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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

Stop Doubting, And Believe!

Second Sunday in Easter


On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.


Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”


Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”


But he said to them, “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.”


A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though 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; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”


Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”


Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”


Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

John 20:19-31


So, how’s your faith today? Your faith in God, I mean. Is it pretty strong? Strong enough to move mountains? How about molehills? That’s closer, maybe. For some of us, anyway. Does your faith in God ever vary? Ever waiver? Maybe it’s strong at one time, and weak at another time. Maybe it depends on circumstances: when things are going well, it’s easier to believe, isn’t it? And when things go badly enough, we can wonder if there even is a God, can’t we?


I don’t know about you, but I’ve often prayed, with the father of the demonic boy, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”


So, do you ever have trouble with faith? Most people do. Not because they know too well what life is really like, but because they know too little about God! We don’t need a different faith, or a greater faith, or a stronger faith – we just need faith in a great God! As J.B. Phillips entitled his book, “Your God Is Too Small!”


You see, the strength of faith is not in faith itself – not in how much you have. The strength of faith is in the faithfulness of God. He’s the backbone of faith – absolutely dependable, trustworthy, unchanging. One who never backs down on His promises. With God, nothing’s too hard, nothing’s impossible.


Faith, in and of itself, is powerless. If faith doesn’t rest on something or someone faithful, it’s meaningless. The object of faith is the thing – not faith itself. And so it is in the Christian life. It’s not a great faith that we need, but faith in a great God! With the emphasis on God. Faith doesn’t accomplish anything – God does. Faith is the means by which we agree with God – yield, obey, and submit to God. We submit to God, and God works in our lives.


That was the problem with Thomas – I don’t like to call him “Doubting Thomas.” He’d been with the Lord for three years. He was one of the twelve. He’d been sent out by Jesus “to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, and cast out demons.” When Jesus announced He was going to Jerusalem, Thomas said, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” He was devoted. He believed in Jesus. But he really didn’t know – didn’t fully realize – who Jesus was. So his faith wavered when the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”


Thomas just couldn’t swallow the fact of the resurrection. He was as close as the others. He saw the same miracles, saw the perfect life, heard Jesus say that He would rise from the dead. But it just didn’t sink in. So, he had quite a “laundry list” for his faith. Of course, we have to remember that Jesus had appeared to the others and had shown them His hands and side. Then, a week later, Jesus came to them again, and said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Do you think Thomas stuck his fingers in Jesus’ wounds? I don’t. He said, “My Lord and my God!” Now he knew who Jesus really was!!


Jesus took a personal interest in Thomas’ problem with believing. And whenever there’s a problem with honest doubt, Jesus is willing to resolve the doubt and get rid of the difficulty. Christianity is a religion of a sound mind. You don’t have to scuttle your intellect and stop thinking. The Christian faith will stand up under any investigation.


It's not the doubter that Jesus is unable to help – it’s the person unwilling to believe regardless of the evidence – not because they can’t believe, but because they won’t believe. It’s a problem of the will, not the intellect.


We see an amazing thing in this brief encounter: Jesus bore the marks of His crucifixion in His resurrection body! They were there when He spoke to Thomas – they are there today – and they will always be there!


The only one to bear the scars of sin in eternity will be the Son of God Himself! What a paradox! Sinners forever free from the slightest trace of sin; and the sinless Son of God bearing forever the marks of sin’s sacrifice.


Then Jesus told Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”


That sounds difficult, but we do it all the time. We act on faith in our daily life without giving it a thought:

  • We eat in a restaurant with faith that the chef won’t poison us.

  • We sit down in a chair we’ve never seen before, with faith that it will support us.

  • We receive a check (which is a promise to pay), endorse it, and use it like cash.

But if the maker of the check has insufficient funds, all the faith in the world won’t keep it from bouncing! What counts is not the faith in the payee, but the integrity of the maker!


And the same is true in our relationship with God. The Bible abounds with promises of God, and the writers of Scripture insist that God’s promises are sure and unchangeable! When God says something, it stands! So, the Christian faith rests on the integrity of God. It takes God at His word and acts on it!


Asked to describe faith, a college girl said, “Faith is believing what you can’t know.” To her, faith was a poor substitute for knowledge – a second-best thing – sort of a shot in the dark. But faith isn’t what you can’t know. You can’t believe what you don’t know! Faith without knowledge is impossible. Faith rests on knowledge. So the Bible tells us that “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17)


This is the essence of the Christian faith. It’s rooted and grounded in a person. The Christian has a personal acquaintance with Jesus Christ. Jesus is not just a figure in history – He’s real – now! Christianity is infinitely more than ethics or creeds. It’s to know Jesus as a friend – personally, not to just know about Him!


Anyone with any sense knows you can’t make a thing true simply by believing it. If a thing isn’t true, believing won’t make it so! The Christian faith is believing a thing because it is true. It rests on a person and events – not on ideas. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, “was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” (Romans 4:25) That’s the Gospel – the Good News!


Thomas said, “Unless I see, I won’t believe.”


Do you feel like that sometimes? “Lord, I’m so lonely. Unless you make somebody “reach out and touch someone” – namely, me! - I’m going to think no one cares for me anymore – including you, Lord.”


Do you sometimes feel, “Lord, unless you show me the answer to my financial problems, my problems at school, the illness that confronts me, the future that threatens me – unless you come across, I’m really not going to believe in you as my loving Father anymore.”


Are you sometimes tempted to doubt God’s desire to be a part of your daily life? “Unless, unless… unless… I won’t believe in you.”


But you and I can’t make deals with God. Our relationship with Him must be unconditional. That’s Jesus’ challenge and loving call to you and me – just as it was to Thomas: “Stop doubting and believe.”


Martin Luther was wise enough to take God at His word. He knew he had been saved by the grace of God alone which he had received through faith alone. In the face of all his foes, he cried out, “I cannot, I will not recant. Here I stand. I can do no other!” His greatest aid in his struggle was the Holy Scriptures. “The true Christian pilgrimage is not to Rome,” he said, “but to the prophets, the Psalms, and the Gospels.” That was his ground for certainty. There, in the inspired Holy Scriptures he found a “firm foundation.”


It's easy to become a Doubting Thomas. The life of faith can be very difficult. So we need to be sure to find our strength for this difficult life-by-faith in its source, the Scriptures. For in the Bible, we meet Jesus face to face.


In Jesus’ great prayer in the Upper Room on that night in which He was betrayed, He prayed for His disciples, and then He prayed, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.” (John 17:20) That’s us! He prayed for us who would believe on Him through the Scriptures they would write!


And Jesus said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” And then John adds, “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”


“How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word! What more can He say than to you He has said Who unto the Savior for refuge have fled?”


The foundation of our faith is laid in God’s word, for the object of our faith is the subject of His word: Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior who says, “Stop doubting, and believe.”


Amen

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