Sermon for Sunday April 8th, 2012
Responses to the Resurrection: Doubt by Ken Pell
Responses to the Resurrection: Doubt
Matthew 28: 16
“Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.”
A skeptic is defined as:
1. A person who questions the validity or authenticity of something purporting to be factual.
2. A person who maintains a doubting attitude, as toward values, plans, statements, or the character of others.
We don’t usually think about the followers of Jesus as being skeptics but it raises its head during Holy Week. It’s really not surprising when you think about it. They had invested everything into the Jesus movement. Peter made sure Jesus knew that too. In Mark 10:27 he reminds Jesus, “We have left everything to follow you!”
They had high hopes and dreams for the coming of the Kingdom. And then “This!” he gets arrested and he dies. HE DIES!!!!! It’s not surprising that some slipped through fear into skepticism. In John 20 we read “24 Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 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 it.’”
Thomas wasn’t the only one. He just gets all the blame. Mathew 28:16 says “SOME doubted.”
The word doubt (distazo) means “to stand in two ways.” It implies an inability to make a decision. That’s why Matthew 28 (which uses this word) speaks of some worshipping while others could not.
Sometimes another word is used for doubt (apistis). This word has a stronger meaning and suggests trust is absent; wavering is present, and the ability to act on faith is gone. Apistis, simply put, means to be without faith. That is why, in John 20, “Doubting Thomas” could “not believe it” (apistis) and why Jesus tells him to “stop doubting” (apistis again).
The implication is not that such a doubter is not a Christian – it is rather than they are ‘spiritually paralyzed” and unable to move forward. They are in a genuine crisis of faith.
Have you ever had “serious doubts” about something? If I have “serious doubts” about a political candidate it makes me pause. I will not vote, or donate money, or time, etc. Such a response is a combination of “distazo” and “apistis” and gets to the point in the Holy Week stories where the terms seem to be used somewhat interchangeably.
I have two friends who have expressed serious doubts (skepticism) about flying. Neither would venture near an airport. With some convincing and reassuring one was able to finally fly and, with that, all doubts were removed. The other has yet-to-this-day never boarded a plane. That’s what skepticism does. It puts you between two decisions and stops you from moving forward.
Have you ever had serious doubts about your faith? I have. I have had some VERY serious doubts and it did paralyze me spiritually. There was a long season of my adulthood when I had real doubts about the bodily resurrection of Jesus. My doubts about the resurrection “wrecked” me for quite a while. They literally shackled me. There were hymns I could not sing, words I could not say, portions of creeds I would mumble through. I wasn’t being “godless” or a heretic. I was having a serious crisis of faith and I was honest with God about it.
And I will never forget when God brought me His light.
It was not unlike what He did for Thomas. God brought me the evidence/truth that I needed to become “unstuck.”
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!” (John 20:26-28)
I spent years praying and seeking. I often prayed “Lord I believe, help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:24). I have seen firsthand what skepticism can do. But I have also experienced first-hand how a gentle understanding and loving God can turn doubt into vibrant faith.
The disciples learned that too didn’t they?
God is not intimidated by honest questions. God does not condemn the seeking heart. Rebellion, rejection, hypocrisy? Yes. But a seeking quest? He will honor that. Even in the midst of my doubts I was “loving God with all my … mind” – I was looking for His truth. I suspect Thomas and company were too.
Honest doubts do not make you a “bad Christian” – they make you human. They show you are limited, without full knowledge, and sincere in your quest. Just as Jesus came to Thomas, and to me, so Jesus will come to you.
I notice Thomas did not abandon the other followers. I notice he was sincere with them about his skepticism. I notice they did not kick him to the curb either. Together, as part of the family of God, they ALL grew through this crisis of faith that Thomas (and some others) were having.
Some of you have heard me tell you that I am glad you are going through a crisis of faith. I don’t tell you that because I want you to suffer but because I know that, just as Jesus prayed for Peter when Satan desired to sift Him as wheat, and just as Thomas met Jesus in truth so you too will find truth and you will be stronger for the struggle.
Where I am from (Oklahoma) there are a lot of walnut trees. When a walnut tree gets shook real good by the wind it helps all the walnuts fall off. Sometimes when we get shook real good it lets some nutty stuff fall off us too. It makes our faith more real and solid and eliminates some of the “folk theology” and superstition that sometimes gets attached to it.
Worshipping, participating, serving, and even proclaiming faith in the midst of doubt does not make you a hypocrite. In fact, it makes you a true seeker and you find yourself in pretty good company.
Thomas seems to have been shaken the most but he wasn’t the only one. Did you that tradition (Clement of Alexandria and Origin) says he is also the only Apostle to preach the Gospel outside the Roman Empire? He is believed to have crossed the largest area, which includes the Parthian Empire and India (where he was martyred).
Just think what you might do when God sees you through your crisis.
May the peace of Christ be with you this week.
Responsive Reading: Recovery from Doubt
Leader: Now Thomas was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him,
People: We have seen the Lord!
Leader: 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 it.’” 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,
People: Peace be with you!
Leader: 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,
People: My Lord and my God!
This sermon is provided by Dr. Kenneth Pell
Potsdam Church of the Nazarene, Potsdam, New York