No Doubt About It
Girdwood Chapel Sermon, April 23, 2017
“No Doubt About It”
John 20: 19-31
Acts 2: 14a; 22-32
1 Peter 1: 3-9
In a way I have always enjoyed the good mystery, solving riddles, or piecing together puzzles. Maybe that is why the type of work I did while serving in Military Intelligence seemed to be a good fit. Please indulge me for a second and let me tell you how that work was accomplished. We would train various people who were going to various regions in certain keywords and types of science to keep on their radar. In most cases we would scour scientific journals looking for certain details. Then we would piece together those details with other information, such as orders for equipment, or possibly unrelated articles on processing techniques. As we developed theories based upon the evidence we accumulated we published articles for peer review. It was our hope that others had come to the same conclusions beginning from a different starting place. If so, we developed a significant intelligence article, if not, we went back to the drawing board looking for new or more conclusive evidence. The whole effectiveness of the job required getting someone to believe what you were presenting to them was possible. That belief came with an overabundance of evidence and corroboration. There is no doubt about it, if I would have missed Jesus’ first appearance to the disciples, then I too, would have been a Doubting Thomas.
Thomas in John
Poor Thomas. He is the perfect example of how you do one thing and it sticks with you for the rest of your life, and in Thomas’ case, for thousands of years. This moment that we have read about today is not the only time that John mentions Thomas. In John 11, there is this strange comment attributed to Thomas during the saga with Lazarus.The verse is often translated as, “Then let us go to, that we may die with Jesus.” This statement seems to contradict Thomas’ slow acceptance of Jesus’ resurrection, for it shows a foreshadow of faith in knowing Jesus’ purpose. But, the accepted understanding is that there is a problem with the translation and that possibly, Thomas’ insight was not as strong as we should consider. The original Greek reading of the text uses the word “autos” which is translated as “him/her/it”. The problem is in the attribution of the translators to whom Thomas is actually talking about. It is most likely that he is talking about Lazarus and is expressing grief, similar to Jesus’ grief, for the loss of their friend.
In John 14, Thomas makes a comment that actually helps indicate his questioning and lack of understanding. For after Jesus has revealed who he was and that the way to eternal life was through Him, He (Jesus) makes the statement, “You know the way to where I am going.” The statement, is a reiteration that eternal life comes through the belief in Jesus and the salvation that is offered through his sacrifice and resurrection. But, Thomas, someone who has been with Jesus throughout His ministry, responds, “Lord, we have no idea where you are going, how can we know the way?” Jesus does not rebuke Thomas for his lack of understanding, but responds in a very well known verse, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Light. No one comes to the Father, except through me.”
These passages in John reveal to us a little bit about Thomas. First, he obviously cared for Jesus deeply. If Jesus’ grief, led Thomas to the point of grief he had with Lazarus, then I think it is possible to assume his loyalty to Jesus and his love of Jesus. Next, we could make the educated guess that Thomas had the need to question things. The question Thomas asks Jesus about knowing where to go, seems elementary or out of place by the time he asks it. But, it could have been one of those questions that could follow the phrase, “okay, this is all a bit much, let me make sure I have this right…” Maybe, Thomas was like all of us, and just wanted some reassurance that he understood everything that was going on around him.
The Nature of Doubt
Doubt is a natural part of faith. If we all are honest with each other, then we will admit that there are times when we feel or have doubt about our relationship with God. We must be careful to use the word correctly though. Doubt is not disbelief or unbelief, it is uncertainty. To have doubt in your faith is to not believe, it is to be uncertain in where you stand in your relationship. Without the questioning that comes in those times of uncertainty, than it becomes more difficult for our faith to grow and our relationship with God to become stronger.
There are many times when we experience doubt and questioning in our life and in our faith. Thomas’ nature is not really any different than most of ours. We have doubt when we experience loss in our lives. We have doubt when it seems that nothing seems to be going our way. We have doubt when the bills are larger than the checking account balance. We have doubt when the to do list is longer than the lines on the calendar. We have doubt when we feel unloved. We have doubt when we cannot feel the presence of God in our life. This doubt, it does not mean we don’t believe, it means that we want some reassurance that God is with us. We want to feel the love of Christ and we want to be able to put our fingers in the holes in His hands and the wound in His side. We want to know He is with us, we want affirmation because our desire is to sit in the grace of knowing Him, to feel Him, to be consumed in his glory.
Thomas was not the only one of the disciples to have doubt. While one disciple betrayed Jesus, the other eleven ran away. Peter, called the rock of the church by Jesus Himself, ran away from the crowd denying his association with Jesus three times. We concentrate on the shame that Peter felt most often, but it was his doubt that caused him to respond with fear. It was doubt that has all of the disciples locked in a room hiding from Jewish authorities when Jesus appears to them the first time.
Jesus’ Response to Doubt
Jesus does not rebuke doubt. He seems to welcome it. He responds to the disciples by saying, “Peace be with you.” Every Sunday we greet one another with these same words. Sometimes we use the time to greet one another with a, “how you doing?” or a “good to see you!”, but the purpose is for each of us to offer the peace of Christ to those surrounding us. This offering of peace is to allow the presence of Christ to soothe the soul and to overcome the doubts and fears within the one we offer it to. It is to let the forgiveness of the cross seep into the heart and to ease those who are troubled. Christ offered His peace to the disciples so they may be ready to receive his next gift.
He breathed on them with the Holy Spirit. Peace opened the door for understanding, the removing of doubt, the eradication of uncertainty, and the opportunity for the Spirit to take hold in the disciples.
Unfortunately, when Jesus removed the doubt of the disciples, Thomas was not there. He had to hear about the news second hand and I am sure he felt slighted and hurt. Perhaps we have all had that feeling as to why God shows up in someone else’s life but not mine. But, surprisingly, maybe not surprisingly, God shows up again. In this second revelation He allows Thomas to examine the wounds that solidify that Christ is present in his life. But, in this period of unrecognition and this period of uncertainty, how long did Thomas have to be in the presence of Christ to accept His Truth.
Christ responds to all of our doubts and uncertainty in different ways. If we are looking for the wounds of Christ to know He is with us, it is possible to find them. An unexpected laugh, a moment of stillness and of peace, an electric hug from a loved one, the surprisingly needed encouragement from an unexpected source, the touch of love from a friend or loved one or complete stranger, or the renewed resolve to enter into prayer. These are many examples of how we can examine the wounds of Christ in our own lives. These are only the tip of the iceberg in seeing ways that Christ is with us, offering peace, and breathing the Holy Spirit upon us.