Commissioned Doubters

John 20: 24-29

‘Doubting Thomas’ we call him. Poor guy, it didn’t take much to have him packaged and labelled for all posterity. But I think deep down we are all grateful for Thomas. Just thinking of him makes us feel better about ourselves. If we are honest we’ll admit we all doubt, and are likely to have doubted the very thing he did; that Jesus had risen from the dead. Peter and John didn’t do much better; they were somewhat sceptical of Mary’s report and decided to visit the tomb to check it out.
Often we are quick to emphasize the rebuke Jesus gave Thomas and slow to notice how Jesus went out of his way to assist Thomas. I mean think of it; Jesus made a special appearance just for Thomas, but let Judas walk away. Why the different treatment? I think it had a lot to do with their hearts. Judas didn’t want what Jesus was promoting, and Thomas did. Thomas was all for Jesus, but struggling with the report that he was suddenly alive.
Jesus’ attempt to help Thomas tells us something about God; he understands our doubts and is prepared to go out of his way to assist doubters who really want to believe. Little faith doesn’t bother God as much as a wayward heart does.
The father with the demonized son in Mk 9.14-29 said to Jesus, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief” and Jesus did help him. He delivered his son from the evil spirit even though the father’s faith was weak. Isn’t it comforting to know that God is willing to help us even when we lack belief? We see it again when Peter had a lapse of faith while walking on water and he started to sink. Jesus grabbed him and lifted him up. As parents we don’t reject our toddlers because they fall while learning to walk, and neither does God. His grace abounds!
Even after Jesus’ numerous resurrection appearances his disciples still doubted. Mt 28.16-19 says “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. 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.” Can you believe that! Jesus entrusted the great commission to doubters! And I’m so glad he did because if he didn’t I could not be a minister! Come on, be honest, confess it, you are the same!!!
Just like Peter who claimed he was ready to die for Jesus but denied him three times in two hours, it is usually an immature believer that makes big claims about faith. Think of it, most of us claim to believe that God raises the dead, but what would our reaction be if a dead person was raised before our very eyes at church on Sunday? Many in the congregation would scream, some of us would feel the need to sit down and fan ourselves. Why? Because we don’t really believe it will happen! When we say we believe it, we mean it in theory only. So there; that’s where most of us are in our faith! So let’s stop deceiving ourselves and others with big claims about our faith!
Now for the good news: This group of doubting disciples did some pretty amazing stuff! They healed the lame, opened the eyes of the blind and raised the dead. How did a group of doubters get to do that? Well, we know that they all went through quite a transformation when the Holy Spirit filled them on the Day of Pentecost. We also know that the Holy Spirit distributed the gift of faith wherever he deemed it necessary (1 Co 12.9), and we can be sure each disciple grew in their faith as they obeyed the voice of the Spirit. But when we see the disciples saying things like “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (Ac 3.6). I believe we are seeing the gift of faith that is distributed by the Holy Spirit as he sees fit. This is an injection of abnormal faith, not a general faith in the great commission. It’s the kind of faith we have when God is driving us prophetically.
Many people assume their doubts will just disappear once they commit to Christ. Wouldn’t it be great if God just pushed the delete button and all doubts were gone? Have you ever wondered why he doesn’t do that? Well, for the same reason he doesn’t delete all sickness, death and suffering. Jesus explained in the parable of the weeds that the wheat and the weeds had to grow together until the harvest; then they would be separated and put in their proper places (Mt 13.24-30). Doubt will remain till the harvest when Jesus returns. Until then God will use doubt to produce his character in us…
What? Doubt produces God’s character? Well yes it can. Doubt is not a part of God’s character but it can act as an opposite force that helps us build our spiritual muscles. This is more obvious when we see doubt as an attack of the enemy. Just as physical persecution can refine believers, so attacks of doubt can increase the faith of those who resist it. If you think of it; attacks of doubt are a kind of persecution. The believer that works through them and emerges out the other side with his faith intact is a believer with increased faith, someone that can be used by God in bigger ways. I am sure Jesus emerged stronger after he was tempted in the wilderness by the devil (Lk 4.1-13). Heb 2.10 says “In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God … should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered.”
We don’t hear much about Thomas after his encounter with the risen Jesus, but I like to believe that like Peter, he had other moments where he demonstrated his faith in the resurrection and the life here after. Whatever the case, I am sure Thomas was thankful for the day that Jesus went out of his way to end his personal battle with doubt.

For a full treatment of this subject read Faith & Doubt by John Ortberg. It is also available at our bookclub.

Illustrations: Faith destroyed by Knowledge, The Spouse Cam, Commitment without Certainty

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