“Doubt”

“Doubt”
A Message on John 20:19-29
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
April 11, 2021
By Doug Wintermute
dwinterm@yahoo.com

John 20:19-29 (NRSV)

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Jesus and Thomas
24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

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Today we continue in the Gospel of John where we ended last week. If you remember (and it was Easter, so I hope you remember), Jesus, who was crucified and dead and buried, didn’t stay dead. The tomb was empty on that first Easter morning. (Praise God!)

The scripture we read today picks up right after Mary Magdalene tells the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.”

So Mary encounters the risen Jesus outside the empty tomb on the first day of the week, which is Sunday. That same day, in the evening, the disciples are gathered together trying to figure out what in the world is going on. They are confused, and they are scared. Real scared.

The scripture we read says they had the doors locked “for fear of the Jews.” Now at first this might seem kind of strange since all the disciples were Jewish. Jesus was Jewish as well. But the Jewish religious leaders had a lot of power, even though the Romans were the occupying force in that part of the world at the time.

Those Jewish leaders exhibited that power when they had Jesus arrested and then convinced the Romans to crucify him. Ironically, they didn’t want to do it themselves because it violated their religious laws, but it was perfectly okay for the Romans to do it on their behalf. Yeah.

So the disciples are gathered behind locked doors on that evening of the resurrection. They are scared, and worried, because they are afraid that the Jewish leaders will do the same thing to them as they did to Jesus. They were afraid they would be killed as well. So they locked the doors.

Even though the doors are locked, Jesus shows up among them. Poof, he’s there. I don’t know about you, but if I had been in that room I would have been going through a whole lot of emotions. Fear, because people don’t just appear out of nowhere. Joy, because Jesus was alive. Scepticism, because dead people don’t come back to life. Confusion, because how can you figure out what all this means?

So Jesus shows up and what is the first thing he says to them? “Peace be with you.” (Being United Methodist, there’s a part of me that wonders if they responded back to Jesus, “And also with you.” Probably not, though.)

“Peace be with you” was a common greeting phrase in the first century. In Luke 10 and Matthew 10 we find Jesus giving instructions to the 70 followers that he is sending out to tell others about him. In Luke 10:5-6 he says, “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ 6 And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.”

And there are Jesus’ words in John 14:27 as well: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.”

Jesus gives a similar greeting to the disciples, “Peace be with you.” And he does it not only once, but twice at the first meeting without Thomas, but then again with the meeting with Thomas present.

In the first meeting after the greeting he shows them the scars on his hands and side. Why did he do that? If you think about it, being God he could have had the skin grow back over the scars where they were not visible at all.

But Jesus didn’t do that. Why? I think it was to prove to the disciples that he was who he said he was. But I think it was also for Thomas’ benefit.

Now Thomas kinda gets a bad rap, if you ask me. He is one of the original 12 disciples that Jesus calls to follow him. He follows Jesus, hears his teachings, sees the miracles, and is a passionate follower and believer.

If we back up to the 11th chapter of John we find Jesus finding out that his friend, Lazarus, was sick. Instead of leaving immediately, he stayed two more days where he was, and then said, “Okay, let’s go to Judea to see Lazarus.”

The disciples pointed out, rightly so, that it might not be a good idea to do that. Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha, lived in Bethany, which was right outside of Jerusalem in Judea. The disciples tell Jesus they don’t think it’s a good idea to go there because the last time they were there the people tried to stone Jesus.

But Jesus tells them he’s going anyway, and he’s going there to wake Lazarus up from his sleep. Well the disciples took this literally, so much so that Jesus has to tell them that Lazarus is, indeed, already dead. He tells them, “For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.”

At that point Thomas, the very same person we call “Doubting Thomas,” makes a bold statement to his fellow disciples: “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

Now that’s a pretty bold statement, if you ask me. I don’t see much doubt there, do you?

Later, in the 14th chapter of John, Thomas makes another statement in response to something Jesus says that we use a lot at funerals. Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.”

