 (ESV)—For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
The object Jesus, will not shame you, but save you. He will not reject you, but rescue you…even when it seems doubtful.
2) Restrain from being isolated.
John Piper advises: “We need to be around people who fight with us, help us, and direct us to things that will strengthen our faith.”[iii]
3) Turn your doubt into dialogue with God.
Pray, pray, pray. Pour out your fear, doubts, and frustrations. “Cast your cares…” John Newton reminds us: “For you are coming to a King, large petitions with you bring. For His grace and pow’r are such, none can ever ask too much.” Bring your doubts to God. Turn them into dialogue.
Back in the basement, 1983, it is late in the game and it is tied—1 dunk apiece! Remember what the Houston coach said. The score also happens to be tied. NCSU has the ball and the clock is ticking down. It is almost knocked away; a State player recovers it and heaves it toward the basket. The ball is floating through the air for what seems like forever…as it gets closer, it becomes clear—it’s not going to make it. Then suddenly, another player grabs the failed shot right out of the air and slams it through the hoop just before the buzzer sounds! Game over! The improbable has happened!
Doubt doesn’t make you different. Doubt doesn’t mean definite. Doubt doesn’t have to define us, nor does the amount of our faith, because…
IT IS NOT THE AMOUNT OF YOUR FAITH, BUT THE OBJECT OF YOUR FAITH THAT MAKES THE DIFFERENCE.
Why did Jesus have this awkward conversation with Thomas? Because He loved him and wanted him to understand that he was important to Him and had a role for him to play in sharing His message. For Thomas to be set up for success, his faith had to be firm. Jesus wants your faith to be firm as well. He wants you to understand, to get it, to be all in. He desires for you to thrive, not just survive! It is ok to doubt, but often it is better to doubt your doubts!
This sermon was originally preached at New Breed Church on May 17, 2020.
[i]James K. A. Smith, How (NOT) to be Secular (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014), 4. [ii]John Inazu, Confident Pluralism (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2016), 90.
[iii]John Piper blog post, accessed 7/20/17. http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/battling-doubt-and-cynicism-in-our-bible-reading