Over the course of time you have undoubtedly had a nickname or used a nickname for someone else. Some nicknames become so associated with someone that they are as well known by their nickname (or better) as by their real name. If we talked about “The Duke” you would think of John Wayne. In the music world if you talked about “the King” you would be referring to Elvis Presley. In sports if you talk about “His Air-ness” or “MJ” you are talking about Michael Jordan. “Magic” would refer to Earvin Johnson. “Sweetness” to Walter Payton., “Samurai” refers to Mike Singletary.
The Bible has several people we know by their nicknames. There is John “The Baptist”, Peter “The Rock”, John “The disciple Jesus Loved”, Jeremiah the “weeping prophet”, James and John….the “Sons of Thunder”, the “Woman Caught in “Adultery”, Judas “the traitor”, and of course “Doubting Thomas”.
This morning we will read about how Thomas got his nickname. Thomas was called to be a disciple. The other two times we read of Thomas are also in the Gospel of John. In John 11:16 Thomas, responding to Jesus’ resolve to go to Jerusalem even though it was dangerous said, “let us also go, that we may die with him.” Here we see a loyal (albeit pessimistic) disciple.
In John 14:5 Thomas was listening to Jesus talk of the many rooms Jesus would prepare in His Father’s house. When He was finished he would return and bring them to the place prepared. Jesus said, “You know the way to the place I am going.” Thomas, maybe a little slow…..or maybe just honest, says, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” This question prompted the famous words, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man comes to the Father except through me.” Thomas was a willing believer.
With this background we move to our text. Thomas, for some reason was absent from the gathering of the disciples on that first Easter evening when Jesus appeared to the disciples. We are not told why He was absent and Jesus does not condemn or rebuke him for being absent. When Thomas and the other disciples are together again, it was most natural for the disciples to excitedly tell Thomas about their visit with Christ. Thomas, however, remains skeptical. He makes this bold statement, “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.” (v. 24) From this account I think we can learn a few important lessons.
Doubt is not Unusual . . .even among God’s People
One of the wonderful benefits of the Bible’s straightforward honesty in showing us the struggles as well as the successes of the main characters of Scripture, is that we often see that our experience is not unique. In reading of the struggle of Thomas with doubt we realize that we aren’t the only ones to ever have doubts. In fact, there are many accounts of people doubting. Abraham doubted that Sarah was to be the Mother of the promised child; Moses doubted his ability to lead; Habakkuk (and Job…or at least Job’s wife) doubted (for a season) God’s justice; Elijah doubted whether God knew what He was doing; Peter doubted as he walked on the water. So you see, those who doubt are in good company.
Now it’s important to understand, of course, that God wants us to trust Him. God wants us to be so convinced of His character and goodness that we will never waver in our trust. James reminds us: “he who doubts is like a wave of the seas, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” (Jas. 1:6) We know that doubt stands as a barrier to effective faith. Doubt hinders our prayers. Doubt hinders our enjoyment of God’s fellowship.
However, we are in the process of growth . . . so doubts do come. In order to grow in our faith, we must be honest about our doubts. Hiding doubt in the closet will only eat away at our faith like cancer. Doubt confessed is doubt that can be overcome.
So, let’s be honest. There are times when doubt often crops up . . .
- When Biblical truth is difficult to understand (the Trinity, God working all things for God, God’s Sovereignty, that we can never be separated for Him)
- When things we think should never happen (like children dying, tragedy striking, a Savior dies) do.
- When things we think should happen (healing, a door opening, provision provided) don’t
- When we are in pain (it is tough to believe in God’s love when we feel alone.) We build a wall. We don’t want to allow ourselves to be hurt again. I think this was what was happening to Thomas.
In these times we must trust God . . . but sometimes it’s hard.
Doubt can lead to Growth
The person who never doubts in our world is not usually called wise . . . they are called gullible. You can sell them or make them believe anything. Sometimes a little doubt is good. Sometimes doubt is the predecessor to faith. Such was the case with Thomas. Following his meeting with the resurrected Lord Thomas cries, “my Lord, and my God!” Doubt gives way to the most exalted declaration of faith ever uttered.
Thomas was a good Jew. He knew that to call someone God was blasphemy . . . unless the one you were addressing was God! In that room with the other disciples Thomas declares that his heart, allegiance, and life belongs to Jesus. He uses the most lofty words of man to declare Christ to be supreme. His doubt gave way to faith.
Helen Adams Keller wrote, “It need not discourage us if we are full of doubts. Healthy questions keep faith dynamic. Unless we start with doubts we cannot have a deep-rooted faith. One who believes lightly and unthinkingly has not much of a belief. He who has a faith which is not to be shaken has won it through blood and tears-has worked his way from doubt to truth as one who reaches a clearing through a thicket of brambles and thorns.”
Faith becomes more fervent
Oswald Chambers wrote, “Doubt is not always a sign that a man is wrong; it may be a sign that he is thinking.” Doubt sometimes drives us to think more deeply. Doubt can lead us to bolder discipleship
Do you know what finally happened to Thomas? Here’s what I discovered: Thomas, once he had seen and touched the resurrected Christ, went to India to preach the gospel – India is a place where there are many gods and pantheism was growing. Thomas proclaimed Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life. He paid the ultimate price of his own life, and if tradition holds true, he was martyred in Madras, India.
