After Easter — Dealing with Doubts

Title: After Easter: Dealing with doubt in the Christian faith

Text: Matthew 28:16-20

Time: April 15th, 2007

Today is the first Sunday after Easter 2007. Rather than return back to the love chapter in 1 Corinthians 13 and teach from there again, I’d like to spend one more week on the Easter message and talk about what comes after Easter. I was reading the after Easter account in the Book of Matthew this past week and noticed a curious thing – some of the disciples doubted even after seeing the risen Jesus! They just couldn’t believe their own eyes! Their minds were telling them that this is impossible, but their eyes were showing them that it was possible, and they were divided within themselves. Listen to the description in Matthew 28:16-17, “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.” There it is, the amazing passage: “When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” Doubted what? That it was really Jesus! There he was, but how could it be him because they had seen him die on the cross, they had seen him buried in the tomb and the tomb sealed and three days go by. Yet here he was alive again. How could it be? Some doubted because it was so unusual. Have you ever been in an unusual situation where something was happening that was so strange that you could hardly believe your own eyes? You see it, but your mind can’t believe it. That’s what the disciples experienced. Now we know that whichever ones were doubting eventually were cured of that doubt and eventually become rock solid Christians who took the gospel to different parts of the world. For example, there is the tradition that the disciple Thomas took the gospel to India. If that is true, Thomas totally worked through his initial doubts about Jesus as did some of the other disciples, showing us that it’s ok to doubt sometimes parts of the Christian faith, but by working through our doubts we can actually become stronger Christians as a result. Now ideally we all believe and we all believe whole-heartedly, 100% of everything all the time. There are plenty of examples in the New Testament where Jesus rebukes his disciples for doubting him. But in reality because of human nature everyone doubts sometimes different things at different times. For example, there is the scene in the Gospels where a man says to Jesus, “I believe, help my unbelief.” That’s a good example of a believer admitting to doubts. Being a Christian doesn’t mean never doubting; it means believing and obeying the Lord anyway, and working out and working through all doubts. So today I’d like to talk about dealing with doubts that might come up in the Christian faith from time to time and how to work through doubts. Matthew 28:16-20 (read) is out teaching today.

First, there is the reality of doubt. Matthew 28: 16-17, “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.” Which ones doubted? We don’t exactly know, but we can guess that Thomas wasn’t one of them. Why? Because Thomas or as he is often called “Doubting Thomas” had already had his bout with doubt earlier. Remember the account in John 20:24-31 where Thomas says to the disciples that he wouldn’t believe unless he saw Jesus with his own eyes? Well that’s exactly what he got to see because Jesus suddenly appeared to the disciples and invited Thomas to touch and see for himself. That must have convinced Thomas, but what about the others? We don’t know the names of the ones who doubted, but it could have been almost anyone of them because doubt sometimes hits anyone at any time. I think about my own Christian life. I’ve been a Christian for now 30 years. Have I doubted at times during those 30 years? Yes, I’ve doubted different things at different times, but nothing that caused me to lose my faith. There have been times during the past 30 years that I’ve questioned certain points of the Christian faith, but never really ever rejected anything, just more or less wondered how it might be true. For example, during the past 30 years I’ve found myself reading along in the Bible and asking, “Did that really happen, the way they say it did, or did they just exaggerate or make the story more interesting?” It’s tempting to question or doubt things in the Bible, especially the supernatural miracles because it’s so strange and so different from the way things usually happen in life. But I’ve always come to the conclusion that anything is possible with an all-powerful God, so no matter how strange something might be, with God all things are possible. I worked out my doubts. At other times I’ve doubted or rather questioned the teachings of the Bible because sometimes they don’t seem to line up with the way I experience life. For example, Jesus says at the end of Matthew 28, verse 20, “. . . and surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” But my experience can’t confirm that Jesus is always with me because a lot of times I can’t feel him, and never can I see him, so this teaching or promise of Jesus found in the Bible is based on 100% faith. It’s so easy to doubt or question it at times in life. “Jesus, are you really with me all the time, or is that just a poetic way of speaking? Jesus, are you really always with me, or is that just a warm-fuzzy or happy thought meant to encourage us?” You see it’s human nature and natural to doubt at times under certain circumstances, but what we do with our doubts or questions determines what our Christian lives will be like. Will we be strong or weak in our faith? That depends on how we handle our doubts.

