Summary: Christians deal with doubt everyday, particularly as it relates to the resurrection story. But a look at the way Christ handles the doubt of his followers should be a source of faith.
One of the things many of us preachers enjoy and appreciate is the opportunity to participate in Study Groups that help us prepare our weekly sermons. It is a place to bounce ideas off one another, to share insights and illustrations, to recommend good books and resources for sermon preparation. A couple of years ago, just before Easter, some colleague friends of mine in another state were gathered for their weekly Study Group. Needless to say, the topic that week was the resurrection story. Well, not all of the preachers in attendance were using the same resurrection account, and so up for discussion were all four of the gospel accounts of Jesus’ victory over death.
Now, it’s important to note that not all of the gospels tell the same story about Jesus’ resurrection. As a matter of fact, none of the gospels records the actual resurrection itself, they only record the DISCOVERY of the resurrection by the followers of Jesus, and even those stories differ from gospel to gospel. In any case, my friends were talking about these four different resurrection accounts from the four different gospels, and they were really getting hung up on the differences between the stories. It was causing a lot of problems for them as they were trying sort out what really happened and how best to convey the story of Jesus’ resurrection.
That afternoon, one of my friends called me. She was really upset about the Study Group. She told me what had happened in their gathering that morning, and then she reflected, “It was brutal…I don’t know what to think. Stuff like that makes you wonder if the resurrection even really happened. How am I going to tell this story on Sunday?” She was full of doubt.
Jesus’ resurrection from the dead defies all reason. No matter how hard we try, there is no logical explanation for what happened on that first Easter morning. And I know is that if we preachers struggle with the veracity of this story, many of you do as well. Of all the fantastic, miraculous stories about Jesus: healing paralytics, walking on water, knowing people he has never met, and so on, the resurrection story is the hardest for us to comprehend. It cannot happen. Period. So most of us here, I imagine, have learned to cling to this story in faith. But even “faith is a mystery of the heart that the mind wants to solve.” We want evidence, and without evidence, this inkling of doubt begins to emerge.
I imagine this is something we’ve all experienced. It’s nearly impossible to invest any part of ourselves in following God without feeling at least some doubt from time to time. The good news, though, is that we are not alone. Doubt has been a part of the Christian experience all the way back to the time of Jesus and those first disciples themselves! Thomas, in particular, carries the timeless reputation as the “Doubting Disciple,” as we see in our gospel reading this morning. But the truth of the matter is, all of the disciples showed signs of doubt both before and after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Mary Magdalene saw the empty tomb, twice, but she did not believe until the risen Christ appeared and spoke to her directly, personally. Then, when she went to the disciples and told them of her encounter, saying, “I have seen the Lord,” they dismissed her words because they had not seen the risen Christ themselves. So, in fear, they locked themselves in a room to hide.
It was several hours later, on Easter evening, that Jesus appeared in the room where the disciples were; all except Thomas, that is. And Christ knew their doubt, so as he appeared in their midst, John tells us, Christ made a point to show them his nail-marked hands and pierced side. Only then did the disciples rejoice. But Thomas showed up late to the party; not unlike all of us, really. As we gather on this week after Easter, we come with questions, and fear, and uncertainty, still trying to process what this all means. Lord knows, we’ve missed the resurrection not by a few hours, but by a few thousand years! So, much like us, Thomas found it a little hard to simply accept the fact that their crucified leader had somehow come back from the dead. He didn’t want to be taken by his friends, and so he told them emphatically that unless he put his hand in Jesus’ wounds, he would not believe. And because of that, we call him “Doubting Thomas.”
Poor guy. He wasn’t demanding to see anything the disciples hadn’t already seen. And in all honesty, how many of us would accept such outrageous claims as fact without a little proof! Thomas might also be called “Determined Thomas.” He was determined not to be taken in by any trickery. He was standing on his rights not to believe anything until he had good solid evidence. And, truth be told, we don’t want to be fooled by our friends, either. In fact, if we had been standing in Thomas’ place among the disciples 2,000 years ago, we might have listened to the disciples’ story only to respond with a, “Yeah right!” or “When pigs fly!” We humans just don’t accept miraculous claims very easily. We are, to a great degree, a skeptical people. But you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that, either!