“Why do we always doubt?”
John 20:19-31, April 11th, 2021
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
Read the Statement of Faith
“Hear now these words as recorded in the gospel according to John, chapter twenty, verses nineteen thru thirty-one.”
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.” 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.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
“Having heard with your own ears the testimonial as to what occurred that day, in the Upper Room, do you have any doubts?”
“Why do we always doubt?”
Doubts are plentiful and we all have them! I have one right now and so do you! Well, I was filled with doubt until I said a prayer and asked God to be with me, be with us this morning; so now, I am hopeful, and with God’s help, I can express the message of our scripture lesson with you – in a meaningful way. By the way, have you invited God to join you in this time of worship? If you forgot, it is OK, the Spirit of God can show up unexpectantly at any time. Apparently, this is what happened in our scripture lesson this morning. There they were, all locked up, in the upper room, filled with fear and then “suddenly” there was Jesus standing among them offering them a blessing! Now tell me you have never had any doubts about the accuracy of this writing!? A literalist would tell us “that’s the way it is written, therefore that is how it was!” Really? You do not have any questions about this? Well, please do not fret over your answer. They wrote this event down for all of us who have had doubts and perhaps some of us still have doubts. Gosh, what is so shocking about having Jesus, who was executed just a few days before, buried in a tomb with a huge stone in front of the entrance, suddenly appearing in your midst behind closed doors!?
Perhaps some of you are thinking, “I told so and so that locking the doors was a waste of time!” Or… “Really, so how did Jesus open a locked door anyhow?” The scripture account does not say anyone opened a door and let Jesus come in. Oh no! They have him ‘appearing’ in their midst! As I have reflected on this passage, over the years I have preached on this Doubting Thomas passage every Sunday after Easter for going on thirty years now, and I have some thoughts regarding this. You see… as a student pastor the Senior pastor always took the Sunday after Easter off, so I started studying this scripture a long time ago. Subsequently, I have come to desire a body – a body like the Risen Christ has in this passage. Entering a room without opening the locked door. Appearing in their midst. This dialog sure has me thinking that this is a “Spiritually Induced Moment!” Whatever truly happened, they wanted to be sure we heard the full account, cause, Thomas was not there when Jesus first appeared, and he had his doubts after hearing their story! Thomas wanted proof. Many, a great many want proof! The only proof many will get is in our faith, shared with integrity!
It is amazing how this passage is still being played out everyday in our day to day lives! Taking someone at their ‘word’ about an event… has become a forgotten art form! Why, many of us do not believe what we see on a live video broadcast! No, I am not naive, I do not believe everything I hear either. Yet, we all need to trust in someone at some point. Here we have an account that we believe was written by a follower of Jesus. There are four separate gospel accounts of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. That is not counting the testimonials written for us within the Acts of the Apostles, which are contained in the book of Acts, which speak of these events as well. Let us not forget all the letters in the New Testament, especially the ones which the Apostle Paul wrote. But let us not stop there. There are countless testimonies from all over the world which have been written down and shared from people that have felt, seen or heard the presence of God, the Living Spirit of Christ, touch them in some special way! Can we really discount so many witnesses? What about our own witness to the faithfulness of God in our journeys? Tell others how trusting in God has changed your life. It sure has made a difference in mine! We can truly be changed when we are willing to trust that God will help us. People are not interested in our sermonettes; they are interested in our experiences along the way. They want to know where we get our strength and courage to face adversity! They want a piece of the hope we offer!
It is sad, we know, that many, many, witnesses of real events are afraid to speak of it… because of the ramifications of telling the truth! While studying for my ‘Masters of Divinity’ degree, we learned of the countless numbers of followers of Christ who were executed, in one way or another, because of their beliefs in the narratives we now find in the New Testament accounts. And today – in current time – people all over the world, are being persecuted because they believe in the God of love and the Spirit of forgiveness; as-well-as the power of the teachings of Jesus during his earthly ministry. Even nonbelievers in Jesus’ divinity, scholarly men, and women, will testify to the wisdom of his teachings and of his prophetic instructions that have proven to be timeless. With this said, why is it that so many are afraid to speak the truth, even when they see it with their own eyes? Fear, fear is the answer. It has been documented many times. Witnesses to a crime who will not speak the truth about what they saw, because they are fearful of the power that still exists which threatens to and will destroy them if they speak!
