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Disciples and Doubt

by | Apr 5, 2018 | Blog

JOHN 20:24-29

I find accounts of the resurrection to be delightfully funny. In Luke, we read that even when Jesus appeared to the disciples, they did not believe for joy. I imagine them all speechless, mouths agape, looking at and touching him and still unable to grasp the fact that the one they had seen breathe his last now stood before them eating fish. This was more than they could have imagined!

In John’s account, let’s zoom our focus in on Thomas, the famous doubter. The other disciples had seen Jesus, but Thomas had not. Belligerent in his grief, he tells the other disciples he will not believe unless he sees and touches him.

Now let’s zoom out a bit. Truly, all the disciples doubted. Mary walked to the tomb to anoint a dead body, not look for a risen Savior. Peter and John ran to the tomb to see if she told the truth, but didn’t go running around Jerusalem to find Jesus. Not until after Jesus’ third appearance, according to John, did it finally sink in that he really did rise from the dead. Zooming out for a wider view, we see that throughout John’s account, the disciples seem to waver between belief and unbelief. For example, when Jesus turned water to wine, John tells us his disciples believed, but it’s clear they didn’t believe fully.

Zooming far out, we see that the narrative arc of the Bible incorporates the struggle of God’s people to believe. From the first lie told to Adam and Eve, to Abraham’s attempt to have a child through Sarah’s maid, to the Israelite kings seeking help from pagan nations, story after story recounts what seems like a track record of unbelief from God’s chosen people.

Bringing our focus back to Thomas, I marvel that Jesus shows up, inviting Thomas to touch him. I have heard Jesus’ words, “Do not disbelieve, but believe,” as a rebuke. However, I’ve grown to wonder if in them hides a joyful invitation to see even more. As Jesus promised Nathanael in John 1 that he would see heaven opened, it seems he also promised Thomas that he would see even greater things. In John 20:29, he seems to say, “Thomas, you will see those who have not seen with their eyes or touched with their hands joyfully believe that I was raised from the dead.” In other words, “You haven’t seen anything yet!”

Jesus’ response to Thomas—and to all those who doubt—was an invitation to come and see. He gives faith to those who cannot see, and offers greater sight to those whose vision is clouded by unbelief. He gives grace upon grace, faith upon faith.

In all John wrote, he wrote to faith for faith. As it says in Romans 1:17, “…the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for [or to] faith.” We first see dimly by the faith given to us, and we continue to see by that same faith. Having faith is not a one-time deal that eradicates all doubt, as is evidenced by the disciples. Many times, they struggled to fully understand the wonderful, radical truth of Christ’s words and actions. Sometimes they disbelieved for joy, like the story Luke tells us, and sometimes out of grief and fear, like Thomas.

So what does faith see? It sees God, who loves the world, reconciling it to himself in Christ Jesus! God sent Jesus to give sight to those who could not see him or his work of reconciliation. Jesus then sent the disciples to invite others to see. Peter and John, using the words “seen” and “touched” and “heard,” wrote letters encouraging believers who had not seen. Peter bears witness to what Jesus told Thomas: “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible…” (1 Peter 1:8-9). John reminds us, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). We don’t see clearly yet.

Just like the disciples, I imagine each one of us holds doubts. Does God exist? Is he good? Is he in control? Does he love me? Am I saved? As the Bible bears witness, you are not alone. What do we do in our doubt? Do not despair. One of the greatest statements of faith is, “I believe! Help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). The Spirit is given to us as our helper in our doubt.

So take heart, you (me!) of little faith! Ask to see more clearly. Look to the testimonies of the prophets who saw very dimly, the apostles who saw Jesus, and the Spirit within us. Even so, we are sent to extend the same joyful invitation to come and see things we couldn’t have imagined! God, in Jesus, kindly stoops to encourage faith, so that we, and perhaps others with us, might see more clearly, and joyfully proclaim with Thomas, “My Lord and My God!”

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