Second, doubts shouldn’t keep us from trusting and obeying. Matthew 28:17-19, “When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Their doubts didn’t seem to bother Jesus because he gave them their Great Commission assignment anyway, and their doubts didn’t seem to stop them because we know that they carried out their assignment from the Lord. History records that the disciples carried on in the footsteps of Jesus, teaching and leading the church. Their early doubts didn’t seem to get in the way of their trusting and obeying Jesus’ instructions. And this is a good example for us whenever we doubt or whenever we have questions about the faith. Notice Jesus didn’t make a big deal about their doubts either. The truth is that it’s ok to doubt or ask questions about Christianity; it’s no big deal. Doubts don’t have to stop us from living the Christian life. Look what these doubting disciples continued to do – they obeyed Jesus and came to the mountain he told them to meet him at and they worshiped him there also. Even as they doubted they continued to worship Jesus and obey him. That’s what we should do also – continue to worship, continue to attend church, sing the hymns or praise songs, read from the Bible, pray, be active in ministry – all the while working through questions and doubts. That’s what the disciples did, that’s what Jesus seemed to want them to do, it seems like what Jesus wants us to do when we have our doubts. Most Christians doubt when life doesn’t live up to their expectations. You read along in the Bible about the Christian life, you pray, you try to follow God in life, but bad things still happen and things don’t always go the way they should go. During these moments we are tempted to doubt or question our faith. That’s normal and natural. What should you do when you doubt? Don’t quit church, don’t stop praying, don’t stop reading the Bible, don’t stop practicing your Christian faith. The disciples didn’t stop being disciples, they didn’t stop trusting and obeying Jesus. Yes, they had their doubts, their minds questioned things, but they carried on and eventually they were able to work out their doubts and questions. Some Christians panic whenever a doubt arises within them, or whenever a question is raised about the Christian faith. But that’s not the right approach. While we shouldn’t ignore doubts or questions, we shouldn’t make too much of them. We should put them on the “to do” list to look into, to talk and think about, to read up on, to work through in our hearts and minds. Just because we don’t have the answer to every question we think of doesn’t mean it isn’t there. It takes time to get the answers and assurances we need. So while we work through questions and doubts we should carry on with our faith just as the disciples did.

Third, we should work though doubts within the Christian community. Matthew 28:20, “And teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” So when we have doubts or questions about our faith we shouldn’t just drop out and quit the church and stop reading the Bible or praying, but we should continue on in the faith community or church and work through anything that is bothering us. We can imagine what the early disciples felt like as their eyes told them that Jesus had risen but their skeptical minds were telling them it was impossible. I can hear these disciples talking to themselves, “We just saw Jesus alive again, but that can’t be because we saw him die. He must have risen from the dead, but that couldn’t be because people just don’t come back to life again once they are dead. I know what I saw with my eyes, I know what I felt with my hands as I touched Jesus, but my mind is telling me that this is all impossible.” I’m sure at times they must have thought they might all be going mad because of what they experienced versus what is the common experience of normal life – dead people don’t come back to life. But they all stuck together as a church and worked through their doubts and reservations. It’s a good example for us that when we encounter doubts and questions about our faith we need to struggle and work things out within the context of the church. We shouldn’t isolate ourselves from other Christians. But that’s what some people do when they begin to doubt their Christian faith. Some people start hanging out with people who aren’t believers, who never did believe or who once believed and rejected the faith. But that’s the absolutely worst thing to do. Remember Psalm 1:1-3, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season, and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.” The best way to deal with doubts that arise from time to time in the Christian faith is to be with other Christians who might have the answers to the problem you are facing. For example, sometimes we pray for things that don’t seem to get answered. We might start to doubt whether God really answers prayer. But if we are a part of a community of faith we can talk about this with others who have struggled with the same issue and find out how they have dealt with it. They might know of a teaching we can read or listen to that could help. They may be able to be a role model for us in our own struggles. The disciples show us that there is never, ever any reason to reject the Christian faith. Doubts will come, but so will the answers to such doubts. Whenever you face doubts, don’t panic or give up — hang on, hold steady, you can work it out, just like the disciples did. Remember the words of Jesus, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the ages.”

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