Of course, there are other reasons, for not telling the truth. The truth may not support your ideology or special interests which you support. Fear, and conflicting self-interests are all too real in our human social systems. We see it every day. These human realities surely existed back in the time of Jesus and beyond. Why else would religious leaders at that time-period, or any time-period for that matter, betray the trust of those they were charged to protect! The scriptures clearly tell us how the Religious Elite, The Leadership, were more concerned about protecting their own interests, rather than those they were surely charged to nurture and teach of God’s Love. No, Elimination of fear and Purging of the Elements of Conflicts of Interest would not completely cure our human condition, yet it would surely help! Today, Doubt still exists. You doubt, perhaps that the scriptures have it recorded right. Let us not forget it is Thomas’s doubt, about an impossible event which he did not personally witness, that drives our scripture lesson today. Thomas was lucky, he gets the opportunity to be in the presence of the Risen Christ Jesus. Even after Thomas confesses his belief in Jesus, saying: “My Lord, my God,” Jesus points out the obvious. Most of his followers will not get this personal audience with Jesus. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” /John 20:29b/ Let us now add to that thought, based on our personal experiences in the Twenty-First Century. ‘Blessed are those who have seen and are willing to speak of it with integrity!’ Let us be grateful that many have overcome fear so that they too… can witness in truth!
We could speak further regarding the faithful ones who have come to believe without firsthand proof. Jesus has lifted them up with praise. Surely, they are the pillars of our churches and of our society. They are the ones that give of themselves ceaselessly and without reservation. They are the ones that surely supported giving an extra hand for the countless others… especially those that needed some extra help in their faith journeys. They are the ones that did and still do support this piece of scripture’s usage – especially during this week after the Easter celebration just passed. Because, the faithful ones, who have learned to trust in God, they intuitively, know how hard it is to step over that abyss, that chasm of doubt and hesitation. Uncertainty is another word for describing one’s doubts, our own disbeliefs. Are we uncertain whether we can trust the word of someone from ‘that side of town’? Surely, we have reservations that a person from that part of the country will not be biased in this discussion!? Unquestionably, we all have misgivings about people who wear purple sunglasses. (smile) Most folks have, at one time or another, distrusted someone’s opinion on a contentious or divisive matter, without stopping to consider or seeking to understand the “full conversation” surrounding the subject matter. (Some call that ‘contempt prior to investigation!) Surely, you have a suspicion about that new guy or gal because they look different then you or sound different. Perhaps you have skepticism because of a bias you have clung to for a long, long time without considering the other side of the matter. What question or questions, do you still have surrounding the resurrection of Christ?
Why is it important to acknowledge our doubts? The writer of this gospel account, which we read this morning, thought it was important. And it is important because others do have doubts. They have not yet come to believe in God’s grace and mercy because they are afraid that we are wrong. Their fear may spring from our unwillingness to check ourselves when we foolishly say things that rational grown and educated adults know are questionable! Heck yeah, we ought to say to their questions and doubts, “Yes! It is hard to believe some of the details of that which is written!” If we get off our pedestals, get off our pious views that we have the only answer, then they might truly listen to what we say… long enough for us to speak of our faith in a more personal manner. When the rent is past due, or a loved one is in the hospital – it is not a good time to debate the details of a testimonial that went several decades or more before anyone wrote it down! No, people that are seeking an understanding of God want to know how God can help them, now! People relate to others who feel like they feel. When we want someone to hear what we have to say, we need to listen to what they are saying. When we read about how a Disciple of Jesus was doubting that the others really saw Jesus seemingly alive, after he was dead three days, it gives us permission to ask questions and seek out answers! Give yourself and others permission to ask questions, trust that God will help you with the answers.