Thomas speaks up once again, asking Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” John 14:5

It is then that Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

So we have two instances of Thomas speaking up, once saying that he and the other disciples are willing to risk their lives to follow Jesus, and then a question of clarification about where Jesus is going and how they can follow him if they don’t know where is going.

And yet Thomas gets stuck with the nickname, “Doubting Thomas,” all because of the scripture we read today.

Now there are some interesting things about this scripture. One question I have is this: when Jesus showed up and Thomas was present, did Thomas actually place his finger in the nail holes on Jesus hands and did he actually stick his hand in Jesus’ side?

The scripture doesn’t say that he did. Now there are faith traditions that insist that he did, but the scriptures that we read today don’t say that he did. After Jesus shows up and asks Thomas to do touch and feel his wounds, we find Thomas responding verbally.

“My Lord and my God!”

At Mini Methodists Bible study this past Wednesday we talked about this. My interpretation of this event is that Thomas did this: he dropped to his knees, bowed down before Jesus, and said, “My Lord and my God!”

Even though he had bragged to the disciples that he wouldn’t believe unless he could physically touch Jesus’ wounds with his own hands, when it came down to it he believed without touching. Seeing was enough for him. His response: “My Lord and my God,” tells me he recognizes Jesus as the Messiah.

Jesus responds by saying, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Now the beauty of scripture is that more times than not when Jesus is speaking to a particular person he is also speaking to us. What Jesus says to Thomas is a great example of that.

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

I find this very applicable to us today as Christians in the 21st Century.

We are a people of science, aren’t we? The scientific method is taught to us in school at a young age and is reinforced to us as adults.

Here are the principles of the Scientific Method, as stated in that source that teachers hate and everyone else loves: Wikipedia. “[The Scientific Method] involves careful observation, applying rigorous skepticism about what is observed, given that cognitive assumptions can distort how one interprets the observation. It involves formulating hypotheses, via induction, based on such observations; experimental and measurement-based testing of deductions drawn from the hypotheses; and refinement (or elimination) of the hypotheses based on the experimental findings.”

Pretty fancy language there, huh? And yet those principles over time not only affect the way we see the world, but spiritual matters as well.

Many atheists say they don’t believe in God because God cannot be seen or proven. They apply the scientific method to Christianity and find that it comes up short. They want specific, scientific, irrefutable proof before they will believe in God or Jesus. They doubt, and won’t believe until those doubts are scientifically proven wrong.

Now don’t get me wrong. I like the scientific method. I like that it is applied to so many things. The vaccinations that are available now to combat the COVID-19 virus are the result of the scientific method, and I sure am glad of that.

But when it comes to religious matters I apply something other than the scientific method to battle my doubts: faith.

Hebrews 11:1 tells us, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” NRSV. The NIV translates it as “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” The King James translations refers to it as the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” And The Message paraphrases it this way “The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see.”

Faith is our weapon against doubt. And we do doubt. We have doubts. It’s part of our human nature. And we shouldn’t feel bad or guilty about it. Seriously, if Thomas, a disciple who knew Jesus in the flesh, who personally witnessed his miracles and heard his teachings; if Thomas had doubts, what makes us think that we won’t?

I worry much more about people who say that when it comes to their faith they have no doubts, than those who admit that they do.

To doubt is human, but to have faith is divine. Faith is believing without seeing, trusting without knowing. And it’s an important part of being a Christian.

If you think about it, if we knew everything, if we had factual data on everything in our lives, we would BE God and have no need for God. The fact that we don’t know — can’t know — everything, provides a nice fertile field for our faith to grow.

So my challenge to you today is to trust faith and don’t doubt. Don’t be a Doubting Thomas. Believe that Jesus was resurrected from the dead without actually seeing the wounds on his hands and his side. Rely on your faith, and deepen your faith by practicing the spiritual disciplines, that Jesus Christ, the son of God, went to the cross voluntarily so that our sins can be forgiven and that we can be reconciled to God and are offered an eternity with him.

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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