There was a point in my life where I realized that the single more important issue of the Christian faith was the resurrection. If it was true, then Jesus was who He said He was. If it was false, the whole structure of Christianity would crumble like a deck of cards. I determined that I had to answer this question of the resurrection before I could go on. I guess you could say I doubted. But that examination of the resurrection convinced me that there was no other explanation for the facts . . . Jesus really did rise from the grave. Now any time I have a doubt about the validity of my faith, I remember what I learned . . . and the doubts calm.
Faith becomes more personal
There is a growing number of people today who are being told that the true follower doesn’t need proofs. They should simply trust the teacher. This is dangerous! This is the way error creeps into peoples lives. This is the way cults start. A little healthy doubt . . . a doubt that forces us to “check the facts” is good and necessary. Look at the Bereans as proof. It is important that we learn to ask, “Is this really valid?” “Should I embrace this teaching or experience?” “Is this the real teaching of Scripture?”
It is common for teenagers to go through a time when they question and maybe even doubt their faith. Why is that? It’s not because their parents have done a poor job . . .it’s because they have reached a point where they can no longer accept the faith simply because this is what they were taught growing up. Now they have to examine it, question it, check it out for themselves. It is a necessary transition. Only after they have doubted does faith become personal and real. Each of us needs to “make faith real”.
Doubt Needs Attention
When doubt begins to raise it’s head in our lives we cannot ignore it. Doubt that does not lead to serious inquiry is doubt that leads to unbelief. So, how do we address the doubts that we encounter as a natural course of life?
The first step to overcoming doubt is to take a good look at your own heart. What is the reason for your doubt?
Some doubt is anchored in a real desire to know. Jesus never turned away someone with an honest question. Do you yearn to find the truth? If so, help is available.
Or is your doubt really a rationalization for sin. Sometimes doubt is really just unbelief looking for an excuse. We’ve seen it before: a husband slanders the wife he is preparing to divorce. He says, “he has never loved her”. He talks of her faults as the reason for the divorce. But in truth these have nothing to do with the issue. What is really happening is that this person is simply trying to justify their wrong actions. In these cases the person is not concerned about truth . . . they are only interested in being able to do what they want. Some of these people even relish the turmoil of their life. If they weren’t churning they wouldn’t feel alive. They don’t really want to stop doubting at all . . . they just like making noise.
Do your doubts come from a hunger for the truth or from a stubborn heart that will not submit to the truth?
Examine the Evidence
When times of doubt come it is important for us to examine the evidence. Thomas was shown the holes from the nails in Jesus’ hands and feet and the wound in His side. The evidence was there. Jesus encouraged Him to examine it.
The evidence is out there if you look for it. Whenever you hear something you find difficult to believe . . . check it out. God can withstand any honest inquiry. Look at verse 30-31. John says, “Jesus did many other miraculous sign 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 the living God and that by believing you may have life in his name.” John tells us that His whole purpose in writing this gospel we have been studying so that we might see the evidence that leads to faith.
There seems to be a notion that to be a Christian you have to put your brain in neutral. That’s not so. God gave us minds to use. We should weigh the evidence like we would weigh any other evidence. Christianity has been examined by great minds seeking to discredit it for centuries. It is equal to the challenge.
Beware, my friend, as you examine the evidence you may find that your image of God has been wrong. You may find that your image of yourself has been wrong. You may have to relinquish foolish prejudices. However, for the person willing to find the truth . . . the truth can be attained.
Examine the Person of Christ
Thomas not only saw the evidence for the resurrection . . . He saw Christ. Sometimes our doubts are best answered by clearly seeing the Savior. Some of the times of deep questions are best answered by looking at Him. When we see Christ as the magnificent Savior that He is, some questions lose their bite. Some things we can believe simply because He is one who is saying them.
- We can’t prove there is a place in Heaven prepared for us, but Jesus, who has returned from the dead tells us it is true.
- We know that any time we are in a tough spot He will stand beside us because He made that promise and He does not lie
- We may not feel that it is possible that we could be forgiven but the Lord assures us that those who trust Him will be sons and daughters of God. We cannot see how it could be true . . . but we trust the testimony of the Savior.
- We may feel like we won’t make it to Heaven . . . .but He promises that He will not lose EVEN ONE of those the Father has given Him.
- We may feel that we can’t possibly “get by” but Jesus promises that if we seek first His Kingdom He would take care of the other stuff.
Doubt is real. When doubt comes knocking on the door of your life it is important that you acknowledge it’s existence. If we face the enemy we can defeat it. When doubt comes to your life I suggest a simple procedure,
- Look at your own life to see if there is real doubt or sinful rationalization
- Examine all the evidence you can find. If the issue that troubles you cannot be addressed . . . look at Jesus. Determine whether or not Jesus is to be trusted. Examine the evidence for His life, His death and His bodily resurrection.
- Look at Christ. If He is to be trusted . . . TRUST HIM!
The story of Thomas’ doubt was included in the Bible for a special purpose. John puts this story here because he wants us to realize that the question that Thomas had to face is the one every one of us has to face . . . is He the resurrected Son of God or isn’t He? John wrote these things not so we might have an enjoyable discussion about Thomas. He wrote these things so that YOU might believe.
So, my friend, where do you stand?
- with arms crossed refusing to consider the issue?
- in the study hall eager to examine the evidence?
- or are you, like Thomas, willing to bow and declare Him Lord and God?
If the later is your position, respond to Him today. Give your allegiance to the Master right now. If you will do so, you will no longer be known as one of the skeptics . . .but as one of the faithful.